Music legend Tom Verlaine, who delivered one of rock's greatest album, dies at 73

Jim Harrington, Bay Area News Group on

Published in Entertainment News

Tom Verlaine, the acclaimed vocalist-guitarist whose experimental art-rock band Television helped define the New York City punk scene in the ’70s, reportedly died on Saturday.

The New Jersey-born artist, who grew up in Delaware, was 73.

Verlaine’s death was announced by Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of fellow ’70s New York City punk-rock trailblazer Patti Smith, who added that he died “after a brief illness” but did not indicate a cause, according to The New York Times.

Unlike a number of his contemporaries from NYC’s early punk glory days at the legendary CBGB’s club — including Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads and the Ramones — Verlaine wouldn’t achieve widespread commercial success or become a household name in America and elsewhere.

Yet, Verlaine will be remembered for helping create music that is remembered as fondly — at least by a passionate subset of music fandom — as anything that came from those other NYC legends.

In particular, Television’s debut, 1977’s “Marquee Moon,” ranks among the greatest albums in rock history. But don’t just take our word on it. Ask the folks at VH1, which included “Marquee Moon” on its list of the 100 Greatest Albums of Rock and Roll, or at Rolling Stone, which ranked it as the 128th best album of all time.

Although it came out of the same musical neighborhood as the early Ramones albums — and certainly had a punk-rock attitude and edge to it — “Marque Moon” was certainly anything but another dose of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Instead, it owed more to jazz than Joey Ramone, as Verlaine locked horns with fellow brilliant guitarist Richard Lloyd to create jaggedly powerful slices of art-rock and improvisation-driven classics. The band clearly understood the power of a good hook placed in a precisely measured offering, but could also channel a bit of Ornette Coleman as it explored longer-form pieces like the album’s amazing title track.


Of course, no one was more responsible for the artistic success of “Marquee Moon” than Verlaine, who not only played guitar and sang on the album but also received sole songwriting credits on seven of the eight tracks. (The other cut, “Guiding Light,” is credited to both Verlaine and Lloyd.) He also produced the album with Andy Johns.

Despite its artistic merits — or, perhaps, because of them — the adventurous, forward-thinking “Marquee Moon” was a commercial bust in the band’s home country, failing even to make it onto the Billboard 200. The album would, however, fare much better in the U.K. — charting in the top 30 and producing two popular singles.

Television followed up “Marquee Moon” with another strong effort, “Adventure,” in 1978, but it also posted disappointing sales numbers, and the band disbanded soon after.

The band got back together in 1992 and released its self-titled third album. From there, Television continued to perform sporadically throughout the decades, playing shows at such Bay Area venues as the Independent and the Fillmore in San Francisco.

Besides his work with Television, Verlaine released a number of solo albums, beginning with his eponymous debut in 1979.

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