Tom Verlaine (1949-2023); Patrick McKinnon (1957-2021)

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Tom Verlaine (1949-2023)

I was driving north on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach yesterday afternoon listening to music on KCRW’s late afternoon show when an announcement was made at the start of a new set of songs: “We learned about an hour ago that Tom Verlaine of the band Television died today.” And they played one of Television’s songs in his honor.

Much of the commentary on Verlaine emphasizes that his music was not easy to categorize. Indeed, the contumacious deviancy from the strictures of commodified composition that marks Verlaine’s work is precisely what so many young musicians find inspiriting about his legacy. Of course, it came with the usual price tag, which Verlaine once summed up in a response to a reporter’s request for a description of his artistic life: “struggling not to have a professional career.” But if influential fame was the only major compensation that Verlaine attained in a half-century of relentless effort, it came with the intimate friendship of other artists. The percentage of people who get to collaborate with their equals is very small. Any other career marks the amateur, and to that extent Verlaine was a consummate professional.


Patrick McKinnon (1957-2021)

If most young writers and artists head to a “big city” in order to be part of the formation of a scene that will at least partially contextualize their projects, there are always a handful wo will move in the opposite direction.

I passed through Duluth, Minnesota once in the mid-1980s. My first wife, Cathay, and I had visited her father and her siblings in Bismarck, North Dakota and then driven up into Canada and headed back to Minneapolis-St. Paul to catch a flight back home to L.A. There was something about Duluth’s “vibe” that was different than I expected, and I remembered thinking how it would be the kind of town I would pick to move to if I were ever in a witness protection program.

Patrick McKinnon’s bio on the back of his full-length collection, CHERRY FERRIS WHEELS (1990), says that he moved to Duluth in the late 1970s in order to get away from the increasingly dense population of California. McKinnon became known not just as a poet, but also as an editor of POETRY MOTEL, one of the unflinchingly underground magazines to emerge in the last century. McKinnon himself had hundreds of poems published in dozens of magazines. It is dismaying to realize how little attention has been given to CHERRY FERRIS WHEELS since its publication over 30 years ago. This collection of poems is easily one of the 500 best books of American poetry published in the past century. It might even be in the top 200 books.

McKinnon was born in 1957 in San Francisco and died in Duluth in 2021, age 64. I missed the announcement of his passing when it happened, but having very recently learned of it, don’t want to neglect acknowledging his accomplishments as a poet and editor. For those who want to read a tribute that is equally enthusiastic about his work, here’s the link:

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