Tom Verlaine – the singer, guitarist and songwriter best known for leading seminal New York rock band Television – has died at the age of 73.
His passing was confirmed by Jesse Paris Smith (daughter of Patti Smith), who said in a press release that Verlaine succumbed to a “brief illness” on Saturday (January 28). “He died peacefully in New York City,” she wrote, “surrounded by close friends. His vision and his imagination will be missed.”
Born in New Jersey as Thomas Miller, Verlaine was spurred to pursue the guitar after hearing The Rolling Stones’ ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ as an adolescent. He met longtime collaborator Richard Hell while attending a boarding school in Delaware; the pair would soon escape and run off to New York City, where Verlaine was inspired to adopt his new name – borrowed from renowned French poet Paul Verlaine – by Bob Dylan.
Encouraged by local punk legend Terry Ork, 1972 saw Verlaine and Hell form the Neon Boys with drummer Billy Ficca. Within a year, they’d rebranded as Television and recruited Richard Lloyd on guitars. Hell would leave two years later (replaced by Fred Smith on bass), and the group released their debut album, ‘Marquee Moon’, in 1977 via Elektra.
It was the band’s second album, 1978’s ‘Adventure’, that brought them moderate success, earning critical acclaim and a peak at Number Seven on the UK charts. The band broke up later that year, though, leading Verlaine to embark on a solo carer. His eponymous debut arrived in 1979 via Elektra, and went on to be ranked by NME as the 15th best album of the year.
After releasing a further five solo albums, Verlaine returned to Television in 1991, successfully juggling the band with his own endeavours on the side. 1992 saw Verlaine release two albums – a self-titled effort with Television (which wound up being their final studio album), and the solo LP ‘Warm And Cool’.
Though Television didn’t release any further material, they did remain active in the following years, touring sporadically until 2019. In 2013, the band revealed that they had a “comeback” album nearly completed in the 2000s, recording 16 songs across the holidays of 2007. None of that material has ever surfaced.
In the hours since Verlaine’s passing was confirmed, tributes have flowed in from the rock world. In a public ode shared on social media, Smith wrote: “I love you always and forever, and will always remember and hold close the touch of your hand – hands of a beautiful creator and of a love more warm, tender, delicate, and true that one can ever dream. There has never been another like you and there never will be…”
R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe was among those sharing their reverence for the late proto-punk icon, writing: “I’ve lost a hero. Bless you Tom Verlaine and thank you for the songs, the lyrics, the voice! And later the laughs, the inspiration, the stories, and the rigorous belief that music and art can alter and change matter, lives, experience. You introduced me to a world that flipped my life upside down. I am forever grateful.”
I met Tom Verlaine when he just arrived in NYC I guess ’72. He had long hair and came to my apartment with an acoustic guitar and played some songs he’d written. Both Tom and Richard Hell have told me that I auditioned for the Neon Boys but I don’t remember.
listened to Marquee Moon 1000 times. And I mean LISTENED, sitting still, lights down low taking it all in. awe and wonder every time. Will listen 1000 more. Tom Verlaine is one of the greatest rock musicians ever. He effected the way John and I play immeasurably. Fly on Tom.
More 2023 fretted heartbreak ?. One of the GREAT Punk lead stylists. Tom Verlaine was a True Downtown HERO. Saddened & bummed to hear it.