Apr 26, 2013

Sonny Vincent, Suicide, and living to tell about it

The Dogs, Distance & Suicide at The Circus, St. Marks Place, NYC, October 1971
Sonny Vincent
Sonny Vincent is one of those New York guys...the type of musician who has always been around...played the right places at the right time with the right acts, but for some reason never really made it (although you wouldn't know that from his discography). Always a part of the underground, you really need to dig a little deeper to find out about these types. And they usually have interesting stories to tell.

Thanks to Peter Dougherty for pointing me to this pretty amazing interview with Vincent over at Victim of Time. While the entire thing is definitely worth reading, it was the story about Suicide that really interested me. I've excerpted that below, but make sure you check out the entire interview right here. And keep up with Vincent's current stuff via his Facebook page and website.

What was your most lasting impression of Suicide and what was your first encounter with seeing them?

Ahhh Suicide. In the early days I would see Alan and Marty pushing gear down the street in a shopping cart, Didn’t know who they were, but it definitely looked odd seeing them walking along the sidewalk on St. Marks Place or Canal Street pushing an A&P cart with a keyboard that had no protective case sticking out of the cart. The first time I played a show with them was at a place called The Circus/Playwrights Workshop. It was originally called The Electric Circus where all the 60’s groups like Hendrix and The Doors played. Then a bit later, it was called The Dom, and Moe Tucker and Sterling Morrison told me they played there early on when it was shortly called The Balloon Farm, and also they did a lot of the Velvet Underground / Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable performances there when it was The Dom. I think Andy rented the place sometime to put on his events. (Continued after the jump.)

Anyway, by the time I was on the scene with my band Distance, they changed the name of the venue back again to approximate the original name (Electric) Circus. Whatever they called it, by then it was a shabby, hulking husk of a left over place. The exciting 60’s were finished and all that was left for us was a shell. We wanted to play our music live, but we were presented with a sort of David Lynch-ian landscape to try to survive in. The truth was that bands like mine and Suicide were desperate to play anywhere, to somehow survive, so we got in there and organized a show. We were not aware at that moment that soon we would be on the vanguard of a whole new scene. But at the time even with the desolate terms before us, we were excited to be on stage.

So we printed up a shitload of posters and flyers, stuck them all over the Village, and promoted our show. The bill was Distance (my band at the time), Suicide and The Dogs, from Detroit. The Dogs had moved to NYC to try to get some exposure. I remember talking to them a couple of weeks before this show and the thing I remember was that they said they were all living in an apartment together surviving on a huge bag of potatoes. Rockers to the core! I think Keith and Brian of the Stones also had lived together in an apartment surviving on potatoes, forsaking all except their music!

I’m gonna describe the action that day for you. We pulled up in our dilapidated station wagon, the ‘Distance Mobile’ and got out in front of the venue on 23 St. Marks place, and sure enough, at that very moment coming down the sidewalk with their shopping cart were Alan Vega and Martin Rev of Suicide, now I finally knew who these characters were. 'Ah Ha,' so those two shadowy figures walking around town were performers.

Alan had on a leather jacket with a very high collar. On the back of the jacket were large metal studs spelling ‘Suicide’. It was very provocative and somehow shocking. This was light years before The Dead Kennedys, and the effect of the name alone at that point in time was somehow profound and confusing. They dragged their shopping cart up the steps and went inside. We also began to load in our amps, guitars and drums.

