You Say It's Your Birthday: Television's Tom Verlaine

Today is the 48th birthday of Television guitarist, vocalist and songwriter

Tom Verlaine. Television's albums were virtually ignored by the mass

market in the late '70s, but the group's punk spirit, mixed with long jams

that touched on jazz and the blues, was massively influential to the

post-punk guitar-pop groups of the early '80s. Verlaine was born Tom

Miller but changed his name to Verlaine as an homage to the French

Symbolist poet. A high school drop-out, he also was quickly in-and-out of

colleges in South Carolina and Pennsylvania before landing in New York in

1968. The first inception of the band came in 1972, when Verlaine, drummer

Billy Ficca and bassist Richard Hell came together to form the Neon Boys.

At the end of 1973, rhythm guitarist Richard Lloyd was added to the mix and

the group were renamed Television. Their live debut came a year later

and with it, a cult audience developed. The popularity of

Television in this devoted crowd helped Verlaine persuade the club CBGB's to

allow bands to perform there on a regular basis, a decision that would end

up turning CBGB's into a punk-rock institution. 1974 also brought

the release of Patti Smith's "Hey Joe/Piss Factory," on which Verlaine

played guitar.

Television recorded a demo with Brian Eno for Island Records in 1975, but

the label passed. The group recorded the underground hit "Little Johnny

Jewel" later that year; shortly thereafter, Hell left the band and went on to form the

Heartbreakers with former New York Doll guitarist Johnny Thunders. Hell's slot

was filled by former Blondie bassist Fred Smith, but the band didn't release

an album until 1977's Marquee Moon. The album was a hit with

critics, but sales were soft and a supporting tour with Blondie didn't boost

sales significantly. 1978's Adventure sold better, but it

still didn't hit the charts. A few months after the album was released,

Television broke up due to tensions between Verlaine and Lloyd. Verlaine

embarked on a solo career in 1979, releasing seven albums through the '80s, all

of which were met with the same critical praise and audience indifference as

his work with Television. The group reunited for a self-titled release in

1992 and toured the world through 1993. Recently, Verlaine has been doing work

on other people's albums, including the delayed second album

from the late Jeff Buckley.

Other birthdays: Tony Gomez (the Foundations), 49;

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan), 49; Ted Nugent (Damn

Yankees), 49; and Berton Averre (the Knack), 43.