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Tom Verlaine, frontman of Television, dies at 73

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION SONG, "MARQUEE MOON")

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Punk rock pioneer Tom Verlaine died last week at 73 years old. He is best known as the frontman for the band Television, a fixture in the early New York punk scene, along with bands like Blondie, The Ramones and the Talking Heads. Television got their start in the mid-'70s at the iconic Manhattan music club CBGB.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARQUEE MOON")

TELEVISION: (Singing) There I stand 'neath the marquee moon just waiting.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Verlaine studied music as a kid, classical music, at boarding school. And he played the saxophone. At night, he would fall asleep listening to jazz on the radio. He wasn't really interested in popular music at first. Here's Verlaine on NPR's World Cafe in 2006.

TOM VERLAINE: Some of the kind of wilder guitar things I started to hear on the radio. I started to like guitar. I think The Yardbirds - actually, my girlfriend started playing me Bob Dylan records. I thought, this is real interesting. And if you play guitar, you know, you could sing along with it and stuff. So I started doing that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEE NO EVIL")

TELEVISION: (Singing) I see, I see no evil.

SUMMERS: Television recorded two albums in the '70s, "Marquee Moon" and "Adventure." Though neither sold as well as some of their contemporaries' music, Verlaine's guitar playing and songwriting are celebrated and emulated to this day.

CHANG: The band broke up after releasing "Adventure" but would reunite periodically to make music together.

VERLAINE: I think it's definitely the only one left from that late '70s New York period with the original lineup, from its recordings, you know, and there's no pressure to do anything. So we just sort of do stuff when we feel like we want to. It never becomes a kind of burden to anybody. It's just sort of a thing we do now and then.

SUMMERS: And in-between those television reunions, Verlaine continued to make music, releasing solo albums and collaborating with another CBGB fixture, Patti Smith. Smith paid tribute to Tom Verlaine today in an essay for The New Yorker, remembering her dear friend as someone who, quote, "possessed the child's gift of transforming a drop of water into a poem that somehow begat music."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAYS")

TELEVISION: (Singing) Up in the high, high hills... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.