One week ago, Seventies NYC punk impresario Alan Vega passed away at the age of 78. Oh, sure, few of you have heard of him or his innovative electronic band, Suicide. Well, being the old teacher that I am, let’s do a little Rock and Roll History lesson.
When I was seven years old, my brother and I went to a babysitter’s house in the summer. Dad had just been promoted to being the principal at a school in my old school system that is no longer open. And, Mom was taking classes for her Master’s degree in Art Education. Anyway, my brother and I were lucky to go to one of the coolest babysitters around. She would watch several kids, of whom I was the oldest. So, I got to hang with her the younger two of her three sons. One day, those guys thought it would be real could to lock me in their closet while sending the light from a strobe through the slots of the door while playing the beginning of Black Sabbath’s first album. Needless to say, I was freaked out!
Of course, it took me ten years before I could really handle my Sabbath. Thanks, jackasses! But guess what?!?! There’s much scarier sounding music out there than silly Black Sabbath. No, I am not talking about Death Metal, although the subject matter is troubling, their sound is cliche. No, I am going tell you about a relatively unknown electronic punk band called Suicide, of which Alan Vega was the lead “singer”.
So, first off, what does the band Suicide sound like? To me, they were the true punks. They took the music of Kraftwerk to American art schools, only to come out sounding like that were on acid and sending Vega’s near-rockabilly vocals through various electronic devices that only made their off-the-wall lyrics sound that much more disturbing. Much of their stuff sounds like the three steps BEYOND the weirdest music The Cars ever put onto their first two albums (“Candy-O”, “Moving in Stereo”) mixed with Peter Gabriel’s truly terrifying song “Intruder” that when taken altogether is truly freaky music.
There first and second albums were released at the height of the CBGB’s band all getting signed, so even the least commercial-sounding bands, such as Suicide, were being signed. When the first self-titled album was released in December of 1977, the critics were generally unkind to the band’s music. In January 1980, Suicide released another eponymous album, but this time produced by The Cars’ Ric Ocasek. The band’s label was hoping that Ocasek would make Suicide more palatable to the public, but such was not the case. Instead, Ocasek’s clean production work only made Suicide’s music more disturbing. And, once again, the critics were unimpressed.
Yet, just like other bands who had been written off after a couple of albums, Suicide joined the Velvet Underground and Big Star as being a huge influence on various new genres that opened in their aftermath. If it weren’t for Suicide, we might not have had music from Joy Division (and later New Order), Gang of Four, The Human League or Soft Cell. The whole post-punk and electronic music scenes were the product of those groups of young people relating to the alienation felt by the mall rat generation.
So, if you are in the mood for something different to listen to, just pull Suicide on Spotify or Pandora or whatever. If you can get past the first couple of songs, then here’s a “Bully!” to you! If not, don’t fear! You are in the majority. It’s simply sometimes, I love to run clockwise on a high school track. Actually, turn on the Democratic convention, turn down the TV’s volume and begin playing Suicide’s first album. I hear it’s like listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz. Start you own tradition tonight!