Television frontman Tom Verlaine dead at 73

News of the pioneering guitarist and singer's death was confirmed by Patti Smith's daughter Jesse

Tom Verlaine, the frontman and guitarist of pioneering post punks Television, has died aged 73.

Verlaine’s death, which came after a short illness, was confirmed on Saturday by Patti Smith’s daughter Jesse Paris Smith. Verlaine and Patti Smith had been collaborators and close friends for many years, Verlaine playing on Smith’s records including her debut Horses and her most recent album 2012’s Banga.

Television - Marquee Moon

Verlaine founded Television with his schoolfriend Richard Hell and drummer Billy Finca. Born Thomas Miller and Richard Meyer, the two friends had moved to New York and changed their names, Verlaine choosing his in honour of French poet Paul Verlaine. After a short-lived venture called Neon Boys, they joined up with guitarist Richard Lloyd to create Television. Hell left the band prior to their debut Marquee Moon, replaced by Fred Smith.

Marquee Moon has been enshrined in history as one of the most important punk albums ever. Many also considered Verlaine to be one of the finest guitarists of all time. His work on Marquee Moon influenced generations of guitarists with its intricacy and immediacy, taking punk into unknown territories. His interplay with Lloyd has been often imitated but never equalled.

Verlaine’s enduring influence can be keenly felt in the tributes from across the music world. Stereogum shared a video of Wilco’s Nels Cline playing Verlaine’s guitar parts from ‘Marquee Moon’ and extolling the wonders and influence of his playing. Cline himself wrote on Instagram: “I am running out of words, though not out of love and respect, or tears… Tom Verlaine. So crucially important to me, to my music and playing.”

Most moving was Smith’s own tribute. Beneath a black and white photo of her and Verlaine from the 70s, she wrote:

“This is
a time
when all
Tom, aloft
the Omega.”

She later followed it by saying: “Grief is not an affliction, but a privilege.”

On Twitter, superstar producer Steve Albini called Verlaine a “beautifully lyrical guitarist, underrated vocalist.” He went on to say that “Television made a new kind of music and inspired new kinds of music. Marquee Moon is a perfect record.” Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn said: “He was my guitar hero at a time when I needed one most… keep poking at those heavens, Tom Verlaine”.

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore movingly remembered weekend mornings smoking and discussing poetry finds with Verlaine. “Went by the book stalls outside Strand yesterday thinking I’d see you as usual… gonna miss you Tom.” R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe said that he had “lost a hero.” Via the band’s Twitter account, Stipe wrote: “You introduced me to a world that flipped my life upside down. I am forever grateful.”

Television - Foxhole (live)

The Waterboys’ Mike Scott wrote: “He was the best rock and roll guitarist of all time, and like Hendrix could dance from the spheres of the cosmos to garage rock. That takes a special greatness.”

Television had planned to tour the UK as support for Billy Idol in late 2022 but were forced to pull out when Verlaine fell ill. With his passing, music has lost one of its most unique talents, a guitarist above and beyond what guitarists were supposed to be. He leaves behind a body of work and a reputation that still inspires as much in 2023 as it did in the 70s.