The Suicide legend does all the talking
Twenty years ago, Alan Vega stepped into a New York studio with Alex Chilton of Big Star and New Jersey musician Ben Vaughn and improvised an entire album over the course of two days. A couple of years later, the “band” that made ‘Cubist Blues’ played two shows of the material – one in New York, one in France – and promptly went their separate ways. Having slipped in and out of print, a curio even within the cult discographies of all three artists, Light In The Attic and Munster Records are reissuing ‘Cubist Blues’, along with recordings of both live shows, this month.
The recording from the 1996 show in Rennes is particularly revelatory, with Vega – then well into his fifties – having no recall of the original songs, and making up new, stream-of-consciousness lyrics for each number based on the titles on the setlist. So ‘Dream Baby Revisited’ becomes a valedictory barrelhouse piano romp and ‘Fat City’ an even more scathing indictment of an increasingly unrecognisable NYC – a subject which still rankles Vega today. And while ‘Freedom’ on record is an eerie anthem, Vega preaches it in concert like a shamanic Elvis impersonator:
“There are a lot of fucked up things, man… As long as you got this fuckin’ thing called freedom – to be free, man, it’s everything, it’s like good health. You’re fuckin’ blessed with this shit.”
Fast forward two decades, with Vega reminiscing about the work he did with Chilton and Vaughn from his New York home, and there are times when it feels like I’m talking to the ghost of the ghost rider. At 77 years old, and having undergone surgery following a heart attack and stroke in 2012, Vega does sadly sound his age. That said, while he may have lost some of his fire, his cutting Noo Yawk wit remains in tact, and his memories of two fleeting days in 1995 are as razor-sharp as they are heartfelt.
While his peers have come and gone, or made the leap to becoming respectable heritage artists, Alan Vega has always been seeking out the next sound, the next project. Fuck age and fuck ill-health – you can tell that Alan Vega will never stop seeking out the next piece of sidewalk trash he can turn into art.