If I had to sum up the work of maverick graphic designer Vaughan Oliver in a single phrase, it would have to be “jolie laide” — drolly defined by literary critic Daphne Merkin as “a triumph of personality over physiognomy, the imposition of substance over surface.” (It can also be translated, roughly, into “beautiful ugly” — apropos, in this case.)
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Long ago and not so far away (here in Providence, in fact), I used to work at a hotbed for Providence musicians. (Everybody needs a day job, right?) Co-worker Chick Graining (of Scarce) recommended that I make a beeline for one of their headlining shows at local, beloved scuzz pit Babyhead: “This band Helium is opening — keep an eye on them.”
I went. He was 1000% correct, and Helium quickly became a Do Not Miss proposition. I love their debut single; I loved their Pop Narcotic followup even more — it was crystal-clear to me that singer/songwriter Mary Timony had a unique perspective that was all her own.
Few bands fused dream and nightmare as succinctly, brutally and, yes, elegantly as Suicide, the stripped-down synth duo widely considered pioneers of No Wave and punk. (The band used the term “punk music” to describe their sound on a flyer for a 1970 gig at OK Harris gallery; it marked the first known use of “punk” to describe a burgeoning creative movement.)
Alan Vega, the band’s singer, died peacefully in his sleep yesterday. He was 78.