Sunday, July 17, 2016

Rock and Roll Eulogies: Alan Vega

This morning, while my wife and daughter attended a production of The Velveteen Rabbit in the suburbs, I prepared for a performance I'll present in Australia in August. The work is new and still being formed. It is called "Adorno At Altamont" and deals with rock and roll as a theoretical construct. Which is to say, that in the best rock and roll there is a theory that is both more indemnifying and more excoriating than what we find in its practice. The Velvet Underground for instance - "Sister Ray" - is a boiling kettle applied first to the flesh and then, once the flesh has retreated, to the skull, to the heart. But the theory of "Sister Ray" is altogether more catastrophic. What the Velvet Underground, at their best (i.e., their most theoretical) represent - such a weak word! - what they incise, is deeper than flesh, bone, and organ. It cuts to the quick; the quintessence. Rock and roll can be the art of life and death. Not life followed by death, but each held simultaneously in alternate hands, weighed and wagered, like tossed coins or hand grenades about to go off.

I'm trying to make theoretical rock, as close to a rock before or without practice as I can get. Adorno had to be there. So too Altamont and the Wagnerian symbolism of Meredith Hunter's murder at the hands of the Hell's Angels. The whole fucking mess renders hermeneutics moot. When Ralph Gleason wrote it up for Esquire, he (or some sensei editor) called it "Aquarius Wept."

Taking a break from my work, I put on the Gories' fantastic I Know You Fine, But How You Doin?, pinching inspirations from their paneled-basement-refrigerator-slapback. Then "Ghost Rider" came on. The Gories' cover of the Suicide classic is pure judo. Taking the slapback retro of Suicide's schtick (and make no mistake, it is schtick (of the highest order)) and slapping it back from whence it came, to the garage, to the long hallway that RCA used to emulate Sam Phillips' tape echo. Of course, this too is a slapping back of the slapback, emulating electronic emulations of acoustic phenomena with acoustic phenomena! The Gories take Suicide back to the source, making of "Ghost Rider" what it always pretended to be and not to be.

So I decided that "Ghost Rider" too had to be there. I spent the morning - this morning: July 16, 2016 - rehearsing it, focusing obsessively on the line, "America, America is killing its youth." This was rock and roll as theory: A band called Suicide, homeless at times during it's formative years, Martin Rev's cheap keyboard presets, and Alan Vega's voice, more slapback than signal, announcing that America and, by implication, the rock and roll, in which they lived and practiced was systematically eradicating its own audience, killing its youth. But there's the double entendre too, which applies equally again to America and rock and roll. The youth it is killing is its own: its vitality, its foolishness, its certainty, its naiveté. Suicide is the name of the band because, after all, what is being born, but the signing of a suicide pact? Beginning is the promise of ending.

This afternoon, I attended Dusty Groove's 20th anniversary block party. Among other records, I bought the recent reissue of the second Suicide record. I came home, put my daughter to bed and opened my laptop to learn that Alan Vega had died.

This morning - July 16, 2016 - while I engaged his work as a (re)producer and a consumer, Alan Vega ended. He left, not via the door opened by his band's name, but the old fashioned way, "peacefully in his sleep."

It's good to be a "recording artist." When you commit your beginnings to vinyl (or film or binary code) they can forever be begun again, not forestalling ending, but reestablishing the brief moments when ending is temporarily and artificially, strategically, denied. The present looks as if at a window and finds a mirror instead: no "out there," no "beyond," no "yet to come." Just THIS, again. In those moments, slapped back, and incessantly slapping back, Alan Vega's voice resounded. "Baby, baby, baby, he's screaming the truth."

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