Blues day continues with the birthday of a man who had a strange, paranoid modern urban blues vision. Here's something I posted for his birthday last year.
With a much smaller body of absolute classics to draw on than Lou, his reputation mainly rests on the importance of his band Television, the massive significance of their emergence in New York in the early seventies, the records they put out over the next few years, (most obviously their debut album Marquee Moon), and their transcendent live performances then and since they reformed. I saw them two years ago, the third occasion in all I'd seen them play live over the years and quite the most memorable. It was one of the best gigs I'd ever witnessed.
Here's Richard Hell, his accomplice and most meaningful friend. Though that friendship famously didn't last. This is the closing section from Hell's relatively recent biography I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. It's fitting his book should close with Verlaine as their relationship was so important to what happened in CBGBs in the seventies and everything that has fed on and branched away from it since in terms of music, culture and ideas. The writing is slightly barbed at some points, you get the impression Hell will never quite forgive Verlaine for the way he treated him and eventually ousted him from Television and what that did to their friendship, but there's something quite beautiful about it too. As if all that hurt, nursed over decades, is finally coming to a place of closure and resolution,
'The other night I was walking home from a restaurant when I saw Tom Verlaine going through the dollar bins outside a used-book store. I'd been surprised to see him there a few times in recent weeks. Usually I only spot him somewhere every two or three years. In public he always holds himself nervously apart from everyone, meeting no eyes, as if he assumes everyone wants to accost him. His head and neck perch like a raggedly spooked hawk on the high bulky prospect of his middle-aged body, above the crowds, his eyes self-consciously focused on something in the distance. When I see him on the street I don't try to get his attention, but this time I was too curious to let the moment pass. What was he doing? The books in the dollar bins are as useless as they come - outdated text-books, forgotten mass-market trash, operating manuals. I walked up to him and asked, "Finding out anything about flying saucers?" The last time I'd spoken to him in person, as opposed to a few e-mails, had been seven or eight years before. "Yes, this is the Greek edition." He grinned at me, holding out a Greek-language three-volume set of some sort, proffering it theatrically, as if it were a great, but fragile and possibly dangerous prize and he was an animated cartoon, like Gumby, the way he does. He smiled something else, wide-eyed going along with the flying saucer stuff. I replied, "I hear Plato came from Pluto." He continued to smile widely. His teeth looked brown and broken in the night light, even worse than mine (he still smokes), and his face was porous and expanded and his hair coarse gray. I turned away and walked on, shocked. We were like two monsters confiding, but that wasn't what shocked me. It was that my feeling was love. I felt grateful for him and believed in him, and inside myself I affirmed the way he is impossible and the way it's impossible to like him. It had never been any different. I felt as close to him as I ever did. What else do I have to believe in but people like him? I'm like him for God's sake. I am him.
When Tom spoke to me there outside the bookstore, it was forty-two years ago, 1969, and he was nineteen years old. We both were. His misshapen, larded, worn flesh somehow just emphasized the purity of the spirit inside. He made a bunch of beautiful recordings too. Who gives a fuck about the worldly achievers, the succeeders at conventional ambitions?'
Amen to that! Happy Birthday Tom.