|Intro||American singer and guitarist|
|Was||Musician Guitarist Singer Songwriter Rock musician|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||13 December 1949, Morristown, Morris County, New Jersey, USA|
|Death||28 January 2023 (aged 73 years)|
Tom Verlaine (born Thomas Miller, December 13, 1949 – January 28, 2023) was an American singer, guitarist, and songwriter, best known as the frontman of the New York City rock band Television.
Verlaine was born Thomas Miller into a Jewish family in Denville, New Jersey, on December 13, 1949. He moved to Wilmington, Delaware, with his family at age of six. He began studying piano at an early age, but switched to saxophone in middle school after hearing a record by Stan Getz. Verlaine initially was unimpressed with the role of the guitar in both rock music and jazz, but was inspired to take up the instrument after hearing the Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown" during his adolescence, at which point he began a long period of experimentation to develop a personal style. A later musical influence of Verlaine's became jazz musician Miles Davis' electric-period recordings, particularly the Japanese LPs Agharta (1975) and Dark Magus (1977), which he was able to obtain as imports.
Verlaine also had an interest in writing and poetry from an early age. As a teen, he was friends with future bandmate and punk icon Richard Hell (Richard Meyers) at Sanford School, a boarding school which they both attended. They quickly discovered that they shared a passion for music and poetry.
After one failed attempt, Verlaine (with Hell) succeeded in escaping from school and moved to New York City. He then created his stage name, a reference to the French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine. He is quoted as having said that this name was inspired by Bob Dylan's name change and was a way of distancing himself from his past. He and Hell formed the Neon Boys, recruiting drummer Billy Ficca. The Neon Boys quickly disbanded after failing to recruit a second guitarist, despite auditions by Dee Dee Ramone and Chris Stein. They reformed as Television a few months later, finding a guitarist in Richard Lloyd, and began playing at seminal punk clubs like CBGB and Max's Kansas City. In 1975, Verlaine kicked Hell out of the band for his erratic playing and behavior, and they released their first single with Fred Smith replacing Hell. Verlaine dated poet and musician Patti Smith when they were both in the burgeoning New York punk scene. Television released two albums, Marquee Moon and Adventure, to great critical acclaim and modest sales before breaking up in July 1978.
Verlaine soon released a self-titled solo album that began a fruitful 1980s solo career. He took up residence in England for a brief period in response to the positive reception his work had received there and in Europe at large. In the 1990s he collaborated with different artists, including Patti Smith, and composed a film score for Love and a .45. In the early 1990s, Television reformed to record one studio album (Television) and a live recording (Live at the Academy, 1992); they reunited periodically for touring. Verlaine released his first new album in many years in 2006, titled Songs and Other Things.
Verlaine died in New York City on January 28, 2023, after a brief illness, at the age of 73.
Verlaine was in discussion with Jeff Buckley to produce his second album before Buckley's death by drowning in 1997.
Verlaine guested as guitarist on numerous releases by other artists, including the album Penthouse by the band Luna. He played on Patti Smith's Grammy-nominated "Glitter in Their Eyes" from her 2000 album Gung Ho. This was not the first time Verlaine had collaborated with one-time romantic partner Smith; four years earlier, he played on the song "Fireflies" from her 1996 album Gone Again, and in the 1970s he played guitar on her debut single "Hey Joe" and on "Break It Up" from her debut album Horses. He also co-wrote the latter song with Smith. He played with Smith in 2005 for a 30th-anniversary concert of Horses in its entirety, which was later released on CD.
Verlaine was part of the Million Dollar Bashers, a supergroup also featuring Sonic Youth musicians Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Bob Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, guitarist Smokey Hormel, and keyboardist John Medeski. Their work appears on the original soundtrack to I'm Not There, a biographical film reflecting on the life of Bob Dylan.
In 2012, Verlaine collaborated with former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha on his second solo album Look to the Sky.
Throughout his career Verlaine played a variety of Fender guitars. Most famously in the heyday of Television he played a Fender Jazzmaster and a Fender Jaguar through Fender and Vox amps. These guitars were an unusual choice for a rock musician at that time. Verlaine is credited as having been instrumental in bringing what were seen as "surf" guitars, the Jaguar and Jazzmaster, into the rock arena. Verlaine is pictured inside the compilation The Miller's Tale playing both types of guitars. Recently, at solo concerts and at Television concerts, Verlaine played a guitar built in the style of a Fender Stratocaster that was modified with Danelectro "lipstick" pickups and fitted with a Fender Jazzmaster neck.
