Longform

A Man Out of Time

Page 4 of 9

The experience was not a total loss, however. One of Britt's Puerto Rican friends recruited his cool American buddy to play drums in a teenage rock band. "I was a natural, man," he insists. "Rock beat 101. Doom-pop. Doom-doom-pop. This guy opened my eyes to being a musician."

But flunking out of Jesuit school brought the difficult teenager back to Miami, where he enrolled at the private Christopher Columbus Catholic High School and joined the football team as junior varsity quarterback. Meanwhile the team's center drafted Britt into his band. "From then on, it was all the high school bands," Britt quips. "But I got tired of the guitarists always getting in fights with their girlfriends and breaking up the bands. You get tired of sitting alone in your house with your drums. So I sold the drums."

Britt met a guitar player named Brooks Reid at about that time. "That is the boy. He opened my eyes to the guitar," Britt gushes. "Open tuning. I just followed his footsteps in how to write songs. We're in this band and I see him barring chords and playing so easily. I go, 'What are you doing?' He goes, 'Hey, man, this is the way Richie Havens plays.' When I discovered that, man, it was like the sky just opened up.

"I always loved music, as far back as I can remember. Dad loved music. He brought me up on Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jolson, John Philip Sousa, all the Broadway musicals, Sinatra [he does a scary chorus of "Love and Marriage" to illustrate his point]. Dino. When I came to Miami I had all that in my head, plus Elvis, plus the Afro-Cuban beat, the bakatu-bakatu."

After graduating from high school, Britt put music on hold and moved to Boston to study TV and radio production. He dropped in on classes at Emerson College and later officially enrolled in a series of production-related electives at a Boston junior college, all with no intention of graduating. "They had a good production studio on campus," he says. "That was all I cared about." After three years, he returned to Miami looking for production work, and like so many eager communications students before and since, wound up in sales.

Britt landed a job selling airtime at the Spanish-language Channel 23, where he flourished as an account executive. Within a couple of years he was living the dream of so many young American males: Porsche, a house full of expensive antiques in Coral Gables, hobnobbing with the top executives at his station, and joining some of them and their powerful friends -- such as alleged HMO scam artist and international fugitive Miguel Recarey -- for weekend domino games.

As the youngest player at these games, Britt was eager to cement his status as a rising star, so he began to pitch them an idea he had been working on since college. "I thought it would be funny to do this story about these Cubans living in Miami, and the grandfather can't speak English, and the girl is totally Americanized." he recalls. "They're cracking up while I'm spinning out this potential sitcom in Spanish."

But despite his material wealth and his hot job, Britt's life began falling apart. "I'd always had this vision that one day I was gonna be on Johnny Carson," Britt confides. "I remember lying in my Louis XVI bed thinking 'What happened to [my being on] Johnny Carson?' Something as stupid as that. I got so angry at myself for getting so far away from what I loved, which was music. I developed ulcers. Woman problems. I was trying to sell my mentor at the station on this idea I had for a sitcom, but he wouldn't buy it. And I got so frustrated that I just quit. Walked away.

"Fast-forward about a year," he continues. "I'm living on Biscayne Boulevard, close to the water in a hotel room by myself with just wine, walnuts, and a little tape recorder. In a way I'm very happy because I'm back to my bohemian ways. I have a beard down to my chest; I look like Rasputin. One day one of the guys from the domino games sees me. 'Dennis! Dennis!' he yells. 'They're doing the show!' So he takes me out to the Sonesta on Key Biscayne A I look like a sheepdog -- I don't wanna be there. I get all cleaned up, I meet with these guys, the next thing I know I'm back in TV working on this show."

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Todd Anthony
Contact: Todd Anthony