Renaissance Man Tom Verlaine Social, But Not Through Social Media




Feature Image Tom Verlaine © Donna Balancia
Feature Image Tom Verlaine © Donna Balancia
Tom Verlaine - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Tom Verlaine – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Teragram Ballroom Review Tom Verlaine

By DONNA BALANCIA — Tom Verlaine and Television don’t want to be labeled, but successful is one term they will have to accept.

Verlaine may not have attained the kind of superstar status deemed acceptable by today’s corporate music world, but he and his partners in Television have achieved something more important.  The band has influenced many young artists over the years — maybe more today than ever before.

Verlaine takes it all stoicly in stride and continues to play his tunes, as he did at the Teragram Ballroom last Thursday and Friday, before legions of post-20s-aged fans.  His music has deeper appeal today than it did when Television came to prominence in New York City in the 1970s.

Television was founded by Verlaine, Richard Hell, Billy Ficca and Richard Lloyd.  The group had a major influence on music and could be found mainly playing gigs at CBGB, which was considered home. The music has a richer value today but the music scene is different than the 1970s in many regards.  Mostly in the way of getting the music — and the message of the music out to the public.

The message that Television was playing LA did get out there as evidenced by fans aged 20 to 70 years old, who packed the Teragram Ballroom in Downtown Los Angeles (#DTLA).

Television - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Television – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Verlaine doesn’t have a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, nor does he participate in any of the social-media mind clutter on which many people spend time today.  “They” say you’ve gotta have social media. Verlaine doesn’t listen to what “They” say.  He never has.

It’s not that he’s not open to the ideas, after Thursday’s show he was open to conversations about his audience and his methodologies. But he comes from a place where exchanges are more personal in nature, as evidenced by the sold-out show Thursday night at Teragram Ballroom.  The new Los Angeles venue seems to have been designed almost with Verlaine in mind.

Teragram Ballroom is a 600-person venue that generates sound seemingly to each individual listener.  The construction of the venue is unique and the team that keeps the new concert hall running is not only experienced but they are respectful of guests, the musicians, and each other.

Verlaine is a soft-spoken person whose humble appearance belies his extensive accomplishments and world travels.  He’s jovial when talking to his band members on stage, and none of the punch is gone from the songs like Marquee Moon and others he made famous more than 30 years ago.

Back in New York, at places like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, he and other renowned artists like Lou Reed and the Talking Heads were turning out an entirely new genre of music.  The music was introspective and thought-provoking at a time when Top 40 Radio was playing The Village People, Gino Vanelli and “Le Freak” by Chic.

Tom Verlaine Always Tuning - Photo © Donna Balancia
Tom Verlaine Always Tuning – Photo © Donna Balancia

Was it really considered anti-establishment or punk?  To actually put the music of Television in either of those categories is incorrect.  Influential?  Yes.  Punk? No.   In fact, there are few “punk” performers who consider themselves to fall into that arena.  But it’s a non-issue all these years later, particularly for Verlaine, who loves to play music.

During the performance to a sold-out house at Teragram Ballroom, Television, complete with Jimmy Ripp, Fred Smith and Billy Ficca, enjoy sharing the stage with each other.  After the show, Ripp said he was happy the Los Angeles audience was so warm, compared with some other LA experiences the band had.

Well, they’re East Coast guys, Television, and it’s not only obvious from their accents, but their attitudes.

Has Verlaine achieved commercial success?  Today the answer that the all-powerful “They” would render would probably be no.

If he had the opportunity to fight a Spotify or some technology that gives away artists’ creations, he would probably do it. But he might not have the clout of a young hitmaker to pull it off, and likely he would never get involved with something that didn’t communicate directly to his audience.

Diane from Teragram - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Diane from Teragram – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Verlaine thinks about the future, with his team he discusses upcoming gigs, merchandising opportunities, art and design.  It’s more in his line of thinking compared to clicks and hits and uploads and downloads. It’s not likely any of his future opportunities will come at the hands of a techie.

There’s a common concern for artists whose audiences are getting past the age where it’s de rigeur to buy the latest music. And in the past, record deals were made with a handshake and an advance, not based on Facebook “likes” and click farms ploys.  It should be noted that musicians are not the only ones who have had challenges as a result of the use of evolving technology.

All media — newspapers in particular — suffered substantial losses when TV came along, prompting many writers and editors to ditch the printed word and take jobs in TV.  Since that medium stuck, it’s a natch that Snapchat will stay, so veterans and freshmen alike better learn it. Right?

Phoebe Bridgers - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Phoebe Bridgers – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Thursday night’s performance by Phoebe Bridgers was a nice opener as her humble stance and familiar songs piqued further interest in this innovative songstress.

As for Teragram Ballroom, the local decendent of the Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury Lounge in New York, there are websites, social media, calendars, analyses, the latest in sound design and young and veteran club people alike teamed together in downtown Los Angeles.  And though clubs come and go, it feels like The Teragram Ballroom has already etched out a space in a crowded arena. Its two bars have familiar faces hanging above every type of liquor you can imagine, and there’s a menu that’s set to take off, with reasonable prices and served with a smile.

Teragram Ballroom is a warm, welcome respite in a world gone crazy sterile. It’s proof there are some things that are more important than pushing buttons.  At least to music lovers and lovers of great ambiance.

In all, Teragram Ballroom was the perfect setting for Verlaine and his well-loved melodies and companions to spend some time.  And the timing was perfect for Teragram Ballroom to host his artistry.

And yes, by the way, history has proven that Television is here to stay. After you experience Verlaine and his band, no truer words could be said.