June, last year; the exact date eludes me. Tom Verlaine is stacked like an anorexic bookend against the wall of a bleak room, backstage somewhere in the belly of the Colston Hall in Bristol. It is the last night of Television's first British tour.
His eyes betray his fatigue. Clearly, he's in no mood for celebration. He tears the filter tip from a Lucky Strike — or were they Winstons? — and winces as the dull thunder of Blondie, winding up for the climax of their support set, penetrates with a thin, violent edge the whitewashed brick and flaking plaster of this temporary sanctuary.
The room is coughing already, its lungs filled with smoke and the air stained with nicotine, as he nervously lights another cigarette.
The conversation, like Richard Hell's notion of love, comes in spurts: fragments of sentences and thoughts and vague ideas taking slow shape in the patterns of his speech.
We arrived at the prospect of Television's second album, upon which, he promises, he will begin work when the band return to New York.
"I've no clear idea of it," he muses. "I keep thinking in terms of... like, atmospheres. It'll be different, I think, but I don't know for sure yet, you know. I can't see it yet... I mean, we haven't started writing for it or anything... I think we might go for a more spacious kind of sound maybe...
"I think art has a lot to do with, like atmosphere, sensations... feelings that are maybe more than emotions. I don't know how to explain it... these are just, like, thoughts I'm having about one possible direction we might follow. I don't know that people will understand it."
He was laughing quietly to himself at the time.
"I think there's a lot of fucked up people writing about music. Like, these people are supposed to be music critics, and they're just stupid. It's ridiculous what some of them have written.
"These reviews I've read, they weren't like music reviews. They seemed like some other kind of review I've never encountered before. They're unbelievably funny, you know. So predictable. So obvious.
"There're very few critics who ever get it right. They just don't seem to go on musical grounds. That's what upsets me. They're not critics. They're not writers. They're plain stupid."
Verlaine is dressed for the garret in New York bohemian threads. Too haphazardly decked for fashion, he has the look of an impoverished student nursing dreams of literary glory. The image here, in his dishevelled tee-shirt, shapeless cord pants and working boots, of the artistic figure he might perhaps have idealised in his romantic reveries a decade past in the parochial backwaters of Delaware, from which he was so determined to escape.
He looks well, despite his ghostly pallor, if not bursting with robust health. He is most commonly described as boyish — mention is usually made of his cropped blond hair — but there is a patrician maturity, even if he is amusingly prone to infectious giggles when confronted with specific analysis of his work.
He is always reluctant to advance any exaggerated claims.
"I don't understand those songs, either," he will say evasively. "These things just come to me, you know... and I know they're right for me. They do something to me that makes me want to sing them. I can't really talk about the content of those songs. It's not like talking about what you have in your living room, or something like that. It might seem to be like that, but it's