Being born in 1965 to a lifelong Yankee fan, I grew up under the specter of the legendary Mickey Mantle. By the time I was ready to go to my first game, Mantle had retired, but his shadow still hung over the team, and the stories of his athletic feats grew larger with each telling. Even now, when you talk to men who saw him play, they still speak of him in reverential tones, albeit with one caveat, “if he had been healthy, he would have been the greatest”. We learned later on that some of these health issues were attributable to too many nights being the last one out of Toot Shor’s, or Mr. Laff’s, or any one of a hundred East Side drinking establishments. That legend wasn’t lost on me, and by the time I was six, like millions of other kids in America, I wanted to be Mantle. The cruel thing about baseball, you know by the age of 10 whether or not you have any talent. And despite my enduring love for the game, I didn’t have a speck of athletic talent. Couldn’t hit. Couldn’t catch, Couldn’t run. My dreams of patrolling center-field in the Bronx died with a thud.
By that time, I had discovered music. My parents weren’t huge music fans, but they had a really eclectic record collection. Among the gems were Pet Sounds and Frankie Valli, the Supreme’s, and a bunch of other classics as well. But three records stood out above the others; Neil Diamond’s “Loving you, Loving me”, Glen Campbell’s “By the time I get to Phoenix” and of course, Johnny Cash’s “Live from Folsom Prison”. I wore those records out, and years later bought them again on cassette, and eventually CD’s. They are all still in a box, somewhere in the basement.
Around 1975, my parents began to lose their influence over me, and Rock and Roll started to take over. It was Elton at first, introduced to me by my older cousins, but then it was Kiss. As a ten year old, staying up to watch Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert after mom had gone to bed, I was introduced to the most outrageous, bombastic, boisterous musical outfit the world had ever seen. I had no clue of who the Beatles were or who the Stones were, but on the TV screen in front of me were all of the comic book figures of my childhood come to life; the noise, the explosions, the music, the poses, and of course, the multitude of girls that followed them. Mantle was no longer the dream, Rock Stardom was now the goal. It didn’t take long to figure out that I had a similar issue with the guitar and the piano that I had with a bat and glove.
Not a speck of natural talent.
I could pose in front of the mirror, and sing along to all of the words, but judging by the faces of the people within earshot, evidently I couldn’t carry a tune either.
But not long after that, while once again staying up late on a Friday night to watch “Midnight Special” re-runs, I was treated to a performance that changed my life, and my dreams. A group of long haired miscreants from Boston, lead by a whip-thin singer from Yonkers with his scarves and his lips, singing a simple ballad titled “Dream On”, that urged it’s listener to pursue their dreams, “Until your dreams come true” —
For reasons that still escape me, I somehow thought, “I can do that!”
And so I did. Or at least I tried. Starting out as a nervous teenager in Matthew Schmidt’s living room, trying desperately to sound like Steven Tyler as we attempted to recreate their song “Same old Song and Dance” and failing miserably as I warbled out-of-key. It was terrible, but I didn’t give up. We continued to learn new songs and try new things, eventually culminating with the 15-year-old version of myself, standing on the Fort Hamilton stage, smoking a joint as I sang “When the Music’s Over” in pure Morrison-esqe arrogance. When it was time to sing Roadhouse Blues, I changed the lyrics to fit my choice of beverage that night. Every once in a blue moon, I will run across someone who gleefully reminds me,
“Woke up this morning, got myself a Molson.”
Not sure how they remember that; I barely do.
That version of me died and grew into a more mature, but equally arrogant 22-year-old, determined make his mark in the Rock and Roll Pantheon of greats. By that time, I had learned how to put lyrics to music, and along with Steve McEvoy and some other terrific musicians, we managed to create a block of amazing song that we got to play all over the city, sometimes if front of crowds as large as…11, or 12 people. On the nights where we played with other more established bands, the crowds would sometimes surge to 20 people, but not all that often. Eventually, like most young rock-and-roll bands, we died a slow, uneventful death and went our separate ways into adulthood.
The dream, like all dreams, faded into memory. Not dead, but dormant, like a cicada. I moved on to other pursuits; jobs, girlfriends, vacations, etc… I rekindled my creative urges by writing short stories and eventually a novel, but as fulfilling as those efforts were, they paled in comparison to creating a song with your friends. In my mid-thirties, I began to get together every Saturday morning with my buddies, Rich Doherty and Tommy Hoban, as we attempted to channel our energies into a songwriting venture which would hopefully someday land a song in a movie or a TV show. It never happened. We did managed to write some good tunes, and one night we even performed in front of a crowd of like, nine living people at the old Lauterbach’s on Prospect Street. I think I still have the tape somewhere. Eventually, that project died too.