Guitar style and effects
Verlaine was an advocate of guitar techniques and recording processes including close miking, delay, reverb, slap echo, phasing/flanging, tremolo, etc. Television's first commercially released recording, "Little Johnny Jewel", saw Verlaine, in defiance of common practice, plugging his guitar straight into the recording desk with no amplification. Verlaine rarely employed heavy distortion.
Vibrato was a large part of Verlaine's style and he made extensive use of the Jazzmaster's unique vibrato arm. In terms of guitar scales and note selection, Verlaine used the mixolydian and minor pentatonic scale with clear blues influences similar to many contemporary rock & roll artists. Verlaine distinguished his style mainly in choice of phrasing, often choosing to play slower and less technically demanding riffs than many contemporary lead guitarists. Verlaine used a thin pick and heavy strings (gauges .050 to .013) and tuned down a half step or more. In contrast to most modern rock guitarists, he used a wound 3rd string. Verlaine usually played with the bridge pickup on, but picked over the neck pickup. This, according to him, gave a "full yet clear sound".
The development of Verlaine's style likely was influenced by the way he learned to play; he told a Guitar Player interviewer in 2005 "I never played guitar along with records, so I never learned all the speed licks everybody gravitates to when starting out. I know 19-year-old guitarists who can play Danny Gatton solos note-for-note. They don’t really know what notes they’re playing, but they do them flawlessly."
In popular culture
In 2022, Swedish writer Aris Fioretos published De tunna gudarna ("The Thin Gods"). A novel "about longing and vulnerability, nerves and electricity", it tells the life-story of Ache Middler, an aging rock musician with high demands on artistic precision and clarity, who bears a strong ressemblance to Verlaine. Like Verlaine, he is born in 1949 and grows up in Wilmington. Ache, too, leaves for New York City in the 1960s, where he writes poetry and forms a band (first The Apollo Boys, later Transmission), falls in love with a woman akin to Patti Smith in temperament and beauty, and experiences triumphs with the band’s first records, then enters a kind of no man’s land, good for his artistic development but less advantageous in terms of commercial success. In the end, the real affinity between Ache and Verlaine might be the belief the latter formulated thus in an early interview: "I like thinking of myself as invisible. I find it a very advantageous way to live. Unfortunately, it’s not the way the music business works." According to the front matter of The Thin Gods, the novel explores this invisibility as the backbone of both life and art. An English translation has yet to appear.
- Tom Verlaine (1979)
- Dreamtime (1981)
- Words from the Front (1982)
- Cover (1984)
- Flash Light (1987)
- The Wonder (1990)
- Warm and Cool (1992, reissued in 2005)
- The Miller's Tale: A Tom Verlaine Anthology (1996)
- Songs and Other Things (2006)
- Around (2006)
- "Always" / "The Blue Robe" Warner Bros K17855 (September 1981)
- "Postcard from Waterloo" / "Clear It Away" Virgin VS501 (May 1982)
- "Let Go the Mansion" / "Let Go the Mansion - Instrumental version" Virgin VS696 (June 1984)
- "Five Miles of You" / "Your Finest Hour" Virgin VS704 (August 1984) "Your Finest Hour" was an outtake from Words From the Front sessions
- "A Town Called Walker" / "Smoother Than Jones" Fontana FTANA1 (1987)
- "The Funniest Thing" / "One Time at Sundown" (The London 1986 Version) Fontana VLANE3 (1987)
- "The Scientist Writes a Letter" / "The Scientist Writes a Letter" (Paris Version) Fontana VLANE4 (1987)
- "Cry Mercy, Judge" / "Circling" Fontana FTANA2 (1987)
- "Shimmer" / "Bomb" Fontana VLANE5 (October 1989)
- "Kaleidoscopin'" / "Sixteen Tulips" Fontana VLANE6 (March 1990)
- Guinness Rockopedia – ISBN 0-85112-072-5
- The Great Rock Discography (Fifth Edition) – ISBN 1-84195-017-3