2003 would be the year that I graduated Brooklyn College. My intended 4-year plan had inadvertently turned into a 5-year plan more or less due to my lack of carefully planning ahead and my absorption in classes that interested me over required classes. It would be my very last of 10 total semesters (not counting a few summer and winter semesters along the way) as an undergraduate that I would spend at Brooklyn College in the spring semester of 2003. And I while I did have a case of extended senioritis of the college variety, I was determined to at least go out with a bang musically. A close friend of mine Lana Gregos. had asked me to compose an original piece of music for her graduate student recital.
In the beginning of January, I took a very special and memorable trip to Amelia Island, Florida with two lovely ladies Lana and Victoria plus a guy friend and fellow musician Peter M. I had been in party mode since my birthday a couple of weeks earlier or perhaps 25% of my life was in party mode at that time. I had a cold while on the flight down and by the time we disembarked in Jacksonville I felt like my head was encased in a helmet. A very unpleasant feeling that might have taken a full day to wear off. I was in love with the warm weather and pleasant atmosphere of the town of Amelia Island. We also had the incredible fortune thanks to our hosts (who were the parents of Peter M.) to spend a day and night on the very beautiful and sparsely populated Cumberland Island about an hour’s boat ride away. We sat on an open grass field shortly after arrival as a large hawk flew overhead. We would also see armadillos, wild horses and various other creatures in our short stay there. There were no paved roads that we encountered. It felt like we were in the wilderness, yet we stayed in a lovely house and were able to eat a fancy dinner at the one hotel in that part of the island. That night we hung out with a chef who came from Alaska. He led us through the complete darkness of the night forest to the beach where we started a campfire and sat around, smoking marijuana and enjoying this special experience. I sat next to Victoria, Lana’s sister and felt enchanted by her attractive and life-loving presence. We spoke at length and I had the feeling that she was perhaps a soulmate of sorts. While I couldn’t help but entertain romantic ideas about her, I knew that since I had a thing for Lana (albeit complicated) for some time now, entertaining feelings for her sister (beyond the occasional flight of fancy) would be unwise. Shortly after that experience I penned a tune called “My Great Escape” which speaks to this spellbound experience on this mysterious island.
While in Florida, I was already underway working on the piece for Lana’s graduate recital. I had my acoustic guitar with me on Cumberland Island. I can picture myself struggling to demonstrate the piece I was composing in my head through strumming chords and humming the melody. I guess it sounded pretty good, but what I was hearing in my head was much richer and more elaborate. This was a common struggle for me as a composer with limited piano skills. More often than not I used my guitar and singing abilities to compose instrumental music which may have been more effectively conveyed in its initial stages had I been adept at piano. But in hindsight, I am sure my guitar-vocal-based approach helped produce a composition style all my own.
Upon returning to Brooklyn, I had come down with the travel-with-friends bug. Soon after a different group of friends including Kelly G.,Tricia G. and I took a different and spontaneous trip to a very cold Boston, MA for one day only! It was long and exhausting via bus, but fun and memorable.
Also in January, unbeknownst to me, somewhere in some smoke-shrouded corner of Brooklyn, three friends were coming up with a master plan. They were discussing plans to put together a new heavy rock band. This time would be different they said to each other. Unlike the more amateur, unfocused experiences that they had together and separately in their former bands, this would be a real attempt to break into the music industry. Jack Longman, Timmy Manhoff and Lou La Rocco were on their way to form a music group that would become known later that year as Levelsix.
On the evening of Tuesday, February 11, 2003 I performed an acoustic show at 169 Bar in Chinatown, NYC. Bob Henson accompanied me that evening on percussion, which helped to make the show fun and lively. We played pretty well. Friends came out to show their support. It was a good gig and now it was time for everyone to go home. As was sometimes the case, I was one of the last people to leave for home. I had parked my mother’s car nearby. I packed it up. Whether it didn’t start at all, or whether I had gotten a few blocks away and then the car died, I don’t remember but here I was stranded in Manhattan’s Chinatown in the middle of the night. It was very cold and I was quite tired. I don’t recall if I had a cell phone or not. Maybe I didn’t have AAA and was afraid of the cost of calling for assistance. I went into the middle of Pike Street to try and hail down a car to ask for help. I realized I looked kind of like a crazy person and was not altogether surprised that most drivers refused to even look at me. I don’t even remember how I got myself and the car back home, probably a tow truck or road service was involved. Such was the color of some of the adventures I got myself into.
