A Final Fuck You:
Last Ever Show
When I went to see my first Suicide show, I hadn’t thought it would be their last.
The Barbican Hall is a seated venue at the centre of a wider brutalist estate, often happy to host contemporary acts, but designed principally for the consumption of classical music. Into this auditorium marched a conga line of contagion – goths, cyberkids, queers, limby teens, James Murphy lookalikes and, of course, punks.
And they all – quite in contravention to their energy – sat. They sat through a performance of Phil Minton’s glorious feral choir, featuring faces from Savages and Bo Ningen. They listened patiently from their seats as Henry Rollins delivered a somewhat exhaustive introduction, in a manner of simultaneous hero worship and self-aggrandisement that only he can muster. And then they continued to sit as both Alan Vega and Martin Rev performed and played some of their individual work, and then joined together to play Suicide songs. Rev wore a black PVC two-piece with around two inches of butt crack visible, while Vega was bedecked in an array of heavily logo’d sportswear.
Vega’s frailty was clear. It was July 2015, he was 77, and he had clearly not recovered fully from his stroke and heart attack of three years earlier. He found the performance difficult.
And yet he stood. Not much, of course. But considerably more than one might have expected, considering he had an actual throne to sit on. (A throne that I have since discovered Vega was never meant to leave at all).
The image of Vega’s peek-between-your-digits state has since clawed deeply into my brain. No matter how ecstatic I was to hear that music in a communal space, Vega’s demeanour, veering wildly between demonic possession and utter exhaustion, is the thing that I remember most clearly about the night.
I know that I eventually managed to stand up and make my way to the front – along with some of the more enthusiastic audience members, finally fed up with the amphitheatre stagnancy – before closing my eyes and head-banging myself into a psychotic trance.
But much more than that I remember the creeping feeling that Vega shouldn’t have been allowed to perform; to be outside; to be so perversely old and unable in front of this many people. It was harrowing. There were points at which the crowd were fearful he would fall down and injure himself, prove himself fallible in front of this church, his church.
It felt similarly perverse of us to flaunt our youthful bodies and our flagrant, premature destruction of them. It felt cruel that a man once famed for injuring himself and others on stage could be this injured. The one so willing to break his body to infuriate and intimidate others could now barely stand.
But then it hit me, like a train to the temple, that this ‘Punk Mass’ was the only appropriate thing for Vega to do, and was, retrospectively, the final ‘fuck you’. Surely nothing is more punk that a man refusing to be hidden; refusing to be sick in the dark; refusing to die quietly. Taking money from people, and then making them watch you stand, unwell. Making them watch the future they fear.
We assume that people perform in spite of illness, but what about those who perform illness itself? We associate performance with immortality; with creating a moment entirely beyond the temporal. But to poison that sensation with something ugly… well, that’s transcendent in a whole different way.
Age and pity are difficult to fetishise, and therefore it’s disturbing when someone is standing on a stage, asking you to do so. And much as the great ongoing performance art piece that was Suicide always elevated the bloody, the brutal and the awful, Vega’s last stand was a masterclass in how to use the horrendous to exaggerate the glory of powerful art.