Jerry and Jenny: The Goners 1989-2014

September 6, 2014

The Goners. 1989–2014

Counting steps kept the hangover from keeping my knees from buckling, one step after another as the sun poked through leaves that dotted the sky with waving shades of greens, oranges, yellows and purples a soft autumn breeze would hit me in the face and I would pick my step up. The yards of the campus houses were filled to crunched plastic beer cups, smashed Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and the discarded litter of fast food papers that had been quickly wrapped around various types of hamburgers, taco’s and burritos, an inglorious end of the line for any animal, even a fatted cow. Some of the houses were still family owned and one, an old woman whose white overweight collie looked surprisingly like her, with a weighted girth that caused the dog to do an awkward shuffle off the porch. Some mornings I thought both of them would topple over in her manicured yard, the woman had a well coifed bun of white hair, and hips that were level with her shoulders and wire framed glasses that sat on the bridge of her nose, and when I walked by she would raise her head backwards, lower her eyes and stare at me through the coke-bottle lenses and follow my counting steps and right when I got to the edge of the street as I stepped of the curb away from her house she would whisper a “hello there young man.” “hi,” I would breath back, thinking they looked like a panel from The Far Side. One day, after many years of plopping over the cracked sidewalk, I noticed a squad car in front of her house. Soon after the house was emptied and I noticed the dog standing alone in the front while a man in a gray tweed jacket and a hat straight out of 1955 standing on the porch clutching a cigarette and muttering, “shit, you damned dog, shit already.” I never saw the dog again. “well, that’s that” I thought to myself.

The neighborhood had changed over the years, I was born near downtown Columbus, in Mt. Carmel East Hospital and by the time I had returned nearly eighteen years after being packed into an orange Datson at the barely alive age of six months and being driven down Route 33 to Athens, Ohio, the neighborhood surrounding the hospital had fallen into hard times. The era of Reagan had been a disaster for the west-side of Columbus, many of the small manufacturing jobs that employed the blue-collar residents were mangled for tax breaks and the shipping of jobs out of the country, the streets near Mt. Carmel East swelled with crack addicts, poorly written graffiti and boarded up houses. It has never really recovered. My neighborhood, the one that I was born in and the one that I still live in never really suffered, being so close in proximity to Ohio State has kept the neighborhood insular even if the residents are fluid, camping out in the rental properties for four or five years, building life-long memories of fucking, studying and experiencing the troublesome nature of early adulthood, the units could breath stories if they were only alive.

The walk to the record store was roughly a mile and a half, when drunk it was three miles depending on the gait my body chose and it would take me about 25 minutes to half an hour and no matter what I would always be ten minutes late to work. If, by chance I arrived early, the expected ribbon accompanied by small feeling of superiority hung over me for a small portion of the day over my less responsible co-workers but this did not happen very often. Autumn and spring were the best times to walk, the summer heat in Ohio could be debilitating and it was not uncommon to arrive at work with a shirt that was spotted with sweat if walking was the preferred choice and later, the brutal Ohio winter would lay a thick chunk of ice that stretched from the steps of my house all the way to High Street and even further to the banks of the Ohio River. The south never had to deal with this shit. The south only had to deal with human bondage, nothing compared to an Ohio winter. When the gray hovered over the skyline like a heavy burlap rug, my eyes would face the icy sidewalk as the ground was brighter than the sky, never lifting their gaze skyward until early April.

Seasons begat behavior and when summer limbered up, gave up the thick drape of smoldering oppression for the refreshing whiffs of September, it was as if the insides of a body had been cleansed and turned outwards. House parties, claustrophobic night-clubs hidden under the bowels of High Street and the patter of singing rain droplets bursting like small grapes on shoulder and arms tethered together with sweaty hands became the rage during these months. We hung off the curbs of High Street, swaying into the thick of the night as if we were peering over a boat. Everything changed as cut-off jean shorts and withered tee-shirts tattooed with bands such as The Meat Puppets, The Fluid and The Leaving trains were traded for heel length black jeans, withered tee-shirts with band names such as The Meat Puppets, The Fluid and The Leaving Trains with either a sweater or a western styled pearl buttoned shirt overtop, and the dropping of summer infatuation was killed by the first frost. Love came crushing, it came quick and left us in mounds of tears and confusion that were easily gulped for giddiness of a heart beating faster and electric orgasms. Summer was built to hold our breath, fall was the exhale, winter froze us to the floor –choking under the gelid injustice of the season, and when spring came bounding out of the cursing month of March, we danced on air. Fucking and sucking hands, fingers, necks and other parts as we celebrated living through another winter.

Needing to be held was as powerful as any drug or drink, with anxiety fraught with apprehension and bold know-it-all statement that spurt from twenty-three year old lips, things happened clumsily and secrets were made and kept deep into the early morning. On mildewed couches, scattered floors, hidden hallways and uneven mattresses that some of us lugged from deceased grandparents, friends and just maybe from an alley. Playing it cool wasn’t hard to do, it came easy because being cool is easier with a soundtrack and we made our own as we sprouted out of our teenage years, stalking slowly first, and then dancing later to songs that inhibited our lives more than our families did at that time. The music met the experiences as if it were kerosene to a flame, burnt into my mind like a branding iron: being taken by a woman I barely knew, as she leaned into me as Godspeed You Black Emperor played off her broken stereo, the last song stuck until she finished the job, holding hands tightly as Jad Fair belted out “I’m living a charmed life!!” and we all giggled together and later, scrabbling to not be forgotten as the New Bomb Turks blasted their way through their final song at Bernie’s Bagels deep into a Sunday morning. Or sighing deeply as the Thinking Fellers, sung of the precarious nature of life and asked to be born again, either as a bug, bird or flower. Beauty indeed bounded around our cracked sidewalks and haggard clothing.

