Original punk: Punk rock pioneer — and Fidi resident — Alan Vega dies at 78

Photo by Ebet Roberts Legendary punk rock pioneer and Financial District resident Alan Vega — shown here with Martin Rev in 1980 — died in his sleep on July 16.
Photo by Ebet Roberts
Legendary punk rock pioneer and Financial District resident Alan Vega — shown here with Martin Rev in 1980 — died in his sleep on July 16.


A legendary punk-rock pioneer, who once dodged an axe hurled from the audience during a performance in Scotland before eventually settling in the Financial District, passed away earlier this month.

The musical innovator best known as Alan Vega and co-founder of the proto-punk act “Suicide,” died peacefully in his sleep on July 16 at 78-years-old, according to a statement released by his family.

Alan lived without compromise, and dedicated himself wholly to his passion for creativity, his family said.

“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,” read the family’s statement.

Born Alan Bermowitz and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Vega would befriend Martin Reverby in the 1970s and together the pair would form Suicide.

The project mixed elements of what would come to be known as punk and electronic music, and introduced them into the mainstream through decades of increasingly erratic and sometimes violent performances, which were billed on the first fliers to declare the new genre “punk music.”

Battery Park City resident and former Washington Squares rocker Tom Goodkind recalled seeing Suicide posters as a teen in the East Village, and remembered wondering what a “punk concert” was.

“No one knew what a punk concert was,” he said. “He invented it.”

Vega’s music was confrontational and, for some, extremely unpleasant.

With his howling vocals and Reverby’s endlessly repetitive piano beat, Vega didn’t just defy so-called “punks” to endure his auditory discord — he forced them to.

Vega was known to physically bar audiences from leaving his shows, according to Australian News, which quoted the late singer saying, “We weren’t entertainers and it wasn’t an escape from people’s problems. They would walk through the door of the venue and they’d be in hell. We were angry and we wanted to wake people up. We were the ultimate punks because even the punks hated us.”

The singer courted trouble at nearly every show, and it was in Glasgow, Scotland, that he narrowly dodged an axe after screaming, “you fuckers have to live through us to get to the main band,” according to a report published in The Guardian.

Despite disbanding in the ’80s, Vega and “Rev” would reunite on several occasions, ultimately releasing five albums between 1977 and 2002, according to The New York Times.

Both Vega and Reverby would go on to undertake solo projects, as Vega developed a Rockabilly sound that would characterize the lion’s share of his lone-wolf endeavors.

He was also a noted sculptor, who worked largely with found art consisting of “toy guns and monsters, porno cards, kitschy religious trinkets, and photos of movie stars snipped from glossy mags,” according to a Village Voice article about his 2002 “Collision Drive” exhibit in a Grand St. gallery.

Vega would come to reside in the Financial District’s Hanover Square with wife Elizabeth Lamere and son Dante, whom he would accompany to local little league games dressed head-to-toe in black, despite the searing summer heat, according to Goodkind, who described the sight of the punk legend at a kids’ baseball game as “really cool.”

But the presence of perhaps the most punk-rock musician of all time went largely unnoticed in what’s certainly the city’s least punk-rock neighborhood.

“I think it’s important the community know who Alan was and understand this isn’t just a community of financial people,” said Goodkind. “He’s a tremendous influence and I think it’s important that the community recognize him as an artist in our midst, who really had a tremendous influence on pop music culture of the world.”