We left New York on the 27th to arrive in Germany on the 28th to read that Tom Verlaine had died. The other end of the sphere of classic original and inspired guitar players, I played with him most nights on the US tour in 1988 where he opened for the ex-band acoustic and we played Cortez the Killer as an encore (electric of course), trading solos. He travelled on our bus and I spent a substantial amount of time in his company which led to me playing guitar (uncredited along with Jay Dee Daugherty) on his 1990 album The Wonder. Verlaine was a great inspiration to me as he never seemed to hit the notes that others chose. He was that intoxicating mixture of high competence and risk, emotional and raw, and able to sustain long guitar solos that were always disappointing when they stopped. It’s all in the fingers and I remember his wiry hands, he was tall and slim, almost a statue. He was thoughtful and always very kind to me, he gave me books about the French writers of the previous two centuries because he knew I was interested and once when his guitar broke he used my 12-string acoustic and made a point of telling the audience it was mine and how grateful he was for letting him use it.
When I acquired my Jazzmaster, it was Verlaine that I had in mind. He famously used a Jazzmaster on the Television albums Marquee Moon (1977) and Adventure (1978). I used it for many years as my main guitar. I wanted something between a Strat and a Rickenbacker and the Jazzmaster was it. When I was in Australia in June I bought a Television – Marquee Moon T-shirt at Egg Records in Newtown, re-stocking my ageing, shrinking T-shirt collection with the new blood of old classics. I also bought a Doors shirt and a T. Rex shirt, all now incredible characters who have passed away, and not just the front man (three of T. Rex are gone, two of The Doors). When I arrived in New York in November, my first walk around Manhattan, I thought this is where I will wear my Television shirt. Two people said “great band”, most didn’t have a clue, some maybe silently approved but you really got the feeling of how New York’s rock ’n’ roll underground has changed (obviously) drastically since the glory days of CBGB’s. Verlaine and Patti Smith’s rock ’n’ roll poetic spirit has turned into hip hop poetry and a new generation’s approach to art, there’s no more sense of the French giants like Paul Verlaine, Jean Genet, Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire that they championed.
As it happened I was in Strand Books on 12th off Union Square just some hours ago buying Raymond Radiguet’s The Devil In The Flesh (Le Diable Au Corps). I have a copy of it already, amongst the book collection in England but it has been so long since I read it that I bought it again, figuring it would be a different translation (maybe) and as I suspected it was as great as I remembered it. As it happened I barely remembered the story at all but discovered (I’m 70 pages in) that it is in fact a classic of early 20th-century French literature. It’s a semi-autobiographical story about a 16-year-old boy who falls in love with the 19-year-old wife of a soldier fighting at the front in World War I. It was controversial at the time and written by a teenage Radiguet, intellectually advanced in his years, so much so that he became a protege of Jean Cocteau who declared him a genius. Unfortunately, Radiguet succumbed to typhoid fever at the age of 20 in 1923, one wonders what other classics he might have written, one other book, Le bal du Comte d’Orgel was released posthumously in 1924.
This amongst all those other French classics will have all been voraciously read by Dylan, Patti and Tom – Gide, Sartre, Nin, de Beauvoir, Cocteau, Camus etc. Thus giving them their poetic sensibility in relation to their music which permeates it through and through. You got the impression that no one really knew Tom that well, I knew him a little. I ran into him once in a Starbucks in Manhattan. “Tom,” he looked at me puzzled from a faraway place. “It’s Marty,” I said. He clicked into recognition and greeted me with a wry smile. He always seemed somewhat far away. He’s lost his brother to drugs and I never saw him indulge in anything but coffee and cigarettes, almost as if that’s what he lived on, something like Frank Zappa and perhaps that’s what got him in the end.
He was a great inspiration to me and one of the highlights of my musical career is when he sat me down and patiently showed me how to play Friction. I played and sang it at one of The Beat Goes On shows at The Bottom Line presented by my friends Ed Rogers and Jeanne Stahlman. I hung with him another couple of times after seeing Television live at Cirkus in Stockholm and then at the next show in London. I remember he came up to my room at the hotel we were staying at to check out the albums I had bought. I never did get to talk to him again after that chance meeting in the coffee shop. I saw him live with a modern version of Television in Santiago in Chile and I also saw him once at St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn on October 15th 1999 playing Music For Films (with film) with Jimmy Ripp. I recorded it on my minidisc player, so somewhere I have a bootleg copy of that show. I also saw him playing guitar with Patti Smith at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. He sat down for the whole show and wore a hat, haha, he was great. Last but not least he once told me that he’d played on Bowie’s Scary Monsters (Bowie had covered his song Kingdom Come) but nothing he did was used. This isn’t quite the version he told me:
“Tom Verlaine, who came to the overdub sessions in New York, wrote it. We asked Verlaine if he would like to overdub some guitar and he agreed. He asked if it would be okay to rent some guitar amps. It looked as though Verlaine was a little down on his luck and lugubrious in those days—and maybe he didn’t own a guitar amp. The next day David and I were met with the sight of Tom Verlaine auditioning every guitar amp in New York City. No exaggeration—there were about 30 guitar amps in the studio. He would play the same phrase in one, unplug his guitar and move to the next amp. We talked to him about the part and he said he had some ideas, but he was searching for a good sound. Hours drifted, we had lunch, watched some afternoon television and left Verlaine still auditioning amps at 7 p.m. I don’t think we ever used a note of his playing, if we even recorded him. We never saw him after that day. Again the backing vocals pulled the track into some kind of psycho-Ronettes area”. – Tony Visconti (Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy)