Interview: Talking Relief, Recovery, and Respite from Fire with Frank Palangi
For those who aren’t aware, in the final days of June, my friend and local rocker Frank Palangi’s home was struck by lightning, which caused a house fire. The fire destroyed much of his newly completed studio, equipment, and personal effects.
This conversation occurred on July 29th, so some of the events we discuss have already come to pass. Despite all that has happened, Frank’s disposition in the face of this loss has been remarkably positive. I think that says a lot about him.
We spoke on Zoom with his newly-acquired bass-heavy microphone, me in my dining room and him from a quiet corner of his hotel room.
Elissa Ebersold: Thank you for chatting with me today. Obviously, you’ve been through a lot these past couple of weeks. Almost a month now at this point. The 29th right?
Frank Palangi: Yeah, it was actually. It was four days after my song “Fire of Love” came out. The newbie. That’s how fast you lose track of time when you’re living in a hotel I guess.
EE: So four weeks, you’ve been living in a hotel in Lake George with your parents. Let’s go all the way back to the afternoon of the fire. Walk me through everything that happened that night. The whole ordeal. What was it like?
FP: Well, I was getting ready to broadcast on Facebook and go live. I had all my stuff plugged in. I didn’t have my guitar on. It was at my side. I didn’t have my headphones on. I was set up, probably fifteen minutes before the storm came through.
EE: You were setting up for this live show right on the precipice of the storm?
FP: It was raining. It wasn’t even fully fledged yet. I don’t even think there was thunder. I was waiting to go live, and I thought that I’ll just sit here for fifteen minutes, so I was fussing on my phone. At about 5:45 is when it happened. I say I’m lucky I could have had my headphones in with my microphone on, one where you could hear a guy burp across the street. Pretty much I’d either be fried or deaf right now. Or I could have had everything plugged in and fiddling with my electric stands and whatnot and be electrocuted.
But when it happened there was a huge cannon sound. It was like somebody had a tank next to you and exploded a missile. It was that loud. I’m surprised I didn’t go deaf from that. It was at that moment the whole room went all orange. It was like Third Encounters of the Close Kind. Er, wait how do you say that movie?
EE: Third Kind of Close…Wait, now you’ve got me confused. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There we go.
FP: It was that type of light. It was like an alien coming through orange, then dissipated. It was so weird with that sound. I was staring outside for a good thirty seconds, like “I don’t know what just happened.” What was that sound? It didn’t occur to me that anything was on fire. I didn’t smell anything or see anything. Then my mom came downstairs asking what it was. She was right above it and she thought that maybe something blew up downstairs. So she ran downstairs and found that I was okay. We looked at each other for thirty seconds [dumbfounded.] All of a sudden, I saw that the ceiling in my studio was covered with a crap-ton of smoke coming through.
Mom was like, “It’s on fire!” basically. Then my dad came running down.
The backroom exploded, basically. That pop, that sound, was an explosion igniting everything in the back room.
EE: It probably superheated the wood or whatever back there and exploded.
FP: Yeah. Everything back there was charred. It was scary. I would describe it as the reddest color I’ve seen in my life. Even out of a perfect 8K movie or whatever. It was the reddest red, and you know when you go to a campfire and you see those sparks coming off? It was like a [dinner plate] sized ones of those.
EE: It would be beautiful if it wasn’t so terrifying.
FP: Yeah, from a distance it might be. What saved me is that my studio has a metal fire door. If that was a regular door, it would have maybe caught on fire or blew in or blew into pieces and went everywhere. And the second thing is that our backroom is all concrete. So that contained it for a bit.
We only had maybe a minute to get out of the house. That’s when all the smoke started coming in. It was from the ceiling to maybe my calf muscle. You had only this teeny bit of room at the bottom.
EE: Wow, so when they say stop, drop and roll they’re not kidding because you’ve only that two-foot pocket of clean air.
FP: I was scrambling around and my dad was too, trying to grab our valuables. At one point I was on my elbows crawling and trying to find my money. Certain things like birth certificates, credit cards, driver’s licenses….all those things that are difficult to replace. And you don’t realize that when something like this happens—you can’t check into a hotel without a credit card.
I managed to grab my two acoustics and my camera. I had no shoes on and shorts. My neighbor came flying down and gave us a pair of shoes. My mom was running down the street like a madman still in her pajamas trying to get someone to call the fire department. When that happened, it was like an EMP, it knocked the battery out of everything. The house phone didn’t work. My cell phone didn’t work.
[Insert Elissa’s anecdote about standing next to a tree that was struck by lightning, and then having our interview interrupted by a strong thunderstorm roll through the Lake George Area…we came back to it after the storm had passed him.]
