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Alan Vega

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From the depths of SUICIDE – the band that is – and veteran of the East Coast avant/electro-punk scene running up to the nascent new wave, ALAN VEGA (born Boruch Alan Bermowitz, June 23, 1938, Brooklyn, NY) was approaching the age of 40 when his arty duo opened their nihilistic can of wondrous worms. Alongside fellow melodic minimalist MARTIN REV, the pair created a brand of rock’n’roll unheard since the days of The VELVET UNDERGROUND – SUICIDE’s unparalleled twist was to startle and un-nerve listeners into submission; all apparent on their seminal ’77 set, vinyl which showcased the likes of `Ghost Rider’, `Rocket U.S.A.’ and their confrontational, defining 10 minutes, `Frankie Teardrop’.
Although the duo continued to spread their “death”-pop on and off over the course of the next three decades or so (1979’s `Dream Baby Dream’ another classic 45), both parties also fragmented into solo acts. Positively propelled by his love of rockabilly and his city’s need for experimentation, the ELVIS, GENE VINCENT and ROY ORBISON aficionado popped up with a debut LP, unceremoniously “untitled”, although many pundits would list it as ALAN VEGA (1980) {*6}.
Not particularly revered by reviewers of all persuasions, the PVC Records-endorsed LP was marked out by the opening piece, `Jukebox Babe’ (a subsequent UK single for Island), the derivative HANK MIZELL-ish `Kung Foo Cowboy’, his homage to `Heartbreak Hotel’ a la `Lonely’, and the whooping, punkabilly 8-minute, `Bye Bye Bayou’ – The BIRTHDAY PARTY and The GUN CLUB were listening, no doubt.
His trademark template still intact, 1981’s COLLISION DRIVE {*7} continued in VEGA’s rebellious jukebox fixation under his fave genre; `Raver’, `Rebel’ and a DUANE EDDY-like karaoke-cover of VINCENT’s `Be Bop A Lula’, closer to The CRAMPS or The FALL than any ELVIS TV shindig. Ditto, `Magdalena 82’ and `Magdalena 83’. A haunting rock-a-revisit of `Ghost Rider’ was worth the admission price alone, although in stark contrast was the disturbing, down-and-dirgy, DOORS-like dreamscape/nightmare, `Viet Vet’ (“Frankie Teardrop Part Two” or indeed… er “The End”).
Deciding to hop on the major label bandwagon, VEGA subsequently released a couple of sets for Elektra Records. The first of these, the RIC OCASEK-produced SATURN STRIP (1983) {*8}, should really have lifted his status to mainstream star. Gone was the ambiguity of street-smart arty-punk, and in came an 80s sheen that crossed swords between krautrock and disco. From the howling whoops of the opening title track (authored with MINISTRY’s Alain Jourgensen) to the reckless, reverb-rushed rendition of HOT CHOCOLATE’s `Every 1’s A Winner’, VEGA was championing sexy synth-pop like there was no tomorrow. Simplistic and self-indulgent, maybe the spring of a single or two, from `Goodbye Darling’ or `American Dreamer’, would’ve cemented some new-found fame.
A single taster was forthcoming from his 1985 solo venture, JUST A MILLION DREAMS {*4}, although `On The Run’ was as cack-handed as any unconvincing, limp-wristed, post-new wave pop. CARS guitarist OCASEK was again at the controls, but with Chris Lord-Alge as his wing commander, the tinny, made-for-the-movies 80s beat was lost in the undergrowth of `Shooting For You’, `Hot Fox’ and `Ra Ra Baby’ – DAVID BYRNE he was not!
After a spell in 1986 with The Sisterhood (an off-shoot of SISTERS OF MERCY) and squeezed either side of re-formed SUICIDE sets, `A Way Of Life’ (1988) and `Why Be Blue?’ (1992), the self-produced DEUCE AVENUE (1990) {*6} – augmented by keyboardist Liz Lamere – and the futuristic POWER ON TO ZERO HOUR (1991) {*5} were ice-cold, hyper-kinetic attempts at restoring his musical equilibrium. Had he any in the first place.
