Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Heavy Metal Memories: Remembering Peter Steele: 1962 - 2010

(Originally written April 15, 2010 for the Steel Goddesses website)

Today, I made Type O Negative/Carnivore singer Peter Steele my “80’s Metal Hunk of the Day” at Facebook. Moments after posting the photo, I learned that Peter had passed away. He apparently suffered heart failure, although no “official” cause of death has been released.

I met Peter a few times in the 80’s. We hung around the same circles and clubs, so it was bound to happen. The first time I saw him, we were both at the same party. My friend Mary introduced us. 

After that, I usually ran into him in the Village. Once, we bumped into each other coming out of the subway near 8th Street. Another time, we bumped into each other going into D’Agostinos. Once, we ran into each other at a leather shop. Okay, that time, I saw him through the window and went in. He had been trying on boots. I pretended to shop for a belt until he noticed me and struck up a conversation. I kind of had a crush on him and I think he knew. He always smiled this crooked half-smile when he saw me coming his way. (I found out years later that it’s not hard to tell when I like someone; it’s written all over my face). Pete never let on that he knew about my crush and he never failed to stop and chat, even for a few minutes, and hug me before he went on his way, long hair swinging down his back, his 6’7″ frame hard to miss, encased in black leather and denim.

It’s well-publicized that Peter had issues in his life; issues that may have sent him to jail and to the psych ward. I also know that those “issues” may have helped him make some of the most haunting music I’ve ever heard. He claimed to be an atheist when I knew him. I read that he turned to Roman Catholicism later in life.

Peter will be remembered for many things: his voice, his size, his sheer presence, whether onstage, in a music video or on a Greenwich Village sidewalk. Some may remember him for famously baring it all for Playgirl. But the Peter I’ll remember is the man who always had a smile, a hug and a few minutes of time for a naive girl who wore her crush for him all over her face.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Heavy Metal Memories: Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force

I drove into work today as the sun was rising, and for some reason, it brought back memories of a longer commute set to the soundtrack of Yngwie Malmsteen's debut album Rising Force, when I lived in New Jersey and rode the train to my job in New York City every day. 

Back then, I was quite the creature of habit: I parked in the same spot at the Little Silver rail station, bought the same type of coffee (cream + 2 sugars) and a buttered roll. I boarded the train to the same car (the second), and always sat halfway up the car, in a right hand window seat. I had a cheesy cassette tape deck then - not quite a Sony Walkman, which cost more than I could afford - and as soon as the train doors slid shut, I'd start whichever tape I'd selected for the ride.

Little Silver rail station

For a long time, I listened to either Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, or KISS during the commute. They've been my favorite bands for as long as I can remember. In early 1985, someone gave me a cassette for a new band from a Swedish wunderkind named Yngwie Malmsteen, who could make a guitar do things I'd never heard before. He had a knack for translating classical compositions to appeal to a heavy metal crowd. The Monday after receiving the cassette, I popped it into my player, stuck my foam headphones over my ears, hit "play," and dove into a surreal musical experience. 

Blistering guitar, coaxing notes out of thin air in accompaniment to soaring vocals and a driving beat. 

Melancholy guitar, piercing to the heart and drawing out every longing secreted there. 

Majestic guitar, bringing a Greek tragedy to life, from soaring heights to the final, fatal plummet.  

Eight songs opened my ears to a new world of metal; one that folds classical themes into rockin' chords; turns guitars into playgrounds for Bach and Paganini; used keyboards to recall towering cathedral organs, with heavy thumping bass and drums adding their own intricate beats.

Prior to the release of Rising Force, few metal bands incorporated classical music into their sound. The most notable include Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra, composed by legendary keyboardist Jon Lord. His iconic bandmate, Ritchie Blackmore, also infused classical undertones into his work with Rainbow, and his current solo work. Uli Jon Roth and the late Randy Rhoads also embraced their classical influences, but back in 1985, no one had fully immersed himself into this unconventional blend as much as Yngwie Malmsteen. Every song on Rising Force features his unique style, and the track Evil Eye includes a fiery "duel" between guitar and keyboards that still makes my hands hurt.

Neo-Classical Metal Master

Yngwie helped launch a musical genre known as neo-classical metal, and was quickly followed by talented guitarists, like Tony Macalpine, Joey Tafolla and Jason Becker, and bands like Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The incredible Jason Becker. Please check out his amazing story HERE.

However, Yngwie will always be my first choice. Rising Force was my soundtrack for those long commutes to and from New York City in 1985. During the sleepy morning rides, the songs helped fully wake me up and brace for the coming day. During the exhausted evening rides, they helped keep me going until I arrived at my destination.

In my memories, one song stands out among the rest. I don't know whether it's an uncanny coincidence, or the Universe moves in mysterious ways, but Icarus Dream Suite, Opus 4 always came on when the train pulled out of South Amboy on its northward journey. From my seat, I'd watch the sun break the horizon, warm rays reaching up to light the sky, and I could envision Icarus' exhilaration over his incredible flight toward the sun, and the helpless terror he felt when his wings melted.

South Amboy sunrise

Which brings me back to my drive to work this morning. 

I glimpsed the sun's rays as they reached up to warm the morning sky, and suddenly, the delicate interplay between guitar and keyboards in Incarus Dream Suite, Opus 4 filled my consciousness, transporting me back to a time when I was young and the world was a buffet, waiting to be devoured. 

I'm still hungry.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fun with Lyle Richardson on today's CCPT Hockey Show

Those of you who know me, know I co-host a hockey podcast (CCPT Hockey Show) with my friend Cassie. I'd say we do it weekly, but sometimes we skip a week or 3 for various reasons. Today, we were joined by great hockey mind and good friend Lyle Richardson from Spector's Hockey.

