Arts Desk

Springsteen/Suicide, Discussed

In which the author contemplates the Boss' misguided affinity for an obscure New York no-wave duo.

Louis P. Mazur's excellent Slate piece on Bruce Springsteen's 1975 album Born to Run hails the hit record as the fruit of one visionary's dogged persistence. Springsteen, laboring Lincoln-like through the 1970s, had twice failed to make good on the record industry's big bets on his ramshackle boardwalk aesthetic—1973's Greetings from Asbury Park and 1974's The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (1974) had pleased critics, but failed to move units.

According to Mazur, Springsteen's problem wasn't a lack of spontaneity, but bad editing. Born to Run documents Springsteen's triumph over his own first thoughts. "What mattered to [Springsteen] was to sound spontaneous, not to be spontaneous," Mazur writes. "It took him six months during the spring and summer of 1974 to record the title track."

This devotion to excellence is why Bruce Springsteen can't cover Suicide.

Suicide, the revolutionary, drummer-less duo formed by New York art fucks Alan Vega and Martin Rev in the ’70s, was reviled by punks. But, like many reviled things, Suicide still looks and sounds like the future. Here's an undated performance of the ballad "Dream Baby Dream":

"Dream Baby Dream" succeeds because it is a jumble of first thoughts. What are these guys doing? What are these guys wearing? Is this even a song? I can't call Suicide lazy because I didn't live on the Lower East Side during the Carter administration—perhaps they worked for months or years on the three chords, drum loop, and random chatter that are "Dream Baby Dream."

I do know that when I saw them at the Black Cat a few years ago, this keyboard/vox two-piece didn't bother bringing a keyboard to its show. Instead, Martin Rev borrowed a random keyboard from a random guy and, while blasting prerecorded beats through the P.A., danced around in a leather jacket while miming his keyboard parts. The whole performance was a monument to spontaneity.

Here's the Boss covering "Dream Baby Dream":

I hope you haven't watched this full clip, because it's very boring. It's easy to see why Springsteen loves Suicide—just as Rev lays down repetitive riffs while Vega riffs on (usually) death and sex, the E Street band lays down repetitive riffs while the Boss riffs on (usually) the exploits of working class heroes ("Johnny 99" on 1982's Nebraska sounds particularly like "Johnny" on Suicide's 1977 debut).

But Boss can't cover "Dream Baby Dream"— the song's too spontaneous, too weird, too half-assed, too tossed-off, too bad. Playing it in a stadium is like climbing the Washington Monument just to use the bathroom.

Here's Suicide live—wild, weird, and, most of all, not boring.

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