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Gone Too Soon

[whitespace] The death of Link 80's Nick Traina handed Asian Man Records its first crisis

By Todd S. Inoue

ONE OF THE FIRST bands that Asian Man signed was the Berkeley punk outfit Link 80. Fronted by talented yet troubled vocalist Nick Traina (son of romance novelist Danielle Steel), Link 80 was more punk than ska and got by on its powerful live show. The first time Park saw Link 80 was in 1995, when the group opened for Skankin' Pickle. "The oldest guy was only 16," Park recalls. "They were so energetic--very punk and very sincere."

"Asian Man is all we could have hoped for in a record label," Link 80 guitarist Matt Bettinelli-Olpin says. "[Park] gets our records everywhere. He's a friend to us, and it's not as though we're a commodity. He would go to our recordings and is always there to support us in any way possible."

The band built up a devoted audience, and its two CDs--17 Reasons and Killing Katie--are consistent sellers. Underneath the success, however, Traina hid his drug addiction and depression. For the past five years, he was under the daily care of Julie Campbell, the former director of the adolescent program at Newbridge Foundation in Berkeley, a chemical-dependency program. For the past three years, Traina lived in the in-law cottage behind Campbell's Pleasant Hill home, with two full-time psychiatric attendants on duty.

During an American tour last summer, Traina was finally fired. He resurfaced in a new band, Knowledge, while Link 80 searched for a new vocalist. On the weekend of Sept. 20, Park flew to New Orleans to hang out with a high school friend. When he checked his messages on Saturday night, he found an upbeat call from Traina. Calling from his Pleasant Hill home, Traina left two messages on Park's machine, the last one at 2:30am.

"I remember fast-forwarding because Nick always calls, and he tends to ramble," Park says. "I got a call from the trumpet player, Aaron, in Link 80. Then I got one from the guitar player asking me to call him back. I said, 'What's going on?' Then I got another call from Aaron; he seemed all distressed, depressed: 'Call me, you gotta call now.' " Early that morning, Campbell's husband found Traina's cold body in the cottage, clad in boxer shorts, drug paraphernalia nearby. Traina was pronounced dead at 7:25am.

What responsibility does a label have for its artists? Park, who didn't know of Traina's drug problem before he signed the band, says that he went far beyond the call of duty. "My responsibility is to try to support the bands monetarily, support them physically, build a friendship," Park explains. "I feel like I did everything I could. I went way beyond the label. I took him in as a friend, had him stay with me for a week. I told him that any time you're feeling down, call me right away."

"Various people were aware of the situation, and we all did as much as we could as friends," says Bettinelli-Olpin. "As to whether more could have been done, it's a 'What if' and not answerable. We lost an incredibly close friend whom we love very much. No one could ever replace him. He is one of a kind and will never be forgotten."

"It's a weird thing," Park says. "It's my first real close friend to pass away. I felt kind of strange about those calls because he called a lot of people that night; I think it was his way of saying goodbye." A Link 80 show, dedicated to the memory of Traina, is planned for February.

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From the January 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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