By now you’ve likely learned that Tom Verlaine, the brilliant New York guitarist, singer and lyricist best known for his work with Television, has passed. Though a foundational artist whose work had a profound effect on generations of guitarists, he’s less known by listeners under 40.
One reason, he surmised in a 1976 interview with Crawdaddy magazine: “I don’t see us as a big media gimmick band. We don’t really have any gimmicks. We don’t have a cultivated appearance or anything like say Kiss or something. We don’t have a ‘show.'”
Though time has a way of correcting such oversights, it often needs a nudge. In Verlaine’s case, once you start absorbing his playing, guitar tone and approach, which vibrates with a similar energy as Jerry Garcia and Richard Thompson, you’ll begin hearing echoes of it everywhere, whether in bands that came directly after him –– Sonic Youth, the Fall, and R.E.M. included –– or contemporary artists ranging from Wilco to Alvvays (who wrote an ode to the guitarist called ‘Tom Verlaine’).
A lot of outlets have been highlighting Verlaine’s work with Television and as a song-based writer on solo albums including Dream Time, Words from the Front, and Flash Light. So you have a sense of that tone, here’s Verlaine’s solo in another band’s song: Luna’s ’23 Hours in Brussels.’
Less known, though, are Verlaine’s instrumental guitar albums. The first, Warm and Cool, came out in 1992, not long after 1990’s The Wonder. He’d spent the 1980s releasing vocal-based albums, none of which earned enough sales to make him a household name.
In what seemed like a surrender to the pop marketplace, Verlaine signed with the then-high-flying Rykodisc to release Warm and Cool. Absent his distinctive vocal warble and evocative lyrics, his electric guitar became the deserved focus.
Though Verlaine continued to appear on other artist’s records, he was dormant as a recording artist for the next 14 years. In 2006, he begin a two-album relationship with Chicago label Thrill Jockey (Tortoise, Trans Am, Nobukazu Takemura). The first, Around, is also an instrumental and jumps genres and approaches with a willful glee.
The second record for Thrill Jockey ended up being his final solo album. Called Songs and Other Things, it’s a mostly vocal album and is an understated, and overlooked, gem.
Here’s ‘The Day on You’:
We’ll end with a board recording of Television at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco in the summer of 1978. By then, their second album, Adventure, had been out for two months and, outside of critics’ circles, had failed to generate any interest from the public at large. The record marked the end of their two-album relationship with Elektra. The album sold so poorly that for much of the 1980s you could find copies in cut-out bins for $3.98.