EE: So where were we? What else did you grab?
FP: We had our birth certificates and whatnot in a place where we could easily grab them in an emergency. We said that was the place that we could grab those within five seconds and get out. You just don’t have time to dig for them.
EE: What are those things you would say to put in a fire-safe or lockbox?
FP: The birth certificates. The valuables. Spare cash. Even some precious family photos. Put it all together and in an area where you know where it is so, you can grab it and leave. When your house is on fire, you only have a minute to get out. If for whatever reason you lose all sense of reality—because things that make sense normally, don’t—like my father and I ran back and forth a couple of times. I don’t know what it is, it’s like you’re on autopilot.
EE: You also grabbed your hard drive too?
FP: I did. Yep. That was the other thing I grabbed. It was actually right next to the safe.
EE: You’ve obviously lost a lot of things because of the fire. Be it your own personal sense of comfort or belongings. What is something you feel you will miss the most?
FP: Uh, it would be the setup. The room, the way you have everything. We had just gotten done finishing the house. We had new furniture, new floors, and repainted walls. Literally that day, my mom had just finished the grout. And ten minutes later….fire. And for me, it was kind of the same thing, but for my music stuff. I had just gotten the setup the way that I wanted. I could relax more. I was buying and selling and trying to trade and get some better gear. That was the thing that kept me busy over COVID, too.
EE: What’s the first thing you think you’ll replace?
FP: Well, we got a laptop because my parents’ laptop got fried. Without the internet you’re really screwed these days.
EE: It’s essential these days, that’s for sure. This may be a hard question to answer, but what is something positive that’s come from this?
FP: The kindness of people. Neighbors, people that you don’t expect or know reaching out and wanting to help, or donate, or anything like that. I’ve always been close with my parents but now we’re very, very close.
EE: Well now you’re all together in the same room together instead of your own separate…well, apartment I guess.
FP: And we’re not tearing each others’ hair out.
EE: That’s impressive, frankly….no pun intended. Let’s pretend I didn’t say that.
EE: [Phone buzz] Oh, look, there’s my NWS Severe Thunderstorm alert. It’s coming for me this time. You’ve just said that even strangers can be really kind in a time of need. What is something else you’ve learned from this, something that relatively few people will experience in their lifetime?
FP: I guess how to deal with the situation. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t mean emotionally. The stuff that we learned that you have to do. I think people think that they can sit back and just let insurance take care of everything. You think that you can just sit in your hotel, or wherever you are and hope things will get put back together. That’s not the case. You have to do everything yourself. They’re there to help, but….I’ve learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes. It’s a whole other world. It’s almost like going through a death, where you have to deal with all the legal things afterward […] This never ends. Especially during COVID. Everything’s booked a year in advance, the supplies are really expensive or they can’t get it.
EE: Everything’s on backorder for months and months and months.
FP: Exactly. And what are you gonna do? You’re gonna sit there and let everything seep in little by little.
EE: You’re essentially grieving. You’ve lost everything you’ve known for a long time.
FP: The loss of…It’s not just the passion, but the actual job that I had. It’s the teaching lessons, the recording, the playing out, the voiceovers, the work I do for other people. Even the film stuff. You have to edit and sound design. All of that gets stripped away. I don’t have any of that stuff I can commit to.
EE: Starting from zero is a scary thought. Do you feel that you’re starting at zero, or do you feel you’ve landed somewhere higher than that despite all of this?
FP: It’s kinda like a movie. This is the remake.
EE: That’s a good analogy. You have somewhere to begin. You have the storyline, but it’s all in the script and how it’s put all together in the end.
FP: Exactly. You’re not gonna copy it the same. And it’s not going to come out exactly the same.
EE: Consider shot-for-shot remakes. Even if you do it that way, it still won’t be exactly the same. Different cast, different pacing, different music…
FP: It’s a lot like that. I think that’s a perfect [explanation.]
EE: After losing everything she had in the wildfires a couple of years ago, Miley Cyrus was quoted saying, “”But to have an experience like this — I find myself feeling more connected to being human again.” Have you noticed any changes in either yourself or the world around you since this trauma that you think are comparable to what she said about herself?
FP: Yeah, it grounds you. A lot of stuff that people talk about and complain about. It really doesn’t matter. This person’s drama on Facebook, you know.
EE: Excuse you, my drama is of utmost importance on Facebook.
FP: Even some of the stuff on CNN and things like that. It doesn’t matter. What matters is where you are and what you’re doing day by day. You can’t [spend energy] with that. If you get comfy, you start to dive into other people’s problems. The social media drama storm because you want to see what’s going on, but when life gets complicated, it just doesn’t matter.