Over the years there were some guest spots; getting up to sing a song with one of the many bands that Steve Mac had been in, but for the most part, my musical dreams were just that, dreams.
Eventually, I wrote the book, Pretentious, to quell the demons still living in my head; if I couldn’t be a rock star, I’d invent one. So I did: Zack Miller.
Fast forward to 2014, on a date with the future Mrs. McAllen, we saw a performer by the name of Sam King, who was so amazing and so inspiring, I turned to my future wife and said, “I think I want to sing again.” The bewildered look on her face reminded me that she had no idea what I was talking about since I had never mentioned anything about singing prior to that moment, but a few days later, I was in the studios of New York Vocal Coaching, nervously telling the instructor, “I can’t sing, but I want to try anyway”. He laughed and told me to relax, and then took me through a series of exercises that lead me to one obvious conclusion – I was a mediocre singer. That was all the impetus I needed. After four lessons, I was now a very confident, but still mediocre singer, with a renewed dream.
But exactly where does a 48-year-old mediocre singer go to pursue his dreams? Well, back to his old friends of course. I got together with Tommy Hoban and our friend Robbie Emery and we formed a three-piece-acoustic outfit that played a handful of gigs out at Peggy O’Neil’s in Coney Island, while at the same time, I re-united with Steve to play some of our old creations at Original’s Night at the Greenhouse Cafe. The dream survived.
In 2015, I prepared to clean out my apartment as my wedding day approached, and I came across a box of old cassettes. A time capsule from my twenties filled with song snippets and live performances. This treasure trove of material could have been labeled, “Box of Dreams”. On one of the cassettes was an old riff sent to me by my good friend John Curran. I had no recollection of the tape or the riff, but I was so inspired by this pop-sounding gem that I starting singing on the spot;
“She walks into my dreams, tells me that she’s always loved me.”
The smile on her face told me that I had hit on something. The dream was alive again. I took this newfound riff to my old songwriting partner and was met with all the enthusiasm of Bart Simpson on the first day of school.
Unbowed, I brought the riff to my other partner and was met with the same indifference. But I was unswayed. I knew that I had a good song on my hands, I just needed some help, and although Tommy and Steve had been friends for some time, they had never played together. I was determined to get them in a room together, hoping that the results would be magic.
Some days, it is magic.
Some days not.
Some days, laborious would be a better word.
On occasion, dental cleaning would be more appropriate, but through it all, the dream endures.
One is a perfectionist who’s rarely satisfied with the results, and the other is a laid-back musician who possesses the hippie ethos where everything sounds good. My role is the referee who brings balance to the sessions.
It’s been a year now. A truly amazing, topsy-turvy year of dream fulfillment. What would have taken three, single, 25 year-olds, two months to accomplish, has stretched out to over a year when accounting for three men with jobs, and wives, and cats, and vacations, and illnesses. I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Thank you brothers, I would be nowhere without youse.
We call the project, Malbone Street, named after the Brooklyn train disaster in 1918. A train-wreck. We felt it was apropos. The collective goal was for three friends to write and record some songs and release them to the world. My goals were secretly a little more optimistic; to be the greatest band to ever come out of Brooklyn. Sadly, the bar isn’t that high. Brooklyn is without a doubt the birthplace of the greatest collection of talent the world has ever known, from every walk of life. The list is endless:
Lombardi, Auerbach, Koufax, Michael Jordan, Carl Sagan, Jackie Gleason, Barbara Streisand, Woody Allen, Harvey Keitel, Wolfman Jack, Seinfeld, Two of the Three Stooges, and both Jimmy’s, Kimmel and Fallon. On and On the list goes. I could do this all day. Sadly, there’s never been a GREAT rock and roll band from Brooklyn.
Go ahead. Name one.
Lou Reed was born in Brooklyn, but he denies it.
Neil Diamond is from Brooklyn, but he’s a singer-songwriter.
No band from Kings County has ever made a ripple. Sure, a lot of great rappers, but not one Rock and Roll band.
Malbone Street, from the country of Brokeland, intends to be the one,
even if it’s just for a day.
That lost riff is now a fully realized song titled “Long Way From Home”. I’m really proud of it, but more importantly, so are they. We recorded six songs altogether, four of which will be released to the world sometime next week, with others to hopefully follow. I hope you enjoy them as much as we have, but more importantly, I hope they inspire you to take one more shot at pursuing those dreams. Pick up a guitar, pick up a paint-brush, take that dance class, jump from an airplane. Ignore what the noises in your head tell you.
Just dream… Dream, until your dreams come true.