The Backstory to ‘Lennon in Heaven’

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Recently, many locals have seen the video “Lennon in Heaven” written and performed by Maplewood-based singer and songwriter Alex Kariotis.

The video was filmed at Abbey Road Studios in England.

But you may not know the backstory.

Alex lost his brother, Tony, to ALS 17 years ago.

Tony, who was eight years older than Alex, was the front man for a rock & roll group based in the Chicago area called Gambler. They were somewhat successful and in Alex’s eyes his big brother was a rock & roll god. He longed to be just like his big brother. I say “big brother,” but since their father left them when Alex was very young Tony was also a father figure and taught Alex things that a dad would normally teach.

Like many middle school aged kids, Alex and his friends formed a rock band. It was Alex’s dream to follow his brother’s footsteps. Tony even let Alex and his band open for Gambler on a few occasions. However, Tony heard something in Alex’s voice that was special. One night he told Alex they were going to see a concert but didn’t tell him who was playing. It was Luciano Pavarotti.

Alex knew that night that opera was his calling. He went on to graduate from Mannes College and then on to UCLA for his masters. He continued his studies with many voice teachers, not the least of which was Arrigo Pola, Pavarotti’s voice coach, whom Alex studied with in Modena, Italy.

While at UCLA Alex met Aimee Willis, an amazingly talented soprano. Together they performed in Europe, with Aimee becoming the featured soprano at the Berlin Opera House (Deutsche Oper Berlin). However, they wanted to start a family and decided that they should head back to the states. They ended up in New Jersey and ultimately Maplewood.

It was during this time that Tony got sick. As is the case for every family that suffers from this disease, they were devastated. Alex’s big brother, father figure, and idol was disappearing in front of his eyes. When Tony died Alex knew that he had to honor his brother in a meaningful way. He decided that the best way to honor him was to do what Tony loved best, play music.

Alex came up with the idea to combine the two genres that defined both him and Tony — rock & roll and opera. The Alexander Kariotis and the Rock Opera Orchestra was formed. Underlying all that Alex does with his talent and his band, he never forgets Tony and ALS. Alex is continually trying to raise awareness for ALS as well as raise funds for families who are currently suffering with a loved one with this horrible disease.

Alex worked for years writing and recording songs that resulted in the release of his first album early this year (available on iTunes and Amazon and at Barnes and Noble).

After the album was essentially done, Alex had a conversation with his engineer in the studio and they got talking about how great it would be to visit Abbey Road Studios in London.  The engineer said he knew someone who could possibly get him access. Long story short, we got booked into Abbey Road Studios to record the video for “Lennon in Heaven” (among other things). We actually recorded in the same studio that The Beatles and so many other great artists recorded some of the most amazing songs in history. We even got to use the same piano that was used to record that sound that appeared on songs such as Lady Madonna.

To say we were in awe is a ridiculous understatement. Also, one of Alex’s high school friends, Todd Baxter, is a senior video correspondent for CNN International based in London and he offered to direct the video resulting in amazing quality.

It was truly a dream come true. (Check out the cameo by the acoustic guitar player towards the end.)

There are inspiring stories underlying a number of songs on the album.  One of those songs is “Lennon in Heaven.” When Tony was very sick and close to death he and Alex had some time alone.  Alex asked his big brother if he was afraid to die.  Tony’s reply went something like this: “Sure, everyone’s afraid to die, but in a way I’m gonna be lucky.  When I get up to heaven, assuming that’s the direction I’m heading, I’m gonna get to meet and play with all the great rock & roll guitarists who came before me. Man, I’m gonna get to play guitar with John Lennon in heaven.”

“Lennon in Heaven” is a tribute to his big brother.

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