Music, film and Brooklyn icon is lost
by Andrew Shilling
Mar 05, 2013 | 1182 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ric Menello at the Vox Pop patio in Ditmas Park
Ric Menello at the Vox Pop patio in Ditmas Park
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The story of modern rap and hip-hop music could not be told without mentioning Ric Menello, as he brought the genre to the forefront with his sharp-witted personality and love for film.

Menello died last Friday after a fatal heart attack suddenly brought his own story to an end. He was 60.

He was known to his music fans for directing iconic videos like “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party!)” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” for the Brooklyn-based group the Beastie Boys; “Going Back to Cali” for LL Cool J; and scripting Run DMC’s 1988 film Tougher Than Leather.

In film, he most recently co-wrote Two Lovers with James Gray, a Brooklyn-set romance starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lowlife, expected for release at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

While Menello loved New York and his work, most of all he loved people in his life.

Whether it was the shop owner along Cortelyou Road, a group of young hipsters, or an admirer of his writing, he had an irreplaceable way of breaking through the surface and creating never-ending bonds wherever he went.

Mel Neuhaus met Menello in a NYU film class just over 40 years ago.

“You would follow him down the street in Brooklyn, and people would just shake his hand,” Neuhaus said, recalling his wife’s nickname for his best friend, “The Burgomaster of Brooklyn.”

From the time the two met, they watched thousands of movies together. Some were good, however they mostly appreciated the ones that were horrible.

“We found things funny that nobody else found funny,” he recalled. “It would just hit us that way.” As they lived for the movies they loved, Neuhaus remembered how they “would spend time talking about these movies, and afterwards, we would then imagine what it was like making the movies.”

Like so many others who knew him, their time together was special as they found a common ground in film and the world around them.

Menello was a night owl, often humming the soundtrack to his favorite film as he casually strolled the streets of Ditmas Park late into the night and the early hours of the morning.

Debi Ryan, one of his closest friends, says that was how he was able to connect with the neighborhood.

“When you run into Ric at three in the morning, you’re open,” Ryan said.

She remembered spending countless hours, sitting on the patio with Menello at the now-closed, community-run Vox Pop coffee shop on Cortelyou near Coney Island Avenue.

When it was open, the Vox Pop was a secret hangout for the community of freelancers, filmmakers, musicians, poets and writers in Ditmas Park during the economic collapse in 2008. Menello found inspiration there, spending most of his time screening films or enjoying the community of like-minded artists.

Every now and then he would offhandedly mention his recent work on an upcoming film, however it wasn’t something he found as important as the friends he had in the neighborhood.

“He directed films, movies and wrote screenplays, but you wouldn’t know it because that’s not what he was all about,” she said. “He touched everyone’s lives deep in their soul and stayed there. There are not a whole lot of people on this earth that did that, and I don’t think even he realized it. He was just being Ric.”

When Vox Pop closed, she would still hang out with Menello at her house in Coney Island or she would find him eating dinner at Angela Welch Stucker’s place on Stratford Road, another one of his closest friends in the neighborhood.

He would often walk the five blocks from his place on Beverly Road, wearing an old t-shirt, sweats and worn shoes to talk about their writings, movies or just to hang out.

“The main thing with Ric was it was very easy to judge him because he didn’t care about how he looked,” Stucker said. “He was just who he was, and it would be very easy to look at him and think there was nothing really that special under that veneer of a schlubby Oscar Madison kind of look he had.”

They spoke every day, and several times a week they would meet, eating whatever she cooked. Together they worked on screenplays and discussed their work.

“He has this ability to say something, that isn’t that funny, but his timing and his delivery was just on point,” she said. “He was so much of a fixture in my life and the neighborhood, and it’s only going to get so much harder without him here.”

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