Here's the link from the podcast:

Happy 9th Anniversary, Spector's Hockey!!!!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Heavy Metal Memories: On the Radio

There's been a long, dry spell in my writing efforts. I've had plenty of ideas, but for some reason, the pathway between my brain and my hands seemed to be cut off with no detour in sight. I'm slowly getting back on track, although I can't seem to get my thoughts out in coherent fashion for the two novels currently "in progress," so I'm using this space for a smaller-scale writing exercise, in which I share random memories from my somewhat long and eventful life (eventful to me, at least).

Here's the first in a series I'm calling HEAVY METAL MEMORIES:

ON THE RADIO. When I moved to New Jersey from Germany in 1983, I decided to pursue interests I'd never had the courage to pursue in high school. I got a job answering phones at the music publishing arm of a major record label in NYC. I joined a heavy metal band as their lead singer. I paid for the privilege to host a 30-minute heavy metal radio show that aired down the Jersey shore (and parts of NYC) on Monday nights at midnight. The company that made this possible was called NBS (I still have my ID card somewhere). I taped the show on Saturday mornings at 10am, at their studios in midtown Manhattan. Each week, I carefully compiled my playlist, buying or borrowing albums to lug up to New York on the North Jersey Coast Line train. I think I had enough time to play 3 to 5 songs, plus two 30-second PSA's. I recorded those PSA's on carts and engineered my own show. I learned to end each show with an instrumental, which is easier to fade out than an actual song, should I mistime my show. (I ended a lot of shows with "Dee" by Randy Rhoads, "Switch 625" by Def Leppard, and the intro to "Crazy Train," by Ozzy).

(My studio at NBS Radio in 1984 looked a lot like this)

During this time, I met a guy named Eddie, who rode my train in the mornings. He told me about a record label called MegaForce, that sold records at a year-round indoor flea market on Route 18 in New Brunswick. I drove there one weekend and met MegaForce owners Jon and Marsha Zazula, who, once I told them about my radio show, sent me off with albums from several bands they had on their roster so far: Kill 'Em All by Metallica, All for One by Raven, Fistful of Metal by Anthrax, and TT Quick's debut album. I devoured these albums and shared them with my listeners. When Metallica's second album came out, I was one of very few radio DJ's to receive a copy. I think I played Ride the Lightning in its entirety, over several weekends. (Side note: Heavy metal was garnering more interest at this time, and Bob Cutarella, one of the A&R people I worked with at PolyGram (Chappell-Intersong, to be exact) asked me whether I knew any bands that might interest him. Thinking immediately of Metallica, Raven and Anthrax, I introduced him to Jonny Z. The two of them chatted and, the next thing I knew, Bob and Jonny had gotten deals for Metallica (Elektra Records), Raven (Atlantic Records) and Anthrax (Island Records). I am NOT claiming any responsibility whatsoever for any of this, because the bands were so awesome, it was only a matter of time before Jonny wrangled deals like this on his own. I'm just tickled to have been able to facilitate one introduction that yielded such great results, especially for Metallica.)

(The eternally ageless Marsha & Jon Zazula. founders of MegaForce Records)

(Kill 'Em All For One tour t-shirt, 1983)

(Thrilled to have been one of a few radio deejays to play this album first)

As MegaForce Records expanded and opened a record store, Rock 'n Roll Heaven in Clark, New Jersey, I was given access to more bands and albums. I took to giving Rock 'N Roll Heaven a shout out in each week's show, giving special thanks to store manager Brian Nyers, who is one of the most nicest people around. I played bands like Venom, Manowar, White Lion, Battalion and Talas, as well as giants like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy and Black Sabbath. I went to some great shows at Roseland Ballroom, L'Amour in Brooklyn and L'Amour East in Queens, and talked about them. I interviewed bands like Talas (Billy Sheehan's group) and Loudness (from Japan, with lots of interpretation from their Irish manager).

(Loudness, circa 1984)

(I still have this poster. Metallica, circa 1984)

The fun ride lasted about a year and a half, before NBS went out of business. I had a great time sharing metal with listeners up and down the north Jersey coast and was sad when it ended, but had no desire to pursue a radio career. My passion lay in writing, and I was fortunate to land a gig writing for Hard Rocks, a short-lived but awesome offshoot of The Aquarian Weekly. I met some incredible people, some of whom are still in my life; and enjoyed some incredible music by countless bands, some who flared brightly for an album or two before fading away, while others are still going strong. MegaForce Records continues to support rockin' music, with Jon & Marsha still at the helm. Their #1 person, Maria Ferrero, runs her own PR firm (Adrenaline PR) and management company (Breaking Bands LLC). Bob Cutarella is a highly-respected music producer in LA. Metallica, Raven and Anthrax are still going strong. Brian is living a quiet life but is active on Facebook. Sadly, L'Amour, L'Amour East and Roseland Ballroom are no more. I don't even know whether there are any clubs left in the New York City or tri-state area that cater to heavy metal bands.

(RIP, L'Amour, Rock Capital of Brooklyn)

(The indomitable Ms. Maria Ferrero)

I smile when I think about my time as a radio DJ. Most of my listeners were guys and they never remembered my name. I was known as "The Chick that Plays Metal." I had cassette copies of every show, but sadly, like the metal clubs mentioned above, they met a tragic demise. All that remains are memories, which may or may not make it into one of my novels. Writing about this experience has given me some ideas, though, so as they say in show business, stay tuned.