Rob Sheffield on “Brilliant Singer and Guitarist” – Rolling Stone

farewell to Tom VerlaineFor some of us, the greatest American rock guitarist other than his name is Hendrix. Verlaine who died Saturday at 73, can reach cosmic heights that no other guitar virtuoso can reach. He made his bones in the 70’s with the television, the garage band that created a new kind of cool hallucinogen in the CBGB punk scene. Television Made Two of the Greatest Guitar Albums of the Seventies, Moon marquee And Adventureuntil they collapsed, just as they were reaching their musical climax. But the music Verlaine came out with from the Fender Jazzmaster remains a guiding light.

In 1974 Patti Smith wrote, “He plays lead guitar with a corner-turned passion like the screeching of a thousand bluebirds.” For once in her life, Patty was guilty of a loss. Tom Verlaine has always had his own voice, whether he’s jamming on TV in “Moon marqueeand “Kingdom Come”, or solo on “Breakin’ In My Heart” or “Days on the Mountain”. If you’re looking for a cheat sheet to sum up everything that made him a legend, just listen to the first three minutes of “Little Johnny Jewel,” the definitive 1978 San Francisco version of Live in the old Waldorf – The urgent upper register tone sounds like it’s tearing holes in the sky.

This is a painful loss for anyone who loves the guitar, especially since his later years proved that Verlaine never lost his stroke as a virtuoso, right up to the end. He proved it (just the facts) every time he was in the mood to pick up his ax and blow people away, which wasn’t very often. But at every show, he was doing something you’ve never heard him do before. As Verlaine said Rolling Stone in 1977, “There are a number of ways to get from one place to another on the neck of a guitar that I don’t know about.” Every time he played, he was looking forward to going somewhere new.

Verlaine was New York’s absolute guitar god, Television was New York’s best band, and the mystic guitar boys dressed like punks and sang like poets. With Richard Lloyd on Strat and Verlaine on Jazzmaster, they’re engaging like CBGB’s answer to The Grateful Dead. They didn’t last long, but they’ve been hugely influential since then. Tom Verlaine’s guitar was the lightning that struck itself, setting off sparks that continued to transform into great new bands, all over the world: REM down in Georgia, U2 in Dublin, Wilco in Chicago, Pere Ubu in Cleveland, Pavement in California, Sonic Youth on Lower East Side. But these bands don’t really sound like TV, because no one else has ever duplicated the unique shimmer of their guitar. One of the highlights of Pavement’s 2022 reunion was how they would turn “Folk Jam” into Mix of “Marquee Moon” With Stephen Malkmus and Spiral Steers pulling off the guitar groove that made them and many others dare to dream of a big guitar.

He grew up as Tom Miller in Delaware, where he was kicked out of prep schools along with his best friend Lester Myers. They fled to New York to become decadent poets, changing their names to Tom Verlaine and Richard Hill. Naturally, they started a band, The Neon Boys, with great nuggets like “Heeled Wheels” and “That’s All I Know Now.” The Neon Boys got tougher when they turned into TV, obsessed with the Velvet Underground and John Coltrane. They famously started the downtown New York rock scene at CBGB, where they kissed owner Hilly Kristal, talked him into giving them a weekly gig at a biker bar, and literally built the stage. They emblazoned their posts with quotes from fans who drew them early on, from director Nick Ray (“Four Adorable Cats with a Passion”) to David Bowie, who called them “the most original band I’ve ever seen in New York. They have it.”

Patti Smith was an artistic (and romantic) companion in the ’70s, when she shared multiple billings with TV – he played on her debut album horses, in the classic “Break It Up”. In 1974 I wrote about television for Mag rocky landscape, hailing the band as “a movement of inspiring converts who are going to take the slope from rock music.” But it singled out the strange man in the foreground. “Tom Verlaine (the TV initials) has the nicest neck in rock ‘n’ roll,” Smith wrote. “Like a true swan – fragile yet strong. He is made of opposites. The way he comes is like a farmer of dirt and a prince. A weak boy with the muddled grace of a child in heaven. A man worth losing your virginity for.” She added, “God blessed him with long-veined hands that reminded of the great, strange poet, Jack the Ripper.”

From the very beginning, they loved jam. said Verlaine in the 2005 book Clinton Helen From velvet to blanks. “So I’d play until something happened. That’s a lot coming from jazz or doors or Five Live Yardbirds album—that kind of soulful dynamics”. His tone was clean to the point of feeling intimidating, recalling the Byrds (especially The fifth dimension), Mike Bloomfield (especially “East-West”), Jerry Garcia, or Quicksilver Messenger Service – much of his voice comes from John Cippollina’s break on “How You Love”.

Television released a local hit in 1975, on the indie Orc label, “Little Johnny Jewel”. (A mere shadow of the living monster it would become.) Hell and Verlaine had a bitter fall by the time the TV debut came out. But their first album in 1977 Moon marquee It was a complete masterpiece, with funny lyrics swiped from film noir and symbolist poets in “See No Evil,” “Guiding Light,” and “Prove It.” Verlaine’s choked voice was perfect for deadpan lines like “If I catch that ventriloquist / I’ll squeeze his head into my fist.”

