Remembering Tom Verlaine

Tom Verlaine, influential guitarist, songwriter and frontman of Television, passed away on Saturday at the age of 73.

Tom Verlaine, founder and frontman of American rock band Television, passed away on Saturday after a short illness. His death was confirmed by Jesse Paris Smith, who told The Rolling Stone that he “died peacefully in New York City, surrounded by close friends”.

Television only released two albums, Marquee Moon and Adventure, before breaking up in 1978. Though their music received only a moderate level of sales, they received critical acclaim and Marquee Moon is often considered one of the best albums of the 1970’s.

Tom Verlaine
Credit: Gus Stewart/Redferns

Verlaine was an influential and talented musician, known for his versatile guitar skills and poetic lyrics. Lenny Kaye, guitarist for the Patti Smith Group, described Verlaine as being “capable of anything… He could move from chaotic soundscapes of free jazz to delicate filigree… He had a real sense of the instrument and its expressive powers”.

After Television’s breakup in 1978, Verlaine embarked on a solo career, releasing his self-titled debut in 1979. Across the span of his career, he released a total of nine solo albums and collaborated with musicians like David Bowie, Patti Smith and Sonic Youth. He also wrote scores for a number of films, including silent films by Man Ray and Fernand Léger.

Tom Verlaine
Credit: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Verlaine had a huge influence on other well-known guitarists. U2’s The Edge described him as one of his key influences: “I think what I took from Verlaine was not really his style but the fact that he did something no one else had done,” he told The Rolling Stone in a 1988 interview, “and I liked that; I thought that was valuable”.

Following his death, tributes poured in from fellow artists. Patti Smith, Verlaine’s former partner and long-time collaborator, posted a tribute on Instagram, captioned “this is a time when all seemed possible. Farewell Tom, aloft the Omega“. Michael Stipe, lead singer of American rock band R.E.M., tweeted “I’ve lost a hero…. You introduced me to a world that flipped my life upside down. I am forever grateful”.