When artist/sculptor Alan Vega and keyboardist Martin Rev began performing at New York's Mercer Arts Center (then home to the New York Dolls), they were ahead of their time. Suicide based its music on Rev's repetitive wall-of-noise keyboards (initially a broken Farfisa organ) and pneumatic rhythm machines, with Vega's Presley-ish vocals providing a link to rock & roll tradition. But Vega also brought a form of performance art onstage. He hit himself in the face with his microphone, he whispered and screamed, he strode into the audience seeking to incite involvement or confrontation. Some found Suicide fascinating; others thought them brilliant and important; more seemed to enjoy them as some sort of joke; and most simply hated them.
Suicide opened for the Clash and Elvis Costello on 1978 British tours, where audiences regularly flung beer bottles at the stage, and a few fights broke out. On a limited-edition, European live album (later reissued as a flexi-disc), one can hear audience members grabbing the microphone from the stage and passing it around, hurling epithets at the band the whole time. In 1980 the Cars' Ric Ocasek revealed himself as Suicide's most famous fan. The Cars' Candy-O includes a direct allusion to Suicide in "Shoo-Be-Doo." Ocasek got Suicide to open the Cars' 1980 U.S. tour (in L.A. Suicide nearly caused riots, and the concert promoters unsuccessfully tried to have them taken off the bill), included Suicide on a Cars-hosted Midnight Special, and produced Suicide's 1980 Ze album.
The two got back together again, with Ocasek producing, for 1988's more rhythmic A Way of Life and its followup, 1992's Why Be Blue. Ironically, the band is now quite revered in Europe. Suicide has become an unmeasurable influence on the industrial dance, noise, techno, ambient, and electronic scenes of the 1980s and 1990s. The pair's main albums have been reissued on numerous occasions, with scores of bonus tracks. Their newest American Supreme, released in 2002, revived their penchant for noise and howling reflectiion. Rev and Vega continue to perform, both together and solo.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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