Band's ardent young fan learns trust is hazardous

February 16, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

There is a well-known and documented "sensitive side" to the thrash metal band Biohazard, so maybe an appeal on behalf of one of its biggest fans will actually get some results. Here goes: Hey, you guys with the tattoos, Melissa Costello could use a little cash for the car; the water pump is busted, the stereo is missing and Melissa's heart is damn near broken. So how about it? I hear you guys know Madonna's mechanic; maybe you could send him to White Marsh to work on the Biohazardmobile.

OK, it's a long story, so fasten your seat belts. I'll make this fast.

Melissa Costello is a 19-year-old college student who lives with her mother in White March. She -- Melissa, not her mom -- is an ardent follower of Biohazard. Biohazard is described variously as "a speed-metal equivalent to the Red Hot Chili Peppers" and "one of the few thrash bands with a political conscience." Its members flash lots of tattoos and skin.

But despite their hard exterior, they're apparently softies with brains. "The guys in Biohazard aren't merely thoughtful, responsible and well-spoken," reported J. D. Considine, pop music critic of The Sun, "they're downright upright."

They write songs with serious social messages and anti-violence themes. They actually take time to sign autographs, too. "I think it's important that we always keep our feet on the ground, always remember that there's no difference between us and the kids that come and see us," guitarist Billy Graziadei told Considine in a 1994 interview.

One of the "kids" is Melissa Costello, who's been deeply into Biohazard for several years. She has their CDs. She's seen them in concert. She loves them. "They deliver the hard truth in their songs," she says.

Last March, Melissa grabbed a copy of Rip magazine off the newsstand because it promised a feature on the band. Inside she found a story and a contest: "The Great Biohazardmobile Giveaway."

Very simple, this contest: The band's customized car would go to the winner of a national drawing. "This glorious 1980 Chevy Malibu classic Biohazardmobile could be yours," the full-page ad announced. "It's fully outfitted n' air-conditioned, has a killer stereo and the guest book signed by everyone who's ever dared to enter the auto."

The color photographs in the ad could have been taken the day the paint dried. Its chrome actually sparkled. Its black finish was glossy. The flame trim and band insignia were hot orange. There was a loudspeaker attached to the hood. The decorative guitar on the trunk was detailed and lacquered. The interior was clean and adorned with faux zebra and lots of orange Muppet-like hair.

Melissa entered the contest. And won.

She was ecstatic -- until the car arrived on a flatbed tow truck in December.

It wasn't exactly what she expected. "She was absolutely heartbroken," says Nancy Costello, Melissa's mom. "She was stunned."

The glossy finish was long gone. So was the hood speaker. So was the stereo. The decorative guitar was gray and weather-blistered. The inside of the car was filthy; Melissa found a razor blade and sexually explicit "fan letters." And the engine wouldn't turn over. When someone gave the battery a jump, the engine ran -- until the water pump leaked.

The contrast between the Biohazardmobile depicted in the March Rip and the Biohazardmobile now parked in front of the Costellos' house is remarkable. Melissa Costello actually thought she had won a car she could drive. "Cruise back to your crib in style," the Rip ad had offered. But it's hard to imagine anyone cruising anywhere in this heap without first putting some money under the hood.

If not for its "historic value," this car might have been in a junkyard by now.

But then, maybe Melissa Costello should have expected as much from a thrash -- or is that a trash? -- metal band.

"Unfortunately it's one of those lessons we learn in life, that feeling of being taken advantage of," says Nancy Costello. "You lose a piece of the trust you have in people."

An appeal to Warner Bros. Records, which sponsored the contest, resulted in a kiss-off letter from a Hollywood lawyer. In repeated telephone calls to an official connected with the contest, Melissa Costello was told she had signed for the car "as is," and that's that.

But this is this: Biohazard probably can afford to heal this fan's small wound. After all, band members might look like bad boys from Brooklyn, but they're said to have a sensitive side, a nice side. As Billy Graziadei told J. D. Considine: "I always go and hang out with the kids and sign autographs, meet with the kids and talk with the kids. Look 'em in the eye and say, 'Thanks for coming.' Let them know that there's no difference between me and them."

OK, Billy, and you wouldn't want to be stuck with the Biohazardmobile, as is, either. See you in White Marsh?

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