He must have done a helluva lot of venting. In a scene where tattoos are the norm, Healey took ink to another level, covering himself almost completely from neck to toes in just a few short years. The designs, colored largely in black, range from H.R. Giger aliens, to tributes to his son and late father, to the switchblades and brass knuckles that adorn the cover of the 25 Ta Life album Best Of Friends/Enemies. Healey has also worn piercings in his nose, lips, nipples, tongue and face, with metal studs dotting a ring around his mouth. Add in long brown dreadlocks, a stark contrast to the closely cropped hairdos favored in hardcore, and it becomes obvious that Healey’s appearance has contributed to his being a lightning rod for attention. “A lot of people, if they see me, they remember me,” he says. “Hey, y’know—I stuck out.” Healey’s ink caught the eye of Roger Miret, frontman for the seminal hardcore band Agnostic Front. Healey met Miret going to punk and hardcore shows in New York at venues like The Pyramid, CBGB, and Tompkins Square Park. Then in 1991, at age 21, Healey stepped beyond the realm of hardcore fandom and went on tour as a roadie for Agnostic Front. “I had just gotten laid off my job,” says Healey, “and [Miret] was like, ‘You wanna drive? You wanna do merch? Come help us out.’”
Healey stayed on the road with Agnostic Front through 1992 before starting 25 Ta Life with guitarist Fred Mesk at the end of the year. “Everybody lived in New York except me,” says Healey. “I would take the PATH train over and we’d meet up at a studio in Manhattan to write, practice and record,” he says. Musically, 25 Ta Life draws inspiration from Agnostic Front and other New York bands that emerged in the mid-to-late-‘80s and introduced elements of heavy metal into hardcore punk. Their songs feature sparse, fast arrangements, peppered with double bass drumming, staccato breakdowns and thrash metal guitar leads. More unusual than the band’s music is Healey’s vocal style: Sometimes a hoarse growl, often a doglike yelp, almost always unintelligible. His lyrics, meanwhile, alternate between positive rallying cries to the hardcore scene (songs such as “Hardcore Rules” and “Strength Through Unity”) and violent revenge invectives (“Fight Dirty,” “Bullet For Every Enemy”).
In 1993, the band played its first shows and released its first record, simply called NYHC Demo, which was the debut from Healey’s Back Ta Basics label. In the next few years, 25 Ta Life released EPs on various labels, and more importantly, began touring both nationally and overseas and became a mainstay on the East Coast hardcore circuit. “1994 and ’95 saw a big resurgence, as far as I’m concerned, with New York hardcore,” says filmmaker Frank Pavich, who produced and directed a 1995 documentary (released in 1999) on the scene called N.Y.H.C. which prominently features Healey and 25 Ta Life. “I have to give him credit for a huge percentage of that resurgence. They would play several times a week. Every show, he was there,” he continues. “He was the basis of it at that point.”