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A Very Special Behind The Music: Zack Attack!

Zack Attack keyboardist Samuel "Screech" Powers before his cutting days.
Zack Attack keyboardist Samuel "Screech" Powers before his cutting days.

Everyone remembers Zack Attack. A lighthearted, tween-oriented pop group from California, they shot to the top of the charts in November 1990 with their No. 1 hit, "Friends Forever."

Teenagers and close friends themselves, they displayed an easy chemistry the likes of which few manufactured pop groups of the time (or since) could duplicate. Lead singer and songwriter Zack Morris credited this bond between them as the driving force behind their success, and the reason for their later disastrous failure.

Morris and drummer Albert Clifford "A.C." Slater had been rivals for the affection of bandmate and lead keytar player Kelly Kapowski since early on in their friendship, a rivalry which caused much tension on the road in support of their massively successful debut album, Friends Forever.

1991's Friends Forever Tour was equally successful, playing 40 cities and five festivals over the course of six grueling months, an especially trying experience for kids barely old enough to drive. By the time the tour wound down, the band found themselves exhausted, embittered and burnt out on overexposure to each other.

Only Morris and Kapowski continued to see each other during the band's brief down time; a short-lived tryst between Slater and rhythm guitarist Jessie Spano on the road ceased immediately upon the group's return home, with Spano reportedly heartbroken. Things weren't going much better for Morris and Kapowski, who were rumored to constantly be fighting, breaking up and reuniting during this time period.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars were rolling into the young stars' bank accounts, which would seem like a great boon, were it not for the fact that most of their parents had heavy ties to the upper echelons of the infamous Los Angeles law firm Carosi & Alonzo. The parents of Morris, Slater, Kapowski and keyboardist Samuel "Screech" Powers all embezzled and subsequently lost the lion's share of their children' early fortunes.

This wouldn't be discovered until much later, however, and for a time, it seemed like Zack Attack could do no wrong.

They appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Late Night with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and several other talk and variety shows. The only clue anyone had as to the growing discord within the band was when Jessie Spano slapped an intern on the set of Regis and Kathie Lee, calling her a "slack-jawed cunt-casket" for bringing Spano decaffeinated coffee.

To make matters worse, Powers' obsession with bassist Lisa Turtle took a turn from charming to threatening. Although Powers had made his feelings for Turtle known the first time they'd met, Turtle merely considered him a harmless oaf and tolerated his presence. This air of comfortability ceased immediately when Turtle awoke one morning to find the word "WHORE" written in feces on the windshield of her car.

After some rudimentary DNA testing, the feces was determined to belong to Powers. He was arrested, but the charges were dropped on the stipulation that Powers receive treatment for his obssessive behavior. He attended two of an ordered 24 behavioral therapy classes.

Though no one knows for sure, it is rumored that several Bayside city officials took several thousand dollars in bribe money to look the other way while Powers ignored his therapy and allowed his fixation on Turtle to worsen.

 

Richard Belding, onetime high-school principal and briefly Zack Attack's manager, mysteriously disappeared shortly after this 1998 photo in Atlantic City.
Richard Belding, onetime high-school principal and briefly Zack Attack's manager, mysteriously disappeared shortly after this 1998 photo in Atlantic City.

Then the band was ordered by their record label to return to the studio and begin recording again. Morris and Kapowski had broken up, Slater and Spano weren't on speaking terms, and Turtle's restraining order on Powers prevented him from being within 500 feet of her. Nonetheless, the sextet gave it their all, with Morris and Spano writing six songs together before Spano's crippling addiction to caffeine pills forced her to take a six-week stint in a rehabilitation facility.

During this time, Morris turned to Turtle and Kapowski to help him write, and the songs the trio turned out during this time period are considered to be considerably beneath the quality of the previous six; this contributed to the second album's trademark case of "Side A Wear," in which hundreds of cassette tapes and long-play albums would be eventually returned due to the fact that the people who bought them would simply listen to side one over and over again rather than sit through the six sub-par songs on side two. Indeed, some say that the term "Side A Wear" was coined in response to this album.

Another term would also bear much repeating surrounding the reviews for Zack Attack's California Daze: "Sophomore slump," a term which was bitterly ironic, since the band members were now juniors in high school, their crowning achievement having been recorded while they were sophomores.

Critics were unkind to the second album, released in October 1991, and The Zack Attack found that while they were toiling away on tour and in the studio, the rest of the country had been out discovering alternative rock. Bands with keytars were suddenly irrelevant, and Zack Attack were now more of a novelty, if not an outright laughingstock.

A Very Special Behind The Music: Zack Attack!

Enough fans remained to boost the second album's sales to gold status, but after their triple-platinum debut, it was clear that Zack Attack were on the way out unless they could turn their image around, and fast.

After a brief 12-date tour in support of the second album, the band took some time off to attempt to redefine their image. Their new approach wound up revealing itself in the form of three separate incidents. Slater was arrested for assaulting a police officer while drunk and belligerent inside a grocery store; a photographer talked Kapowski into posing for nude "art" photographs which, when released, resulted in his arrest and lawsuit; and Powers was arrested again after stabbing a man rumored to be dating Turtle.

