By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta
Best known for his body of work as frontman for the New York City’s alternative punk band Television, which featured his vibrato guitar style, Tom Verlaine, died January 28, 2023, at the age of 73 after battling prostate cancer.
Verlaine was born Thomas Joseph Miller in Denville, moving to Wilmington, Delaware, with his family at age 6. He studied piano at a young age, then went on to saxophone in middle school. He was inspired by jazz saxophonists like Stan Getz, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler; and then later took up guitar.
Verlaine’s family sent Tom and his twin brother John to Sanford Preparatory School, a private boarding school in Hockessin, Delaware. Verlaine’s interest leaned toward writing and poetry, in fact he got his stage name from French poet Paul Verlaine.
Sanford Prep is where he became friends with Richard Meyers, who later became known as punk icon Richard Hell. The two shared a passion for music and poetry. Neither of them graduated and ended up moving to the Lower East Side in Manhattan during the dawning of the punk rock era.
Verlaine and Hell formed a band called The Neon Boys with Billy Ficca as drummer before forming Television with guitarist Richard Lloyd. They played notable punk clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas during the mid-1970s.
Eventually Verlaine and Hell parted ways, with Hell joining another punk act called The Heartbreakers—not to be confused with Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers who came later. The original Heartbreakers line-up included infamous guitarist from The New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders; and drummer Terry Chimes who also played with The Clash.
Hell was replaced by Fred Smith and Television released two albums, Marquee Moon and Adventure, which both received great critical acclaim and modest sales before they broke up in July 1978.
Verlaine went on to have a prolific solo career, releasing 10 albums from 1979 to 2006. For a short time, he resided in England where his work was favorably received. Verlaine’s tune “Kingdom Come” was covered by David Bowie on his Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) album in 1980.
Verlaine worked with a variety of artists including former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha. Verlaine also made music with his former romantic partner, Patti Smith. He played on the song “Fireflies” from her 1996 album, Gone Again. He also played on her Grammy nominated song “Glitter in Their Eyes” from Smith’s 2000 album, Gung Ho.
But working with Smith was nothing new. Back in the 1970s, Verlaine played guitar on Smith’s debut single, “Hey Joe.” He also played on “Break It Up,” which he co-wrote with Smith, from her debut album, Horses. The two played together again in 2005 for a 30th anniversary concert of Horses in its entirety. The show was later released on CD.
In 1992, Televison reformed to record a studio album, simply titled Television, as well as a live recording, Live at the Academy, 1992. And in 1994, the film score for Love and a .45 was composed by Veraline.
Throughout the 2010s, he continued to tour with Television, including tours of Europe in 2014 and 2016. Television was invited to support Billy Idol on a 2022 UK and European tour, but Verlaine’s doctors said he wasn’t in good health.
Though Verlaine never achieved commercial success on the charts, he had a strong following with many famed musicians paying tribute to his death on social media, such as Michael Stipe, Chris Stein, Flea, and Susanna Hoffs.