Tom Verlaine

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Tom Verlaine
Verlaine in 1977
Verlaine in 1977
Background information
Birth nameThomas Joseph Miller[1]
Born(1949-12-13)December 13, 1949
Denville, New Jersey, U.S.
OriginWilmington, Delaware, U.S.
DiedJanuary 28, 2023(2023-01-28) (aged 73)
New York City, U.S.
GenresPunk rock, art punk, post-punk, new wave
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, songwriter
Instrument(s)Guitar, vocals, piano
Formerly ofTelevision, Neon Boys

Thomas Joseph Miller (December 13, 1949 – January 28, 2023), known professionally as Tom Verlaine, was an American singer, guitarist, and songwriter, best known as the frontman of the New York City rock band Television.

Biography[edit]

Verlaine was born Thomas Joseph Miller in Denville, New Jersey, on December 13, 1949.[1] His father, Victor Andrew Miller[2] (1921–2008), was of Lithuanian heritage (originally Miliszauckas[3]), but born in Coatbridge, Scotland.[4] His mother, Lillian (Lilya) Barbara Dopko(wski)[5] (1921–2005) was originally from Pennsylvania and of Polish heritage. Tom's father worked first as a maintenance man[3] and later as a sales manager.[2] Tom had a twin brother, John Peter Miller[2] (1949–1984), who died suddenly at age 34.[6]

Tom moved to Wilmington, Delaware, with his family when he was six.[7] He began studying piano at an early age, but switched to saxophone in middle school after hearing a record by Stan Getz. Jazz saxophonists such as John Coltrane and Albert Ayler inspired him.[8] 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,[9] 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.[10]

Tom's family sent Verlaine and his twin brother John to Sanford Preparatory School, a private boarding school in Hockessin, Delaware. While John excelled in athletics and graduated in 1967,[11] Tom's interest leaned toward writing and poetry. At Sanford, Tom became friends with future bandmate and punk icon Richard Hell (Richard Meyers).[12] They quickly discovered that they shared a passion for music and poetry. Neither Verlaine nor Hell graduated from Sanford and they later moved to New York City.

In New York City, Miller created his stage name, a reference to the French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine. Regarding the name change, rather than the poet being a source of inspiration, Verlaine said, "I just like the sound of the name”.[13] He and Hell formed the Neon Boys, recruiting drummer Billy Ficca.[14] 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,[14] 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.[14]

Verlaine during an early 1990s reunion tour with Television

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. David Bowie covered Verlaine's "Kingdom Come" on his Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) album in 1980. 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. In the 2010s, he kept on touring with Television, performing Marquee Moon in its entirety: he notably toured in Europe in 2014 and 2016.[15]

Death[edit]

Verlaine died in New York City on January 28, 2023, at the age of 73. According to his former Television band mate, Richard Lloyd, Verlaine had "been sick for quite a while", battling prostate cancer, which had metastasized. Television had been asked to open a European tour for Billy Idol, but Verlaine's doctors told him he was not in good enough health to do so.[1][16]

Collaborations[edit]

Verlaine was in discussion with Jeff Buckley to produce his second album before Buckley's death by drowning in 1997.[17]

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 songs "Fireflies" and "Summer Cannibals" 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.[18] 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.[19]

Musical style[edit]

Equipment[edit]

Throughout his career Verlaine played a variety of Fender guitars, most frequently Jazzmasters and Jaguars, through Fender and Vox amps. On his reasons for choosing the Jazzmaster, Verlaine said, "I think it was financial! In the seventies, when guitars were still cheap, nobody wanted a Jazzmaster because they weren't loud and didn't stay in tune. In '73/'74 you could buy a Jazzmaster for $150 easily. So that's why I started playing it, because we didn't have a lot of money and they were cheap. And then I really got used to it, plus the vibrato arm on it is very nice. I use really heavy strings on it—like a 14 to a 58 or something similar—and that's another part of the sound, I think."[20]

In later years at solo concerts and at Television concerts, Verlaine played a guitar built in the style of a Fender Stratocaster, modified with Danelectro "lipstick" pickups and fitted with a Fender Jazzmaster neck.

