As frontman of the proto-punk band Suicide, Alan Vega had a bloody, energetic and inspiring career in music.Vega, known for antagonizing fans at his shows with both his ominous lyrics and unpredictable stage performance, laid the groundwork for both punk and electronic acts that followed him. Which would explain the range of bands and musicians who have paid homage to Vega, who died this past Saturday. Black Flag, The Clash, Soft Cell, the Dead Kennedys New Order and Daft Punk have all cited Vega's work as influential in their own music.
Started in 1970, Suicide was groundbreaking because the band took a different approach to what would eventually be dubbed punk music, using only electronics instead of traditional instruments. In fact, Vega’s high energy on stage, mixed with keyboardist Marten Rev’s hypnotic riffs, perplexed and in some cases even angered concert-goers.
While some bands offered psychological escape from the traumas of the 1970s, Suicide threw the harsh realities of a fractured society right back in the audience's face. As Vega once toldThe Jewish Chronicle: “We challenged them. We weren’t entertainers and it wasn’t an escape from people’s problems. We were angry and we wanted to wake people up." (See songs like “Ghost Rider,” “Che,” “Frankie Teardrop” and “Cheere".)
One recurring element at Suicide shows was the raucous reaction from the audience — which was evidently Suicide’s intent all along.In the earlier days, Vega would whip around a long metal bike chain on stage as he wailed into the microphone. Vega's energetic stage antics would become the key component of the hostility toward the band in their live performance. Some of the more (in)famous incidents at Suicide shows include an ax being thrown at Vega on stage and the time Vega and Rev were beaten during a performance that triggered a full blown riot, ending with police raiding and tear-gassing the venue. Vega was open about feeding off negative energy from his audience and using it to fuel his own performance. Vega he told Self-Titled Magazine, "When they were throwing shit, I knew things were going pretty good, I knew we were agitating somebody, which is what Suicide was supposed to be."
This has been a year in which we've lost pop stars and rock legends at a depressing rate. Some, like David Bowie and Prince, toyed with and blended reality with fantasy, offering some amount of escape through art. With Vega's passing, we lost one of punk's greatest anti-heroes, someone who saw value in forcing us to confront our worst selves.