Tom Verlaine of Television

Television. Marquee Moon. In rock music, those two titles go hand in hand as being staples in modern music’s large essay of how it all came to be. Back in 1977, Marquee Moon dropped and was instantly a critical success.  Ever since,  it has been considered one of the best albums of all time (by Rolling Stone, Robert Christgau, Pitchfork Media and more). A few years later, Television were no more and Tom Verlaine, the band’s singer, songwriter and guitar player, embarked on a solo career and played in the project Neon Boys while Television came back and disappeared a number of times much like a shaky signal.

Television are playing at this year’s Canadian Music Week at The Phoenix Concert Theatre on Saturday May 10, 2014. I am not only fortunate enough to be able to be covering their show, but I was also someone who got a chance to actually interview Tom Verlaine: a rare feat. Only four other publications were allowed to do so for CMW. What was something I was going to learn about this elusive mastermind?

I started off with a big mistake by asking Verlaine about modern day punk and its resemblance to the kind of post punk you’d find in the 70’s. “I DON’T REALLY KNOW MUCH ABOUT PUNK MUSIC”, he exclaimed, as it is actually a well known fact that he is not one that wishes to talk about punk.  Being unsure of what to ask a huge idol of mine, I accidentally resorted to my embedded notions of what I love about Television.  It can be heard that Verlaine’s contributions,  especially on Marquee Moon, are more experimental and free of genre while that album’s guitar player Richard Lloyd played the more aggressive sounding chords that rang true to what punk stood for back then.

Luckily I didn’t ask about punk rock again (directly, anyways), and after asking him if any current musicians have caught his attention, Verlaine replied “I heard a record early last year by  ‘War Paint‘ …thought that was pretty good.”, despite not having heard their newest album. Fair enough: I can hear the flittering melodies and emotional formations that take a large part in both Warpaint’s and Television’s songs. In relation to Television’s repertoire, I asked Verlaine if he ever felt that he or his band felt the need to respond to Marquee Moon’s gargantuan legacy; “Hmm…got no thoughts on that one!”, he simply responded. Similarly,  he said “…I  got no answers on this one” when I asked him if the current trends involving vintage styles and vinyl were prohibiting us from moving forwards. I became a bit concerned. Am I asking the wrong things? What will be the point of this interview?

Then I got my final answer, and it is my saving grace. I asked Verlaine the following question: On topic of today’s music cultures, how do you feel about music being so accessible digitally? Do you find that it helps spread so many artists to the public or that it may cheapen the experience for the listeners as the process to hear said music has become essentially effortless? Verlaine replied with the most enthusiasm at the very end. He replied “[It] must be strange to be 10 years old  to have 1/2 million songs in all languages available for listening at any given free moment. I heard so  little by comparison!”.

I think I finally get Tom Verlaine‘s character. He isn’t about the past or harping on about genres or styles. He isn’t about predicting the future or thinking too far ahead. He’s about the now. He’s about the beauties of what can be done this very second, whether it be accessing any song that speaks to you or creating whatever song you desire. Verlaine doesn’t so much plan or reflect as much as he lives in the moment. On that note, the text interview was complete and I ended up getting a far bigger answer than I had even initially intended.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.