This last incident, more than any other, helped the band move into their "rebel" phase, with Powers and Slater immediately embraced as brooding, passionate bad boys by teen media. In fact, Slater was beginning his lifelong dependence on alcohol, and Powers was soon diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Spano had kicked her caffeine habit, but had traded it for cocaine and speed. Morris, in turn, became an outspoken proponent of several hallucinogens such as marijuana, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, claiming that they inspired his writing to reach for new heights. The entire band became dependent on various drugs and alcohol, which oddly enough seemed to re-cement the bond between them.

They were kicked out of several studios while recording their third album for various acts of vandalism and indecency, including broken windows and toilets, furniture fires, and late-night drug-fueled recording sessions in the nude.

 

Zack Attack was so popular in the early 1990s it became only the second rock band, after Journey, to inspire its own video game.
Zack Attack was so popular in the early 1990s it became only the second rock band, after Journey, to inspire its own video game.

Around this time, Turtle had her restraining order against Powers lifted; the two then became an item, with Turtle having developed feelings for Powers following the stabbing incident - it was revealed later that these feelings stemmed from Turtle's upbringing in an abusive household.

Kapowski and Morris reunited, as did Slater and Spano, and for a while hopes were high while the band experienced newfound identities and creative freedom. Of the six, only Spano and Kapowski graduated from high school, while the others either dropped out or were expelled for non-attendance. Slater is said to have broken a tutor's jaw around this time, although no proof exists of this.

Zack Attack's third album, simply titled bell, was released in May 1993. The lead single off of the album, "Fuck It," was a marked divergence for the formerly family-friendly band. Their entire image had been overhauled, with Morris and Kapowski in flannel and trashy denim, Slater with a mohawk and several tattoos, Spano in modified 90's hippie garb, and Turtle decked out in see-through lace and skimpy underwear.

The most drastic change belonged to Powers, who shaved his head and proudly sported a prominent scar across the bridge of his nose where he was struck with a broken table leg during an asylum riot.

Powers became the Sid Vicious of the group, appearing in blood-stained coveralls and waving a machete at the audience while cursing at them, cutting himself and setting various stage props on fire. Morris, Kapowski and Spano now played heavily distorted, fuzz-soaked guitars while singing songs about hopelessness, alienation, nihilism and drugs. One critic described their new sound as "somewhere between Screaming Trees and a malfunctioning lawnmower."

The reaction to bell was split, to say the least, although neither side was good for Zack Attack. Half of their potential audience were fans of their previous clean-cut image now disgusted by their dark turn. The other half were people who saw the revamped band as desperate and fake, just as much a gimmick as their earlier incarnation had been.

The album barely sold 100,000 copies, with the label demanding they return to an extensive touring circuit in order to recoup some of the losses incurred during recording - it was the label, after all, who footed the bill every time Zack Attack were sued by the owners of a trashed studio, or billed for the guitars and other property which were wantonly destroyed, or bailing out Powers after he'd once again slapped a police officer in the face with his admittedly prodigious, Huey Lewis-like penis.

 

Jimmy Fallon joined Zack Morris on a surprise duet of "Friends Forever" in this 2009 episode of Late Night.
Jimmy Fallon joined Zack Morris on a surprise duet of "Friends Forever" in this 2009 episode of Late Night.

Zack Attack began a 50-date tour in June 1993, and before long, began to gain a reputation as a train wreck of a live show. Sometimes starting several hours late, sometimes playing only three or four songs before storming offstage or passing out, the band nonetheless managed to attracted attention for their antics during those shows that didn't end abruptly.

It was during this period that Morris and Spano began their lengthy anti-government onstage rants, which brought them into frequent, often physical confrontation with Kapowski and Slater, who wanted them to shut up and play. Turtle was escorted out of several venues for slipping entirely out of her clothes, and Powers was arrested over and over on many, many occasions.

Little more than 15 dates into their tour, Zack Attack were again attracting a respectable audience, with their shows selling out and second-night encore performances tacked on. The audience, however, was not there to sing along to "Fuck It" or "Friends Forever"; they were there to see Powers spray them with a Super Soaker filled with his own blood, or to see Morris burn a life-size effigy of Oliver North, or to see Turtle's vagina.

The band's end came abruptly in early 1994. After a January gig in Miami and subsequent three-day bender, the band became concerned when Screech Powers and Lisa Turtle could not be reached. Turtle's dismembered body was found a week later in a swamp out in the Everglades. Powers' bank accounts were found drained, his car and luggage missing.

He wouldn't surface again for over ten years, finally arrested in 2006 in central Montana, having started a secluded cult called Saviors of the Bell, which had over two hundred members at the time of his arrest.

The Zack Attack had played their last true show together. Morris and Kapowski married, then separated, then divorced. Slater and Spano immediately broke up, with each heading off to seperate rehab programs. Spano recovered fully and became a well-respected audio engineer. Slater recorded one solo album which flopped before becoming crippled in a drunk driving accident in 1996, losing most of the mobility in his left leg.

Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski each recorded moderately successful solo albums and toured independently for a time, then began touring together after a chance reunion in a Chicago airport. Although their relationship never rekindled, they remained friends and succeeded in convincing Slater and Spano to reunite long enough to record a nostalgia-driven comeback album called Still Friends, featuring two new members, bassist Violet Bickerstaff and keyboardist Tori Scott.

The album was released in 2002 and flopped critically and commercially. Zack Attack has not played together since.


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