It was sometime in 1996 that I was introduced to one of my all time favorite Hardcore bands.
It occurred somewhere between discussing music and graffiti at 21 Park and getting tight fades in Boogie Down Mitchell Gardens, when my friend Dombo gifted me a tape that while the artifact is long gone, the impression it left on me has still not worn off. Madball’s Demonstrating My Style on one side and 25 Ta Life’s Keepin It Real on the other. Two quintessential records. My introduction to NYHC. A perk of growing up with a crew of people with very different personalities and tastes is the exposure to all different types of things.
25 Ta Life, one of the few bands that I excuse for its flagrant misspellings, a personal pet peeve. No stranger to controversy, the band’s origins are also in contention. While it’s stated that the band formed in 1991 by bassist Frank Smarra and drummer Harry Minas in Astoria, Queens, (I fucking love that they’re from Queens) with guitarist Fred Mesk and Agnostic Front roadie and habitual bad speller Rick Healy later joining the fold. Rick Ta Life, as he would be affectionately called, disputes in an online interview from the 00s that he and Fred Mesk started the band. Regardless of who started the band, there would be a revolving door of members, endless drama, and arguably around forty minutes of some of the best tough guy hardcore songs ever.
They released a four song demo in 1993 with Separate Ways, Burned By Da Flames, Smakin’ U’ Up, and Inside Knowledge. A year later they would release their self titled on Striving For Togetherness Records. SFT was an independent hardcore label out of College Point that I’m still waiting on the Neck t-shirt I ordered in 1998. I’m beginning to lose optimism. They recorded Short Fuse and Can’t Believe and re-recorded Inside Knowledge and Burnt By The Flames, this time with correct grammar. I, thank you. Re-recording songs and re-releasing them would become a recurring motif for Rick. Frank Smarra would depart after this release.
The crowning achievement would be Keepin It Real released in 1996 on the German label We Bite Records. Harry, Fred, Rick with the addition of Warren Lee on bass and Beto Rosario on guitar, both of whom played in other hardcore bands from Queens. They conjured some of the toughest nineteen minutes ever, front to back. Wise To Da Game, Separate Ways (re-recorded from the demo), End The Hate, Da Lowdown, Short Fuse (re-recorded from the self-titled), and the title track banger, Keepin It Real. Harry Minas would depart after this release.
They followed up with another classic in 1997 with Strength Through Unity (The Spirit Remains) on Triple Crown Records. This opus clocking in just under fifteen minutes with six jams. Fred and Rick would be joined by Mike Heinzer on bass and Seth Meyer on Drums. The track listing would be all new tunes: Strength Through Unity, Loose Wit Da Truth, Loyal To The Grave (featuring Freddy of Madball and Ezec of Crown Of Thornz/Skarhead), Turning Point, Took My Kindness, For Weakness, and lastly, Absence Of Sincerity.
Fred and Rick would release one more record for Triple Crown in 1999, Friendship, Loyalty, Commitment, Rick had some issues with the first two words in that title, before disbanding the next year. I dug the album but it didn’t have the same impact as its predecessors. Rick would reform and play and record with various lineups, nothing ever recaptured those early years, and his reputation for not practicing what he preached was ever present. The bootlegging, shit talking and beefs tarnished his reputation as well as the sad performances that circulated online, not to mention the joke of him on horseback. That was a thing. With all his folly and apparent breaks in his mental health, and maybe because I can sometimes separate the art from the artist, 25 Ta life’s spirit remained. In 2017, 25 Ta Life reformed once again only this time, no Rick. Fred Mesk, Seth Meyer, Beto Rosario, Mike 141 with Stikman from Fury Of Five on vocals, whose disliking of Rick was no secret.
I’m not necessary running out of the house to catch shows these days but I do enjoy my exchanges with my friend Factor whenever a new Rick Ta Life social media account surfaces. Maybe Rick didn’t actually keep it real but there is a lot of wisdom in those ungrammatical lyrics. And when Dombo gave me that tape, 25 Ta Life was seemingly playing shows everyday, and my friends and I went. I awkwardly stood there, self conscious, standing on my tippy toes, looking over people’s shoulders and listening to Rick’s mixed messages, preaching unity while singing about fucking dudes up, and once that song started, well, that was it. I loved that moment where I realized, wait a second, I’m allowed to run on stage and sing with this crazy looking man. This is the best thing, ever.
Some men never really live but have you ever barked the lyrics with Rick’s sweaty, smelly arm around you, have you ever seen them play songs twice in a single show, have you ever purchased a tape or shirt you knew Rick made in his living room in Patterson, New Jersey? I hope you have because I cherish these memories.
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