R.I.P. Alan Vega

Alan Vega, one half of the pioneering eleectronic protopunk duo Suicide, has died peacefully in his sleep at 78. The news was first announced by Henry Rollins, who shared the following statement from Vega’s family via his website:

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 1970’s, 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 truly 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.

Born Boruch Alan Bermowitz in Brooklyn in 1938, Vega studied fine art at Brooklyn College under Ad Reinhardt and Kurt Seligmann, going on to pursue a career in visual art after graduating in in 1960. Seeing the Stooges perform at the New York State Pavilion in 1969 inspired him to start a band, and he soon formed Suicide with his friend Martin Reverby, naming the group after a Ghost Rider comic book issue called Satan Suicide. With Vega’s vocals and Rev’s primitive synthesizers and drum machines, the two pioneered a minimalist, hypnotic protopunk sound — in fact, they were one of the first bands to describe themselves as “punk,” and their raucous, confrontational live shows became legendary in the New York scene. Their 1977 self-titled debut became an influence on everyone from Bruce Springsteeen to Radiohead to M.I.A., and they went on to release four more studio albums and a few more live albums.

Starting in 1980, Vega also released several rockabilly solo albums, and he collaborated with numerous artists including Ric Ocasek, Alex Chilton, Lydia Lunch, and Genesis P-Orridge. Following a stroke in 2012, Vega again shifted his focus away from music and towards visual art. Revisit some of his work below.