Just tryin’ to tell a vision: Interview with Tom Verlaine

Posted November 8, 2013 in Music Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Words: Ian Lamont

As a band Television have a lot of connotations that they often seems eager to shrug: the scene they helped begat at Hilly Kristal’s CBGBs club, their indelible association with punk rock that their refined, elegant records never evidence and the humdrum Delaware background that Tom Verlaine traded up for French romantic poet-referencing nom-de-guerre during the band’s nascence in the 1970s. These days, Verlaine is still as elusive as the wild magic that his guitar creates with Television, touring the Asia, South America and Australia on the back of their slight but sublime catalogue. We elicited what information we could from the tight-lipped Verlaine ahead Television’s November 21st gig at Vicar Street.


You have upcoming shows in Australia where you will be performing the entirety of Marquee Moon and it is now very much an established part of the rock canon. Is there a certain amount of pride you take from that or do you wonder what sets it apart from the rest of your work?

It’s basically a “live” record with the mistakes patched up and some editing here and there. I never think of it in any context. In particular, it seems to get rediscovered by a new generation every ten years or so, so that’s kinda cool. Over the years, a great many songs got rehearsed and maybe played once or twice, but never recorded. Once in a while we pull one out and play it live and that’s fun, they sound better now! We went to South America 3 times in the past few years. It’s interesting to see some new places. We did some shows in Japan and Korea this year. I also did a duet tour with Jimmy of Japan in 2011. We played very small, seated venues – very non-“rock” places, you might say. I could actually hear my voice on stage, which was shocking! The band will do six shows in Australia a few weeks before the shows in the UK and Ireland as well as a few USA gigs.

I was wondering what work in particular influenced the lyrical side. I’ve heard the term “urban pastoral” to describe the poetry inherent in the lyrics. Can you illuminate some of the points of inspiration for you?

Growing up in Delaware I had minimal exposure to literature. When I came to New York in 1968, I got a job in a giant used bookstore. The salty older guys working there, many of whom were writers, would toss books at me saying

“Here kid, read this!” And I often would. I remember reading Henry Miller’s book about his time in Greece [The Colossus of Maroussi], and some very good translations of Lorca and Machado. The writer I liked the most then was Gérard de Nerval, maybe because I could sympathize with his “unrequited-love-madness” (for lack of a better term) and how he was able to write through that or accompanied by that.

In David Byrne’s How Music Works book posited a theory that CBGBs had the perfect dynamics around which a scene could percolate. Does it seem strange how much talent was incubated there, or do you think its impact is overstated?

To be honest, there’s not a lot of “memories” about that spot. And I never run into any of the people that played there really. I do still see Patti Smith a few times a year. I actually just did a mostly poetry show with her about three weeks ago. No drums, just guitar and her daughter on keyboards. It was very fun!

Richard Lloyd left the band several years ago and you’ve Jimmy Rip replaced him in the band. Can you tell me a little bit about him?

Jimmy Rip is the same fellow who did all my solo tours since 1981, so it was real easy to get Television shows going. We’d done quite a few [of the songs] on the Tom Verlaine solo tours.

I watched an interview with the band from Brazilian TV from 2011 and at that point, it seemed like another Television album was quite far along in terms of preparation – has that disappeared again? Or what else can you tell us about it?

We’ve got about 12 tracks recorded for a new release too, but too not sure when they will be finished. We also worked out three more new ones for a recent Japanese tour. That’s my favorite place to play now. No-one videos the shows on their cell-phones or anything like that. They like just listening, so it is a very good audience to play to and to improvise to.

Television play Vicar Street on November 21st, tickets are €32 including booking.


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