Lamar Lacañgan was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. Next to him was Tony, a friend from high school. A recent graduate of Rancho Buena Vista High School, Lacañgan was visiting his hometown during a break from pharmacy school in Irvine. The two were chatting away, an easy conversation between two young men just beginning to explore the world. Parked outside of a Vista apartment complex, the pair was waiting for one of Tony’s friends who needed a lift. Although Lacañgan had never met the young woman, he offered his wheels for the spontaneous favor.
As the woman hurried to the car with her infant, Tony jumped out of the two-door coupe to let her into the back seat. Out of nowhere, the woman’s enraged boyfriend approached with a gun. Seeing the flash of metal, Tony hightailed it around the corner, prompting the gunman to turn his attention to Lacañgan.
“He came around to my side and said, ‘Who are you? Why you trying to talk to my girl? Why are you trying to hook up with my girl?’” Lacañgan recalled.
“I’m not,” the pharmacy student responded. “I don’t even know her.”
Apparently satisfied with the response, the man turned from Lacañgan and started to walk away. A deceptive move, much like a cat toying with a mouse.
“But then he turned back around and said, ‘I’m going to cap you anyway,’” Lacañgan said. “He held that gun about three feet from my head as I sat there in the driver’s side. I remember the silver gun and I could see the bullet in the back of it and, at the moment, all I could say was, ‘Lord, be with me.’ That’s all I really knew and he shot.”
Dazed, and with the smell of gunpowder still lingering, Lacañgan assessed what had just transpired.
“I was still seated in the driver’s side, but I laid slumped over on the passenger side and I felt blood running down my face,” he said. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Lord, I think I heard about it, but I pray my name is written in that Book of Life,’ but I knew in my heart that I was on a different path.”
In that split second of horror, Lacañgan—raised in a non-Christian home—managed to recall a passing reference from Revelation that declares that those who have committed to follow Christ will have their names recorded in the Book of Life and shall escape the “lake of fire.”
“I felt He lifted up my head,” Lacañgan said. “He sat me back up in the driver’s side and I still saw blood running down my face. I heard Him audibly say, ‘Go do My work.’”
The bullet, it turned out, merely grazed the side of his face before slamming into the passenger side door pillar. Only a few stitches were required; the scar is a permanent reminder of God’s provision.
“The doctors looked at me like, ‘I don’t know how you are alive,’” he said. “That began my journey. It was one of those Jonah moments where He swallowed me and upchucked me on the shore there. From that moment on I said, ‘I’m just going to be fearless for you, God.’”
He quit pharmacy school to focus full-time on music, his lifelong passion.
“From that point on I had laser-point focus,” he said.
As a child, Lacañgan, the son of a single mom, was captivated by music. He spent hours listening to the classics with his maternal grandfather, whose record collection boasted Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. Over time the grandson, nicknamed Mar by his family, developed his own love for soul.
“I was breastfed on Motown and Stevie Wonder and the Michael Jacksons and the Princes and the Earth, Wind & Fires. Those were all of my influences that I loved even though I was a generation removed from it. That was all I listened to.”
While his grandfather gave him an appreciation for music, it was his grandmother who saw to it his talent was developed.
“I really wanted to be a football player,” he said. “That was my goal.”
Instead his grandmother signed him up for piano.
“Football players don’t play piano,” he said.
His grandmother won that struggle and Lacañgan learned piano from a strict teacher who hit his hands with a ruler when he demonstrated bad form.
“It was something that stuck with me and became my career,” he said, his easy smile widening. “I guess she knew something I didn’t.”
His repertoire has expanded to include guitar. He also dabbles with the drums and bass. And in addition to providing lifelong skills, the music helped keep him out of trouble.
“It was just my mom and I,” he said. “I didn’t get to see her much because she was always trying to work and when she was home she was tired.
“I could have done anything I wanted to but I really saw how hard my mom was working and the only thing I could do was bring home good grades and stay out of trouble.”
That sense of responsibility came in part, Lacañgan believes, from growing up as an only child.
