12 October 1956- 29 April 2018
Part of me feels like this year has been a dress-rehearsal of so for the death our friend Mark. But no matter how hard you prepare, how much you rehearse, whatever physical and emotional pre-conditioning you receive for such an event, nothing prepares you for its actual occurrence. I was reminded of this by a phone call with Robert Contrada (PAL) just the other day where we cried together over his loss.
The 70s was not an era you could afford to be isolated and without friends. There were dangerous pockets and corners in the world and in Boston, exhilarating as well as perilous. You could not win a fight by yourself. But if he were your friend, you could count on Mark Regnetta to follow you and have your back into each and every one of those places without exception, no matter how far or how dangerous. Maybe that is a central theme to the life Mark dreaded of leading, one where he would have to live alone, apart, in isolation from his closest friends. We all wish we could have provided safe harbor for a brother who cast such a wide net of safety for everyone else (not unlike his cousin Jackie). He’d rather live in danger, while connected to someone else, than in safety, alone and insulated from the rest of the world.
As 10 and 13 year olds, respectively, we had 2 things in common, a love for ice-hockey and electric guitars and on this we bonded instantly, though he was several years older, he treated me like a kid brother. And taught me things about the street I never imagined. I’m grateful that anyone who even thought to try to bother me, would be greeted by Mark “Hey, kid, get lost, he’s with me”. Yeah, I was with him. To be with him was worth its weight in gold, and you were rich indeed to “be with him”.
Mark was legendary in his hockey prowess, and had a slapshot that could hit the mark with lightning speed from center ice to the goal line. And he was fearless, daring and intimidating as a forward. I watched as a kid with awe. Curiously, he admitted, as did I that we were terrified about standing in the batter’s box during little league when the ball was thrown, “I was afraid of the ball” he said, and that made me somehow feel not so bad about feeling the same!
Everybody in Charlestown knew him from those hockey days! Seventies hockey greats, Phil Meyers (who also liked electric guitars), and Mark Fidler, of my high school fame. The projects in Charlestown were a dangerous place, unless you were with Mark. How on earth did they know him in the projects! I shall leave unsaid what other corners of the North End and the world owe their existence and safety because Mark and friends made it their business to protect and defend.
We were inducted into the Knights of Columbus together in 1980. We were not its most illustrious or reverent members, neither of us being able to successfully produce the definition of what it means to be Christian. The answer was not “going to church on Sundays,” and I’m afraid we will never know.
Who knew Mark? The question was who didn’t. He partied with Robin Williams and Rod Stewart. He produced famous people on a regular basis, standup comedians Lenny Clarke and Steve Sweeney in my basement apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 80s. If I remember correctly, some didn’t leave for days….perhaps they’re still there.
Mark graced my apartment on Thompson Street for months on end in New York City. When I introduced him to friends Frankie Villani and Mike Carbone (real names, real people), they responded as if they found a long lost brother, “where you been keeping this guy?” Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park was not the same after his choruses of “What’s going On” sung along with a chorus of 6 or so black brothers in arms, like something from a Motown Movie.
Martin Scorsese could not script a better movie than the scenes you lived with Mark. We walked together into shady buildings in the lower east side. We stuck our hands through holes in the wall with dollar bills in exchange for questionable goods. We enjoyed with equal delight the movies Mean Streets as we did Superfly, and there was nobody as cool as Mark. Or that looked more like a quintessential rock and roller. I knew how to play the guitar, but he knew how to look the part.
I wrote my music based on his life experiences, some of my best lyrics sang of the street corner ages experienced with Mark, because he was so much larger than life, songs and poetry were some of the only media that could do him justice. Unfamiliar Eyes, Don’t it see, all out of places to run, were about Mark. I wrote an essay about him that gained me admittance to Harvard College, perhaps because of the curiosity of this “guy with whom I shared the first Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Rolling Stones records”. Mark was the first person to tell me that the Mick Jagger was not Black!
He was the best man at my wedding, the first to witness my divorce, the last man standing in a fight, and would not back down from any challenge, if he had to die trying. If you feared for your life, you could depend on him to save you, or for both of you to lose your lives together. There was no “in between”, gray area, ambiguity with Mark. There were no “instruments” or “materials” in the 1970s with which we did not experiment, whether approved or listed for a particular purpose, or recommended for use at home… let’s just leave it at that.
If there was injustice or unfairness, he was one of the few to have the courage to do anything about it, and nobody in the neighborhood would deny. It was clear to everyone that you just don’t F** with anyone that was with Mark.
He loved Woody Allen movies, and I shall never forget Mark breaking up in laughter at the scene when Allen tries to assuage Diane Keaton’s fears in the Taxicab that she is not beautiful, “ are you kidding, I could barely keep my eyes on the meter?!” I learned an appreciation for humor that I never had before through Mark’s eyes, I hadn’t realized how funny that line was.
He had the unusual ability to know the particular character of everybody in the North End. He could imitate anyone’s voice. He recounted to me on a regular basis Tommy Casale’s loyalty, returning to fetch him from a fight where he broke most of his ribs. He appreciated your quirks and could kid you about them. “Greaser”, “Goofy”, “Flat top” were among the nicknames he dispensed and you knew exactly whom he was talking about. And those comments were followed with a completely disarming laugh and smile, that would charm you into oblivion! charm and charisma! Those of you who knew Mark know exactly what I’m talking about.
His first experience in a detox clinic was under a pseudonym called Pal, because he had health insurance and Mark did not. Little did “Mark” know that it was “Pal’s” birthday that week, so they celebrated the birthday with a party for Mark! In California, he helped run a recovery clinic, on the other side of the counter, so to speak, for some years and the weather seemed to suit him well.
You could trust him with anything, and there are many secrets between us, as to the small private ventures we launched that never succeeded, and I imagine many other secrets exist between him and many others, that he would take to his grave, and now quite literally has.
His sense of humor was next to none. He was not well lately, botched operations, chronic pain, etc., but that did not keep him from laughing about it. We discussed briefly about whether we were the same blood type, and perhaps I could donate part of an organ to help out –Mark quickly disposed of the idea in his trademark style and without skipping a beat, he said, “Look Dro, I’m not sure if it’s a liver or kidney, and with my luck I’ll pick the wrong one.”
Let those of us who remain hang together and remind ourselves that we are much stronger united than we are apart. That our chances of survival are better when we hold hands than when we let ourselves drift astray.
Thanks for your friendship, Mark. And to Lisa, Pat Lenny, Chris and family sorry for your loss.
Sandro A. Carella
Ed: Visitation will be held on Monday May 7th, at Sacred Heart Church @ 930am to 11am followed by a Celebration Mass in his name.