I’ve always considered myself mostly a loner – one of those guys with a lot of acquaintances but very few real friends. Though I can say (like my old man used to say) that I know people in every port I’ve visited, I’ve bounced around too much and traveled too much to really make good friendships. You know, the type of friend that will still be there for you after your wallet is empty. The type that you can always count on, not so much for big things, but just for a friendly word and smile when you need it most. I may not have many close friends but the ones that I have, I feel honored to know… from a childhood friend like Dominic Roggio, who was there for me throughout my cancer nightmare, to Nicky Kalliongis who befriended me right after my life came apart at the seams after AMERICADE broke up in 1984. Of course, my best friend is my soul mate, my wife Lisa and now, although I’m daddy first and always, I consider my four sons my best friends.
There are some friends though, that although you might not know them your whole life or have spent a whole lot of time with them, are just special to you… nothing heavy …just a friend that, no matter how much time passes since you seen them last, never makes you feel distant. Greg Smith has always been that kind of friend to me.
We met a long time ago in a place far, far away… a lot of beers ago! Even as I type this, a smile comes on my face, because Greg is that type of friend – someone who seems to always be happy with his lot (the Irish in him, I suspect) and always on top of his game. He’s been a “professional” musician as long as I know him and in professional, I don’t just mean he gets paid for playing, because all of us scrubs have done that. I mean, he’s a rare breed that always carries himself like a pro. He can rock as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen or had the honor to perform with (Greg’s the best bass player I’ve ever known and I’ve known my share); he can step off the stage and have a pint with you but then, usually while the rest of us become drunken fools (read: me), Greg is shaking hands and booking his next gig.
When a band, like the one I was in breaks up, you go from the spotlight to lights out with most everyone and in a heartbeat. The entertainment business can be brutal and the moment you’re not engaged …your history. Like my cancer experience (which was 1,000 times worse) you become a social pariah, as if your being out of a gig (or having cancer) is contagious, but Greg’s the type that never treats you differently …whether I was on top of the world or the “balls of my ass” (another "my Pop" expression, not sure what it means), Greg always treated me the same, with a smile and a kind word …it’s funny how, out of all your life experiences …a smile and a kind word actually end up meaning the most!
I didn’t write this to embarrass the happy Irishman or any of my other friends but something about my cancer battle makes me feel like - time is too short – and we seem to spend too much time on bs …and not enough time valuing and expressing what matters most to us. To me it’s my faith, my family and my friends …and nothing else even comes close. The apostle Paul tells us:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil 4:8)
I’m sure if any of you are reading this and know him, you probably have similar feelings toward Mr. Smith …he’s just that type of guy …so I said it for all of us! It’s where my head is at, on this beautiful Sabbath!
I really like the social networking (my website …Facebook …Twitter… etc) because it allows someone like me to stay connected …and I think for the first time in my life, I’m making more, real friendships with so many of you who may be reading this now …very cool!
There are a bunch of “Greg and me” tales to tell – maybe another time – another blog. For today - later on I’ll be going out with my wife and when we raise our glass, we’ll toast our friends and Greg Smith will be at the top of my list.
Going to the beach with your friends instead of your parents was sort of a rite of passage for most of us in Ridgewood in the 1970’s. It meant traveling by bus and train (usually bumping into ½ the neighborhood on the way) each of us with our ghetto blasters (usually blasting the radio, sometimes cassettes), stopping at the dirty, grimy delis on the other side of the boardwalk to buy some ice cold beer (Buds, Miller, Michs were usually the choices) and then finding your own little space on the sand!
Now the beach most of us went to was Rockaway Beach in Queens, NY. In those days, Jones Beach was way too far for us to get to (without someone driving you), Staten Island Beaches were the same – you needed a car to get to them and Coney Island could be a …tough place to go and return in one piece …at least that was the rumor.
Its funny looking back ...there were two beaches at Rockaway that were most popular …they were named for the streets (which were numbered) that lead to them. One was “Beach 116” and the other was “108.” Beach 116 was, by far, the most popular beach. I can still remember looking out to the water from the boardwalk and literally not seeing any sand …just one blanket next to the next blanket, next to the next blanket, etc. The sound …the sound was AMAZING! Try to picture hearing 1,000 ghetto blasters all tuned to the same radio station (usually 102.7FM) each blasting Led Zep’s “Black Dog!” The smells were a mixture of hot dogs… hamburgers and wacky weed mixed in with the smell of the ocean. Of course most of us Italians would sometimes bring meatball heroes even to the beach …but that’s taking this story in another direction.
“108” was a much deeper beach (measuring from the boardwalk to the water) and much less populated. It was known as the beach you would bring your girlfriend… or your girl that was a friend for a little heavy-petting beach-style! …my mind is drifting …back to reality!