“I really had to learn how to do life on my own,” he said. “If there was a goal or something that I wanted, I had to go get it. There was nobody else that I could blame. Nobody else that I could really get in trouble with. That could go either way. You’ll be really focused, but are you going to be focused on the right things or the wrong things. It was just God’s hands always lovingly nudging me.”
After the shooting and under the guidance of a local pastor who officiated at the funeral of a friend, Lacañgan dove into the Scriptures.
“He took me under his wing,” Lacañgan said. “We met an hour each day to go through Scripture. He was determined that ‘you need to know.’”
Lacañgan also reconnected with the two high school classmates he had joined with to form the singing group Kindred Three. Active through most of high school, the guys stopped performing together when they headed off to different colleges. Reconstituted, they signed a recording deal and their “I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, so the Christian music, when I heard it for the first time, I was kind of bored with it,” Lacañgan admitted. “It didn’t really grab me musically because I was not listening to the lyrics.”
His tune changed after he became more familiar with its message, and in the late ’90s Kindred Three began touring across the United States.
“I landed on a label with a girl named Katy Hudson, who is now Katy Perry,” he said. “I remember her tagging along with me saying, ‘I just want to sing and harmonize like you guys.’ (She was) this little blonde girl with a guitar.”
Eight years ago, after coming off of the Kindred Three tour, Lacañgan went solo, changing his stage name to Marz Jukebox.
“The jukebox came in because I was the kid growing up where people would give me a quarter and say, ‘Sing that song that I like.’ I was the family jukebox.”
Today, that Jukebox reflects the music he grew to love as a child, but with the focus celebrating his affinity for Jesus.
“When people ask me about my music style, I say it’s those (classic) influences, but with the message of hope, Christ. It’s a mix of rhythm and blues, jazz, funk and soul and some hints of hip-hop here and there. But ultimately it’s my way of performing for an audience of One.”
Seeing his music as an opportunity to evangelize, Lacañgan often prefers venues far removed from the church.
“I use the music as my platform where I am able to open up for somebody like B.B. King and then be in the bar, sing a couple of songs but then break out with worship and watch people take their wine glasses, put them down and then start praising God,” said Lacañgan, who sometimes sings with his wife, Julie, a back-up singer. “That is the heart of what we do.
“God has given me a really unique gift. The Scriptures talk about being adopted. It isn’t always going to the healthy. He goes to where the sick are. I love my Christian brothers and sisters. I love church. I love encouraging them. But I am most effective with the sick, those who don’t know the Lord.”
Since going solo, Lacañgan has released a self-titled album, “Marz Jukebox,” which he released in 2007. He also produces albums for other artists and in 2011 made a brief appearance alongside Carrie Underwood in “Soul Surfer,” a biopic about Bethany Hamilton, the competitive teen surfer who lost an arm in a well-publicized shark attack.
This fall, Lacañgan took a break from touring as he focused on promoting his annual Christmas outreach, I am Hope, in conjunction with Live 4 Legacy. The project provides a Christmas brunch and toys for as many as 400 North County children. His charity work also includes mentoring children through behavioral day programs in Vista and Escondido.
He also helped launched a community basketball team as another mentoring venue and has traveled to orphanages in Africa.
“My heart really … I want to see other people succeed, not just financially but in the Lord,” he said.
While his 2014 stage time has been limited, Lacañgan has been busy writing music, hoping to release his next album, “Time Traveler,” later this year.
“It’s the journey of my life—past, present and future,” the musician said. “Talking about how I arrived here because of the journey God has taken me on. So through that journey there was different things I really had to experience.”
He reflects back on the shooting and on a recent serious car crash in which he walked away with just scratches, to a radio interview he did in New York City before heading back to San Diego on the evening of Sept. 10, 2001.
As he watched the news accounts showing the Twin Towers falling that clear autumn day he was thinking, “I was just there 10 hours ago.”
“It’s taking those moments and really hitting home that this is the man that I am today because … who knows? If I turned left instead of turning right….” said Lacañgan, who attends New Venture Christian Fellowship.
Those intimate connections with God’s providence are what drives Lacañgan as he performs.
“People might show up at a concert to see me, but my goal is to let them see Him,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to hear my story, had God not led me to this period of time.”
Learn more at www.marzjukebox.com.