Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chasing The Dream?

By the end of ’73 everything suddenly began grinding to a halt. Jerome quit drinking, which somewhat curtailed our fellowship (and should’ve told us how shallow our relationship was). Since our crew had disintegrated, Alma and I remained afloat on a sea of alcohol wondering where we would drift to next. I threw in with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and they came pretty close to inculcating me, but it seems that the Holy Ghost kept me from making a full commitment. My personal appearance was beginning to reflect my inner turmoil, and I distinctly recall the poor soul who accompanied the Merceds to the home of their new friends, the Rocks, on Christmas Eve of 1973. I still had long hair and a beard, wearing one of the Jurczaks’ woolen collegiate sweater, my faded purple flowered shirt, the Merceds’ gray patterned bellbottoms, and my worn black-and-silver platform boots. What a mess.

Chico Rock was as bizarre a figure as I was at the time. I had no inkling that he would eventually become one of the most cherished friends of my lifetime. He was slightly over five feet tall and had a strong Filipino accent. As it turned out, he was a veteran of three wars (WWII, Korea and Vietnam) with the Rangers and the Green Berets, and earned three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart cluster. He had a steel plate in his head, multiple bullet scars and a big chunk of shrapnel damage to his calf muscle. What really ruined his life, though, was a gang attack on his way home from law school. They nearly killed him, and it made him question the value of what he had risked his life for all those years. Chico was as much a rebel as I was, and in time we ignited a kindred spirit within us.  

            I was in a total state of flux in ’74. I started hanging out with Jerome again on Friday nights and getting drunk with Alma on weekends, but nothing else seemed to be happening. I quit Scorpion Karate and was teaching a class I usurped from some wannabe karate teacher at Strong Place Baptist Church. I came in drunk one night and found grown-up Hector Garcia and Pete Matos in class. We had a fine session but, unfortunately, at class end, our customary free fight turned into a brawl between me and Pete. I nearly broke his rib to get the best of him, and I still regret it to this day.

            Needless to say, I was drifting in a sea of angst with nowhere to go. The Alice Cooper Band had broken up, as had the New York Dolls, and American pop culture was in as bad a state as I was. Movies like Godfather II and Lenny were reminders of how crappy things were. I wasn’t sure of who I was or where I was headed. Yet, God was still watching, and, once again, He allowed my life to be saved by rock and roll.

Louie Cazucci was barely thirteen when Chi Chi Guzman brought him around that Fall of ‘74. He was a tall lanky kid with a pasty face and two of the biggest hands on a kid we’d ever seen (reminding me some time later of the immortal Russian composer Rachmaninoff). He was a guitarist in Bay Ridge who had put out the word that he was looking for a wild man to front his new rock band. Louie came from a dysfunctional family, his Mom a psych patient who had moved in with a hardcore NYPD self-defense instructor named Dick Freeman. Dick gave Louie a tough time and we all saw signs of mental trauma but, back then, people minded their own business in such matters. Unfortunately, Louie saw me as a father figure and I handled it very badly with my own psych problems, resulting in him lumping me in with the rest of the abusive authority figures in his life. Just as with Jeremy Lara over thirty years later, the Lord gave me a great chance to change a younger person’s life and I failed. Sorry Lord, sorry Louie, sorry Jeremy…sorry-ass Turk.

When he propositioned me to sing for him, I jumped into it like a dying man at a desert oasis. Louie brought in Stu Shapiro, a mollycoddled Jewish kid on his block who played bass. Louie had a 30-watt Ampeg and a Frankenstein guitar (made from parts of dead axes, much like our drum sets of days to come). Stu had a quality bass and amp, so it was my turn to ante. I ran out and bought a mic and a 10-watt amp at a downtown variety store, then made a call to Johnny De Losa, who in turn called his friend Al.

Al Catraz was a dorky Cuban kid who was a classmate of Johnny De Losa’s. He wore metal-framed glasses and flashed a beaver-toothed grin, his frizzy brown mane badly in need of a haircut. Like myself, he bore little resemblance to the underground punk rock star he would become five years later. His earliest guitar influences were BB King and Eric Clapton (who would be two of my own thirty years later), and his claim to fame was having played onstage at Bishop Loughlin during a student festival. Over time, there was a competition between Al and Louie that never was resolved. The Spoiler atmosphere was always a problem as well in that it was both musical and macho. One had to be both talented and tough to build status, and sometimes, as in that case of Zing, attitude could be better than aptitude. Al finally achieved his status, but it was as a Ducky Boy five years later. What he did have at the time was a 100-watt amp and a Les Paul guitar, which gave him permanent resident status as a Spoiler.

As always, my delusions of grandeur would know no limits. Dreams of stardom filled my head and I invited Baron Sanders along with my parents down for an open session, which greatly impressed them considering there was no inkling that such a thing as a band would have ever existed beforehand. I wasted no time in heading out to our old drinking spot, the Verdict, and talked the manager into letting us play at their Christmas party. That turned out to be the biggest train wreck in my life at the time.

We got there and enthusiastically set up, with all our parents (except Al’s, who didn’t drink) en route for the second set. What I failed to notice at the outset was that the place was actually a cop bar with plenty of off-duty detectives in attendance. Naturally, being the na├»ve oaf I was at the time, I went into my Lou Reed act straight out of Rock and Roll Animal (still my fave guitar album of all time) and, of course, “Heroin”, with the mock shoot-up and all. Only I had accumulated the actual works to make it more realistic. In this day and age, the cops would have probably taken me down for possession of drug paraphernalia, but back then, we simply had our plug pulled.

Of course, when our folks got there, Mary, the manager, had no choice but to let us resume. Yours truly, being as pigheaded as Day One, decided to start the show from scratch (which, to my credit, I would never do again). This time, it was outraged parents who yanked us off, first Stu Shapiro then Johnny De Losa. Having no bassist was a non-issue; no drummer was something neither Lou, Al or I anticipated. With Broadway Turk Superstar in hibernation, the neophyte Dizon character broke into tears, folded his tent and slunk off into the night.

Louie’s mom Ruth was there, and I recall her being quite the card at the show. As I mentioned, she had a hard life but refused to surrender, like the rest of us. She was an attractive woman and, believe it or not, we had a liking for each other. It never went anywhere since, for one, I wasn’t as confident with the ladies as I pretended to be until much later in life. Secondly, if Dick Freeman had caught on, he might’ve made life far more complicated for me than it already was. Still, we were always on great terms and we had our share of intimate conversations. I will always have a soft spot in my heart and fond memories of that lovely and lively woman.

At any rate, I fired Stu and Johnny, after which Louie went AWOL, leaving Al, Alma and I wondering what to do next. Alma stepped up to the plate, as she would so many times over the years, and brought in some connections from her school days as well as her time at the IHB (Industrial House for the Blind, which catered to the visually-impaired). All at once, we found ourselves surrounded by a cast of new and unusual recruits.

(To be continued...)