[TypicalGirls] Lydia Tomkiw of Algebra Suicide RIP

WWWhatsup joly at dti.net
Sun Sep 23 16:15:11 EDT 2007


An artist's work lives on

Jim DeRogatis

An appreciation | Lydia Tomkiw was crucial to Chicago's underground
rock scene of the early '90s

September 23, 2007

Chicago's underground rock scene was much smaller and less vibrant
when I first arrived here in the early '90s. The energy of the
mid-'80s had dissipated along with post-punk bands such as Big
Black, Naked Raygun and the Effigies, and the alternative explosion
of the mid-'90s had yet to ignite. From my perspective, two of the
biggest signs of life were Material Issue and Algebra Suicide, in
large part because of their tireless and charismatic front persons.

Jim Ellison and Lydia Tomkiw weren't just the leaders of their
respective bands; they also booked shows (Ellison at Batteries Not
Included and Tomkiw at Lower Links, which she co-owned for a time);
networked non-stop to bring together local musicians, DJs and
writers and generally did whatever they could to focus the national
spotlight on local music. Ellison died an untimely death in 1996;
now, Tomkiw is gone, too: She died earlier this month in Phoenix,
Ariz., where she'd been living near family. The cause is pending an
autopsy; she was 48 years old.

The daughter of Ukrainian parents who fled the Soviet Union, Tomkiw
grew up in Humboldt Park, avoiding the streets of that tough
neighborhood to form her artistic identity in front of the bedroom
mirror. She developed a strikingly original visual style and became
a unique and wickedly funny poet. "She could've been Catwoman's
stunt double, Theda Bera's lost sister or Sylvia Plath's
ghostwriter," author and fan Bart Plantenga wrote. "Flickers of
defiance flared up around her robust, red-haired countenance as she
negotiated between femme fatale and femme tragique."

Tomkiw took part in some of this city's earliest poetry slams, but
she found her real niche after meeting guitarist Don Hedeker and
forming Algebra Suicide in 1983. The duo paired Tomkiw's poetry --
"spoken word" barely does justice to the hypnotic way she delivered
her verses -- and Hedeker's inventive sonics over the course of
several albums, EPs and singles boasting memorable pieces such as
their college-radio cult hit, "Little Dead Bodies."

"I've heard that somebody is born every eight seconds," Tomkiw
intoned. "So I presume that somebody dies every eight seconds /
Just to keep things even / It makes me feel shortchanged when I
read the obituary page / Somebody's holding back information."

"Of the many vocalist/instrumentalist duos to emerge in and around
the New Wave, this Chicago team was quite unique," another big fan,
Trouser Press editor Ira Robbins, wrote. "Over the course of its
career, Algebra Suicide flirted with pop forms and occasionally
shared stylistic ground with both Laurie Anderson and the Velvet
Underground but never wavered from its own individual path."

Algebra Suicide came to an end in 1993, not long after Hedeker and
Tomkiw's marriage unraveled, and Tomkiw lived for the next decade
or so in New York, where she collaborated with Edward Ka-Spel and
the Legendary Pink Dots on a 1995 solo album, "Incorporated." She
hadn't made music since, in contrast to Hedeker, who teaches
biostatistics at the University of Illinois in Chicago but remains
active on the local scene as leader of the Polkaholics. Yet her
work with Alegebra Suicide lives on.

"The band never had a lot of fans, but for the ones who did like
it, it meant a lot to them," Hedeker said last week. "I think she
wrote tremendous poetry. She was a very charismatic person, and she
knew how to make people enjoy things, so she was very good at being
a front person. And she was very successful at making poetry and
art seem like fun."

The poetry and music of Tomkiw and Algebra Suicide can be sampled
on the Web at www.clivebarker.com/bands/algebra/ and on the group's
MySpace page. http://www.myspace.com/algebrasuicide

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