Death of Tom Verlaine, rimbaldian hero of New York punk
There are musicians whose career radiates from a short period. Others whose importance is not measured by the volume of sales, but by the influence exercised on their peers – the so-called “musicians for musicians”. Both remarks apply to American singer and guitarist Tom Verlaine, who died on Saturday January 28 in New York, at the age of 73.
He will indeed remain first and foremost as the architect of this cornerstone that was in 1977 the album Marquee Moon, birth certificate of the Television group. A founding record for having established that the energy of punk rock was not incompatible with technical mastery and a sophistication inherited from jazz and a taste for improvisation
The announcement of his disappearance was made at New York Times by musician Jesse Paris Smith, daughter of Patti Smith, another central figure of the New York scene at the end of the 1970s who gravitated in the disreputable Bowery district around the CBGB’s club. Youthful lovers during their bohemian years, Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith shared a disturbing vocal kinship, with an androgynous timbre halfway between lament and psalmody.
Patti Smith’s obsession with Arthur Rimbaud is well known. But the romantic cult of proto punk from Charleville-Mézières was in fact widespread in a circle of associates since Thomas Miller had himself chosen his artist name, Tom Verlaine, in reference to the other half of the scandalous couple formed by Rimbaud. .
In residence at CBGB’s
Born on December 13, 1949 in Denville (New Jersey), the teenager had discovered that he shared the same passions – cursed poetry and music – as a fellow student of the Sanford School (Delaware), Richard Meyers. This one was to be renamed Richard Hell by allusion to A season in Hell by Rimbaud. Miller and Meyers will publish in 1973 a collection of poems, Wanna Go Out?, attributing it to Theresa Stern, a character of German and Puerto Rican Jewish origin, whose face on the cover associates those of the authors, both of whom are transvestites.
In New York, the friends founded their first short-lived band with drummer Billy Ficca, The Neon Boys, which moved to television in 1973 after the arrival of a second guitarist, Richard Lloyd. With the Ramones, the new formation is one of the first to build the reputation of CBGB’s, immediately mentioned in glowing terms by rock critic Patti Smith in the alternative weekly SoHo Weekly News.
But quickly the conflict of leadership is exacerbated between Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, who do not intend to yield on their prerogatives of authors. Attracted by spontaneity and chaos, the second irritates the first by his scenic excesses – inspired by the photo of Rimbaud by Etienne Carjat, Hell would be the initiator of the punk cut, cut with a chisel without a mirror – and the insufficiency of his bass playing. In return, technical competence was then considered a defect in the New York underground, and the Television that Verlaine wanted was visibly oriented towards this deviationism.
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