It’s your home base, your family, your friends, your fans. Those are what matter.
EE: You’re seeing a lot of people in different ways after this. Friends, fans, even family since you’re living in very close proximity with your parents for the first time in a while. You’ve all gone through something horrible together, and now that several weeks have passed, what are you feeling now?
FP: Mixed emotions. I’ll leave it there. It’s a lot of different thoughts. It’s kind of like PTSD. All of a sudden your heart starts racing again.
EE: Could be PTSD. I know it can be hard to come to terms with something like that, but you did experience something traumatic.
FP: You’re more cautious, but I feel like it makes you smarter about it. You’ll prep for it a lot better at your next place. And you’ll be more cautious about it, you’re less likely to overlook something like that now. It’s very mixed. Sometimes it makes you nervous. You’ll be calm, and then you’re thinking about something, and then you’ll be nervous. Or you’ll think you can do something, and you won’t have the stuff you need. Like there’s this audition I did for an NBC TV show. And you say, “Yeah! I’ll do it!” but then I realized I only had my guitar, or a setup or the right camera to do this. You pull back for a second. You have to re-evaluate. You’re missing pieces, so how do you put the LEGO set together without…whatever?
It’s a new set of creative thinking too. I’m super limited, so how do I take what I know—with a lamp, a guitar, and a webcam—how do you pull that off? It’s like guerilla filmmaking. You just do it.
EE: There’s something to be said for that.
FP: It’s more authentic.
EE: I agree. Depending on the content.
FP: Worked for Terminator.
EE: It works for porn too, but…
EE: Do you think that any new songs or creativity will come from the fire? Much like a phoenix, if I’m gonna be cheesy.
FP: I think my style is going to change. My lyrics and tone will change. I feel like that will happen. I have this EP that’s done, that I finished before [the fire]. It applies, but it also doesn’t apply to me now. I feel like if I were to write a song…I don’t know, it would be different. I don’t even know if the style would be the same. You’d know it’s me but I’d have to approach things differently. For me it’s music first, then how does it make you feel? Lyrics, and the tone, and then what the song is about.
EE: Since positivity is such a big part of your music, do you foresee that changing? Like you mentioned your tone moments ago, will that change? This certainly will shape a new chapter.
FP: I think moments will change. I think I’m still positive. I think that if I really wanted to just throw it under the rug, I wouldn’t have done this audition. Or I wouldn’t have grabbed my guitars or tried to save them at all. I mean, I have to clean them all. That is a big investment of the time I have to put in. If I didn’t want to continue, I’d just sell it for spare parts.
EE: So the fire did not stop you from releasing a new music video, “Dead Man.”
FP: I submitted it a couple of weeks before “Fire of Love” came out. I usually don’t release a music video this soon after a song release, but I needed to get it out.
EE: It’s obviously something you’re very proud of if you were itching to get it out.
EE: Was that radio silence a disagreement?
FP: No. It’s a lot more simplistic than my other videos. It’s not a video with a storyline and some performance tossed in. This one is pretty much all performance with nods to what the song is. It’s a little quirkier, not as serious. My last video was a lot more of a production, even though it was me shooting it, lighting it, editing it. There was nobody else in the room. I just wanted to do something a little more simple for this one. Though I can’t remember why I made that decision. […]
I remember [now.] “Dead Man” is a rock video. A horror director approached me about wanting to put it in the title of his movie. He said, “I want a ‘Dokken Dream Warriors’ type music video for it.” We shot a scarecrow scene, and we’re gonna use movie footage for the video. I wanted to perform the rock performance part myself. I did that and then thought, “I have to edit the guitar and the vocals anyway before I do anything else,” and I realized that this was cool on its own. It was neat. So why not do two versions of it?
EE: Why didn’t you decide to postpone its release, and why stay on the initial timeline?
FP: Because the new single was out. Originally I wanted to release my new EP in the fall, and I didn’t want the previous EP overlapping and clashing.
EE: When you saw that a couple of your fans, Sherry and Lindsay, started a GoFundMe on your behalf to get you back on your feet. What were your impressions?
FP: I was surprised. I didn’t think anybody would.
EE: Why not?
FP: When stuff like that happens, it’s kind of weird for people to ask for money for themselves. But they set it up, and I had to get used to that. It surprised me, and I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. I’m not the type to ask for donations like that. I did an IndieGoGo for an acoustic EP or something a couple of years ago, but to me that’s different.
EE: Yeah, I agree that it is different. I always think crowd-funded creative projects are different because you’re asking them to invest in something they personally enjoy.
