Story by

Daniel Drabik

Song & Video

When someone says to you, “Hey, why are you so interested in that?” you reply with something like, “Oh my God! It’s so cool! I want to know how it’s done!” Of course, you might say something different, however, the concept is still the same. But, before I continue, I feel that it’s necessary that I say that my experience was an honor and a fantastic opportunity to be a part of the music, the show, and the people. As our driver turned the typical yellow cab into the parking lot, I gaped with precipitancy at the numerous stark parking spaces that lay to the left and beyond. My eyes quickly absorbed the magnificence of the center, and then focused on the daunting beige tower. I suddenly remembered that we were expected to have a van filled with the performers waiting for us; it was missing in action. I began telling myself that, “We are dead in the water,” and I had not even entered the building. Already, I could feel the icy cold fingers of failure digging into my brain. If someone were to ask me, “Why are they performing there?” I would have answered that MJ Medina, or rather, Manny and Joy Medina, were asked to perform at the Liberty Science Center across from the Statue of Liberty, not more than 300 yards away, in honor of the United Nations World Health Day. I was perplexed: where was the publicity? Where were the media vans? Above all, where were the people?

I was curious to know if I was alone in my thinking. Suddenly, the leathery grip on my camera bag became separated from my hand by warm sweat. My heart seemed to morph into a loud speaker that was blaring out the incessant thumping noise it made. At the same time, it felt as if all of the other organs in my body began to drain, causing my chest to implode. With my expectations depressingly lowered, with a borné effort, I wrapped my sweaty fingers around the cool door handle, and took a look behind me to make sure the lack of sleep had not disillusioned me. “Wait here; I’m going to get Marrissa!” I stood there, feeling sets of interrogating eyes burning my skin: I hated feeling like a tourist! I could feel sweat resuming it’s place: trickling relentlessly in the most uncomfortable way. I looked down at my feet and realized why I felt all of the tension: I had two bags with me and I was standing in Jersey City, with Manhattan only a few train clicks away.

It was April, quite a few months after the very surrealistic destruction of the World Trade Center. (To help put this into perspective, it would be like adding 80 stories to the HSBC tower in downtown Buffalo and then having an airplane crash into it, completely destroying it and several businesses around it). However, there was still a disgustingly thick fear of another devastation: I reeked with suspicion. To my relief, I spotted Dave and a woman, whom I presumed to be Marrissa, walking toward me. “Dan, this is Marrissa, she’s the director of the Liberty Science Center.” I was impressed! Without realizing it, I had a stereotypical image of a person in their 50’s wearing a business suite in my mind! Positioned in front of me was a woman of twenty-five, with thin, blond hair sculpted into a pony tail. The khakis, plaid shirt, and boots were not what I had expected. Suddenly I was even more uncomfortable because I could taste the toothpaste beginning to wear off and was concerned that my breath might have turned into a sticky, offensive mess. We shook hands; her grip was loose, which made me hesitant of her. I had made sure that mine was firm, as I had learned an epoch ago.

I felt like a two year old on a child leash as I followed David, MJ’s manager and producer, and Marrissa to the lowest level of the building where MJ and their dancers would be performing. The sound check was in an hour and a half and it was our responsibility to set up the equipment.Since I was less than happy already, the last thing I wanted to hear was, “Would you help me bring a couple of tables out of the back?” Shutting myself out to the detail around me, I agreed and covered my feelings up rather well, I thought. As I carelessly walked through the doorway, I realized how wrong I had been! I looked up at the ceiling with all of its pipes and ducts exposed and understood that for one instant I was behind the sign that says, “Employees Only. Do Not Enter.” I’ve always wondered what it would be like to just randomly walk back there and see how people would react. I found out when most of the employees gave me some looks like, “Hey! Your not supposed to be back here!” “Get out!” When they saw I was with Marrissa the looks ceased. It must have been an amusing sight to see Marrissa and I carry out those tables; there was little space to maneuver them and we were pretty slow to master the task. Of course, the set up (on my part) was complete and I now had two choices: stand around and really look like a tourist, or enjoy the exhibits. I took the second!