Guitar playing and effects[edit]

Verlaine in 2014

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. 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 third 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".[21]

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."[21]

Discography[edit]

Solo albums[edit]

Singles[edit]

  • "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)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Edwards, Gavin; Keepnews, Peter (2023-01-28). "Tom Verlaine, Influential Guitarist and Songwriter, Dies at 73". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2023-01-28. Retrieved 2023-01-28.
  2. ^ a b c United States of America, Bureau of the Census; Washington, D.C.; Seventeenth Census of the United States, 1950; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007; Record Group Number: 29; Residence Date: 1950; Home in 1950: Denville, Morris, New Jersey; Roll: 5556; Sheet Number: 40; Enumeration District: 14-34
  3. ^ a b Year: 1940; Census Place: Edwardsville, Luzerne, Pennsylvania; Roll: m-t0627-03550; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 40-45
  4. ^ Year: 1926; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 22; Page Number: 183
  5. ^ Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, The Evening News; Publication Date: 3/ Jul/ 1943; Publication Place: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA; URL: https://www.newspapers.com/image/136130813/?article=1e52156a-acf7-41cf-b397-9ce340cd020a&focus=0.7374735,0.08888141,0.97565526,0.4151704&xid=3398
  6. ^ "The Morning News". The Morning News.
  7. ^ "Tom Verlaine obituary". the Guardian. 2023-01-29. Retrieved 2023-01-29.
  8. ^ Tannenbaum, Rob (2022-01-28). "Tom Verlaine, singer and guitarist for seminal art-punk band Television, dies at 73". LA Times. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  9. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Tom Verlaine | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
  10. ^ Palmer, Robert (1985). "Miles Davis Revives His Bad-Guy Image with a Pop Album". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2014-03-11. Retrieved 2012-11-20.
  11. ^ "Classmates".
  12. ^ "We'd met at a little school right outside of Wilmington. It was a mediocre boarding school, co-ed, called Sanford Prep. I'd been sent there because I'd been getting in trouble in school since I was fourteen, and things were looking pretty dire ... I arrived a little after the start of the school year of 1965–1966, when I was in the 11th grade." – Richard Hell (describing how he and Tom Verlaine met) in the first chapter of Hell's autobiography-in-progress, as published in Vanitas magazine, No. 2, 2006, p. 153.
  13. ^ King, Eric (July 1987). "Changing Channels". Spin. Retrieved 2023-02-11.
  14. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 1217/8. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  15. ^ "I Television a Milano suoneranno tutto "Marquee Moon"" (in Italian). ondarock.it. 2014-01-10. Retrieved 2023-01-29.
    "I Television a Milano suoneranno tutto "Marquee Moon"" (in Italian). rtl.it. 2016-03-22. Retrieved 2023-01-29.
    "Fantômes à la Philharmonie de Paris" (in French). telerama.fr. 2016-04-04. Retrieved 2023-01-29. Next to the Velvet Underground exhibition, two concerts were face to face this weekend reminding rock to its souvenirs. Television played his classic Marquee Moon without warmth (En marge de l'expo Velvet Underground, deux concerts confrontaient ce week-end le rock à sa mémoire. Television a rejoué sans chaleur son classique "Marquee Moon"
  16. ^ "Television's greatest star rarely sought out the spotlight". 2023-01-31.
  17. ^ Jeff Buckley, Answers.com, retrieved 2010-03-23
  18. ^ Fragassi, Selena (2023-01-28). "Tom Verlaine, Television Founder and Frontman, Dies at 73". SPIN. Retrieved 2023-01-30.
  19. ^ Rachel Brodsky (2023-01-28). "Television's Tom Verlaine Dead At 73". Stereogum. Retrieved 2023-01-29.
  20. ^ "TV Heaven". Guitarist. 1992. Retrieved 2023-02-22.
  21. ^ a b "Chasing the Muse: Tom Verlaine". Guitar Player. December 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-03-04. Retrieved 2015-09-19.

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