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Godsmack's lead singer in tune in Lawrence; Sully Erna receives key to city he 'survived'
By Rosemary Ford , Staff Writer

LAWRENCE - The Lawrence Sully Erna grew up in wasn't pretty. It was a place riddled with gangs, drugs and violence.

They were tough times, but Erna wouldn't change a thing about it. Without it, he might not be the lead singer of the multiplatinum super band Godsmack, the biggest group to ever come out of the Merrimack Valley.

"There is always going to be a place in my heart for Lawrence," said Erna, 38. "It molded me into the man I have become."

Last night, a tearful Erna accepted the key to the city of Lawrence from Mayor Michael Sullivan.

"You are always welcome back to your hometown," said Sullivan during the presentation. "We wish you the best."

Erna - looking every bit the rock star in jeans, a faded denim shirt over a white T-shirt - said he felt overwhelmed by the recognition given to people who've made a difference in the image of the city. Past recipients include former Miss USA Susie Castillo, former head of the Department of Public Works Ray DiFiore and WCCM radio personality Bruce Arnold.

"Culture and the arts have been very big in Lawrence, and I give you credit for that," said Sullivan, whose own sons and nephew have been playing in the band Annafair for seven years. "People look up to you. ... You are living proof there is opportunity out there."

During the ceremony, Erna also spoke about his desire to work with Lawrence youths, to steer them away from dangerous paths with his own hard-earned knowledge. Later, he joked with friends and family, "The last time we were in a hall like this we were in trouble."

Lawrence City Councilor Nunzio DiMarca organized the presentation. A longtime friend of the Erna family, DiMarca has known Erna since he was a child.

"I remember him when he was washing dishes at my brother's restaurant (the Villa Cafe)," DiMarca said. "He's always been a very polished young man."

Before the presentation, Erna said he was shocked when he heard the city wanted to bestow the honor upon him.

"I spent most of my life trying to get out of here and now they are giving me the key to the city to get back in," he joked.

On Feb. 7, Erna will be coming out with his memoir, "The Paths We Choose." The book details Erna's childhood in the city, talking about everything that happened to him before Godsmack's big break. Erna said the tough streets of Lawrence and the lessons he learned there prepared him for what was to come with Godsmack.

"We are not born rock stars," said Erna, who penned the book while touring with Godsmack. "I would never change my past for anything. I wouldn't change were I lived, where I grew up, who I hung out with. It made me who I am today."

Erna sees his memoir as a tale of hope and inspiration, focusing on the rise of a kid with nothing to superstardom. Sullivan also invited Erna back to the city with Godsmack to play the newly refurbished Veterans Stadium, which can host 20,000 fans.

Erna's father, Salvatore Erna, of Methuen was on hand to see his son accept the honor.

"I am proud of all of them," said Salvatore Erna, who has another son and two daughters. "Obviously he has got a lot of talent. I don't need to tell you that."

About Godsmack

Members include Erna, Methuen native Robbie Merrill and Salem, N.H., native Tony Rambola.

Formed in 1996

Signed with Universal Records in 1998.

"Awake" was the group's first album on Billboard's Top 10.

Godsmack's album "Faceless" became the group's first No. 1 album on Billboard's Top 200 chart.

They repeated the feat last year with "Godsmack IV," beating out discs from Bruce Springsteen and the Goo Goo Dolls.