By mid-February the relatively new rock-pop outfit Gravyboat, which I was playing in, had changed our name to District 22. On Friday, February 28 we once again hit the stage of The Elbow Room with a late-night show advertised starting at 11:30pm. According to the promotional email sent by our leadman Greg Danetti there was supposed to be executives from Sony there that night that “needed some impressing”. I have no clue if those execs showed up or not. We were starting to feel like a band and even gaining some rapport with our friends and supporters. Even though we may only have played one gig before that, our rehearsals tended to be open to friends, so several people had already had a chance to hang out with us and hear our music by then.
During this era, I was fairly established as a musician who could adapt to a client’s needs and perform for a fee (a hired gun of sorts). Aside from playing the occasional gig and earning some money in a classical guitar and flute duet with my friend Kristy F., I would also perform solo performances at Brooklyn College events often for a decent fee and free food.
My drummer buddy Bob Henson helped to get me a fun gig performing in the pit band of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Youth Theatre Company. During the weekends of March 14 - 23, 2003 I played bass in the orchestra for Bat Boy the Musical. It was certainly not Broadway, but it was very fun and entertaining! These kids could act and sing pretty well. And the band was comprised at least halfway of hired hands, like me, so it was quite tight and in-sync musically. A fun experience. Enough to satisfy my curiosity about life as a Broadway musician (many a hired-gun’s “dream job”). Curiosity fulfilled, fun yes . . . same show every day for weeks, months, possibly years? HELL NO!! This would be an ongoing theme for me throughout my life. Exploring the so-called “dreams” of the common musician or person in similar shoes to my own. I would discover over and over again, that a taste of the dream is more than enough. And most dreams I would discover are just that - dreams, not sustainable, enjoyable realities.
My rock band District 22 was busy developing our sound, our songs and our “social lives” at the studio for long hours every Sunday throughout that winter and into spring of 2003. We were fortunately in good stead with the owner of Electric Plant Studios and were given permission to rent the studio for the whole day on Sundays when he would normally be closed. We got a discount and Vee got a little extra cash on his day off. These rehearsals sit somewhere in my mind in a bit of a cloudy haze. There was quite a bit of marijuana smoking and a fair bit of drinking going on at these rehearsals. Not to mention a lot of junky food which was par for the course in the lives of most rock band musicians. Of course, we did our best to keep the studio clean to respect our friend and studio owner Vee. As for the smell we left behind, I can’t say we did much to improve the air quality. Sorry Vee!
On the evening of Friday March 21, 2003 District 22 hit the stage at our now familiar performance venue located in Manhattan’s West Village, The Elbow Room. The emcee that night was a tall strong-voiced African American who welcomed the crowd with a demanding and friendly growl “Make some fucking noise!!” and the crowd cooperated nicely. Fortunately, a good quality sound recording still exists of that whole show and it’s fair to say that we rocked that night! That evening’s set consisted of the following songs:
01 Drastic Measures
02 Act III
04 Cult of Vasoline (Mashup of “Cult of Personality” / “Vasoline”)
05 A Little Too Late
07 Handball Wall
10 Demon Song
11 Dance with Autumn (*encore*)
District 22 performed again a week later at the night club Tobacco Road on the evening of Wednesday March 26 in midtown Manhattan with fellow local groove rock band Karmacycle. The email for that show urged our supporters with “We really hope to see you guys there! You know what they say about the economy being down. More reason to go and rock out. Cheaper than a Broadway musical and all!”
 “My Great Escape” is track 8 on my second album Cornucopia (2003).
 District 22 is the name of a school district in Brooklyn, NY. While 3 of the band members went to the same high school, one of us did not. So, we broadened our commonality to the school district that we were all a part of growing up, district 22. Also around this time putting a number in a band name was somewhat in vogue so it felt right in that sense as well.
 Listen to the show on YouTube. Search: District 22 (Brooklyn Rock Band) Live @ The Elbow Room, NYC [Friday, March 21, 2003]