NEW YORK — Tom Verlaine, guitarist and co-founder of the seminal proto-punk band Television who influenced many bands while playing at ultra-cool downtown New York music venue CBGB alongside the Ramones, Patti Smith and Talking Heads, has died. He was 73.
He died Saturday in New York City, surrounded by close friends after a brief illness, said Cara Hutchison from the Lede Company, a public relations firm.
“Tom Verlaine has passed over to the beyond that his guitar playing always hinted at. 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,” Mike Scott of The Waterboys tweeted.
Though Television never found much commercial success, Verlaine’s jaggedly inventive playing as part of the band’s two-guitar assault influenced many musicians. Television issued its groundbreaking debut album “Marquee Moon” in 1977 — including the nearly 11-minute title track and “Elevation” — and the sophomore effort “Adventure” a year later.
“‘Marquee Moon’ has become something of a holy grail of independent rock in the years since. It has been a clear influence on such artists as Pavement, Sonic Youth, the Strokes and Jeff Buckley,” Billboard magazine wrote in 2003.
Increasing tension between Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd led Television to disband after its second album “Adventure.” The group would reunite for a self-titled 1992 album for Capitol Records and sporadic live appearances.
“We wanted to strip everything down further, away from the showbiz theatricality of the glitter bands, and away from blues-iness and boogie,” Television co-founder Richard Hell wrote in his autobiography, “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp.” “We wanted to be stark and hard and torn up, the way the world was.”
Verlaine released eight solo albums, his most commercially successful being his 1981 sophomore solo album “Dreamtime,” which peaked at No. 177 on the Billboard album chart. He frequently served as accompanist to former paramour Patti Smith.
Tributes online included those from Susanna Hoffs and Billy Idol, who said Verlaine made music that influenced the US and UK punk scene. Smith shared a tribute on Instagram, posting a photograph of the two of them together: “Farewell Tom, aloft the Omega.”
He was born Tom Miller — later taking the last name of the 19th-century French poet Paul-Marie Verlaine after he met Hell, born Richard Meyers, at a Delaware prep school. They were tall, skinny, sardonic kids who dropped out and made their way to the East Village, where they worked in bookstores and wrote poetry together.
“He was noted for his angular lyricism and pointed lyrical asides, a sly wit, and an ability to shake each string to its truest emotion,” said a statement from his publicist. “His vision and his imagination will be missed.”
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— Mark Kennedy