Wednesday, September 6, 2006


Last spring I attended Tom Verlaine's first night show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC. Now, I've never seen Verlaine live before and so there was considerable anticipation. After all, TV, as front man for Television, was the guiding light in the darkness of late '70s music where I found myself stranded in my suburban youth -- a situation glanced at in "Between Days," but to expand on it: Verlaine, born Tom Miller in 1949, lived in Wilmington, DE, and then became the houseband guitar hero at CBGB's in those heady days of New Wave when London punk was calling from across the waves and all that. Whatever, in my neck of the woods (or rather lawns) the cockney safety pin crowd were a bit of a lawwph -- awful skank y'know -- and the story of Johnny Rotten was yet another rock'n'roll swindle of when the hype hits the fan. If you lived in NYC or LA, fine, you could live in an alley behind the club and do the whole brew for breakfast bit, but we were still (some of us anyway) down to our shoulders in hairy bands of blissful rock godhood playing in hockey rinks, toking on paraphenalia scored from headshops/record stores and riding around in grand boats of the road ($2 apiece for gas and you could drive all night). And this meant we wanted bands that could PLAY. (But don't mind me, we also thought Andy Warhol would be so much better if he could paint).

Tom Verlaine could and can play, what's more he took the cool name of the not-so-cool French poet in love with Rimbaud who the latter dumped on in "A Season in Hell" (Une saison en enfer, for those at home in the lingo), and he played on Patti Smith's first album which was produced by John Cale late of the Velvet Underground, whose first album had been produced by Andy Warhol and, ummm, anyway, I finally, 22 years late, got to hear the man in person. Of course, I didn't expect to hear anything from those two Television albums so firmly burned into the grooves of my brain, but I was overjoyed to hear "Kingdom Come" from the first solo album. Then, late in the show, some dickhead* a bit behind me called out "you suck tonight!"

Was it true? I'd been swept up in the trademark latter day Verlaine guitar licks and happy as the night was long, but maybe...? It is true that I was disappointed when "Kingdom Come," after some rapid dexterous digital (i.e., of the fingers, not of technology) manipulation that seemed not to achieve satori, didn't return our erring souls back to the main riff (the way "Marquee Moon" comes back around to its place of setting out), so maybe this was only a pale imitation, a distant relation of the man in his heyday, and it was time to face the fact that a belated era has overwhelmed us all.

But I did come out of the experience with an insight: Artists are like your children: even though you love them, they can still disappoint you. Or flip it the other way: An audience is like your parents: even though you need them, they can still be a pain in the ass.

*dickhead, n.: a cephalic protuberance which, like the phallus, has no ability to process thought (despite myths that it "has a mind of its own"); especially, but not always, the portion of a driver's head visible above the neck-guard in a car that has been observed to do something utterly stupid. Usage: Look at that dickhead driving 55 miles an hour in the far left lane!

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