Saturday August 19th 2017

ALAN VEGA

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ALAN VEGA

 

I’m guessing a lot of folks don’t know Alan Vega, who died in his sleep last week at age seventy-two, or his band Suicide.

And if you do check them out on the internet and read how influential they were on eighties synthesizer bands you might think that Slimedog has flipped his lid- like that would even change things, or anyone would even notice.

But I’ve mentioned that hearing the Ramones first album, not knowing what to expect, was the strangest musical experience of my life. Well, listening to Suicide’s first album in 1977 was probably the second strangest.

A two man duo- Alan with his rockabilly/Elvis Presley voice, grunts and whoops- and Martin Rev with his thirty dollar rhythm machine (he bought it from an add that an older couple placed who told him that their young daughter, who wrote poetry and used the rhythm machine, had committed suicide, hence the name). And his cheap synthesizer and effects created a sound unheard before. And, at that time, two man bands were like Hall& Oates, Simon & Garfunkel- singer/songwriter teams with full bands backing them.

Listening to this album for the first time while I was stoned, when their song about a serial killer “Frankie Teardrop” came on- after a few minutes I had to change the song, it was too harrowing.

Alan was quite confrontational with audiences in the early days and that combined with their music being so abrasive and different than current rock music led to their shows being filled with violence and disruption. And although both members had solo albums neither one joined another band and they continued, sporadically, to this day.

They had some famous fans in Bruce Springsteen and Ric Ocasek of The Cars and were one of the first bands to use the word “punk” on their flyers. They started out in ’70 on the outskirts of the New York glam/glitter scene led by the New York Dolls and Kiss. From their they were passed onto the early punk scene in the later seventies, never becoming popular.

The following is from a previous TNB article on Suicide’s first album:

“Ghost Rider,” is the lead off track to Suicide’s first album. “America, America is killing its youth.” This video uses scenes from one of my favorite movies, “Taxi Driver,” just like Scorsese they were putting down the essence of the streets of New York. “Ghost rider, motorcycle hero, Baby, baby, baby, baby he’s a blazing away, he’s a-screaming the truth.” The synth sounds like paranoid insects wailing against the screen of a door where satanic sacrificial offerings are taking place inside. “Ghost rider, go- Boo!”

 

ALAN VEGA
Ghost Rider

 

Echo-y, shadowy vocals- like some creep in a trench-coat lurking behind the corners of streets in alleys. Then some vibrating keyboards meet the automatic drone of the beat. “It’s doomsday, doomsday….Uhh!” It’s like rockabilly and surf mixed in with German electronic music; Elvis Presley jamming with Rammstein. It’s doomsday, doomsday, speeding out on the sky-way, 100 MPH- crash!

 

ALAN VEGA
Rocket U.S.A.

 

It starts like a fifties song that’s been supplanted into a video game. “Ja-ja-Johnny, Johnny,” the vocal stutters, “Ah, Johnny…hmm, hmm.” The music growls and moves along mechanically along in direct contrast to the vocals good-timey fifties vibe. “He’s looking so mean, he’s feeling so tough.” Sounds like a tough, gay hustler to me. Ersatz cocktail music collides with rock’n’roll and electronic music. “Cruising the night, looking for love.”

 

ALAN VEGA
Johnny

 

“Oh, girl. You turn me on,” a boss a-nova beat with brooding Doors like keyboards arriving on the horizon. This is like some black and white film where the dialogue is slurred. “You know how. Oh touch me so.” Lust and pleading and total lack of dignity, of subjugation, of giving in completely to another. Horniness glides along the tracks like a knife to hot butter and not a dry lap in the house.

 

ALAN VEGA
Girl

 

“Cheree” wants to be a sweet pop song with chiming synth notes like little droplets of rain on a car window but comes off as a lurking stalker, desperate for love, leaning against telephone poles in the rain while the worried female calls the police (once again). Rain slick city streets at night, with neon glow upon them and eerie strange pleas decorate the scene for me.

 

ALAN VEGA
Cheree

 

The foghorn bleats out across the ocean at night, the fog is rolling up along the boardwalk. The sea smell is in the air, young people loiter. Cigarette butts and beer bottles are lined up where the tide ended before it pulled out. “I remember the neon night, I remember the wonderful flight, I remember how free we were, I remember our incredible love.” The synthesizer croaks along, the rhythm moves along like resolving tides, waves crashing out toward the moon. “I remember your tv screen, I remember the red light dream, I remember your x-ray eyes, I remember your moonlight cries, I remember incredible love.”

 

ALAN VEGA
I Remember

 

I can see why people don’t “get them” and I can see why a band “very influential on electronic music” is questioned on being written about on a site like TNB.

But, like early L.A. band The Screamers, (who had two keyboards, drums and a singer and no guitars!) along with Suicide, to me, embodie the essence of punk more than most “punk” bands with loads of guitars.

Suicide was minimalist, like The Ramones and indiviualistic like them as well. Their music was confrontational, just like their shows, that went against the grain of the music industry, of peoples expectations of what a rock band should be.

And they found their most welcoming home in the punk scene, with their real, gritty, city-life orientated lyrics; with their alienating, abrasive and challenging music.

They were real and true to their art- indivualistic, minimalistic, raw and honest and that to me is how I might describe Iggy & The Stooges or The Velvet Underground or countless bands I was lucky to come in touch with and what I call punk.

Alan Vega was one half of that band but he was one hundred percent of what the best in punk is about.

ALAN VEGA
Suicide
as a band
Like a glacier
of icy synths
And rockabilly echo
reverberating
across the sterile, desert plains
of America
circa 1970
Suicide
popping up on the Midnight Special
a cheesy Friday night
seventies music show
Brought their by The Cars
and that bands good taste
The crappy rhythm machine
lays out a program
probably a button pressed
that says something like
“cha-cha number one”
Distant cheap electronic sounds
twitter like crickets
across the Manhattan skyline
While a vocalist
bleats and chirps
like a sewer rat
Tonight
a poet, an artist
named Alan Vega
disintegrated
into the Manhattan skyline
But his pulse
his rhythm
his words
his attitude
shines clear and strong
and lasts
in the heart of
midnight
in the
Manhattan of the seventies skyline
and in the wild heart
of our dreams
forever

 

ALAN VEGA
Dream Baby Dream

 

(Slimedog)

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