Jan 28, 2023: Tom Verlaine, Co-Founder of Television Band, is Mourned

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Tom Verlaine, the singer, songwriter and guitarist, alongside Richard Lloyd, in the influential ’70s era rock band, Television, died Jan. 28, 2023, at age 73. News of his passing was confirmed by Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of the musician Patti Smith, a prominent peer of Verlaine’s. The younger Smith noted that Verlaine died “after a brief illness,” later revealed to be prostate cancer. The news was first reported by the New York Times that afternoon.

Starting in New York’s East Village in 1973, the band, consisting of Verlaine, Lloyd, bass guitarist Richard Hell and drummer Billy Ficca, was at the center of the scene soon to be labeled punk–although the group’s music had little in common with that style other than its energetic presentation and a freshness that contrasted with much mid-’70s music. The band crystalized with the departure of Hell in 1975 and the addition of Fred Smith on bass.

Television’s debut album, Marquee Moon, released in 1977 on Elektra Records, was hailed by critics as one of the most striking and original recording debuts in years, with its cascading guitar lines and jabbing vocals. In a feature for Best Classic Bands, veteran music journalist Jim Sullivan described Verlaine and Lloyd’s guitar work on the album’s title track.

“Mesh they do, shifting course, building from one semi-climax to another before the inevitable explosion,” he wrote. “Television was on the art wing of punk, using jazzy chords and counter-melodies, eschewing the balls-out aggression for something subtler. I dig Verlaine’s plaint: ‘A kiss of death/The embrace of life/Ooh, there I stand ‘neath the marquee moon/Just waiting…’ Then the guitar arpeggios kick in and we ready ourselves for another wave.”

Roy Trakin wrote in the SoHo Weekly, “Forget everything you’ve heard about Television, forget punk, forget New York, forget CBGB’s … hell, forget rock and roll—this is the real item.”

Television’s second album, Adventure, was issued in 1978 and the distinctive guitar work is still evident there, most notably on the tracks “Glory,” “Foxhole” and “The Fire.” Though embraced by music critics, the band’s albums were not commercial successes.

Various problems within the group led to a breakup later that year, with Verlaine and Lloyd pursuing solo careers.

In 1992, Television reunited to record a self-titled album that was well received by critics. The reunited band did a world tour in 1993, including a performance at the Glastonbury festival in England.

In 2007, the band announced Lloyd would be amicably leaving the group and guitarist Jimmy Rip, a collaborator on most of Verlaine’s several solo recordings and tours since 1981, would be taking his place.

Verlaine was born Dec. 13, 1949, in Denville, NJ.

Listen to a live version of “Little Johnny Jewel,” one of Television’s best known songs, from 1978

Related: Musicians we lost in 2023

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. LowPlainsGrifter
    #1 LowPlainsGrifter 29 January, 2023, 00:40

    This caught us off guard.In a good way.
    We didn’t know what this was,
    or from where it came.
    But we were buzzed,
    and on the inside
    we knew we needed this.
    Marquee Moon was a ripper,
    Burning the air much like
    Iggy and the Stooges had done
    with Penetration.We were addicted.
    From here,we crossed the big drink,
    and searched with ears perked up
    found our new frontier
    ECHO and the BUNNYMEN

    RIP Tom Verlaine

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