I first met Damian Cordisco at Baimonte’s game room on Fischer Blvd. in Toms River back in the late 1970s. The game room was brand new, and an exciting place for kids to shoot pool, play video games (yes, they had been invented back then), and do whatever else 15-17-year-old rebels spend their boundless time doing. The game room was the epicenter of the social scene, and everyone that came from BellCrest and Silverton went there. From rock and roll band formations to woods party gatherings, they all originally took place at the game room.
Even as a young musician, Damian Cordisco was already a local legend. His band, The Imports, was an amazing pop punk trio, and they were at the top of the musical food chain back then. Bandmates Joey and Nicky Sinopoli, along with Cordisco, opened my eyes to the world of punk rock and new wave. Damian turned me on to interesting bands such as The Records and The Jags, as well as a whole world of unexplored musical textures and techniques.
I remember the first time I met him, walking in on a show and seeing him set up in the middle of the game room floor, pearled drums blazing under the lights as The Imports tore it up with their rock and roll originals. I also remember Damian’s talent level as being freakishly high as he nonchalantly twirled sticks and laid down the band’s brash, punk rock backbeat. Baimonte’s game room was the proving grounds for Cordisco, and he quickly became one of the area’s most sought-after drummers.
Throughout the years, Damian played in many popular bands including Godsend, The Flu, Chrome Daddy and the Brighton Barfly’s. His association with several notable musicians led to a solid reputation in the industry.
I talked to mutual childhood friend and Skid Row founder Rachel Bolan, who had this to say about Damian: “The first words Damian ever said to me on the front sidewalk of Toms River Intermediate School East were, ‘I heard that you play bass, are you any good?’ From that point on, my life was different. I went from a simple dreamer to a true musician. We played our first gig together at Manasquan High School. He turned me on to bands like Ramones, AC/DC, Joe Jackson, Sex Pistols, The Cars and Elvis Costello, to name a few. These were the bands that shaped me as a player and a songwriter, and I could never thank him enough for exposing me to music I had only read about up to that point in magazines. He was both a teacher and a great friend, and his sarcastic sense of humor was amazing”
Major label producer Jack Ponti also spoke about his time with Cordisco. “For me, people fit into one of two categories: real and not real. Damian was real. I never heard him say one negative thing about anyone, ever. I never saw him display envy, jealousy, bitterness or anger that most people display after they don’t ‘make it’ in this ridiculous business. That further convinced me of his evolution, and made me question my own. Though he was younger than me, he seemed older and wiser. I left Toms River several years ago, and lost contact with many people you would run into around town. We reconnected, as most of us do, through Facebook. We talked about martial arts, his ghost hunting thing, chats about mutual friends, and the typical Facebook drill. At the end of the day, I think everyone is judged by one thing only: the content of their hearts. If I’m right, it puts Damian head and shoulders above most of us.”
Damian was obviously much more than just a great musician. He was a caring and empathetic human that always took the time to listen to others. Childhood friend Maria Cresitello conveyed her time with Damian to me via email. “I knew Damian since the seventh grade. He was always a caring and outgoing person, and a true friend. If you needed help of any kind, he was there without hesitation. Damian was an extremely talented individual, and he will be so sorely missed.”
Besides the roles of musician and engineer (he owned DAC Recording Studios for many years), Damian was an accomplished martial artist and retained the master title of Sifu. He appeared in magazines alongside famous students such as Sebastian Bach (Cordisco taught him for 12 years) and held a second-degree black belt in Korean martial arts. He also held a master level in Shaolin Kung Fu, a Master in Yang style Tai Chi, and a fourth-degree black sash level in Pai Lum (White Dragon) Kung Fu. He also studied for two years with Jerry Poteet, who was one of only five original Chinatown era students of Bruce Lee.
Longtime friend and Sirius Radio producer Keith Roth says of Damian, “I saw him at Vapors a couple of weeks ago, and the last thing he said to me was, ‘Love ya, brother.’ It hits you real hard. I have a lot of great memories of Damian back from DAC Studios, Chrome Daddy, the Brighton Barfly’s, Mutant Monster Beach Party, and endless laughs with him, Shawn, Scotti and Vic. He was our engineer at Main Man Records, and I remember all the 4 a.m. jam sessions. We did the first F3K Sessions at his house in Toms River—just so many great memories. I have seen him more in the last three months than in the last 10 years, and I treasure that so much now.”
Damian passed away Oct. 9 at his home. He was just 49 years old. I received the news on that Friday from a friend who knew Damian well, and of course, it hit us all like a proverbial ton of bricks.
Before I went to his viewing, I took a ride over to that old game room that we ruled so many years before. And like all those memories of summertime girls and thinking we’d live forever, the game room was nothing more than a disintegrating vessel filled with dusty recollections of bygone grandeur. We all take our shots in life, and many times we fall short, but sometimes you have to focus on the targets that you have hit and release yourself from the agony of standards. As I stood in quiet reflective thought, looking at the place of origin of my friendship with Damian, the feelings began to return.
Big as life, they crept into the front of my cobwebbed mind, and just for a second, that dilapidated room lit up again, wrapped in the fast-paced bustle of rock and roll guitars, pounding drums, and urgent living in the moment. And I couldn’t help but smile at the idea of this intense, humble and funny guy, who wowed us with his talents and accomplished so many life aspirations, giving his trademark grin and disappearing one last time through that back stage door and into the great beyond. Like the myriads of people whose lives Damian had touched in so many ways, I will miss him more than can be conveyed in this writing.
Damian Cordisco was born in Port Jervis, NY, and lived most of his life in the Toms River area. Damian owned and operated the Loongshin Kwoon Marshall Arts School in Silverton, Toms River, and he was certified as a Pai Lum instructor and accredited with the U.S. Shaolin.
He is survived by his brother, Frederick and his wife Cathy of Toms River; his sister, Maria and her husband Earl Siddons of Middletown; nephew, Micah; six nieces, Meghan, Lauren, Alexandra, Isabella, Jessica and Melissa; and two grandnephews, Cameron and Liam.