Alan Vega, Suicide Front Man, Conceptual Artist, Passes At 78
July 18, 2016 at 2:02 PM (PT)
ALAN VEGA, ne BORUCH ALAN BERMOWITZ, who fronted the legendary two-man art-noise/ punk-electronic outfit SUICIDE with sidekick MARTY REV, passed away in his sleep SATURDAY night (JULY 16th) at the age of 78.
The BRONX-born, BROOKLYN-raised VEGA's early influences included physics and fine art (which he studied at BROOKLYN COLLEGE under abstract painter AD REINHARDT and the SWISS Surrealist KURT SELILGMANN), doo-wop and early rockabilly, ELVIS PRESLEY (whom he recalls first seeing on "The ED SULLIVAN Show"), JAMES DEAN ("Rebel Without A Cause") and IGGY POP (a 1969 memorable STOOGES performance at the NEW YORK STATE PAVILION in FLUSHING, QUEENS).
ALAN originally met MARTIN REVERY at an artist-run 24-hour multimedia gallery, A PROJECT OF LIVING ARTISTS, and adopted the surname SUICIDE. Quickly coalescing as a duo under that forbidding moniker – describing their music as a “punk music mass” – they played the emerging local circuit, including the MERCER ARTS CENTER, MAX'S KANSAS CITY and CBGB, cementing the downtown ethic by combining the worlds of fine art and a fearsome sound emanating from VEGA’s confrontational PUERTO RICAN street thug menace and REV’s eardrum-shattering primitive JAPANESE synth keyboards and clattering drum machine beat. It was a musical apocalypse that remained ahead of its time right up until the present moment, VLADIMIR and ESTRAGON waiting for the world to end, ALPHONSE and GASTON at the Gates of Hell, ABBOTT & COSTELLO debating who’s on first… and last.
Signed by true believer MARTY THAU to his defiantly indie RED STAR RECORDS in 1976, the first SUICIDE album, produced by CRAIG LEON, the same man behind RAMONES’ debut, was mostly dismissed in their hometown, but earned raves from around the world. In the U.K., the duo came under the wing of BRONZE RECORDS’ A&R exec HOWARD THOMPSON – a lifelong supporter. That groundbreaking album ranged from the motorcycle vroom of “Ghost Rider” and the indelible melodies of “Cheree” to the searing set-piece, “Frankie Teardrop,” about the disillusioned factory worker who lays waste to his entire family.
The band's debut EUROPEAN tour included a memorable gig opening for ELVIS COSTELLO at the ANCIENNES BELGIQUE in BRUSSELS on JUNE 16th, 1978, where a leather-jacketed, cigarette-smoking VEGA playfully taunted a hostile crowd, culminating in a chair-throwing, tear-gas-canister-exploding finale when COSTELLO refused to emerge for an encore. On the subsequent tour accompanying THE CLASH, SUICIDE proceeded to perform every night to a downpour of gob and worse, alienating most, but building a loyal following among several influential musicians, including DEPECHE MODE, JOY DIVISION, JESUS AND MARY CHAIN, SOFT CELL, NICK CAVE, ERASURE, OMD, THE PET SHOP BOYS and more.
Away from the stage, VEGA was nothing like the threatening figure he portrayed, a warm, generous man with a sense of humor who would just as soon discuss his beloved NEW YORK METS as the downtown art scene. An accomplished artist, he began as a painter, then moved to light sculptures, which were the visual equivalent of SUICIDE’s music, often constructed of thrown-away debris hauled from the city streets, the leftover detritus of a society suffering from overload. In the ‘70s, his art found a home at SOHO’s prestigious OK HARRIS GALLERY, then later on, noted curators BARBARA GOLDSTONE and JEFFREY DEITCH showed his work, which included “Collision Drive,” an exhibition of sculptures combining light with found objects and crucifixes, the latter a lifelong obsession. In 2009, the MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART in LYON, FRANCE, mounted “Infinite Mercy,” a major retrospective exhibit.The closest ALAN VEGA ever came to commercial success as a musician was as a solo artist, releasing his self-titled 1980 debut, a rockabilly-inflected work which included “Jukebox Babe,” a hit in FRANCE. He entered the major label fold at ELEKTRA for 1983’s Saturn Drive, produced by major fan, THE CARS’ RIC OCASEK (who also helmed two SUICIDE albums and got the band booked on a memorable "Midnight Special").
VEGA remained a fierce loyalist, recording with fellow outliers like ALEX CHILTON, BEN VAUGHN, LYDIA LUNCH and his wife LIZ LAMERE. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, another admitted SUICIDE admirer, offered his own VEGA homage on "Nebraska," with "State Trooper," and performed “Dream Baby Dream” live as the closing song of his 2005 "Devils and Dust" tour, released a video of the song in 2013 saluting fans of his "Wrecking Ball" tour, then covered it as the final track on his 2014 album, "High Hopes." “You know if ELVIS came back from the dead,” the BOSS once said, “I think he would sound like ALAN VEGA.”
VEGA is survived by his wife, lawyer LIZ LAMERE and son DANTE.