Alan Vega the solo artist and lead singer of the groundbreaking synthpunk duo Suicide who passed from this mortal plane almost exactly one year ago (7/16/16) is not done with us just yet and this is the best news I’ve heard in ages…
My own personal experiences and encounters with Alan Vega are varied, and over many decades, sometimes very near and sometimes far away, but always intense. Not like scary movie intense but like escaping death intense. As an innocent 16-year-old going to Max’s Kansas City in 1976 determined to get in “this time,” and being very under age, everything lined up right: my parents went out for the night and I got a friend from school to go with me, but the bands I knew about (Ramones, etc.) weren’t playing but anything would have been good.
Back then every band played two sets each night. We got there right on time for the early show and saw a band called The Cramps playing their third gig ever! (That is a major revelation I have gone into elsewhere many times). When Suicide hit the stage it was not packed but pretty crowded. I had been very into weird music for many of my young years but nothing on earth—I repeat, nothing—could prepare me for what I was about to go through. I had seen “bands.” And for God’s sake I had just seen The Cramps for the first time, but two guys come up, NO guitar, NO bass, NO drums and SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEGH#%&*#!$#@ PLAY THE LOUDEST THING I HAD EVER HEARD!!
I had never seen a band with “no” instruments and they were louder than any band WITH instruments. I had never been literally scared of music and people I paid to “have fun” watching. By this point the singer was bleeding from pummeling his own face with his microphone. And it just got louder and louder. Vega would lean into the audience and people would run to the bar! I was mesmerized. I was glued to my seat. I went into another galaxy and I was changed forever. My friend was long gone, outside I found out, and he’d been outside since thirty seconds after they’d come onstage. This in itself was the dividing line between myself and the rest of my entire world as I knew it. The deciding factor that I needed to exist in THIS world and not the world I had known up until this point. This was a gigantic psychotic green light that I had never known existed but was waiting for my entire young life.
Between the Cramps and Suicide I had found my heart and soul. And I wanted more. And I have never for one moment stopped searching for that something “more.”
By the 1990s I had followed this path for quite a while and was familiar with and friends with many of these people, and was one of them. When my band D Generation was recording our second LP No Lunch at Electric Lady studio with producer Ric Ocasek, chosen much for the fact that he could work with Suicide and The Bad Brains (musically AND personally), the idea came up for us to have Alan Vega pay a visit. Once there, we thought he’d be tickled about a song we had just finished called Frankie about a tough cross-dressing punk type, a sort of homage to his Frankie Teardrop. Next thing you know he is in the studio recording a vocal. All I can think about was that first life changing night at Max’s Kansas City which was then twenty years prior (now forty one) as I watch and listen to him give Ric and the engineer instructions to take all the music out except the kick drum, the bass (yay!) and Jesse Malin’s vocal. He then went to work squirming and shrieking and saying all kinds of wild heavy stuff. It was truly a privilege to be a part of that.
The author with Alan Vega
After that we knew each other better. Jesse brought him to meet Bruce Springsteen and Alan and Jesse became close. Alan once did a set doing the first Suicide LP live at Jesse’s club Bowery Electric. Jesse’s sideman Derek Cruz (with my help or at my suggestion I believe) sampled all the sounds from the LP and played the sounds on pads so it sounded exactly like the record! Amazing! But not exactly as planned as the sound man didn’t know the record and since I did (and I knew the soundman) I ran into the sound booth and asked him where the echo was and to turn it on and I did the echo frenzy on Alan’s vocal just like the record throughout the show. His beautiful wife Liz Lamere thanked me, as did audience members. That was a perfect experience to bring my life as far as Alan Vega is concerned to a perfect circle.
Photo by Bob Gruen
Almost a year to the day after Alan Vega passed he has sent us all a massive electronic slap in the face. And like the first time I was exposed to his music, it is harsh, exciting and necessary. Electronic meditations on sorrow, loss and darkness from the Suicide king. The new album, titled IT hits the streets on July 14th and is truly a message from beyond. IT can be downloaded digitally and bought on vinyl, with a 2-LP gatefold including unpublished drawings, writings, and photos by Vega. The digital album is now available for pre-order here, and the standard vinyl can be pre-ordered via Amazon.com here. A special limited release of IT will also be available on transparent orange vinyl, sold exclusively at select indie retail locations, the list of which will soon be announced.
Leading up to the one-year anniversary of Vega’s passing, New York City will host a series of events deemed “Alan Vega Week” including exhibits and performances in Alan’s memory. On June 30th, INVISIBLE-EXPORTS opened an exhibition featuring Vega’s historic light sculptures, as well as his final series of work including acrylic and graphite paintings. Depictions of a single mythical man, they also form, together, a shifting, serial self-portrait. Additionally, on July 18th, Jeffrey Deitch will open “Dream Baby Dream,” a memorial exhibition commemorating Vega’s life and work, including video projections of historic performances by Suicide, and a selection of Vega’s sculptures and works on paper from the 1960s to his last works in 2016. Stay tuned for additional memorial events around “Alan Vega Week” to be announced.
The album opens with its first single and video called Dead To Me. “Life is no joke/It’s days and nights-pure evil/Heyyyyy, sometimes the skanks save souls/DTM-dead to me.” Over a pounding atonal electronic repetitive groove, it is relentless, bleak and very heavy. Spitting out lines of endtimes doom and truth, it’s a tough pill to swallow. But surely one worth forcing down.
Continues after the jump…