FP: Instead of crowd-funding to basically restart and rebuild a career.
EE: When I interviewed you last year, I asked how readers can help you out moving forward. I imagine much of that answer hasn’t changed—share, stream, download music. How else can your fans and readers help you and your family?
FP: If they feel like it and it’s in their heart and they are able to donate at the GoFundMe. And all the other stuff helps too because it keeps it alive. Keep the music alive. All the good stuff. By now I’ve embraced that campaign. It took me a little bit. It’s unbelievable. We’re almost at $5000. People I know, people I don’t know. Some people I never thought would ever donate. It’s crazy.
EE: You’ve also had some benefit shows that your fans and friends have put together/are putting together. Your friend Nathalie Miranda did one on StageIt (all the way from England). How did that feel? Was that slightly different from the experience?
FP: I thought it was a cool idea. I didn’t ask her to do it. She said she was going to do a fun StageIt benefit show. I thought it was a great idea. The online fans who see those shows love it. And she was an artist that I was trying to produce one of her songs before this. We didn’t get very far, and we’ll finish it someday. So I thought it was perfect, and she was the first person to ever bring [the idea of a benefit show] up.
EE: You also had one in Lake George.
FP: Yep. [It was] the 8th at the Barn in French Mountain […] There [were] four or five artists. Mark, my old boss from Total Entertainment, reached out to me and put the whole thing together. He knows all the artists and DJs. I’ve got a few other of my friends that handl[ed] the raffling and the selling. A few local businesses have donated some things to raffle off […] Things are challenging. We only have one car now; I sold my car during COVID. There are lots of things to do with the house. Getting food is challenging because there’s no kitchen.
EE: Do you need me to drop off a lasagna?
FP: [Chuckle] We’ve been apartment hunting every single day. At some point, our budget will be eaten up, so getting an apartment is our main priority. No disrespect to anyone who goes to these benefit shows, but we have to land somewhere and there are just some things that need to take priority.
EE: You’re circling the airport with your fuel reserves, so someone’s small crisis on board isn’t the priority, so to speak.
FP: Exactly. My friends have been really nice. There have been moments that I’ve cut out to go out to eat, and that’s been great.
EE: What advice would you give to someone to prepare for and hopefully not experience, that’s a little more than just putting the valuable documents in a fire safe?
FP: Easy access to that. Have a bug out bag. A backpack with the things you would need to last the weekend or a week. All your essentials. Toothpaste, underwear, socks, and a couple of outfits. A phone charger. Spare credit cards or something.
EE: Pre-paid visa cards that won’t expire that have money on them.
Yep. It may sound weird, but you really do only have like a minute or two to grab your important stuff and run. Get out. [Arnold Swartzeneggar impression]. Get out. Get to the Choppa. Get to the Choppa now!
EE: Any final thoughts you’d like to put out there?
FP: [Cont’d Impression] I’ll be back.
EE: All right, Arnie.
FP: You’ll see some new stuff from me sometimes. But I will say just be patient, and we’ll see what 2022 brings here because it’ll take that long.
EE: Let’s hope that’s sooner rather than later.
FP: We can hope. “Hope is the name I search to find.” My fans have been quoting that line from “Hope.” “Hold on to Hope.”
EE: I was going to ask if you’ve found any of your lyrics to be more relevant or poignant than they used to be. You can get a free download of “Hope” on Frank’s website.
[Rumble of Thunder]
EE: Whoop, there it is.
EE: Me: Are you laughing at me? Don’t laugh at me.
FP: Time for you to get off, then.
EE: I enjoy chatting with you, as always. Thank you so much for your time. Of course, please send my good wishes to your parents and I’m hoping for a smooth transition back to normal life for you.
Upcoming Pauly’s Hotel Fundraiser
Lightning safety: Your chances of your house or person being struck by lightning are very slim, but you should always take precautions. In a thunderstorm, do not take baths, showers, and avoid the use of water faucets. Steer clear of corded phones (do people still have those????) and appliances and electronics that directly feed into the electricity of the house. If you are on a wireless device, Bluetooth, laptop (not plugged in), or any other wireless device, you are safe (just not from the EMP effect of a nearby strike!)
For more lightning safety tips, visit the NOAA Lightning Safety Page.
And Elissa’s note: If you have equipment that you use for a business, freelance, or anything that may supersede what is covered under homeowners, renters, or car insurance, talk to your agent about insuring your equipment separately through a personal articles policy. This helps protect you from not just from things like lightning strikes, but also theft (from areas that aren’t your home), damage, and other misfortunes. Be safe and use this as an opportunity to protect your things, and take Frank’s advice to prepare for an emergency.