Review #498: Suicide, Suicide

Karla Clifton
3 min readDec 27, 2023

#498: Suicide, Suicide

Another day, another record that scared my dog. She’ll be excited when this project is over.

Suicide — a great band name that could only have been conceived of in 1970 — was the punk-synth-duo of singer Alan Vega and synth player Martin Rev. According to Vega, the name was both inspired by a comic book and also “society’s suicide, especially American society. New York City was collapsing. The Vietnam War was going on. The name Suicide said it all to us.”

Their self-titled debut was recorded in four days and was widely panned. People criticized everything about it: the music, the vocals, the lyrics. They were often booed at their wild live shows, even though it sounds like they were pretty badass. Vega was apparently known for swinging around a motorcycle chain onstage. He was no Iggy Pop, but still.

The two keywords for this record are punk and minimalism. Every song is a duet between Rev’s keyboard and Vega’s howls. And what strange, beautiful harmonies they make, from the dark, nasty drone of “Ghost Rider” to the vampire bridal suite “Cheree.” There’s not a guitar on the record, but it’s just about the punkest thing I’ve ever heard, all screeches and fuzz.

I’ve seen some criticisms of their lyrics as goofy, and in some cases I see what they meant. “Rocket USA” makes kind of a clunky metaphor about a car and compares it to…the downfall of America I guess? And while I admire the political bent of “Che,” which takes Che Guevara deification to task, I’ll admit that the lyrics look a little silly on paper: Che, Che/ Well, alright/ Came to say/ Let’s all pray/ Hurray, hurray. But sometimes their lyrics are perfect parodies: see “Johnny,” a song that takes the piss out of greasers, and “Girl,” where Vega makes the most sarcastic sex noises I’ve ever heard.

Then there’s the masterpiece “Frankie Teardrop,” a song so impactful that Lou Reed said he wished he’d written it. Frankie is a factory worker that gets down on his luck and loses his mind, murdering his wife, child, and then finally himself. Nick Hornby called this song one that you would only want to listen to once, and for good reason. Vega screams after each murder happens, and each one is increasingly horrifying. By the end, Vega’s screams represent Frankie burning up in hell. I agree with Hornby; I don’t know if I’ll be able to listen to that one again anytime soon.

Suicide sporadically released music, together and apart, for nearly forty years. Vega finally died in his sleep in 2016, and guess who first reported the news? Henry Rollins, Black Flag’s most famous lead singer. The list of great artists who cite Suicide as an influence is long and diverse. But try telling my dog that.

Fun Fact: Vega was inspired to start a band after seeing the Stooges live. It all comes full circle, don’t it?

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