Bruce Allen, circa 1981-82 (photo by Daniel Corrigan)
By Jon Bream
His three guitars were lined up, in particular order, on the altar at Central Lutheran Church: Les Paul, Stratocaster and Hello Kitty.
Bruce Allen, best known as the guitarist of the hugely popular Twin Cities rock band the Suburbs, was remembered Monday as a ladies man, a gentle man and a funny man, a man who was gifted with guitars, graphic design and friendship. Allen, 54, died Dec. 7 of organ failure after enduring years of heart problems (he had triple bypass last year), kidney stones and blood issues.
A letter was read from New York musician Steve Almaas, Bruce’s friend since boyhood. Steve, a member of the Suicide Commandos, commented how a classmate once said: “Bruce, you were always on the front edge of cool.”
Commandos guitarist Chris Osgood, a bandmate in Allen’s final band the X-Boys, read an e-mail that had arrived 45 minutes earlier from Bruce’s daughter, Kricket Lane, who works at a New York art museum.
Osgood himself talked about Bruce’s lineup of guitars: “It represents Bruce’s march from sublime to ridiculous.” Osgood also spoke about a word Bruce coined to describe their clubhouse-like atmosphere in the X-Boys: “camaroddity.” Pastor Kristen Jacobson later picked up on that concept of friendship in her sermon.
Before she spoke, a couple hundred mourners heard from X-Boys singer Casey Macpherson and Suburbs drummer Hugo Klaers, who remembered Bruce’s quirks including his celebrity obsession (he met John Madden and Orville Redenbacher), “marvelous sense of humor and roaring laugh” and his desire to “play one more encore – always.”
The music on this afternoon was Suburbs pianist Chan Poling and Osgood on acoustic guitar doing a slow, jazzy, almost circular instrumental treatment of the Burbs’ classic “Love Is the Law,” which filled the church with beauty, grace and tears – something a Suburbs song had never done before. Then the inimitable Curtiss A did the Beatles’ “In My Life” on solo acoustic guitar, the perfect blend of prettiness and rawness.
In addition to being the heart and soul of the Suburbs, Allen was an accomplished graphic designer. Not only did he design the band’s iconic logo of five generic men in a circle, he designed the logo for Twin/Tone Records and the Uptown Bar. He worked at some of the Twin Cities’ biggest ad agencies (Campbell-Mithun and Carmichael Lynch), as an art director at Hirshfield’s and a sheet-music researcher for Schmitt Music.
In tribute to Bruce, a Suburbs stage backdrop hung afterward in the church’s fellowship hall, with wings painted on one of the five men and black armbands, bearing Bruce’s initials (BCA), attached to each musician.
Curtiss A, always the quipster, said he is contemplating starring in a movie called “The Funeral Singer.” Others talked about a proper musical sendoff for Bruce on Feb. 13 at First Avenue.
Said Hugo: “Beej will be there.”