Television’s Tom Verlaine Changed the Guitar for the Rock Underground


Television made two records originally, 1977’s Marquee Moon and 1978’s Adventure, each of which was perfect in distinct ways but neither of which impressed enough of the right people to take the band to national stages. Neither album cracked the Billboard 200 in the States or found a foothold on any major radio stations, and so the band just sort of shambled apart. (There was a third and final record years later, 1992’s Television.) They very nearly hated each other, anyhow. 

Those first two Television records spent many long, ignominious years in bargain bins, as easy to find and routinely ignored as Boz Scaggs or later-period Kinks LPs while the mythology of Verlaine’s CBGB compatriots like Lou Reed or the Talking Heads only magnified. His solo records, which he released consistently and without fanfare throughout the ’80s, contained excellent, Television-ish rockers like “Breakin’ In My Heart” and “Kingdom Come” (both from 1979’s self-titled) but they often found homes in those same dollar bins. 

The upside of being a man out of time is that you can never age into the past. Over the next decade, new guitar players kept discovering Verlaine; it’s no surprise that, upon his passing, rock Twitter was a wailing mass of musicians who cited him as their founding spark. Two records, it turns out, is exactly the kind of slim discography that allows for perennial rediscovery: not quite enough to canonize, just enough to be endlessly fascinated by. Wherever you first encountered Tom Verlaine’s guitar—whether it was live, on the CBGB stage at the height of New York’s punk explosion, or years later, from a record bin or a college radio station—his playing stood not just out, but apart, like a giant lion licking its paws. Few people’s influence spread as far and as wide as Verlaine’s, or as quietly. Somewhere in that tone lurked an idea about the guitar, one that no one had ever formulated quite the same way. 

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