1994 – From Pond to Lake
One amazing gift that my father bestowed on our family with his passing was his fantastic comic book collection of over 4,000 comics primarily from the silver and bronze age as well as some copper age ones. It has been my distinct joy to be able to sort through, organize, protect, categorize, and store his wonderful collection. I had built my own comic collection from the years 1991-1994, and I knew all the various special issues that young collectors only dream of having. After several years of curiosity, Mom finally allowed me to go into the closets and go through the many boxes of Dad’s collection. I was flabbergasted! Within his collection were several sought-after enviable issues right there in front of my eyes!
One Friday, in early April I returned home from school and went to my room. After undressing from my school uniform, I continued eagerly sorting through my father’s extensive comic book collection. From the side window I heard two friends outside in my backyard. As was often the case at the time I went out to be with them even though I secretly preferred to be by myself and enjoy whatever I was doing indoors. I got my casual clothes and sneakers on and met Jack Lanza and his buddy (and my fellow baseball teammate) Eddie Pizza by my back porch door. They were in my yard playing basketball.
Eddie burst out, “Did you hear the news?”
“What news?” I wanted to know, curious as to what could possibly generate so much excitement from a guy who was generally not that interested in communicating with me.
“The singer from Nirvana died!”
Eddie was a bit of a live wire and could be a prankster, so I did not trust him immediately. However, I could tell something was amiss with their behavior and couldn’t see why this information would be a great prank to me as I was not a huge Nirvana fan.
“Yeah! He shot himself with a gun!” Jack confirmed excitedly.
While I did not believe 100%, I started to allow the unexplainable feelings to sink in as they wouldn’t let up on this subject. They had seen it on MTV News and soon enough I would see it there myself on reruns of the announcement and on various follow ups to it. Nirvana’s front man and primary songwriter Kurt Cobain had indeed died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 27 years old. A public vigil was held at a park at Seattle Center. Thousands of fans and mourners attended to pay tribute and make some sense out of this crazy tragedy.
I was not among the “mourners” so to speak, but it certainly struck a chord. Nirvana was one of the first influences on me that really gave me confidence as a guitar player, singer, and songwriter. Their music, particularly that on their albums Bleach and Nevermind was very approachable. I could comprehend what each of the band members was doing on some level and that it was gritty and weird also made it appealing. I know I was not alone in feeling a confidence boost when I listened to Nirvana. I thought, “I could do this too!”. This feeling was different than the inspiration I felt from bands like Metallica, Guns n’ Roses and Aerosmith. With those guys, even though they were tremendously inspiring, I never really felt that I could achieve their level of musical skill any time soon. However, through the example of bands like Nirvana and a little later Green Day, I felt like my musical goals were more attainable.
By early 1994 I had begun jamming with Jack. I’d play guitar and he would play drums. We called ourselves Impact. We were managing to work together and create some cool sounds, it was fun. We would often jam on Saturdays and the occasional weekday. At that age, Friday the 13th was a big deal since we loved the horror movie series as well as the fantasy horror television series of the same name. It was kind of exciting when Friday the 13th occurred that May. The next day was one of our regular Saturday jam sessions in The BASEment. We stuck a blank cassette in the tape deck and started to rock out. The beginnings of a song called “Except”, which would come to live with us for years in ever-changing versions, can be heard for the first time on this recording. Jack picked up the recording device several times and gave audio-journal style updates into it while I continued to wail on my electric cream-colored strat-style Rokaxe guitar. Jack mentioned how hard we had been working on the “Except” song and pointed out how much better we would sound once we found other like-minded band members to fill out our two-man band.
Soon Jack managed to arrange a jam session with two fellow rockers from neighboring Gerritsen Beach, James Donahue (guitar) and Steve Pearl (bass). Our first jam (which occurred in The BASEment) was fun and memorable (for me anyway). However, beyond a few more interactions with James and Steve, Jack and I did not end up playing together with them. However, we did keep in touch throughout the years as we were fellow rockers in the larger local music scene.
An unusual level of sport-enthusiasm hit our block that spring and summer. First hockey and then soccer! For the hockey-loving kids in the neighborhood it was a huge deal when the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup after a 54-year championship drought with a victory in game 7 on June 14th. So even though I am not a hockey fan, this stands out in my memory because the excitement was palpable.
