Stop! Look! Listen! You had no choice if you were witness to the wild antics of local musician Erik Narwhal, who unexpectedly passed away on March 7 from a brain hemorrhage.
Many knew him as the piano-pounding front man for Erik Narwhal and the Manatees, but that was simply an alter ego for a shy family man named Erik Marzocchi who doted on his wife and two sons and was a dedicated teacher in the Providence school system for more than 25 years.
His antics as a musician were legendary: always in the crowd with his wireless microphone, making up rap songs on the spot about anything that caught his attention, pointing out famous look-alikes in the crowd who never quite resembled the celebrities in question, disappearing mid-song into a buffet at Foxwoods and emerging with a strawberry shortcake in his hand, leading the crowd in chants of “free alcohol” while he ducked behind the bar and emerged with a bottle in each hand.
I wrote my first script nearly two decades ago with him in mind, and we made five movies together. He was a great improviser, usually coming up with dialogue better than the script.
Erik had his creative outlets but it was at home, surrounded by his wife, sons and dog Izzy that he was happiest and most content.
He was incredibly persistent when he wanted something. Erik once got us into a sold-out show at the House of Blues for free, simply by bugging the bouncer for one hour straight. He and his wife, Nora, saw Wayne Newton in Las Vegas and Erik got their seats upgraded from the back of the nightclub to directly in front of the stage by the force of his personality. Afterward, Erik — who loved celebrities — got his picture taken with Wayne Newton.
Nora said, “Because of the way Erik carried himself, Wayne Newton thought Erik was someone famous.”
He was, Wayne! He was the great Erik Narwhal!
Erik loved Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. He relished telling the story of visiting Graceland as a chubby teen with his dad, followed by a visit to what he called sarcastically “the finest Italian restaurant in all of Memphis.” While they were waiting to be seated, Erik was blocking the kitchen doors and a waiter barked at him, “Out of the way, fat boy!” Erik spent the rest of the summer running to get in shape and practicing piano. Then, he started performing regularly.
From his mom, he got his cleanliness, his energy, his love of writing and his need to be productive. From his father, he got his love of music and a keen interest in building.
Erik built many things over the years, but his ultimate accomplishment was building the kind of life he always wanted: a beautiful family and a home where he could make art, play, celebrate holidays, put up Christmas decorations, build replicas of the Titanic and paint pictures of Abraham Lincoln.
He was magnetic; he was one of the most genuinely original people on the planet. Erik was a walking contradiction: a music teacher and a rock-and-roll preacher.
His shows were ridiculously entertaining. Erik worked harder than any performer I’ve ever seen just to connect with an audience. He cherished his family, friends, fans and fellow teachers. He was an American original. He was Erik.
Fireworks displays aren’t supposed to last for 50 years but this one almost did.
Farewell to Erik Marzocchi — a wonderful dad, husband, son, brother, uncle, friend and teacher.
And farewell to a truly innovative performer and my all-time favorite leading man — the shining star known as Erik Narwhal!