The van missing in action remained that way for some time, even after the scheduled sound check. I could see the stress evaporating from Dave, as he bolted from place to place, dealing with setup he did not contemplate needing to be done. Noticing that my presence there was no longer required, I decided to absorb the rest of the building. As I stood on the lowest level, looking up, I found it startling just how appealing the building really was! Although it was not clear to me then, I now realize that the whole point of the building was to be appealing. If it wasn’t, why bother to go see anything inside?

I enjoyed the fact that everywhere I could hear excitement over exhibits and disappointment of those children desperately clinging to this place, as they were forced through the gait way back into reality: the door. There were six levels, including the one I was on. The way the building was designed was that the middle space was open and the exhibits were displayed on the four sides of the building on each floor. There were walkways crossing the center, providing a place to lean over the railing and look down six stories. I liked this because it meant that if a person was on the sixth floor and wanted to get down to the first level to see MJ, they really didn’t need to hurry because of the ample viewing space. Also, they would be able to watch the show as they went down the escalator.

I do not remember what exactly was on each specific floor, but I do recall my favorite exhibit: fish! On the sixth level, I was mechanically delivered by a case of metal stairs. I stood off to the side contemplating which direction I should turn, when a remotely unpleasant, but yet, familiar odor floated into my nose. I looked around to see what could be giving it off and then, boom! There were fish everywhere! There were tanks with many different types of environments housed within. What I wanted to know is what were fish doing in a science center instead of an aquarium? But my ears soon began to throb with the screaming of kids!

I looked sharply at my watch: it was almost 12:30 in the afternoon. I headed across the worn orange carpet toward the escalator and, out of the corner of my eye, noticed a large group come in the main entrance on the second floor: MJ is here! Before I hurried down the escalator, I took one last look around to pick a few vantage points from where I would record. This way, I would not waste time deciding as the performance progressed.

Back on the ground level, I stood there staring at dancers. They were very urban! The guys were wearing bandanas and what I would consider to be “rapper-style jeans”. The girls were wearing much tighter jeans and still wore the bandanas. (Another element of their dress that caught my attention was that they were all wearing red, white, and blue). That style of dress is something I am not used to, coming from a small place, so naturally it stood out to me. As I stood there, I witnessed madness or rather a language that I did not understand. The body language, the actions, and the attitudes of the performers left me feeling like I was a small child, only tall enough to peer in through the window. In any case, I remained in my trance, fixated on the new energy about me until Dave brusquely snared my attention when he yelled, “Dan! Get your camera ready; we start in less than five minutes!”

I vanished behind the video projection screen, and loaded my mini DV camera with tape. This was my first time behind the screen and it was interesting how it worked. I discovered that the projector was set up from behind and it beamed the picture through the screen onto the other side! I think it would be fair to say that it worked like a television, in terms of display. I was still feeling apprehensive and another, more forceful feeling had been created earlier, and was now intensifying. This feeling was created the first time I attended an MJ event. Naturally, I looked at their music the way anyone who was not a pop fan would: with dislike. However, there was some other force combating that viewpoint. I realized, with some help from Dave even though he did not realize it, that in certain situations, such as this one, the point is to understand and appreciate their effort and the talent they are using to entertain. I call this my “appreciation” concept.

I struggled to understand my realization and apply it. The difference between this event and the previous is that we also had to make it profusely clear that they were not bogus street performers. At least to me we needed to because of the lack of publicity. The first concert had not even begun, and I already decided we had hit rock bottom with this. At the time I did not think of it this way, but who was I to decide? And what good would come of my judgment? I wanted to continue trying to force myself to give up the negativity before the performance began, but I had my chance and now it was show time! MJ’s introduction began, and I took my places. I say places because it was my duty to portray the performance from any angle I could. In all honesty, I do not know videography like a professional. All I had to go on was my creativity. At the time, I did not realize it, but my whole world morphed into only what was in the viewfinder. Before I understood what was happening to me, I was anticipating which would be glamorous shots and how to maneuver through the crowd. I felt that it was a total rush to have full access to almost any place I needed to be. It was a privilege.

The way I saw it, dashing from the Human Reproduction Exhibit, to the Water Power Exhibit, and through the Ocean Exhibit was like a game of hide and seek! I literally ran up and down the escalators and darted to the overlooks in an attempt to capture my shot and then seek it out again. Fun? Was I having fun? I was! This day had started out with my negative attitude and now I as enjoying myself!

