The muscle man with the booming voice, shaved head and neon blue eyes who calls himself Sick Walt is pacing up and down the dining room of his apartment like a lion trying to break out of a zoo cage.
He doesn’t like sitting still, never has, that’s something all his high school teachers could have told you.
A big buy with an even bigger smile, Sick Walt has a no-holds-barred, rollicking laugh that makes you want to crack up, too.
He’s a nuclear bomb waiting to explode.
He’s a volcano spewing a kaleidoscope of feelings.
He’s a machine gun rapid-firing word after word after word.
Intense. Emotive. Gregarious. There’s no way you can’t notice him; he even makes a football stadium look Lilliputian.
But just who is this Sick Walt? That’s what he’s pondering.
Sick Walt is not a stage name.
Sick Walt is not a personality.
Sick Walt is not, heaven forbid, a brand.
“Sick Walt,” he finally declares, gesturing grandly with his hands, “is a way of being.”
He looks proud at this pronouncement. But, OK, what exactly does that mean?
“It’s leading by expression, leading by example, talk is cheap, extreme passion, punk-minded, always fighting for the underdog,” he says.
Like a driver trying to avoid a crash, he suddenly stomps on the brakes.
He needs to think about this.
Give him a couple of minutes.
He steps out of the room and bounds back in seconds later.
Now he has it.
“Sick Walt is love of the dark and the light,” he says. “I’m a huge proponent of the importance of knowing who you are as well as who you aren’t. I come at peace, but I’m ready to fight.”
Sick Walt – he was christened Walter Novak but was called Walt until his high school buddies conferred the sick nickname upon him – is the singer in the band SickWalt (yes, it’s only one word to distinguish it from, you guessed it, Sick Walt).
Born in Hollis, Queens, Sick Walt frequently came to Astoria to visit his great-grandparents, who emigrated from Abruzzo, Italy.
Look out the front window.
See that pair of buildings across the street?
That’s where they used to live.
“I’m of Italian, Armenian and German heritage,” Sick Walt says, adding that he identifies with his Italian roots because “Italian is big and full of love.”
Sick Walt, who is the oldest of three boys, hates to admit that he grew up in the staid historic village of Roslyn, Long Island.
He was lucky, though, because it just happened to be the home of My Father’s Place, the club that, in its heyday in the 1970s, attracted all the big rock-and-roll bands.
Sports, not music, was Sick Walt’s first love, and it took him a long time to find his voice.
“I never took music lessons,” he says. “I did play the trombone in seventh and eighth grade. And I sang in the shower.”
While he was at Chaminade, an all-boys private Roman Catholic high school, he played baseball and football, and at home he listened to the classical and opera records his father played.
“I was the smart class clown and the jock with an artistic mind,” he says. “I had a stack of 45s next to my bed and a Fisher-Price record player. The Beatles, the Bee Gees, Johnny Cash, Diana Ross – it was an eclectic mix of music. I trace my punk roots to the time I was seven years old. I jumped up on my bed with a tennis racket and played and sang ‘Revolution’ with The Beatles.”
He acts out the singing scene, playing an air guitar instead of a tennis racket.
“I was a super-energetic kid,” he says. “I was always a ball and bundle of energy, and music kept me moving.”
After graduating from Fordham University with a degree in communications and a minor in German and singing in a cover band, Sick Walt set out on a traditional (he means boring!) career path, taking what he calls a corporate “suit job” in a financial institution.
“I have a good time wherever I am or whatever I do, but even though I was paid well, I hated it,” he says, trying to imagine why he ever signed up for such a position.
He wasn’t happy but had planned to stay because, well, that’s what adults do. Until he took his younger brother to an acting class.
“It opened my eyes, and it dropped a bomb on me,” he says. “The moment is pivotal.”
Soon, he was taking classes and getting parts and rounding out his income by bartending in East Village music clubs.
In 2001, he went to Los Angeles for what he thought would be a short stay.
“It was the day before 9/11,” he says. “I knew that New York was going to be dead for a long time, so I started a new life in California.”
That new life revolved around music clubs and acting. He stayed until 2008, when he got an offer to run a club in Manhattan.
“I came back like a cat thrown into a pool,” he says, shaking his head. “I was shattered – people in LA have no appreciation for the divinity of creativity.”
He settled in Astoria in 2010 and immediately got to work co-writing a couple of screenplays.
Since then, he’s done a variety of jobs, including hosting a radio show and teaching music to Rikers Island prisoners. He’s currently a location scout for the CBS-TV drama “FBI.”
In 2013, Sick Walt entered a different stage of life when he helped a friend book a band at the Bowery Ballroom.
“My friend asked me to sing with the band, so I did,” he says.
Sick Walt and SickWalt were killing it when the pandemic silenced them.
“We’re starting from scratch again,” he says, adding that the band’s second album will be released in February. “We’re taking things in baby steps.”
He hopes to get SickWalt on the road soon.
“I want to get out there and play,” he says. “We need to be heard – you can’t deny a creative flame that wants to come out like a phoenix.”
Sick Walt grins. Whatever happens, he’s had a pretty good run in his first 49 years.
“I’ve done it, I’ve been there,” he says. “My life is unbelievable. I’m a millionaire inside.”
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.