Another casualty to 2016: the Year the Music Died fell today with the passing of Alan Vega, former frontman and co-founder of proto-punk forerunners, Suicide. Vega was 78 and continued making and performing music to the very end. His death was announced earlier today by Henry Rollins, reading a statement issued by Vega’s family. As Suicide, Vega and collaborator Martin Rev were noted for their pioneering use of early electronic synthesizers and drum machines. They were among the first groups to use the term “punk” to describe themselves, and their sound — noisy, echoing, sometimes dissonant — foreshadowed later electronic, industrial, and post-punk. Their work inspired artists as stylistically diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Trent Reznor, LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A., and Neon Indian.
Suicide released five studio albums between 1977 and 2002, as well as several recordings of their famously raucous live shows. Vega was also prolific on his own, releasing three solo records and more than a dozen others with various collaborators. Suicide is the band that will always sound like the future, even now, decades after their arrival, perusal and departure from the scene … whether or not you personally could dance to their music is irrelevant. The NYC punk scene, and therefore the worldwide punk scene is not the same without them.
Born Boruch Alan Bermowitz in Brooklyn in 1938, Vega worked as an artist in the 1960s, creating paintings and light sculptures. He was inspired to start a band, he said in interviews, after seeing Iggy Pop and the Stooges perform. Although he suffered a stroke in 2012, he continued to live in New York City until his death. Godspeed, Alan Vega, may you rock in peace: a pioneer and visionary who pushed the boundaries first and let others enjoy the spoils later. The likes of such artists will not be seen again.
The Vega family statement is reprinted here:
With profound sadness and a stillness that only news like this can bring, we regret to inform you that the great artist and creative force, Alan Vega has passed away.
Alan passed peacefully in his sleep last night, July 16. He was 78 years of age.
Alan was not only relentlessly creative, writing music and painting until the end, he was also startlingly unique. Along with Martin Rev, in the early 1970s, they formed the two person avant band known as Suicide. Almost immediately, their incredible and unclassifiable music went against every possible grain. Their confrontational live performances, light-years before Punk Rock, are the stuff of legend. Their first, self-titled album is one of the single most challenging and noteworthy achievements in American music.
Alan Vega was the quintessential artist on every imaginable level. His entire life was devoted to outputting what his vision commanded of him.
One of the greatest aspects of Alan Vega was his unflinching adherence to the demands of his art. He only did what he wanted. Simply put, he lived to create. After decades of constant output, the world seemed to catch up with Alan and he was acknowledged as the groundbreaking creative individual he had been from the very start.
Alan’s life is a lesson of what it is to actually live for art. The work, the incredible amount of time required, the courage to keep seeing it and the strength to bring it forth — this was Alan Vega.
Alan is survived by his amazing family, wife Liz and son Dante. His incredible body of work, spanning five decades, will be with us forever.