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This is perhaps a first in hard-rock journalism -- interviewer asks interviewee if he could please turn down Mario Lanza's recording of "Finiculi Finicula" because he can't hear himself think. Interviewee agrees.
"Yeah, that's a hard song to talk over . . ." says Danny Marianino, a New Jersey transplant and leader of local Cosa Nostra-themed hard-core band the North Side Kings, who mesh metal, punk and traditional hard-core while steering clear of traditional "Oh, I hate society, I hate my parents" screaming.
We couldn't have extorted a more Pisano-friendly setting from central casting. Marianino is cooking ravioli and meatballs as he discusses A Family Affair, his group's sophomore CD. It's apropos for an album that boasts "We got a crew that eats like fucking champs" and "We're too stuffed to drive a car." These are sentiments that don't go too well with touring, as Marianino discovered on a recent East Coast swing with Brazilian metal heavyweights Soulfly.
"I lost 15 pounds," Marianino confesses. "But I put it back on in two weeks. I'm not used to all that activity. I'm working in a furniture store all day."
It hardly helps that the band was none too successful trafficking hard-to-get East Coast food items to the Valley of the Sun. While "the finer things in life," like Tutto Rosso canned tomatoes, escaped compulsive sampling, "The poppy-seed cakes and the provolone cheese didn't survive the van rides," he nods with embarrassment and veneration.
Marianino is only now getting in touch with his inner goombahness. During his stint as guitarist for hard-core institution Cause for Alarm in the mid-1990s, Marianino kept those tendencies well in check. But after CFA disintegrated -- fueled by disagreements with front man Keith Burkhardt -- Marianino and then-drummer Tony Scaglione were left longing for membership in an organization where respect and honor were good enough reasons to whack some mook who breaks the code. Hence, they patterned their rechristened North Side Kings after Italy's longest enduring social club. The Kings' first album bore the literal translation of Cosa Nostra, This Thing of Ours, as its title. The album's cover bears the sinister grins of what appear to be aging made men. Marianino laughs.
"It's my buddy Pete's grandfather and a few of his law-abiding cronies," he says. Didn't Pete's nonno object to this slanderous appropriation? "Naw, he was thrilled. He ordered 30 copies of the CD to give to friends."
With the enduring popularity of The Sopranos keeping viewers married to the mob, the organized crime motif seems too fortuitous a marketing ploy to discontinue in the fast-paced world of hard-core.
"I kind of get some flack about the whole mob thing," Marianino says of the irony. "I must say that I don't agree with all that shit. We did the mob motif more for fun than anything, and it caught on. Now we got people coming up to us at shows going, Yeah, I'm Italian. Thanks for putting the Italian flag on the album cover.'"
The Kings roam the North Side on A Family Affairin search of poetic justice from any number of deserving punching bags. Within the first five rapid-fire minutes of the new disc, Maraianino castigates a chump who comes to North Side Kings shows just to pick fights ("We've All Had Enough"), launches a post-9/11 rant on Al-Queda ("Choke on Your Blood") and collects his cut from a "Deadbeat." Elsewhere, the Kings rail against greed mongers, mob squealers and white trash (the hilarious "Homesick" makes fun of "skeezer whores at the Mason Jar" and deadbeat dads singing "Freebird" at karaoke bars). Amid the joking, you hear genuine longing for Jersey in lines like "All the bars close up at one/ Where I'm from/ At one o'clock the party's just begun!!!"
"All the Jersey girls have big hair. I miss that," muses Marianino. "Big-ass fingernails. Too much perfume."
Italian pride can sometimes take strange forms. Just as it's possible to find old Sicilian men who praise Mussolini's great oratory skills and his ability to make the trains run on time, there are those who admire the mob for keeping their neighborhoods clean and safe.
"Did you ever see the movie Gotti with Armand Assante?" Marianino asks. "He said One day they're gonna miss John Gotti,' and now they do, 'cause when he got taken down, the Japanese Mafia, the Chinese Mafia, the Russian Mafia, the Polish all moved in, and there's no respect in those mafias. They'd kill a baby. With the old-timers, there was still code. But when they got into drugs, [it was] bye-bye code.'"
As for Marianino, he recently saw his old seaside New Jersey stomping grounds on MTV's Spring Break coverage and declared it "a fuckin' disaster. I remember going there as a kid, and it was awesome. Now there's fuckin' gangs, all kids starting trouble." And Point Pleasant is hardly an ample substitute. "There's no boardwalk," he observes ruefully.
There also are fewer Italian-Americans gravitating toward the mob, evidently. Marianino is now the lone dago in North Side Kings. Irishmen like Richie Gallen, once the Hyman Roth of the group, are the rule rather than exception. "Now I've got Greg Hall and Luke Bugs of Mob 40. Definitely not Italian." Tony Scaglione is gone, too. He and his wife moved to Georgia to follow her airline job. Scaglione's open invitation to join the group onstage when they passed through the Peach State was dashed when the tour itinerary skipped it and went straight to Florida.