“Marquee Moon” is rightly his most famous song, translating the late-night urban dread of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” into a guitar solo—what Dylan might call a “thin, wild mercury sound.” In many ways, New York City television was as punk as Eric B. Moon marquee It always looks like a twin Paid in full.

“Marquee Moon” was a top 30 hit in the UK, following it up Adventure make the top ten. Adventure It was almost fantastic, with frantically funny chants like “Glory” and “Careful” (“Your wine’s just sour grapes / Pour me a glass anytime I’m not there”), along with crisp ballads like “Carried Away” and “Days The invention of rapid eye movement. They kept getting fiercer on the road in 1978, as documented in the works. Marquee Moon’s Best Movie is the 17-minute version of the July 1978 Portland show; The best version of “Little Johnny Jewel” is an 11-minute version from San Francisco a few days ago. Posthumous live tape blasting Their version of Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. But one day in 1978, Verlaine muttered, “I just want to do one more thing,” for no particular reason, and that was it.

Verlaine has always had a reputation as a severe control freak, especially since he didn’t do drugs, which made him look like a complete outsider in a place like CBGB. But he ignored his aloof image. “The people who think I’m a hermit are the people who go to clubs all the time, and I’m not crazy about sitting around clubs,” he said. Rolling Stone. He always seemed to take pride in coming out cold, even on occasions when it seemed to require a little emotion. TV played a joint bill with Patti Smith at Roseland Ballroom in 2004, which she treated as a grand reunion of kindred spirits, yet Verlaine remained ornate, hard-to-please, and eager to split.

His former best friend Richard Hale is finishing his memoirs I dreamed that I was a very clean tramp With a sad story about accidentally running into Verlaine on the sidewalk, outside the Strand Book Store in the East Village, looking through dollar boxes. The two men talk, make awkward jokes, avoid saying anything less private, and then stumble in different directions. At a 2011 New York City literary event, Hell read this chapter in a silent room, saying it had just happened the week before. He cried all the way. “We were like two trusting beasts,” Hell wrote, “but it didn’t shock me.” “My feeling was love.”

When Verlaine finished TV, his “something else” definitely wasn’t meant to be a rock star. His 1979 solo debut had such gems as “The Grip of Love” and “Souvenir From a Dream.” culminated with “break into my heart” With killer rhythm guitars from Ricky Wilson’s B-52s. The song “Kingdom Come” (which differs from the TV song of the same title) inspired David Bowie to cover it Terrifying monsters. Any other artist might have tapped Bowie fandom for some publicity – but definitely not Verlaine.

He continued to refine his voice on cult favorites like dream time And Words from the frontwhich contains the jerky rock hit “The Present Has Arrived” and the oddly beautiful ballad “Postcard from Waterloo,” his perverted idea of ​​a love song, crooning, “There was something in that look of you / Something like a play on words”). His most underrated solo album is coverage From 1984, experimenting with pop music with glossy grooves like “Dissolve/Reveal”, “Rotation” and “Swim”. Fittingly, he played in Patti Smith’s 1996 comeback gone again Plus the soundtrack to Todd Haynes’s Dylan’s Fantasia I’m not therewith a spooky version of “Cold Iron Bound” from Time out of mind.

But even as Verlaine opted out of his rock clamor, his guitar riff became a permanent part of the rock scene. As U2 Edge said Rolling Stone In 1989, he was inspired by “guitar bands that didn’t use blues clichés. I was listening to Tom Verlaine to learn how to make powerful music.” You can hear Verlaine’s voice all over Wilco (“Impossible Germany”), Yo La Tengo (“I Heard You Looking”), Parquet Courts (“She’s Rolling”) or Horsegirl (“World of Pots and Pans”). Verlaine summed it up perfectly in 1993, when he said Rolling Stone“Maybe you see everything as one giant song that you can take parts out of, and then they also become songs.”

Television reunited in 1992 for a one-off self-titled album, with witty grooves like “No Glamor For Willi,” then exploded again. But they resumed in the 2000s, giving sporadic but excellent performances. In 2002, they played their first gig in New York City in a decade, and the same week their longtime CBGB friends, Talking Heads and the Ramones were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Verlaine was in a jovial mood, introducing himself as film noir tough guy Richard Widmark. And of course, they’ve tuned in to the songs forever. “We haven’t changed,” Verlaine told the crowd. “The time between songs is longer than the time between songs.”


The last time I saw him live was in July of 2018, at a Brooklyn club somewhere else. He was furious after the band played “Marquee Moon”, and complained that they made a mistake during an epic solo break. So he made them play it again – BUT Just An epic solo break. It was a strange moment – no one in the crowd ever noticed anything wrong with Marquee Moon. But then, no one was mad about hearing that solo again, and yes, it was much more difficult the second time around. Then we were all sent home happy to mop the ceiling with a “psychotic reaction”. (He also thanked the club for his excellent sound system, possibly a career first.) I was already looking forward to the next party. But alas, it turned out to be the last New York City show he ever did.

The room was full of superfans who know his music inside out — the fan standing next to me was Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth — but no one was looking for (or getting) any kind of nostalgia. All anyone cared about was seeing where Verlaine would take these songs tonight, knowing that they would be in a new place. Nobody can do that like Tom Verlaine.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top