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Flash Metal Suicide: Rene Berg - The Leather, The Loneliness, and Your Dark Eyes

An unsung cult hero from the UK's long-gone gypsy-glam scene

Out of all the vanished heroes and vanquished villains in the flash metal universe, the one I think about the most is long-lost gypsy-glam crooner Ian Alistair Bruce, or as he was known in darker rock n' roll alleys, Rene Berg. Like many skinny, guitar wielding rock n' rollers, he struggled with booze, drugs, and depression for most of his adult life. Eventually, a decade after leaving the public eye, he surrendered to his demons and split for the next world. He didn't leave behind volumes of work to sift through, just one album and a few guest spots here and there. If he's remembered at all, it's usually as one of the ancillary part-time members of Hanoi Rocks. But there was a time and a place for Rene Berg, and if the winds of fortune had shifted ever so slightly his way, it could have been a much different story. His sole solo output, the devastating 1992 album The Leather, The Loneliness And Your Dark Eyes remains one of the unsung masterpieces of the genre, fitting snugly between Hanoi's Back to Mystery City and the Dogs D'Amour's In The Dynamite Jet Saloon in sound and vision, a crushed velvet ode to doomed romance and boozy derring-do played out in warm, well-worn grooves that echoed a life dedicated to Chuck Berry riffs and crackly Stones singles.

Rene Berg's musical life began in 1981 when he joined notorious Dutch rocker Herman Brood's band, the Wild Romance. Berg was hired to sling his guitar, but once Brood ended up in the slammer for dealing acid, Berg took over on vocals. When that untenable scenario imploded, Berg moved back to the UK and formed a band called The Idle Flowers, who opened for Hanoi Rocks at a gig in 1983. Berg sparked a friendship with Monroe and company that would prove eventful and enduring. In the meantime, he struggled to get things going with the Flowers. Sadly, it never happened. They did manage to release one long-gone single, All I Want Is You, in 1984, but that was basically it for them.

In 1985, when the post-Razzle Hanoi were on their last legs, the band asked Rene to join on bass after Sam Yaffa dropped out. He did. It didn't last, couldn't last, shouldn't have lasted, but Berg played on their swansong, the bittersweet live album Rock n' Roll Divorce, and also recorded a handful of demos with the band, including Fast Car, a Berg original that would later show up on his solo record.

That brief brush with glam royalty essentially carried him through the rest of his musical career. After the demise of Hanoi and the Idle Flowers, Berg drifted in and out of related projects. The Suicide Twins was a short-lived acoustic tryst from Hanoi's Andy McCoy and Nasty Suicide. Berg sang on Sweet Pretending, the extravagantly wasted anchor song on their 1986 album Silver Missiles and Nightingales.

A year later he joined the shambolic Gang Bang Band with Nasty Suicide, Bernie Torme, Spike from the Quireboys, and whoever was still left standing in the Babysitters and Wolfsbane. They released a very drunk EP in 1987. You can get a hangover just from listening to it.

After everyone sobered up, Berg and Suicide formed Soho Vultures. Much like the Idle Flowers, they recorded fistfuls of demos, but never got around to making a record. They played live a lot though, doing Idle Flowers and Hanoi Rocks numbers and if anything, it allowed Berg to develop the songs that would eventually land on his solo album. The whole thing was over within a year. Nasty split to work on Mike Monroe's solo album. Rene decided it was time to make his own.

It took a good five years for Berg to record and release Leather and Loneliness. The world had changed radically in that time. Rock n' roll – as least the way we knew it in the shag-cut n' fishnets world of 1985 – was dead, replaced by sour-faced mope-rockers from the soggy Northwest. Berg's album didn't have a chance. And that's a drag, because it's a gem. Bernie Torme plays guitar. Rat Scabies is on drums. It's wall-to-wall with potential hits, including Rob the Bank, which The Darkness may or may not have borrowed from for I Believe In a Thing Called Love. Had it come out in the twilight of the 80's, well, glam would have still died an ignoble death, but Rene could've basked in a little ragamuffin glory for a year or two before it all sank into the ocean. He deserved that much, at least.

Rene did tour the album, with Nasty Suicide at his side, even, but it never took hold. He recorded some demos for a follow-up album but it never materialized. He drifted away from rock n' roll and spent most of his time fishing. Apparently he caught the biggest pike ever in England at one point, which is probably a big deal if you're an angler. I have no idea. The next time most rockers even thought about Rene Berg is when word trickled out of his untimely and tragic death in 2003. Another man down in the great rock n' roll wars. Helluva a record, though.

Next week: Loincloths and leather

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