Little Tommy's Jewel

Source: Creem (March 1982)

by Joe Fernbacher

Just as those lynx-eyed demons of middle-aged rock cynicism were about to unceremoniously flick their fingers in my face and trundle me off, helter-skelter, into the swirling gray landscapes of yawndom, who caresville, and dulltown, and scary, looming thoughts of rock 'n' roll's unerring nosedive towards the tentative, its seemingly impending loss of overall noisome context, began to invoke skulking images of mass filicide and tower climbing bravado inside my head, along comes Tom Verlaine's Dreamtime, a roiling fireball of god-honest rockismo delight. Once again this here croaker's rockaholic nerves and rockin' soul are soothed. Once again he can feel the spartan joy that comes so often with renewed enthusiasm. Once again he can play an album more than once and not go through pangs of self-embarrassment for having done so. Once again he can, again, lapse into the other dimension of rock 'n' roll dreamtime.

Tom Verlaine is one of those lanky idiosyncratic icons of the punk muse revival who forever made one edgy with the hope of new, exciting rock possibilities. His cerebrating guitar fragments, muted velocity, and desert dry, entwisting vocals made him an instant spokesman for a newly emerging cult of punkoids who were slowly, gelatinously, seeping out from the hidden recesses of America's suburban cellars into the klieg-light fury of the media. Punkoids fired up with the pure incendiary brilliance and intelligence of rock 'n' roll at its reacting best, were telling us that their rock 'n' roll was to be rock 'n' roll sans fatcatisms, sans the dreaded philosophies of the $-cabals, sans the loping insidiousness of that rapidly expanding beast of doom known as mellow. And Verlaine's work with his band Television captured and encapsulated all the nascent passion and sensual etcetera of this new, yet old, music. But like Morrison said, "No one will forgive us now for wasting the dawn," which is in effect what happened when the punk muse allowed itself to be lingoized into the much less dangerous, "New Wave." After this transition the sense of spontaneity went out of the music and it lost its context. Everybody seemed to lapse into a dull fugue state...

Intellect went quickly, and often forcibly being replaced by feigned, fashionable, and ritualistically invocatory ignorance, which in turn was replaced by simple fashion, which was slowly being replaced by a gelandesprung nervousness that's invaded the basic texture of the music itself making it something hurried, rather than something with a graceful sense of texture and pace. Bands seem to be hiding a mass sense of insecurity when they rush out and whip-down a song willy-nilly and then leap into another without so much as a how-de-do! Velocity seems to be the way to go about things and with such chaotic velocity (which isn't all that bad in and of itself) comes loss: loss of connection with the lumbering spirit of the music itself.

Anyway, Tom Verlaine's at least gone out and tried to revive that sense of rock duty the punk muse revival so often promised. Dreamtime is such a pleasant surprise that it not only caught me totally unaware, but also scared me a little. It is relentless in its irruptive cadence; "Blue Robe"'s pulsatory rhythms are infectious and studied, "There Is a Reason"'s diabolized understatements are neat, precise grails. "Mr. Blur" and "A Future In Noise"'s rock 'n' roll hearts are lyrical poems to a city boy's ultimate fascination with exurbia and the farm. And most of the love songs seem to be written to some idealized combination of Sissy Spacek and Kate Jackson. What Verlaine has done here in his own rock dreamtime is not only press an accusing finger down on the windpipe of current musical trends but also present a simple, unpretentious restatement of rock 'n' roll's inherent intelligence (just because rock music is excitable and fun-loving doesn't mean it has to play dumb) and it comes none too soon.

There's a lot of inner conflict and fast and furious action of Dreamtime, and it ain't there just for's there as a constant reflection of just where we might be headed musically--one...more...time!!!! And if a new revolution does leap upon us, Tom Verlaine will be recognized as an arcade gladiator of the new fiction. If you think this idea of a new revolution is silly, just take a look at the daily rushes of life under Reaganomics and Haigen-ethics and you'll see what I mean....the streets are waiting and there are new anthems waiting to be written: Dreamtime just might be one of them.