We’d hang out… drink beers from our coolers… take an occasional dip in the water, most of us in cut-off dungarees with fringe hanging from the bottom. Some of the beach blankets were actually bed sheets with logos of bands on them… ZEP, STYX, QUEEN, TULL, FLOYD, THE DEAD, etc. …man everyone had their favorites but no one cared as long as it was rock and it was piping out of our radios.
Nothing tasted better than washing down one of the greasy hamburgers they sold there with an ice cold bottle of beer at Rockaway beach 116. I started my trek there when I was 13 or 14 years old …yes I was drinking already (so was virtually every other kid in Ridgewood in those days …legal drinking age was 18 back then, but the Korean delis in Ridgewood and the dirty delis at 116 would sell beer and cigarettes to infants that crawled into their stores.
By the time I was 16, I was already hitching rides with friends that had cars and moving onto greener pastures (one thing about Rockaway… it wasn’t “greener pastures”), but the memories of the few years …the few summers …the few weekends …the few days, when I really look at it – that I spent there, left indelible memories. Even as I type this, I’m hearing echoes of “Stairway to Heaven” blaring for everyone’s boom boxes as we all packed up and headed for home.
Anyone else out there have memories of Rockaway beach 116 or 108… leave a comment! Peace, g
From 1969 to 1975 along with Jimmy Wellinghoff and my brother Peter, I played solo soprano for the St. Aloysius Blue Eagles drum and bugle corps. The drum corps was the first entity to place a musical instrument in my hands (actually 3 instruments, first a G-horn, then a one-valve, then the prized valve & rotor bugle). To this day, I’m still not sure whether I want to thank them or blame them – but that’s a story for another blog. I know this blog might not appeal to everyone, but to those who were part of drum corps, some of my memories might bring a smile:
- Saugerties for 4th of July - Every 4th the Blue Eagles used to travel up to Saugerties, New York. We would play a “round robin” in front of the firehouse and get to spend the rest of the day down by the water. Couldn’t wait to strip out of our uniforms and put on our cut-off jeans and jump in! Two different years, one of the two buses that St. Aloysius owned and we used, broke down in the tunnel in New York (both times I was on it). They used to get us home just in time to shoot off fireworks.
- The Puerto Rican Day Parade – I marched in 6 of them and every single year something bad would happen. I remember some of the horn line dropping from heat exhaustion. I remember Mr. Scomma telling me that he would carry my helmet. I thanked him but told him, “No thanks” – after all, it was the only thing that protected my head from all the rocks and bottles that the Puerto Ricans would throw at us from their roof tops. I’m still not sure if that was there ethnic way of thanking us for traveling all the way to the city to march 5 miles in blistering heat. I remember one year, someone got hit with a bottle and his head was bleeding (anyone reading this that remembers, leave a comment and let me know who it was – it was one of the older guys in the baritone section or the double-bass player). That parade ended with our whole corps having to run for our lives a couple of blocks to our buses. Nothing like ending a few miles of marching with an all-out sprint in 90-degree humidity.
- Our band review down in the “Madonna” room – every year, the Blue Eagles would perform in a band review, held in the basement of the church, for the community. We would put our uniforms on downstairs in the school cafeteria, then walk up Stockholm St. and line up just outside the entrance to the Madonna Room. I used to think it was so cool because the drum line would play and we would march in single file to a room full of people for a rare indoor performance. Afterwards, we got to hang out while the room turned into a dance hall. It was our chance to hang out in our uniforms and try and attract a girl or two. It beat having bottles thrown at your head.
- Our competitions – the Blue Eagles was considered a “junior” corps. I remember competing against the Wynn Center Toppers – they were composed of mainly African-American kids …or what I thought looked like African-American adults posing as kids! They were unbeatable and some in their drum line looked older than my parents. I still remember their cadence “…dum da-da-da-da dum da-da ..dum da-da-da …Da-DA! We never placed very high.
- Our repertoire:
o They Called the Wind Mariah
o Big Country
o Man From La Mancha
There were so many other memories. My brother Peter went on to play solo soprano for the Long Island Sunrisers (1974-1976). He had wanted to join the Hawthorne Caballeros but he couldn’t find someone to drive him to New Jersey. As it turned out, he was very happy to join the Sunrisers – even though they weren’t very good in ‘74-’76. I wanted to join them with him but I was too young – besides the minimum age requirement, it was all the nudity that was a regular part of being in a senior corps …but that’s also a story for another blog.
If you read this and have your own drum corps memories – please, leave them in the comments! Peace! g
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Dean Wesley Smith