Because my only focus was to imprint the show onto film, I had not paid attention to the audience. I had been frustrated because they had kept blockading MJ, and what good was the shot without the main attraction in it? Without me knowing it, Dave had been standing behind me, at one instance, looking through the viewfinder. I was shocked when I heard him firmly saying to me, “Get the audience! It is important that their reactions can be seen!” Initially I objected to this idea, internally. I flashed him a look of confusion but he had already gone.

As I became reinitiated into my world of the LCD screen, I watched the tiny dots come together to form the larger picture: without them, the audience, there is an intense lack of support. When I realized this, it seemed to me that it was one of those things that I should have been born knowing. However, those thoughts were put on hold again. The exhilarating vibe that had been shaking the people suddenly became what I would describe as respectful. It was the final and last song. This song, “Brave New American Heroes,” was written as a tribute to those who had been murdered on September 11, 2001. When they began to sing, thoughts I had earlier continued to erode away.

This was still a touchy subject, especially for the people in the immediate New Jersey/New York area, and people began to cry when scenes of the Twin Towers collapsing came onto the screen. It was way too explicit! At this point, I felt that maybe I had let my thoughts dissipate too quickly. I began to feel uncomfortable because I anticipated problems from the crowd. However, I do not recall anyone creating a scene over this. As if God himself had sent it, a wave of relief splashed over me after I noticed how respectful and pleased everyone had become!

As applause echoed throughout the floor, Dave approached me and asked me to interview people. What? I was avidly against this idea. When a person expects the unexpected in terms of interviewing someone, it seems that the worst that could happen is that the person will decline. Not me! Using the same attitude I had done in the beginning, I anticipated interviewing someone so emotionally distraught who would either collapse and begin to convulse or would become dangerously irrational.

As convincingly as I could, I approached people and asked their opinion of the show. Luckily, no one I spoke with was any of the above! When I asked, “What were your feelings about MJ and their show?” people would reply, saying, “I think it’s very noble that teens are demonstrating their understanding of the devastation and that they appreciate those who died attempting to save the victims. Also those who are fighting in the Middle East.” What made this even more difficult was that I still was struggling with applying my “appreciation” concept, and if there was no publicity what was the point? What did this experience do to me? There is still something about it that I have not been able to understand.

As I stood, with my back up against the cool exoskeleton of the escalator, I realized that I was beginning to understand a different way of life. The people that I had spent time with just blew me away at how different they are, even if they are only about 500 miles away! And because of that, I have a better appreciation of people in my life. The experience has forced me to see people’s efforts. I see how hard MJ, Manny and Joy Medina have worked for opportunities to succeed, like this one. When it was all over, I came back to life here, feeling that it was different. It seemed as if every one that I knew had changed. But, when I think about it, I have come to understand that life here feels different because I came back with knowledge and understanding that I had never known before. Since this day, the song "Brave New American Heroes" has been performed by the Medina's all over the country with incredible acceptance. The music video airs on a regular basis on their live, nightly, prime time TV show in New York City and in Miami.

It was performed at City Hall in Hoboken, NJ for the mayor and many politicians when the MEDINA's received a "lifetime acheivement award". It was also performed in Hoboken, overlooking the World Trade Center for the Puerto Rican Day festival. The Manhattan Model Search company uses it to begin their regional events as part of a patriotic tribute, often with the Medina's performing it live infront of the music video being projected on large screens.

The Medina's were asked to give a free concert for children who lost family members at the WTC at a special summer camp in the Catskills called "Camp Haze" and they sang it there as well. The experience was extremely rewarding. On 9/11/02, the Medina's performed the song 3 times in the "9/11 Helping Hand Foundation" walk-a-thon, at the beginning in Battery Park, in front of Ground Zero and in Central Park at the end. This was a very humbling experience. In December 2002, the Medina's were asked to perform the song at the dedication of the new "Town Square" in Newport, Jersey City, (across from the World Trade Center) for the new 9/11 Memorial and then the song was submitted to a new radio station that is dedicated to the lives of 9/11. The power of music is imeasurable!