An old friend of mine, Arturo Vega (or Artie as we called him) passed away this week in New York. Artie was one of the first people I met when I moved to the city back in the early 1990′s. We met because my friend Dave Aron used to stretch canvasses for him. Arty would invite us to parties at his loft where he would feed us when we were broke and we would get to hang out with the Ramones and other icons from the generation before us. I was seriously like 22 at the time and my mind was blown. Artie was a real supporter of the arts and of our little scene and even though I haven’t talked to him in quite some time, I really do miss him. Instead of writing more, I’ve decided to post his obituary from today’s New York Times.
“Arturo Vega, who was often called the fifth Ramone for serving as spokesman, logo designer, T-shirt salesman, lighting director and omnipresent shepherd for the Ramones, the speed-strumming punk quartet that helped rejuvenate rock in the mid-1970s, died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 65. His death was confirmed by his roommate, Lisa Brownlee. She did not provide a cause. Like the Ramones, whose real surnames were not Ramone and who were not related, Mr. Vega reinvented himself as a young man. Born in Mexico, he moved to New York in his early 20s to try to make it as an artist. He was living in a loft on East Second Street when a young man passing by peeked into his open door one afternoon in late 1973, remarked on the good music coming from the stereo and mentioned that he was starting a band. The man was Douglas Colvin, who a few years later would become known to punk-rock fans as the bassist and songwriter Dee Dee Ramone. His girlfriend at the time was living upstairs. By 1976, when the band released its first album, titled simply “Ramones,” Mr. Vega had largely set aside his fine-art ambitions and applied his design skills to all things Ramone. From 1974 to 1996, when the band broke up, he attended all but two of the Ramones’ more than 2,200 live shows. In the early years he would sell T-shirts before the concert, direct the lighting during the show, then dash back to his T-shirt display as the last song was playing to sell to people leaving. “They sold more T-shirts than records,” said Danny Fields, the band’s early manager, “and probably they sold more T-shirts than tickets.” The T-shirts featured Mr. Vega’s striking logo for the band: an eagle resembling the one on the presidential seal, except that one talon held an apple tree branch instead of an olive branch — “the Ramones were as American as apple pie,” Mr. Vega said — and the other held a baseball bat instead of arrows, because Johnny Ramone, the lead guitarist, loved baseball. The band members’ first names circled the symbol. “I saw them as the ultimate all-American band,” Mr. Vega, whose official title was artistic director, said in an interview in 1993. “To me, they reflected the American character in general — an almost childish innocent aggression.” In the early years, Mr. Vega’s loft served as a rehearsal space, a T-shirt design and printing factory, and the occasional home for band members, with the eccentric lead singer, Joey (Jeffrey Hyman), living there for several years. He often fed Joey and made sure he remembered to dress properly for wherever he might be going — particularly if it was CBGB, the nightclub around the corner that the band helped make famous. “He was kind of a mother figure to Joey,” said Legs McNeil, a founder of Punk magazine and the author, with Gillian McCain, of “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk,” who met Mr. Vega in 1975. After the band broke up, Mr. Vega continued to design and sell Ramones merchandise and to work with other musicians. He also focused more on his painting, which included Pop Art pieces that blended words and images. He completed his most recent project in March: a mural on Elizabeth Street featuring an image of Jesus and the words “Life isn’t tragic; love is just being ignored,” lyrics from a song by the Bronx, a punk and mariachi band. Eduardo Arturo Vega was born on Oct. 13, 1947, in Chihuahua, Mexico, and visited his family there frequently. Information on survivors was not immediately available. Within eight years of the Ramones’ breakup, three of the four original members had died. The only surviving original member is Tommy (Tom Erdelyi), the drummer, who left the band in 1978. Mr. Vega lived in his East Second Street loft for the rest of his life. In 2003, two years after Joey Ramone died of cancer, Mr. Vega played a role in having city officials erect a sign declaring East Second Street at the Bowery “Joey Ramone Place.” He said at the time that even as the Ramones had been enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and embraced as civic symbols, they would forever be rebels. “They never sold out,” he said. “No matter how hard we tried.”
“I never noticed the stars before. I always thought of them as great big diamonds that belonged to someone. Now they frighten me. They make me feel that it was all a dream, all my youth.” “It was a dream,” said John quietly. “Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.” “How pleasant then to be insane!” -F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Diamond as Big as the Ritz)
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’ve contributed to the exhibition, “New York 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” at the New Museum in New York City. It’s part of the project RECALLING 1993 where 5,000 public pay phones in the city have be rewired with recordings of people’s memories of the neighborhood during that time. I read a few pages from my 1993 journal, which is playing on certain payphones on the Lower East Side. If you’re in New York, please listen!