I think there are a lot of people like me out there, people who live for music, who couldn't survive without it in their lives. Like me, I think many of them have certain people who helped create that bond, whether it's a person in their life who turned them on to a certain kind of music, or a band that captured their attention and opened up a whole new world for them. For me, as it turns out, I had a little of both.
As I've stated before, I started getting heavily into punk and metal music when I was around 11 or 12 years old. Guns 'N' Roses led me to Metallica, which led me to Pantera, which led me to Sepultura, etc. I first discovered death metal by seeing Morbid Angel's "Rapture" video on Headbanger's Ball, back when they still played music videos on TV. At the time, I lived in a small suburb in northern New Jersey called Randolph. Randolph had a small, but rabid, death metal scene at the time. The local night club, Obsessions, would often host touring bands like Pungent Stench and Dismember, and local acts like Malfactor and Decollation would often be on the bill. My friends and I had our own fledgling metal band, Nineveh. At the time, we were in a bit of a transitional period. We had started as a thrash band, but our tastes began to lean more toward death metal and our style gradually changed. After I left for Arizona, they transformed into a full on death metal band. Years later, drugs and petty crime would ruin any potential they may have had, but when I was there, we were just kids trying to find our way.
We practiced in our guitarist's basement and would often spend entire weekends there, either playing music or goofing off in the woods behind his house. Once a week, we would make the long trek through the woods to Ledgewood Mall, on the outskirts of Randolph. All the "cool" kids would hangout over in Rockaway, at the nice mall, but we always went to the "dirt mall" in Ledgewood, for two reasons. First, there was a music store there where both of our guitarists were taking lessons at the time, second, because of Record Town. If memory serves, Record Town was a regional chain on the east coast, kinda like Zia here in AZ, or Amoeba in California. It was one of the first places that taught me to really appreciate a real record store. The cool kids would go to Sam Goody in Rockaway and buy the latest Paula Abdul cassettes from some faceless drone in a stupid uniform who was just there for a paycheck, but Record Town was populated by people who wanted to work there for their love of music. Whatever kind of stuff you liked, there was somebody there who knew all about it and could help you find what you were looking for. Plus, it was the only place in town that you could go and get stuff that wasn't whatever over-hyped garbage the majors were trying to ram down your throat at the time.
The person at the store that we naturally gravitated to was the one we always referred to simply as "the death metal guy." He was probably in his early 20s, long, dark hair, always wearing a death metal t-shirt. After seeing him at the store a few times, we started noticing him at shows, then we heard through the grapevine that he had once played in Revenant, the local thrash legends who still played from time to time. Being a bunch of kids, we ranged in age from 13 to 15 by this time, we desperately wanted to look cool to the older dudes in the scene. If death metal guy told us about some band, you can be damn sure at least one of us bought the tape.
It all started with Morbid Angel, of course. He rang one of us up when we were buying "Covenant" one day, and the rest is history. After that, every time we went in it would be, "if you like Morbid Angel, check out this band." Obituary, Grave, Morgoth, Bolt Thrower, Pungent Stench, he turned us on to all of them. I can safely say that my musical tastes from the time I discovered death metal up until I moved to AZ a year later were entirely shaped by the death metal guy at Record Town in Ledgewood Mall.
It had been many, many years since I had thought about death metal guy, or that time in my life. Then, a few months ago, I was sitting around a friend's house leafing through an issue of Decibel Magazine that I hadn't read, when I came upon a short article about death metal legends Incantation, a long time favorite of mine. Incantation had come up out of the same New Jersey scene that I did, they were from just a few towns away, in Bergenfield. Their bass player at the time, Ronnie Deo, was only about a year older than me and I knew a few people who knew him, but we never saw his band play. They weren't the legendary band that they are now yet, they had just started to make a name for themselves. Their first album came out right around the time I was leaving Jersey, and it had somehow passed me by. I didn't really get into them until a few years later, after I finally saw them play a show in Arizona.
The article I was reading had a sidebar, where Incantation's legendary bandleader, John McEntee, talked about his band's contribution to the Decibel flexi disc series. For their entry, Incantation had chosen to do a cover version of the song "Degeneration" by none other than New Jersey's own, Revenant. McEntee talked about his origins in the scene, how he joined Revenant for a short period during their heyday, and how he had left to explore his own musical vision with Incantation. He also made mention of the fact that he had met some of the more luminous personalities in the New Jersey metal scene through his job at Record Town. That's when it hit me, John McEntee was the death metal guy from the mall when I was a kid!
What a strange, yet wonderful revelation that was. I look back fondly on those formative years, before everything became about drinking and drugs, trying to get laid all the time, worrying about who's going to put out your next record, where you're gonna go on your next tour, when all that mattered was the latest tape you bought by some new band playing music like you had never heard before. To find out that one of the people who had guided me through that time went on to become a legend in our scene was a pretty awesome feeling. I guess if anyone who isn't into this crazy music I love were to read this, it would seem pretty mundane. It's not like it was some household name to the outside world, but to me it was pretty special. I hope that sometime in the future, my path will cross with his again. I think he'd enjoy the story.