Sunday, 27 February 2011

Alan Vega by Jeremy Gluck

Another unpublished piece from the prolific pen of Mr Jeremy Gluck, this time on Suicide's Alan Vega, written in 1988 and intended for issue 7 of the magazine. We've a long in depth piece on Suicide themselves which we'll put up in the next week or so. More electronic protopunk than you'll know what to do with.

Rock'n'Roll is over thirty and, as the old saying goes, never trust anyone over thirty. But, on the evidence, maybe the only rock'n'rollers we can trust now are precisely those who have broken through the dreaded Big 3-0. Iggy Pop, Springsteen, Robbie Robertson et al., the old ones who can still vividly remember the roots of the music than won the West. And Alan Vega, as venerable a rocker as his richer musical blood relatives, part of the 2nd generation to follow Lewis, Berry and Presley out of the trenches.

Vega committed Suicide, sometimes still does, but equally his epic contribution has been his four solo albums: “Alan Vega”, “Collision Drive”, “Saturn Strip”, “Just A Million Dreams”. From the first finger popping strains of “Jukebox Babe”, the track that heralded Vega's lonely crusade for rockin' perfection in the 80s, you knew that the rest could go sit in a corner: Vega dialled direct into the rock'n'roll trunk line and chewed through the cables that carry the sacred rockin' juice to those who seek it.

Tantalising tales of Vega's early solo gigs seeped out, about how he toured France with a beat-up beat box and a bad copy of “Alan Vega”s backing tracks, standing up and singing the songs over an amplified studio track. “Jukebox Babe” went top 10 in France, launching Vega to stardom and some due respect. He eventually got a band, a killer combo starring ace Texan rocker Phil Hawk (Christ, what a name!!) and went about the world verbally abusing audiences, talking sense to dumb journalists and generally becoming a cult legend extraordinaire. Then Elektra got hold of him, courtesy of kindly Car Ric Ocasek, who got them to pump bucks into Vega's manic muse, allowing him to make “Saturn Strip”, a singular rock classic, no mean feat after two singular rock classics; “Collision Drive” is as mysterious and perfect as a night sky and no easier to analyse. “Alan Vega” is still a snakebite and a half after six-plus years of heavy rotation.

Last December I had the ultimate privilege of meeting Vega, just finishing a brief European tour with Marty Rev, and ended up bending his ear for three hours. The transcript scratches the choicest surfaces of that close encounter with rock'n'roll genius. Questions have been kept to the minimum; just swing with Big Al, the last true believer fighting the good fight against a rip tide of scum.

“It's hard for me to explain what I've done, because I did it, it's hard to say, Hey, I took this paintbrush and put on this colour this way because...why? I tried to get the core of what you love about rock'n'roll so much and what I love about it so much and keep it in there.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"That energy that rock'n'roll had, especially when the white boys started doing it, then it really got dangerous (to the establishment of the day). Elvis was dangerous; they probably killed him anyway – I'm amazed they let him live that long. I know what you're saying man, something happened somewhere to dilute that essence of rock'n'roll. For one thing they just got into that Sixties thing, all that flower power crap...I hate to say The Beatles, man, I never could get into that pretty stuff...and the world bought it. The record business became huge. Look at it now, it's all accountants and lawyers, it's been taken over by big business. It's funny, because we played the Acid Daze festival in Leeds and it just seemed like all these sixties bands. Where are they coming from, man, for crying out loud? Did it not end? Are we going to be forever stuck in the 20th Century at the year 1970? Is this our fate? The kids of my day wanted to play Led Zeppelin when Led Zeppelin was around, but Zeppelin has happened already. Why don't these kids go to a record store and buy a history of the 7o's, do they think we went from the 60s to the 80s with no stop go? To me the 70s had a lot of stuff goin' down; punk stuff, electronic stuff like Suicide started.”

“Rock'n'roll, if you're doin' it right, it's a painful experience, a hard-working, painful experience. You're giving out 150% and getting back zero just about. You spend years doing it and your body's just giving and giving and nothing's coming back in and you end up drinking and drugging. You don't mean to self-destruct but you gotta keep up that intensity level to do it right. That's what early rock'n'roll was: Elvis, Jerry Lee – didya ever see those guys play? Just look at them shaking. And early Elvis – spastic, totally, the guy couldn't stop twitchin'. Buddy Holly, it was in his voice.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“But you gotta hang in there, it's a longevity trip, man, you gotta outlive it, 'cause they really want to see you dead, they're trying to always push out the authentic thing. You;re always a threat if you're doing something different ; if the business sees a whole school of other artists coming behind you, the business will take you in. If they just see you out there alone, the business wanna keep the business they know....and those business guys, you know how fast they move! You can be asleep a hundred years and come back and you'll still give shock to them. You gotta be out there so long that they finallly accept you.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“I did these (solo) albums and I went through this whole thing, man, because a lot of Suicide fans didn't like the rockabilly thing...I got this art thing happening. It's kinda like collages, trying to juxtapose different colours and stuff that shouldn't work together but if you work hard enough at it you can somehow manage to pull it off. There's a way of doin' it but it takes years of learning, beating your head against the wall, literally studying, you gotta be like a scholar y'know?”

Link to picture source (Japanese Forms)
(with thanks and apologies for using uncredited)

“Theoretically, one word should say it all. Some day I'm gonna write a song – find a word that I can keep repeating all the way through because it would be that meaningful to me. I don't wanna get into the mantra thing, though, because when you're repeating a word they say, Oh, it's gotta be a mantra – they've accused me of that already because there's so few words in my songs and the titles are so brief – but the manta thing isn't what I'm going for at all man. It's just that some words are so beautiful as they are, say so Suicide. There's certain names of groups, song titles, words...if you can get it down to that, man, that to me is pure poetry. Less is always more; look at the great old masters with their drawings. Picasso with one line – the whole person, persona, the soul in one line. Rembrandt; one's the less trip, man, the less trip.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"I think that the simpler you get, the more direct you get, and part of that energy you feel is because of the simplicity. It seems to go into overdrive, 'cause when you play simple you have to play that little bit harder to maintain the flow and a certain intensity comes in – it's not easy to hit that one note over and over again. You get into a flow you don't get with all this flimsy, rococo crap. Look – early Elvis, what did he have? Scotty Moore, one drum, a bass, his voice....but listen to the Sun sessions. It's like a Cadillac is coming driving through the walls...why? You tear it apart and say, this music shouldn't be doing what it's doing...but those guys are playing so simple and direct, and there's something about the snap in the wrist of the drummer”

Jeremy Gluck


  1. you are using a photograph of mine...
    (alan vega book)

    at least credit it or link it back to the original

    japanese forms

  2. Hi japanese forms

    I'm sorry - I've hopefully put things right with a credit, apology and my thanks.