A charismatic frontman and bass player, Bockis was part of several influential bands — including Pentagram, the Obsessed, 9353 and the Factory — that spanned the heavy metal, new wave and glam rock genres. His music is considered by some to have been out of step with the D.C. punk scene of that era, but he was important to the artists that came to define it.
Described as a mix of Iggy Pop, Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger, Bockis’s swagger and unpredictable stage antics attracted a loyal following that included other musicians.
“He was a combination of a lot of your punk heroes at the time” and made any band he was in “totally exciting to see,” said Fugazi bassist Joe Lally. “He was confrontational. He would talk to the audience. He would dive into the audience. He would attack the walls.”
Bockis had several brushes with fame, only to sabotage himself with drug addiction. “If life were fair,” he said in a recent documentary about him, “I would be dead or I would be in prison.” He had been clean and sober for the past six years, making his loss even more tragic for friends and family.
Vance Peter Bockis grew up in Falls Church. He was an only child. His father, an artist and architect, died of a heart attack while mowing the lawn when Bockis was in grade school, and his mother went into nursing to support the two of them. He was given his first bass when he was 13, and within a few years he was playing with Pentagram, a seminal heavy metal band. He juggled going to J.E.B. Stuart High School and opening for Iggy Pop.
Bockis went on to become the lead singer of the Obsessed, which bridged the D.C. hard-core scene and heavy metal. Lally recalled going to see the Obsessed just to see what Bockis would do. Bockis might ride the shoulders of bandmate Scott Weinr
ich, rip signs off walls or do handstands.
In the early ’80s, Bockis also co-founded the art rock trio 9353.
Being in 9353 freed Bockis to be more creative, said bandmate Bruce Miles Hellington. Whereas Bockis’s previous bands leaned toward “straightforward, no funny business rock-and-roll,” 9353 was “maximum funny business,” he said.
“We were able to make people uncomfortable early on,” said Jason Carmer, a 9353 co-founder.
The band was always volatile because of the substance abuse among its members. “9353 was a band that broke up after every performance,” said Mark Andersen, author of “Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital.”
Carmer left Washington in the mid-’80s and went on to become a successful record producer who has worked with such performers as Third Eye Blind, Run-DMC and Merle Haggard. He described Bockis as “one of the most authentic stars I ever met.”