Some of the labels Healey recorded for in the ‘90s folded years ago, while another, Triple Crown, became a subsidiary of the Warner Music Group and bears little connection to its hardcore past. “I would love to find a good label to work with,” says Healey, “but hardcore is a small business. People are not interested. The record industry is a nightmare right now, y’know what I’m sayin?” Healey has found distribution with overseas labels, and of course, he continues to release music himself. Back Ta Basics has already put out two records this year, a 25 Ta Life disc called Strength Integrity Brotherhood, and an album by the Florida rapper Diablo. The label also has two more releases in the pipeline for ’09, including the latest volume in Healey’s pay-to-participate compilation series, Down For The Core.
“I like to be a part of Rick’s comp series to help the smaller bands on the comp,” says Campbell, “and to get my band’s name out to people who might like us. If my band can help Rick stay out on the road another day, then I am all for it.”
Healey moved to the outskirts of Baltimore early this decade, but has since returned to the tri-state area, splitting his time between Brooklyn and Jersey. He has remained constantly active in hardcore. He sings not only with 25 Ta Life, but also, on occasion, for two other bands that started in the ‘90s, Comin’ Correct and Time Heals Nothing. But Healey always comes back to 25 Ta Life, despite being the lone original member—a fact which has sullied the name for some. Under that banner, he has continued touring relentlessly, playing in countries as varied as Mexico, Brazil, France and Bulgaria. During 25 Ta Life’s tour of Europe last year, they played 24 shows in 24 days across five nations. When Healey visits a country for the first time, he often gets a small, commemorative tattoo on one of the few patches of skin on his arms, legs or torso that isn’t already spoken for.
“I’ve seen so many different styles come,” says Healey, who still works construction between tours and says that someday he’d like to take the G.E.D. exams. “From when we were playing packed shows, to when hardcore felt fizzled. But we’re still here. Whether there’s 30 or 50 kids. That, to me, I’m proud of that,” he says. “You gotta love it. If you don’t love it, it’s obvious, it won’t last.”
“[Healey’s critics] need to recognize that he dedicated his life to this,” says Pavich, “whatever the hell this is, and however important or unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things. I mean, look at him. He’s not gonna be a teacher. He’s not gonna open up a bakery. This is his life.”
In many ways, the legacy of Rick Ta Life is that of an urban legend, crafted and perpetuated online by fans and enthusiasts. RickTaLifeOnAHorse.com, for example, poses the crucial question: Where were you the day Rick Ta Life rode a horse? The site features a photo of exactly what you’d expect, taken at an outdoor show in 1994 (Or was it ’95? No one’s really sure) while the singer was tripping on acid. “If people are that interested in me on a horse that they wanna make a website about it,” says Healey, “for me that’s free advertising. Go ahead and do it.”
Another such tale involves a packed New England show in the late-‘90s. Healey and Mesk had just arrived at the gig when they got a call from their drummer and bassist, who had taken a wrong turn on the highway and driven two hours out of the way. Rather than cancel, Healey opted to proceed with some help from the venue’s PA system; they threw on a 25 Ta Life disc and played karaoke style. The crowd of nearly 300 went nuts, and the club was alive with moshing, stage dives, and pile-ons, a staple of hardcore shows in which fans clamor on top of one another before the stage, straining to get a piece of the singer’s microphone. Healey was happy to share it with them. “We were pretty much doing whatever we had to do not to disappoint the kids,” says Healey. “Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.”