The place was cavernous, with a dark musty stage that was quite big. We heard from the sound man that the sound check would begin soon. I remember they didn’t turn the lights on full power yet, so all three bands were milling around in semi darkness, looking at the stage, the room, and checking out the dressing rooms. Suddenly Marty and Alan from Suicide came up to me and asked if they could borrow our drummers cymbal, snare drum and one drum stick. I said “Do you have a drummer who is gonna show up?” Alan said -“Nahh Marty will play the cymbal and snare while he plays the keyboard." This sounded a bit strange to me but we lent them our stuff and they set up on stage. They would be the first to do their sound check, and I watched Marty set up his organ and then connect a whole chain of LPB-1 distortion boxes to it. In other words he connected around four or five distortion boxes together, and then put the output of the organ through all that. Then he placed the snare drum and the cymbal to the right side of the keyboard within his reach. This was before Marty used rhythm/drum machines. He made the ‘rhythm’ with his right hand by whacking the snare and cymbal and he played the organ with his left hand. The first song had two notes, and the second song had the same two notes reversed. As he played/oscillated between the two droning keyboard notes, he robotically cracked the snare and crashed the cymbal. During this, Alan was screaming and moaning into the microphone with an ungodly amount of reverb. I was shocked and to be honest, sort of disgusted. After their sound check I went up to Alan. “ Listen man, we sent out postcards and stuff to around 12 record companies and told them to arrive early, I don’t want you guys going on before us because they will all leave and then all my work was for nothing." Alan said "Awwww maaaan, they ain’t even gonna show up. They will be sitting home drinking beer and watching T.V.” Suffice to say, it turned out Alan was right, but in my naiveté, I imagined dudes in business suits clamoring up to us, with brief cases full of contracts and millions of dollars and didn’t want Suicide scaring them off.

So it was decided that we go on first, and like I mentioned before, this place was pretty big and now the audience was there, I think it was around 19 or 20 people. We played and I remember the audience’s clapping had an echo because the place was so empty. Of course we still rocked it and had a pretty good time. Next up was Suicide, and Martin had a joint hangin’ out of his mouth as he came up and sat onstage alone before his keyboard. He then played his drone notes, crashing the cymbal and snare for about ten minutes. Right away, a few people left the building, then Alan came on stage and gave some weak yelps into the mega-reverbed P.A.

At the same time that Alan was making these sort of lamb sounding yelps, he was standing in a stiff, still, contorted pose. After that, he grabbed a 3 foot length of chain and began to beat himself across the face with it while yelping. Marty was still droning louder and louder, and more people left. Then Alan jumped off the stage and approached a woman in the front row who seemed to be the only person in the place kind of ‘into it.’ He literally stood directly in front of her face and came closer and closer. He had the mic up to the side of his mouth and was eventually nose to nose, eye to eye with this woman and yelled, over and over again “I’m too fast for you!, I’m too fast for youuuu!, I’m too fast for youuuuuu, I’m too faaaaast for youuuuuuuuuu! Aggnnggnnahhht ahhhh!” Right then, the woman jumped up and shook her hands frantically in front of her face and ran out of the building. The only thing missing was her hair was not on fire. The Suicide show lasted around 15-20 minutes and all the audience left the room except for around five people. By the time The Dogs came on, there were maybe nine people watching them because some folks came back in. In that moment I thought that Suicide was the absolute worst crap, bullshit, talentless, ton of garbage I had ever seen. For a week I went around telling people what a bunch of shit I had recently seen and played with.

But then slowly,,, like a new planet that takes time to traverse the light years into a new solar system, I began to ruminate and reflect on that event/show and the performance of Suicide, and eventually it hit me. Although it did take about a month to hit, I was suddenly astounded and flabbergasted. Bowled over by the effect it had on me and the raw artistic power. Now I was telling everyone “Man, if you are going around town and you see a duo called Suicide advertised as playing somewhere, you absolutely have to see them! It’s the most riveting, profound performance you could imagine!"

I’m sure some people ‘got it’ upon the first moment they saw Suicide, but for me it took a while. For me their performance was so intense and raw, that at first it was a shock to my entire lexicon, aesthetic, and concept of value. After it hit me, there was a sort epiphany, probably something like when people saw Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, and the early solo blues players. Later, as our NYC scene developed, I played again with them at CBGB. Years later, I heard all the techno and DJ stuff that came out and I felt that they all should be required to pay Suicide some royalties! Of course I am kidding about the royalties, but in a perfect world, it would be so. There is a certain feeling you can get when you know how things develop and how sometimes the originators get overlooked. It’s absolutely amazing how so much of that Techno and Goa Techno etc. is similar to what Martin Rev was doing so early on. Although now people don’t run away, they take drugs and dance to it!

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