If Miles Davis pegged 1957 as The Birth of The Cool, then we are now witnessing the end of the line: the Death of the Cool. Thus far in 2016 a lion’s share of the untouchable echelon of art musicians have unexpectedly burst forth from the living. First fell Bowie, then Prince, and last night, Alan Vega.
At first glance, Vega’s place alongside the former two artists might appear overstated. He never packed a stadium, as a solo artist or alongside Martin Rev in the prophetic proto-punk duo Suicide. He never stole the show in a blockbuster hit, or marked his place on any music chart. While hardly a kingfish in the waters of American culture, Vega nonetheless left an indelible wake in the course of alternative music. Springsteen, James Murphy, and Thurston Moore have all sung his praises, though every any act with a mechanized drum beat owes Suicide a nod of gratitude.
Suicide took off running in 1970. Like Iggy and the Stooges, the duo chased confrontation, sacrilege, and ingenuity. Throughout the early ‘70s the group held court at the hip New York joints, crossing paths with the likes of The New York Dolls at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. Critic Lester Bangs quickly took note, and their sparse, throbbing whirlwind sound marked the origination of the word “punk” as a genre. Their first album, self-titled, arrived seven years into their careers and solidified the role of Suicide as Fathers of the Vogue. Rev handled the sound, and Vega tackled the words. After an equally impressive sophomore album, Rev and Vega parted ways for solo endeavors and effectively established Suicide as a periodic outlet.
While an undeniable visionary, Vega took cues from the dawning moments of rock and roll, turned them upside-down and spit them out in his own styling. Just imagine a post-Vietnam Buddy Holly wandering mad in the streets of New York; babbling, growling, and salivating. Vega’s lyricism demonstrated a Twainian propensity for caricature with a Hitchcock flair for horror. His artistry contained equal parts past, present, and future. Across an expansive solo discography, Vega continued the radical scope of Suicide, yet branched into broader terrain. A relentlessly inventive creative force foretold the sounds of Mac Demarco and the Strokes on tracks like “Lonely” and “Love Cry.” Following a stroke, Vega turned further towards visual art, though an increasingly rare appearance with Rev was scheduled for the Desert Daze festival in October.
When Henry Rollins announced Vega’s death on his radio program, he debunked a lingering mystery surrounding the artist. For years the truthful age of Alan Vega remained unknown. He stoked the rumours himself, claiming to have been born in 1948, amongst other fibs regarding his religion and ethnicity. Yet a finite time has now been presented. Alan Vega was born in 1938, and died on July 16th, 2016, at the age of 78, of natural causes no less. He lived throwing wrenches and staking new claims. If The Cool was a class, Alan Vega skipped every lesson and still finished at the top of his class. Shake New York City down and you’d never find another. Above all Vega lived, and will forever live, as the character he presented in “Wipeout Beat:” “He looked at all the people on the magic ride, he says/ ‘Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen/Let me show you something new.’”