RIP Tom Verlaine, guitarist and singer for Television
The story goes that Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell walked up to CBGB on a March day in 1974 and found owner Hilly Kristal on a ladder working on the awning. At the time, CBGB was about country, blues, and blue grass (C. B. G. B. geddit?) and wasn’t interested in booking rock acts.
Verlaine and Hell had a group called the Neon Boys. Their pitch to Hilly was to let them have Sunday nights. Since that was the deadest night of the week–the club was already in one of the worst parts of town–Hilly figured “Why not?” That informal residency became the beginning of the entire punk rock scene in NYC–which, of course, was then exported to the world. By the time the Neon Boys changed their name to Television, the cool/weird/artsy kids had made the club its own, supporting not just Television but Blondie, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Dead Boys, and dozens of others.
While The Ramones played 60s-inspired pop songs at the volume and speed of a jet plane and both Blondie and Talking Heads were busy creating American New Wave, Television dove into a stripped-yet-artsy sound. The title track of their 1977 album, Marquee Moon, is still incredible. If you’re never heard it, make sure your first listen is done after dark for full effect. After midnight, if possible.
Television was able to hold it together for two albums (Marquee Moon and Adventure) before breaking up (Hell didn’t even make it to the first album, leaving to form The Heartbreakers with Johnny Thunders and then The Voidoids). But before things exploded, Television influenced how many punk and punk-adjacent songwriters and musicians wrote material and played their instruments. They took what The Velvet Underground had started and took it to the next level.
There was a reunion in 1992 with a self-titled debut album that I immediately fell in love with, especially a track called “Rhyme.”
There were sporadic appearances by Television and its members over the ensuing decades, but the group remain mostly in the shadows. Verlaine continued to write and record, releasing ten solo albums, the last appearing in 2006. For many, he was the ultimate punk cult figure.
Verlaine died today (January 28) at the age of 73 after a short illness. He will be missed.