The next sport-craze was soccer! The 15th FIFA World Cup was being hosted by the United States in the summer. Up until that point I don’t think most of us had even kicked a soccer ball let alone owned one. One of the fathers amongst our group of friends was from Argentina and so he was super excited about the World Cup coming to the US. With most of the other local kids’ families being of Italian descent, there was some sense of pride when it came to soccer which welled up for a few months in the neighborhood. Our local Argentinian dad joined us at the park a few times to coach us as we played very simplistic matches between a small group of us. We even evolved enough to play against some Italian kids from neighboring Mill Basin. They beat us, but they were good-natured, and it was fun. Brazil defeated Italy and won the World Cup that year. This was a letdown for my friends of Italian descent. It was also basically the first time I was made vividly aware of the country Brazil as well as their love for soccer. I can still hear the announcer screaming “GOOOOAALLL!!!” I would encounter Brazil and soccer again in a much more personal way, but not for a long time yet.
In mid-June I graduated 8th grade from St. Thomas Aquinas. I don’t recall feeling much emotion about ending my time there. I was anxious though about going from a familiar and relatively small private school to a huge and utterly unknown public high school. As I had heard many stories through word of mouth over the years about the reputation of public school, my main worry was that I would be picked on and need to fight to defend myself. I did not want to have to deal with bullies or physically defend myself.
The movie theaters this summer had the likes of Disney’s The Lion King, as well as the unique and touching Forrest Gump. On MTV was the Woodstock ’94 festival. Green Day’s groundbreaking album Dookie had come out in February and had saturated pop culture enough that we could hang out at a friend’s pool with Green Day blasting from the boom box and both us “metalheads” and “regular” kids could enjoy it.
In mid-August my mother, brother and I took a short summer vacation trip to Montauk, Long Island. It was a long ride and I spent much of it listening to heavy metal cassette tapes on my Sony Walkman in the back seat of the car. I enjoyed listening to Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 2 album. I was mesmerized and fascinated by the bright and friendly dual guitar harmonies, the crunchy guitar riffs, awesome drums, and supersonic vocals. Plus, Helloween combined various elements which appealed to me: spookiness, goofiness, fantasy, even spirituality, and they had a super cool band name. During the car ride to and from Montauk I began developing my mouth drums technique. I was essentially doing a heavy metal version of beatboxing and practicing intensely to see how fast and for how long I could play certain beats with my lips. This greatly annoyed my brother which put a damper on my practice efforts. I was glad for the Montauk trip as the Lanza family went on a vacation there every year and I was always curious about it when they talked about it after each trip. Now I knew what it was about, and personally I preferred the countryside.
In September, the Super Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat II was released. The graphics were mesmerizing and kind of grim, especially if one compared it to the other huge fighting game at the time Street Fighter II, which was more cartoonish. In the previous few years it had been quite an exciting and potentially nerve-wracking experience to witness or participate in fighting matches between local kids at various local pizzerias, arcades and other locations that carried arcade versions of these games. And now these intense matches were happening in people’s homes as these games were available on home consoles.
I entered James Madison High School at the age of 13. Coming from a relatively small parochial school, I was certainly a bit shocked by the sheer numbers of kids assembled as a crowd in front of the school and in the hallways. The first few months were spent getting a feel for being in this strange new environment. I was slow to make new friends and my self-defense was to keep to myself with a mild scowl on my face. This strategy proved great for keeping people away, but not for attracting new friends (except for weird folk like me who saw through my defense).
It did take me some time to get used to the crowds of new people, the new sights and smells, my whereabouts in the building and many other things. All things considered however I was liking my new public high school more so than my previous parochial elementary/junior high school. I had found St. Thomas Aquinas to be dull for several reasons. The student population seemed to encompass all of 2-3 basic ethnic varieties. There was a homogeneity that really gave everything a sort of bland flavor. While I do appreciate my time there and do not want to sound unappreciative for my father and mother’s efforts in finding a way to provide for my private education all those years, my genuine feeling was one of going bigger and better when I now began to attend the public school - James Madison High School.
