“Experience really does make you better, man.”
– Alan Vega
It was the immediate aftershock of the Trans-Atlantic depth charges of 1977’s Punk Explosion that blasted Alan Vega out from deep within the substrata of the firmament of the Collective Consciousness. Without that opportunity, this LSD-munching fine artist might never have come to our attention, at best securing a fabulous footnote in the appendices of New York Punk also-rans. Ah, but what Punk has to answer for! When the two sevens clashed, all of hell broke loose and the already middle-aged Vega demanded that his time had come. And how! Even Kim Fowley had recognised that he was by 1977 too old for Punk – instead hanging back in the dugout, preferring to field on his behalf an awry array of off kilter LA teen scenesters in the forms of The Runaways and Venus & The Razorblades. Not so Alan Vega. Despite being a full year older than ’60s veteran Fowley, Vega capitalized on his remarkable demos tapes – made throughout the early ’70s with his keyboardist Martin Rev – to blast forth as the Future/Retro duo Suicide, whose lean, impossibly stripped-back sound united minimalist Terry Rileyisms with the Jaynetts’ ‘Sally Go Round the Roses’, or Takehisa Kosugi’s CATCH-WAVE with the Shirelles ‘Baby It’s You’. Greedy for it all, Vega squirmed and screeched and simpered and sobbed his way into our hearts.
Tinnitus-inducing and sonically reducing, Vega’s songs were radio transmissions from the Heart of Darkness. If you wanted the Ramones, he gave you Paul Anka on a broken radio. If you wanted Debbie Harry, he gave you the Cold War. Too old to be hoodwinked by the gauche tabloid cash-ins that too soon afflicted UK Punk, the defiant Vega even wore red flares to perform in front of a Clash audience – how he paid the price! At various times in his career claiming to be both Jewish, Catholic, AND fifteen years younger, Alan Vega – along with his avant-garde Boy Wonder Martin Rev – demanded such parity with their co-Revolutionists that their maniacal/mystical/diabolical duo Suicide actually became an instant blueprint for D.I.Y. Futurists. Without Suicide? Unimaginable. That Vega died during the first year of the SydArthur Festival only confirms that this Great Opportunist knew precisely his place in the Cosmos – today our hearts are full!
Today on the 10th day of the SydArthur Festival, we pay our respects to the LSD-gobbling, avant-punk vocalist Alan Vega – one half of of the seismic duo Suicide. On this, still only the second anniversary of his death, let’s put ourselves in a suitably sombre mood by listening now to Suicide’s requiem ‘Che’, which closed their self-titled 1977 debut LP. Perversely but typically, Vega chose the opposite side of the fence from the general consensus – “they said you were a saint, but I know you ain’t” – yet even more perversely, invited his keyboard cohort Martin Rev to supply the same phased lounge lizard porn-organ music as he had crooned love songs of near-religious devotion perhaps just two or three tracks before this. The result is dark, claustrophobic, crypt-like and utterly the most real embodiment of all the conflicting emotions that we should feel about such a World Prometheus as Che Guevara. Bravo, Alan Vega.