Patti Smith Writes Heartfelt Eulogy For Television’s Tom Verlaine

“There was no one like Tom.”

By Andy Kahn Jan 31, 2023 7:26 am PST

Television co-founder Tom Verlaine died on Saturday in New York City at age 73. News of the punk rock icon’s passing came from Jesse Paris Smith, daughter of another punk icon, Patti Smith.

As she detailed in The New Yorker, Patti Smith met Verlaine in New York City in 1973. Her first time seeing Verlaine perform with Television was a year later when she and Patti Smith Group guitarist Fred Smith saw the influential band perform at the punk rock epicenter CBGB. Recalling that first encounter with Verlaine’s music, Patti Smith wrote:

The club was CBGB. 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. 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.

Sharing a love of poetry, literature and underground art, Verlaine and Patti Smith were romantic partners for a time as the two ensconced themselves in the mid-1970s New York City punk scene. Television’s landmark debut album, Marquee Moon was released in 1977. They followed with Adventure in 1978 but soon disbanded. A reformed Television issued a final album, the 1992 self-titled release.

Patti Smith’s breakout debut album, Horses was released in 1975 and featured contributions from Verlaine. Verlaine and Patti Smith published a book of poetry, The Night, in 1976. The pair remained friends over subsequent years and were together in his “final hours.”

Those last moments together were shared by Patti Smith who ended her poignant eulogy to her friend by writing:

“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. In his last days, he had the selfless support of devoted friends. Having no children, he welcomed the love he received from my daughter, Jesse, and my son, Jackson.

In his final hours, watching him sleep, I traveled backward in time. We were in the apartment, and he cut my hair, and some pieces stuck out this way and that, so he called me Winghead. In the years to follow, simply Wing. Even when we got older, always Wing. And he, the boy who never grew up, aloft the Omega, a golden filament in the vibrant violet light.

Read Patti Smith’s full eulogy for Tom Verlaine at The New Yorker.

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