At the time I was concerned about the relationship between my brother and some of the new older kids hanging out on our block. As my freshman schedule had me returning from school later in the afternoon than some others, I was often worried that my brother would be getting into a scrape with some of the neighborhood bullies who were hanging around at this time. I remember pumping myself up to be ready to fight if I had to defend my brother from these jerks. I’m sure there were more than a couple times that words were exchanged and a tense atmosphere developed. I don’t recall any specific blowouts in detail, but I remember this anxiety that I carried with me and how unpleasant it was.
To get to high school there were two ways: by foot or by bus. There was a beautiful girl, Erika who I would sometimes encounter when I rode the bus. My 13-year-old romantic and hormonally infused brain could not help but develop a fascination and hopeless crush with this gorgeous blonde who I would cross paths with often in these first few months of high school.
One cool part of high school which I was excited about was band class. Now I could have a forum to develop my music skills in school as well as out of school. I felt validated in some part even if the music and instrumentation of band class was a far cry from the music I aspired to learn and create. One late-September day after band class I met Judd Diamond. We were in concert band together. He was playing percussion, and I was playing trumpet. I remember feeling unsure about this unusual dude with a short black leather jacket and dirty blonde hair. I thought, wow this guy is interesting, but maybe a bit strange. He kind of caught up with me at the door as we left class one day and started asking me questions about music, guitar, and heavy metal. We ended up walking all the way home from high school together that day talking Metallica, Iron Maiden, and guitar tone. I told him about my band and that we were still looking for some members: a bass player and maybe another guitarist. He explained that he was a guitarist. I was a little disappointed that he did not play bass, but I was intrigued to find out how well he played.
I was a bit hesitant to have him come over my place at the time as I was still 13 years old and subject to the intense social rules of young teen boys that existed amidst the circle of kids who hung out on my block at that time. I didn’t want to inadvertently invite a new guy over and have him be the subject of hostile humor. We arranged to meet at the local Sam Ash music shop soon after and played for each other there. I was sufficiently impressed to invite him over for a jam with Jack and me. He was very interested. Conveniently, we lived a five-minute walk from each other.
And so one fine autumn day, Judd Diamond roller-bladed with his guitar slung over his shoulder into the lives of the East 35th Street crew. He attracted some jokes from the kids on the block as to be expected when a new (and unusual) guy enters the familiar crowd. He came down into our heavy metal lair - The BASEment. We plugged in and after I showed him the riffs to a few of the songs that Jack and I had been working on we got going. It was very exciting to be playing as a three piece that sounded halfway decent! The excitement was palpable. I’m not even sure we had to say anything about him passing “the audition” to join our band, but from that day forward Jack and I would no longer be a duo. Impact was now a trio.
Our sound as we began to evolve that autumn can best be described as raw, unpolished, and energetic heavy metal and hard rock in the vein of artists such as Iron Maiden, Metallica, Accept, Megadeth, and Helloween. There were harmonized guitar parts and melodic and ornamental single note riffs. Each song had several parts or sections that we carefully rehearsed to improve the transitions between each section.
Three days before Thanksgiving, the platform game Donkey Kong Country was released for the Super Nintendo. This was nearly as extraordinary of a game-playing experience as that of first playing Super Mario World in 1991. We were fascinated. There were so many fun things about this game: the magical atmosphere, the enchanting music, the high-quality graphics, the speed of gameplay as well as the sense that it was beatable.
Impact had a jam session on New Year’s Eve. We were all jazzed up about it being the end of 1994. Later that day I was watching the Twilight Zone Marathon on television with my brother and a few family friends. There were New Year’s Eve snacks, the playing of Super Nintendo, and watching the Times Square ball drop. After the stroke of midnight this year, my friends and I, led by Jack’s older brother Joe Lanza charged down the block and ran through the neighborhood in the very first half hour or so of the new year of 1995! I don’t know what it was that got into us, but something seemed fresh and extra special about this time, and we were expending our energies in the best unbridled and teenage ways we knew how – running, yelling, and screaming “Happy New Year 1995!!”
 The BASEment is the default term I will use to describe the basement of my mother’s house on East 35th Street, Marine Park, Bklyn, NY. It is where I spent the bulk of my formative years along with many friends as well as relatives. All my bands between 1992-1998 practiced there primarily.
 Watching the Twilight Zone Marathon both around New Year’s and 4th of July holidays has been a tradition that I have enjoyably kept up for the most part throughout the years.