Tom Verlaine passed away on Jan. 28 at the age of 73. Following his death, The New Yorker published a moving eulogy for the Television frontman, written by one of his closest contemporaries, Patti Smith.
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Verlaine and Smith came up in the New York rock scene around the same time, were briefly a couple, and collaborated many times. Notably, Verlaine played guitar on Smith’s 1974 debut single, “Hey Joe” and on her most recent record, Banga.
In her piece, Smith writes about meeting Verlaine and experiencing Television live for the first time.
“The club was CBGB,” she wrote. “There were only a handful of people present, but Lenny and I were immediately taken with it, with its pool table and narrow bar and low stage. What we saw that night was kin, our future, a perfect merging of poetry and rock and roll. As I watched Tom play, I thought, Had I been a boy, I would’ve been him.
“I went to see Television whenever they played, mostly to see Tom, with his pale blue eyes and swanlike neck,” she continued. “He bowed his head, gripping his Jazzmaster, releasing billowing clouds, strange alleyways populated with tiny men, a murder of crows, and the cries of bluebirds rushing through a replica of space. All transmuted through his long fingers, all but strangling the neck of his guitar.”
Elsewhere she describes Verlaine’s personality with acute detail: “He devoured poetry and dark-chocolate-covered Entenmann’s doughnuts, downed with coffee and cigarettes. Sometimes he would seem dreamy and faraway then suddenly break into peals of laughter…There was no one like Tom. He possessed the child’s gift of transforming a drop of water into a poem that somehow begat music.”
Verlaine died following a brief illness. He’s best known for his work with Television, but also shared several solo projects throughout his life. In addition to Smith, a number of his fellow musicians paid tribute to Verlaine, including Michael Stipe, Sleater-Kinney, Flea, and more.
Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Bob Dylan Center