Even in the intentionally outsider punk-rock world of the 1970s, Suicide were outliers: a vocals-and-keyboard duo who sang songs about both love and serial killers, and whose performances often found singer Alan Vega confronting and insulting the audience. Their influence ranges from the early synth-pop of Soft Cell to Nine Inch Nails, from the psychedelia of Spacemen 3 to Bruce Springsteen, a longtime fan who covered their “Dream Baby Dream” live and on his High Hopes album. Actor, author, KCRW DJ and former Black Flag and Rollins Band frontman Henry Rollins shares memories of his friend with Billboard.
On Saturday, July 16, Alan Vega, pioneering musician, painter, sculptor, writer and true artist, passed away at 78 years of age.
Alan and Martin Rev were the two-man No Wave riot known as Suicide. They started wreaking havoc in 1970. Their first album, released in 1977 is stunning: Minimalist, pure and hyper-real. Mandatory listening.
I bought it 1979 at Orpheus Records in Washington, D.C., because it had blood on the cover, Vega and Rev looked like cool space aliens on the back, and the credits, “Alan - Vocals / Martin Rev - Instrument” made me too curious to pass it up. Unbeknownst to me, it would be one of the most influential records of my life.
Ian MacKaye (who would soon start the Dischord Records label) and I played the album that night. It blew our minds. Nothing in your record collection prepares you for Suicide’s [murder ballad] “Frankie Teardrop.” Nothing. Their confrontational live shows are legendary. They bled but never flinched.
Twelve years later, I was a longstanding fan of the band as well as Vega and Rev’s solo releases. On July 15, 1991, in New York City, I got Alan’s number, called and asked if I could meet him. Amazingly, he said yes. Half an hour later I was in his apartment, which was crammed with his paintings, sculptures, sketch pads and notebooks of writing; there was no separation from the man and his work. We became friends almost instantly -- he was one of the biggest-hearted people I ever met. 25 years and a day after I knocked on his door, he was gone.
Alan was an unceasing creative force: so many records, books, gallery shows and performances all over the world. Until the end of his life, he was blazing away. Five decades of output: Match it. Springsteen encored with Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” on tour. Springsteen probably won’t be covering any of your songs. Ever.