1993’s chaotic NEW RACEION {*4} had visual artist VEGA switching styles yet again; the Warner Brothers set (initially endorsed by Infinite Zero Records) took on a heavier, metallic motif while careering through the Caribbean and of course, a potpourri of electronica (`best examples `Gamma Pop’, `Go Trane Go’ and the DAF-esque `Keep It Alive’).
The predominantly-industrial and independent Thirsty Ear Records seemed the right nesting place for VEGA’s next full-set, the mind-numbing DUJANG PRANG (1996) {*5}. A pulverising and pounding collision of sounds (`Hammered’ like TEST DEPT on speed), something had to give in the man’s manic mind-set of unholy rock’n’roll.
The collaborative CUBIST BLUES (1996) {*8} was just the ticket to resume order in AV’s avant-garde aplomb. Recorded back in December ’94 at the behest of HENRY ROLLINS’ 2.13.61 imprint, musical aristo-cats ALEX CHILTON and BEN VAUGHN sprinkled the magic dust upon the gravestones of several rebellious beats. A mangled jazz session or a sprawling jam of voodoo rumbles, this was where the ghosts of GENE VINCENT, JIM MORRISON and the recently departed JEFFREY LEE PIERCE (R.I.P.) reconvened for a swaggering soiree, although vocalist VEGA was always master of ceremonies at this musical mayhem. An hour-long set of a dozen noir-blues cuts (`Fat City’, `Lover Of Love’, `Sister’ and a finale re-make of `Dream Baby Revisited’ each a highlight), Dessau Studios would never be the same.
Turning 60 years of age but looking as if he’d just stepped from the sidewalk of the CBGB’s in ‘77, VEGA wrapped up his mic for a bit to concentrate on his photography enterprise. Further collaborative liaisons would appear from time to time, including alongside PAN SONIC for `Medal’ (12-inch), with Mika Vainio & Ilpo Vaisanen for VVV’s album ENDLESS (1998) {*5}, a French soundtrack SOMBRE (1999) {*5} – score by Philippe Grandrieux – and with Stephen Lironi (in 1998) under the auspices of the REVOLUTIONARY CORPS OF TEENAGE JESUS. Without much fuss or attention, the sculptor of the Saturn Strip released a further Lamere-assisted CD, 2007 (1999) {*6}.
As the post-millennium fever for retro reared its not-so-ugly head, Mute Records forked out the spondulicks for one last SUICIDE stab: 2002’s `American Supreme’. Since then, the VEGA man was heard on occasion: 2005’s VVV set, RESURRECTION RIVER {*5} – released only in Austria – was one such venture.
In 2007, and not succumbing to release an album entitled “1999”, the power of VEGA was smashing up the industrial-rock handbook with the release of STATION {*4}. A barrage of sonic subway sounds and underground uber-rock, `Freedom’s Smashed’, `Psychopatha’ and `Devastated’ were titles that just about said it all under the wing of Mute US and Blast First Records UK. The same Petite outlet would take credit for unleashing a series of limited-edition 10-inch singles that pitted VEGA (and several SUICIDE tracks – now solo) along with the likes of SUNN O))), The KLAXONS, A.R.E. WEAPONS, PEACHES and GAVIN FRIDAY & DAVE BALL, respectively.
Compromising nothing, or little, to the day’s pop-rock conventions, ALAN VEGA (and cohort Marc Hurtado) spun out the former SUICIDE man’s last outing: SNIPER (2010) {*6}. Armed more with a MARK E. SMITH growl than a humungous howl, the biting beats of `Bang Bang’, `Juke Bone Done’, `War’ and `Saturn Drive Duplex’, brought a close to the man’s intense CV.
Never quite recovering from a stroke in 2012, Alan concentrated on painting and the arts. Residing still in the Big Apple, he did make one further concession (to French singer Christophe’s album, Les Vestiges Du Chaos, in 2016), but it was clear his music days were over. Sadly, on July 16, 2016, it was announced by radio compere/singer HENRY ROLLINS – at the behest of the family – that ALAN VEGA had passed away.
© MC Strong/MCS July 2016

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