R.I.P. Alan Vega: The singer of the seminal electronic proto-punk duo Suicide was 78

By on July 17, 2016

Alan Vega — singer, vocalist and one-half of the seminal electronic proto-punk duo Suicide — has died at the age of 78.

Henry Rollins was one of the first to report that Vega — born Boruch Alan Bermowitz, on June 23, 1938, in Brooklyn, NY, NY — passed away in his sleep yesterday.

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He began his career as a visual artist, gaining notoriety for his “light sculptures” eventually Vega opened his own lower Manhattan gallery space, which he dubbed the Project of Living Artists.

The Project served as a stomping grounds for the likes of the New York Dolls, Television and Blondie as well as the 15-piece jazz group Reverend B., which featured a musician named Martin Rev on electric piano.

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Soon, Vega and Rev formed Suicide, whose minimalist, aggressive music — a fusion of Rev’s ominous, repetitive keyboards and Vega’s rockabilly snarl — helped pave the direction for the electronic artists of the future.

Suicide disbanded in 1980, and both Vega and Rev undertook solo careers.

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Vega’s self-titled 1980 debut and his 1981 effort Collision Drive continued to explore the fractured rockabilly identity he had established in his earlier work.

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1983’s Saturn Strip, produced by longtime fan Ric Ocasek, marked Vega’s debut for Elektra Records; corporate relations soured during production for 1985’s Just a Million Dreams, however, and at one point the label even attempted to remove the singer from his own studio sessions.

“Ghost Rider,” from Suicide’s eponymous first album, released in 1977 by Red Star Records

The album eschewed many of Vega’s experimental traits in favor of power pop songs and he later lamented, “They took all my songs and turned them into God knows what.”

Vega teamed up with Martin Rev and Ric Ocasek again in the late eighties to produce and release the third Suicide album, A Way of Life (1988).

Visual artist Stefan Rolff produced a music video for the song Dominic Christ which was released by Wax Trax Records and Suicide went overseas to promote the album by performing the song “Surrender” in Paris which was aired on French television.

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Shortly thereafter, Vega met future wife and music partner Elizabeth Lamere while piecing together sound experiments that would evolve into his fifth solo album, Deuce Avenue (1990).

Deuce Avenue marked his return to minimalist electronic music, similar to his work with Suicide, in which he combined drum machines and effects with free-form prose. Over the next decade he would release several more solo records as well as perform with Suicide.

In 2002, art dealer Jeffrey Deitch tracked him down after a couple of his young gallery employees “gushed” over a Suicide gig at the NYC Knitting Factory.

Vega constructed Collision Drive, an exhibition of sculptures combining light with found objects and crucifixes.

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Vega’s tenth solo album, Station, was released on Blast First Records in 2007 and was described by his colleagues as “his hardest, heaviest album for quite a while, all self-played and produced.”

In 2008, British label Blast First Petite released a limited edition Suicide 6-CD box set and monthly tribute series of 10″ Vinyl EP’s, to mark the occasion of Alan Vega’s 70th birthday. Musicians who contributed to the tribute series included The Horrors, Lydia Lunch, Primal Scream and Miss Kittin.

In 2009, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon, France, mounted Infinite Mercy – a major retrospective exhibit of Vega’s art. This included the screening of two short documentary films: Alan Vega (2000) by Christian Eudeline, and Autour d’Alan Vega (extraits) (1998) by Hugues Peyret.

In 2012, Vega suffered a stroke. That, and problems with his knees, led him to focus on less physical art, such as painting, rather than music. He continued to live in downtown New York City.

In 2016, Vega made a low-key comeback to music by contributing vocals to the song “Tangerine” on French pop veteran singer Christophe’s album Les Vestiges du chaos.

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Musician and radio host Henry Rollins shared an official statement from Vega’s family on his website Saturday evening, July 16, 2016:

“With profound sadness and a stillness that only news like this can bring, we regret to inform you that the great artist and creative force, Alan Vega has passed away. Alan passed peacefully in his sleep last night, July 16. He was 78 years of age.

Alan was not only relentlessly creative, writing music and painting until the end, he was also startlingly unique. Along with Martin Rev, in the early 1970s, they formed the two–person avant band known as SUICIDE. Almost immediately, their incredible and unclassifiable music went against every possible grain. Their confrontational live performances, light-years before Punk Rock, are the stuff of legend. Their first, self-titled album is one of the single most challenging and noteworthy achievements in American music.

“Alan Vega was the quintessential artist on every imaginable level. His entire life was devoted to outputting [sic] what his vision commanded of him.

One of the greatest aspects of Alan Vega was his unflinching adherence to the demands of his art. He only did what he wanted. Simply put, he lived to create. After decades of constant output, the world seemed to catch up with Alan and he was acknowledged as the groundbreaking creative individual he had been from the very start.

Alan’s life is a lesson of what it is to truly live for art. The work, the incredible amount of time required, the courage to keep seeing it and the strength to bring it forth—this was Alan Vega.

Alan is survived by his amazing family, wife Liz and son Dante. His incredible body of work, spanning five decades, will be with us forever.”

R.I.P. Alan Vega (photo below by Peter Noble/Getty)

(Info above taken from various sources, including Wikipedia)

Photo of SUICIDE and Alan VEGA

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.