Suicide

founded in 1970

Biography

1970: The band Suicide is founded by Alan Vega and Martin Rev, together with guitarist Paul Liebgott

1971: Liebgott is replaced by Mari Reverby on drums

1973: After some initial success, Suicide provisionally disbands

1976: Rev and Vega reform and become the resident band at the New York Punk club CBGB

1977: Release of debut album Suicide; collaboration continues unbroken until 1992

1998: Rev and Vega reunite for the re-release of their Suicide album

2002: The album American Supreme announces their comeback 2002: The album American Supreme announces their comeback

Alan Vega

born 1938 as Boruch Alan Bermowitz in Brooklyn, New York; died 2016 in New York

1960s: Studies at Brooklyn College of Art under teachers such as Ad Reinhardt

1967: Graduates and becomes active in the Art Workers’ Coalition

1969: Cofounds the self-run multimedia gallery MUSEUM – A Project of Living Artists

Martin Rev

born 1947 as Martin Reverby in Brooklyn, New York

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

Alan Bermowitz commenced his artistic career in the late 1960s in the alternative scene in downtown New York. He created light sculptures and installations, which were first shown in 1969 at the MUSEUM – A Project of Living Artists, an autonomously run artists’ gallery. This was followed by solo shows at the OK Harris Gallery (directed by Ivan Karp), where Bermowitz presented the same works—ensembles of light bulbs, neon tubes and fairy lights—in ever changing arrangements in the years 1970, 1972, and 1973. These tangles of different, intertwined light sources, either spread out »wildly« on the floor or suspended erratically from the ceiling, were a kind of expressive counterpart to the light objects associated with minimal art.

Bermowitz was additionally active as a draftsman, cultivating a hallmark style in his portraits involving a jagged, quavering line reminiscent of barbed wire. Apart from photographic works that he elaborated using graphic means, he also designed magazines (Art-Rite 13, 1977) and later book covers (Deuce Avenue War: The Warriors V3 97, 1990).

But Bermowitz’s art never brought him any commercial success, even though he exhibited in the 1980s at the Gladstone Gallery—mostly mixed-media installations in the form of crosses—and in 2002 at Deitch Projects. In 2009, the MAC Lyon mounted a wide-ranging retrospective for the artist, then in his seventies, covering five decades of artistic production.

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Author: Christian Höller

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Music

Music

A music project that Bermowitz launched in 1970 with the young jazz keyboarder Martin Reverby created far more uproar than his visual oeuvre. The unconventional duo went by the name of Suicide and had met up (initially as a trio with the filmmaker-to-be Paul Liebegott) in the genre-busting framework of MUSEUM – A Project of Living Artists. »Punk Music by Suicide« was how they advertised their first concerts, for which the two adopted the provocative names Alan and Marty Suicide. The duo’s confrontational attitude—Rev’s minimalist-repetitive synthesizer loops combined with Vega’s effusive, eruptive singing—was an indirect mirror of the decline of US American culture, which at that time was tangible on all sides. The war raging on in Vietnam, returning veterans, many of them wounded, urban decay, enduring ethnic tensions—all of this impacted on the duo’s music, which initially tended toward planes of sound. Titles like »Junkie Jesus,« »Methedrine Mary,« and later »Ghost Rider« or »Frankie Teardrop« proclaimed their intention of bringing the »dirt« and unwelcome reality out from the streets into the art or concert space—just as Bermowitz did in his exhibitions with all manner of found junk. It was not unusual for the concerts to end in violent altercations with the (mostly thin) audiences.

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Yet over the years, Suicide—in the meantime, the two musicians had adopted the new pseudonyms Alan Vega and Martin Rev—developed to become one of the most compelling blueprints for punk and the music of downtown New York City. In 1977, they issued their first album, the cover emblazoned with Vegas’s iconic depiction of the name »Suicide« in trickles of red and black blood. From this point on Vega and Rev rose to ever greater acclaim, even internationally, and had a number of minor hits such as »Dream Baby Dream« (1979). With various interruptions, Suicide remained active, alongside their individual solo projects, right into the 2000s, and maintained its provocative stance right to the end.

Author: Christian Höller

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In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Suicide

Universal Amphitheater, Los Angeles, September 4, 1979, with Alan Vega (voc.), Martin Rev (synth.), 9:37 min.

Film: Ric Ocasek, Edited by: Jared Artaud, Courtesy of Saturn Strip, Ltd. and Revega Music Co.


An excerpt from a gig in 1979 gives eloquent testimony to the utter perplexity and flat rejection that Suicide encountered. The duo appeared as support group to The Cars, a new wave rock band that shortly before had met with enormous success (their frontman, Ric Ocasek, was a great Suicide fan and at that time produced several of their discs). The first piece that is shown, the love song »Cheree,« failed to find any particular favor with the audience. Vega, looking like a Vietnam veteran with his characteristic red bandana, and Rev with his typical heavy-duty goggles and an increasingly pinched look, subjected themselves doggedly to the antipathy of the masses. Objects hailed down from the auditorium, which galvanized the duo’s resolution to deliver a counterattack. With »Fireball,« a piece from 1980 presented on Vegas’s first solo LP, they ramped up the action and unleashed a blazing electronic firestorm of scorching »Oohs« and »aahhs« over the uncomprehending crowd.

Author:

Christian Höller