March 29, 2023


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Remembering television’s Tom Verlaine as a post-psychedelic trailblazer

4 min read

“Kiss of death, embrace of life.” – “Marky Moon”

The notice came in the form of a Facebook post with a broken heart emoji. “Rest in peace, Tom,” wrote CBGB veteran Brooke DeLarco. Tom Verlaine (née Thomas Miller) passed away at the very young age of 73 from prostate cancer.

Verlaine’s death – officially announced, Patti Smith’s daughter Jessie Parris duly announced in the New York Times – especially since my own rock critic career began 46 years ago – March 24, 1977, to be precise – the first album review on television with the Soho Weekly News. , “Markey Moon.” It begins with a quote from John Lennon (“Talking is breaking words into small pieces”) and continues with an opening paragraph that remains my only appearance on Wikipedia: “Forget what you’ve heard about television, forget punk, Forget New York, forget CBGB… hell, forget rock and roll – this is the real item.” I was paid $5 for my efforts.

Judging by the New York Dolls’ lack of success outside of New York, I thought “Marky Moon” would be the album to carry the torch for a commercial breakthrough when late A&R maven Karin Berg signed the band to Elektra, where they remained for two albums, the follow-up “Adventure.” Co., was published a year later.

The inclusion of televised Nuggets punk prototypes like Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and 13th Floor Elevators’ “Fire Engine” into their set was tempting to someone my age, just two years Verlaine’s junior. But as Rockcrete Emeritus Robert Krisgau points out, “[‘Marquee Moon’] Punk was not manic in its intensity; It didn’t come fast enough.”

My review said something similar, “Television is a jamming band that has more in common with Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead or Love than the Ramones or the Velvet Underground… TV’s style is more post psychedelic than punk. This music is unimaginable without the LSD experience but, unlike the Dead, it deals (without nostalgia) with the aftermath of psychedelia… what happens to those who have left acid, yet are still stuck in its conflict.”

Verlaine stubbornly resisted my attempts to feature it in our numerous conversations for the New York rocker. Verlaine admits that he was more influenced by sax players such as Albert Ayler and John Coltrane, while listening to a Stan Getz record in middle school made him give up the piano in favor of the horn. Hearing the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” led him to the guitar.

“I understand all… I see no/destructive urges…I see no/It seems so perfect/I see no evil!”

I returned to New York City in 1974 from my undergraduate years at Colgate to pursue an MFA in film criticism at Columbia with the late writer critic Andrew Sarris. It was there that I first met Charles Ball, brother of a college roommate and Terry Ork, co-founder of ORK Records, manager of Cinemabilia, a movie bookstore on 13th Street where Verlaine and Richard Hale were both employees. My first purchase after returning to New York was Mere Patti Smith’s “Peace Factory” single, and television’s double-sided ORK 45, “Little Johnny Jewel.” That would change my life.

As a film student, I appreciated the movie references in Television Albums, “Prove It” is a noir detective story whose plot shifts allegiances with each successive verse; “Friction” is at the root of the narrative, the tension between audience and speaker, how truth becomes fiction through friction; The album’s closer “Torn Curtain”, the name of a Hitchcock film, refers to how the show must go on, even when the players are in dire straits, or as I put it, “allowing us a privileged glimpse behind the scenes of the world that goes on.”

The handwriting on the wall during “Adventure” was: “[The album] Takes you, not to unknown places, but to familiar places that might seem boring. But like Max Ophuls’ films (you can hear Sarris’s influence here), these contacts are what we’ll miss the most when we’re no longer here. Living in the material world has certainly had its effect on television; One hopes that they continue to work on it rather than withdraw into an isolated existence – however primitive.”

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. After jettisoning both Richard Hale and, eventually, Richard Lloyd, two collaborators who were also one-time junkies, Verlaine retreated, releasing a 1992 self-titled album on Capitol, as well as a series of solo efforts. He continued to tour with guitarist Jimmy Rip – who was said to be Pati Smith’s side – and completed a European tour supporting Billy Idol.

His death came as a shock – it was so sudden that I hadn’t even prepared a morgue piece like so many aging rock ‘n’ rollers. Tributes came from the likes of REM’s Michael Stipe, Flea, Billy Idol, former bandmates Richard Lloyd, Richard Baron and Patti, whose writings about the rock scene and Cream’s band originally sparked my interest.

“Dearest Tom,” his one-time partner and girlfriend posted on Instagram. “Love is immense and eternal. My heart is now too intensely full to share everything, and finding the words is too deep a struggle.”

I know what she means. Writing about “Adventure,” I noted, “The world that Verlaine and company created is lost in a ephemeral, acid-influenced quagmire of counterculture ideals and ideas, submerged beneath a misguided search for a wholeness that can only exist in art. “

Rest in peace, Tom. Your work will live on.

“This case I’ve been working on for so long / So long… this case is closed.”

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