Here’s some advice brilliantly worded by Steve Albini: Live your life like Patti Smith will be writing your obit. Case in point, the punk/literary icon’s stunning eulogy to longtime friend Tom Verlaine, the late Television musician who died earlier this week at 73.
In a tribute essay published in the New Yorker today, Smith recalls first crossing paths with Verlaine by chance in New York, despite once living quite close to each other: “We could easily have sauntered into the same Wawa on the Wilmington-South Jersey border in search of Yoo-hoo or Tastykakes,” she writes.
“[We didn’t meet] until 1973, on East Tenth Street, across from St. Mark’s Church, where he stopped me and said, ‘You’re Smith,'” she remembers. “He had long hair, and we clocked each other, both echoing the future, both wearing clothes they didn’t wear anymore. I noticed the way his long arms hung, and his equally long and beautiful hands, and then we went our separate ways. That was, until Easter night, April 14, 1974. Lenny Kaye and I took a rare taxi ride from the Ziegfeld Theatre after seeing the première of Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, straight down to the Bowery to see a new band called Television.”
Smith then describes being “immediately taken” while watching Television perform at the bygone legendary rock club CBGB: “What we saw that night was kin, our future, a perfect merging of poetry and rock and roll. As I watched Tom play, I thought, Had I been a boy, I would’ve been him. I went to see Television whenever they played, mostly to see Tom, with his pale blue eyes and swanlike neck. He bowed his head, gripping his Jazzmaster, releasing billowing clouds, strange alleyways populated with tiny men, a murder of crows, and the cries of bluebirds rushing through a replica of space. All transmuted through his long fingers, all but strangling the neck of his guitar.”
From there, Smith remembers quickly growing close with the “angelic yet slightly demonic” musician, whom she would begin a romantic relationship; even after their breakup, the pair remained close collaborators and friends, up until Verlaine’s last days: “In his final hours, watching him sleep, I travelled backward in time,” Smith concludes the tribute. “We were in the apartment, and he cut my hair, and some pieces stuck out this way and that, so he called me Winghead. In the years to follow, simply Wing. Even when we got older, always Wing. And he, the boy who never grew up, aloft the Omega, a golden filament in the vibrant violet light.”
Read Smith’s full eulogy at the New Yorker, and revisit our essay on the endurance and legacy of Television’s landmark album Marquee Moon.