Alan Vega Left a Robust Vault. The Excavation Begins With a New Album.
To Lamere, this is the context that’s needed to understand her husband: “Alan came out of the Great Depression, post-Holocaust, Jewish immigrant parents. There was always a connection to what was happening to the underdog — the disenfranchised, the disempowered, the oppressed.”
The young Bermowitzes lived a domestic life in Brooklyn. He worked for the welfare department (where he learned about government funding for the arts, which was soon to play a big role in his life) and painted in the evenings. In 1969, Vega saw Iggy Pop and the Stooges at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, and was inspired to commit himself to a life of ideas and art. “And he made the decision, which was a very difficult one, to leave his married life,” Lamere said. (“My world crashed in,” Mariette wrote on her website.)
Vega moved to Manhattan and helped run Museum: The Project of Living Artists, a Greenwich Village space that was open to performing and visual artists, political activists and anyone else 24 hours a day, thanks to the government funding he had secured. Late one night when he was there experimenting with musical feedback, he met Martin Rev (born Martin Reverby), a jazz keyboardist from Brooklyn. The two formed Suicide, initially with Vega on trumpet and Rev on drums, before they switched to vocals and keyboards.
Vega tried to explain that the band name referred not to any particular suicide, but to the country’s. “America, America is killing its youth,” he howled on “Ghost Rider,” over Rev’s distorted, two-note organ riff. It was music made with an abundance of ideas and audacity, and a lack of money. Rev played a $10 Japanese keyboard, and a few years later added a $30 Rhythm Prince drum machine that spit out chintzy rumba beats.
Gigs were hard to get. Record deals? forget it. By the time Suicide released its first album in late 1977, Vega was 39, making him the senior citizen of downtown punk.