What happened to… Algebra Suicide?

algebrasuicide_intro

The late 70s and early 80s have been a fruitful time for the creation of interesting and creative music, which was generally categorized under terms as “new wave”, “darkwave” and “post-punk”. That makes it difficult to explain, what music and philosophy these genres represent. Those musicians saw that the music scene needed some innovation and that the early 80s were the right time for a change.

Algebra Suicide from Chicago achieved some reputation due to their unique musical style. The duo consisted of Lydia Tomkiw, daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, and Don Hedeker, and was active from 1982 to 1995.

Tomkiw was already known in the Chicago underground for her poetry-readings and published several of her poems (e.g. The Dreadful Swimmers and Popgun Sonatas, 1980).
Don Hedeker has been active in a band called The Trouble Boys and met Tomkiw during a concert in 1980. Shortly after that they became a couple and founded Algebra Suicide, a name they derived from one of Tomkiw’s poems.

Discography

1983 True Romance At The Worlds Fair EP
1985 An Explanation For That Flock Of Crows EP
1985 Pas De Deux
1986 Big Skin
1986 Little Dead Bodies EP
1987 Desperately Seeking Suicide
1987 The Secret Like Crazy (compilation)
1988 Real Numbers (live)
1990 Alpha Cue
1991 Swoon
1993 Tongue Wrestling
2009 Summer Virus Night – Live In Germany 1990

Lydia Tomkiw
1995 Incorporated

Musical style

The musical style of Algebra Suicide is the fusion of Lydia Tomkiw’s poems and the music of Don Hedeker. Usually Algebra Suicide are referenced as “poetry-music duo from Chicago”.

Algebra Suicide do not focus on the music itself, but much more on the poems, or better, how the words are accompanied and supported by the sounds and effects. Every tune seems to be on its perfect place.

Don Hedeker was responsible for the music. He practically made all the music by himself, using a drum machine, distorted guitars and synthesizers.

Lydia Tomkiw’s vocals are fitting perfectly to the atmosphere of their music. She is the female Lou Reed. Indeed, Algebra Suicide sounds like a lightweight later version of The Velvet Underground. Tomkiw’s voice has many facets, sometimes it sounds fragile, sometimes very strong. Also effects like chorus and echoes are used on the vocals.

From a more simple and minimal sound on the first albums, Algebra Suicide changed to a more epic style on the last two albums Swoon and Tongue Wrestling.

Tomkiw’s solo album Incorporated bears a much more rocky sound than Algebra Suicide. Also the use of synthetic effects is more tense.

Recommendations

One of my favourite songs by Algebra Suicide is ‘Just a Love Song’. It is one of their minimalistic pieces. Listening to this song for the first time I fell in love with Lydia Tomkiw’s vocals.

The compilation The Secret Like Crazy is maybe the best point to start. The songs on this album are still minimalistic, but some already show features of how Algebra Suicide will sound on the later albums. ‘Why No Action Is Taken?’ and ‘In Bed With Boys’ are here the most outstanding tracks. ‘Little Dead Bodies’ sounds maybe the most like The Velvet Underground.

On Tomkiw’s solo album Incorporated you have to listen to the song ‘From the Place Everyone Avoided’, it is amazing!

What happened to Algebra Suicide?

Maybe too perfect to be true seemed to be the symbiosis between Lydia Tomkiw and Don Hedeker. After the Chicago-duo also went on a European tour in 1990, where they were highly acclaimed by a small, but firm, group of followers, they started to struggle in the early 90s, but coming together once more to make their last album in 1993 – Tongue Wrestling. After their divorce in the same year they finally split-up in 1995.

In 1991 Tomkiw bought the Club Lower Links, which has been the venue of most of their shows, but went bankrupt soon after in 1993.

In 1995 a solo album with the title Incorporated has been published by Tomkiw in cooperation with several other musicians. After that she disappeared from the public attention.

In 2007 Lydia Tomkiw has been found dead in her flat. On Wikipedia was written that she died of “unknown reasons”, but on a blog of a friend of hers it can be read that she had heart problems, which might have caused her death.

What happened to…
…is a column about lost and forgotten legends from the dark scene since the late 70s. Those musicians may have been forgotten because of different reasons. My aim is, to bring them back to life by researching, what happened to them and by preserving information about them and their music. This episode is a re-issue with some additional information and changes.

About André Savetier

Since 2011 André Savetier is actively working as a music journalist with an expertise on contemporary new wave music phenomena.
His scientific specialization is anthropology of music and anthropology of popular culture. Savetier remains intrigued by the interplay between the aforementioned social phenomena, the told (and untold) legends of music and its roots.

3 Thoughts on “What happened to… Algebra Suicide?

  1. Marisa on 16th March 2015 at 09:11 said:

    The Album Desperately Seeking Suicide is great! It is a compilation album various artist album and AS only does a couple of the songs. Other bands include Staubsauger, The Swallowed Cry, Human Flesh etc.

  2. Thank you for this website and for this post in particular!

    Not that I found anything really new for me in this article – though it’s quite informative and well-written, in my opinion – but the very idea of “What happened to…” appeals to me a lot – in fact, I always think of it when I hear a track of an old and not really well-known band. It’s always interesting to know what life turned out to have in stock for these guys whose music you’ve come to know about just by a lucky chance, where they’re now and what they’re doing 🙂

    As to the subject of this post, the circumstances of Ms Tomkiw’s death get a specific aspect of sadness when looked at keeping the Little Dead Bodies lyrics in mind 🙁

    But that’s another thing your project provides the information for – correlating the art and the biography of the author: “Would he/she write anything like that, if he/she knew how it all was going to end up?”

    • Thank you for your elaborate post! If you stumble upon band which would be worth to write about here, please, don’t hesitate to tell me 🙂

      And yes, Tomkiw’s death and the lyrics of ‘Little Dead Bodies’ have a creepy correlation…

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