Monday, July 18, 2016

I Remember... RIP Alan Vega

Alan Vega snapped by Howard Thompson on April 20th 2016
I was lucky enough to actually know Alan Vega a bit. My first encounter with Suicide had been via the 1976 Max’s compilation. When the album came out, it polarised anyone that it came into contact with. In the mind of a daft wee fanzine editor, the duo became part of a holy NY quinity – Cramps/Dictators/New York Dolls/Ramones/ Suicide – presented alphabetically, not necessarily in order of merit.

Howard Thompson had licensed “Suicide” for release on Bronze in the UK after being alerted to their existence by Kevin Patrick who’d sent him a copy as part of their ongoing record swapping activity. I met H through Ms Miriam Linna who was working for Marty Thau at Red Star. I’d recently made contact with Miriam via Richie Teeter of The Dictators and had sent her a tape of Simple Minds that she had played for Howard. Anyway, over the years, I got to know Alan via HT and I always found him to be the consummate gentleman. The first time we met, I believe, was the third floor of a place called Danceteria in 1983 and many times over the years after that.

The best New Years Eve I ever spent EVER was at the close of 1990 in a bar close to Alan and Liz’s apartment. It involved HT, Vega and I discussing the best method of preparing a roast. How much more rock’n’roll could it get? We were the only people in there. Everybody else must have been in Times Square or wherever. It felt like the only people left in the city or even the world, aside from the bartender. There was also the time that Alan weighed in to try and save BBC Radio Scotland’s Beat Patrol. Scotland was always amenable to Suicide at the time when many other places were not. Alan was perplexed when the audience at Tiffany’s in Edinburgh attempted to dance to their “music”. I found that baffling is because audiences in that city are not renowned for dancing to anything let alone something as newfangled as these guys were.

Suicide played a show at The Buffalo bar in London a few years ago (June 2007 as a warm-up for their Grinderman opening slot?). HT, Tony Thewlis and I witnessed a sound check that was so mind-blowingly surreal as to make me wonder if it ever actually happened at all. I saw them a good number of times but this was Lynch-like in terms of electricity.

My most recent interaction with him was when Liz kindly put together his recollections of the "Cubist Blues" record for the Light In The Attic reissue. Getting her notes, one perceptive quote really hit me. “We were meditating on sound and time was suspended.” It was so perfect, so Alan. When I sent IƱigo the draft, he freaked out at how succinctly Alan had nailed it. Another thing I recall was my ex-partner being scared to meet Vega and then not being able to believe how nice a man he was “in real life”.

He was and is and forever will be an extraordinary character and inspiration that was locked on a constant trajectory to create. Seemingly unfettered compared to the rest of us. Suicide may might not have set the heather on fire at the time but once the blaze started an eternal flame was lit and those initial dreams burned forever. The world caught up. How did that happen? And then there were his solo records. Always breaking new ground, setting the bar higher and ever higher, visceral one minute, heartbreaking the next. 

An Alan/Liz/Dante project that was previewed at The Barbican is in the pipeline. Recordings that Alan completed with Ben Vaughn and Palmyra Delran will also hopefully find their way into the world over the coming months. It won’t be easy to adjust to a post-Vega world. Who the heck is even close to being as qualified to scream the truth at and for us now?