The love was easy, the heartbreak was harder and for some, it crushed our spirits as if we were constructed of Styrofoam. Jerry would say to me as he sucked on the very cheapest cigarette in the world, “fuck love, I don’t need it and you don’t need it either. You always get hurt by girls, Bela.” In retrospect, it would be fair to say, “no Jerry, I just always hurt.” Music just keeps it at bay. Music doesn’t hurt when it goes away, and it doesn’t make the longing for a touch seem like a five mile chasm in your belly and it never slips off into the night with someone else, bringing rejection into form with bulbous tears dropping onto the street, exploding onto the pavement as if it were filled with fire instead of salt.

Recently my wife gave me a tape of one of the students that work in the gallery she works at. “Here, honey, this is one of my students bands, I think you would like it.”I held the homemade tape in my hand, flipping it over and carefully pulling the soft folded paper out, every fold stuffed with words that suggested the immediacy of creative energy of the person who put this together. I slipped the tape into my wife’s fourteen year old tape deck and from the back seat my daughter yelled, “daddy, that is too loud, I can’t read.” Turning to my wife, “see if she can get you a CD for me.”

Then. I forgot about it until a friend sent me a message asking if I had heard of the band, called the Goners. “Yeah, my wife has a tape but I need a CD.” A few days later, my wife handed me a CD, with Goners scrawled across it. Putting into my 2009 Rabbit, I was immediately transported back twenty years ago, all the feelings that kept me glued to my friends, my scene and my music surged through me. Feeling the sweaty walls and the blurry shadows of combustible parties where fingers clutched bottles and lightly touched someone who caught our eye, wondering to ourselves, “did she feel that too?” Looking back, of course she did but in the prism of awakening to adulthood, perspectives are still too selfish to fully understand the feelings of others. The music of the Goners, is one splashed together with the desolation of climbing over bruised teenage years and plopping into one’s twenties, when the taste of disappointment is much stronger than the taste of success but the feeling of comfort is brought through friends, imagination coming to fruition (movies, books, writing, music—ART for fuck’s sake.) Sonically as strong as anything that disgorged itself from the early nineties on labels such as K, Homestead, Rip-Off or even Goner Records, mostly recorded on a combination of a Tascam and with assistance of laptop recordings, the songs a stretched tight by the emotional undertones of space and time that is plastered to being 22 but in the end the emotions are timeless. As are these songs. from “Ghost Bruise”: i don’t want to name you. i don’t want to get attached but if my bug bites dissolve back into flesh maybe i will let you touch my skin. my body is a valley and you’re sliding down to meet me and if my bangs grow long enough to cover my eyes you can use them to climb out any time. i learn so much every day, what do i do with it all? i couldn’t say. i learn so much every day but it just adds more weight, yeah that’s all. it’s all fighting to come out, i feel it pushing at my throat. how come all i can ever say is ‘this weather is so bad for my skin’? i wish i could wrap myself around it.” She sings, “I learn so much every day…,” and I think, “I forget so much every day….” This is about as perfect as it gets.

 

Sleaford Mods

July 20, 2014

I happened upon Sleaford Mods via Facebook, where someone had posted a link to a lackadaisical video of these two English curmudgeons sitting on a couch, rapping a song called “Fizzy” and aural blast equivalent of someone spitting a mouthful of chewed up cornflakes in your face. The intensity of Jason Williamson is profound, like lighter fluid combined with kerosene. Wiilliamson’s spasmodic movements a sharp contrast to Adrew Fearn who sits nonchalantly on the thread-bare couch, oblivious to the cinder burning vocals of his band-mate, at one point Fearn starts playing with his phone. Echoes of the Replacements “Bastards of Young” video hang over the setting.

Musically, Sleaford Mods are from the same branch as the Streets, perhaps the first well known solo English white rap act that achieved wide spread acclaim, but the beats are basic, more akin to Suicide but the vitriol and lyrics are much closer to the brutal frustration of Billy Childish, Crass, English punk. and the Dutch anarchists The Ex. Lyrically, Williamson pulls no punches, he is brutal with his pointed insults speak to the desperation of the unemployed and the growing lower class. Songs such as “Jolly Fucker” and “A Little Ditty” (off the new, and excellent “Divide and Exit”) combine the spitefulness of class warfare and aggression of Crass with The Headcoats.

The frustration of crap jobs and crap wages, is a focal point of Sleaford Mods and Williamson has no problem spewing his anger at the fallacy of hero-worship (“Who Killed Bambi”, sample lyric, “Steve Jones/eighties/didn’t work out/but at least you did a tour with Axel Rose/ ), shit work and shittier bosses (“Wage Don’t Fit”, sample lyric “when I said I didn’t like it/that’s because I really don’t”) and skewers pretentious indie-rockers (“Fizzy”, “fuck your rocker shit/fuck your progressive side sleeper towners/oompa-loopma blow me down with me a feather). This clearly one of the best bands going right now. The band has new record out, a single on Matador Europe and a soon-to-be released German LP of singles, but you can also purchase all of their music via their bandcamp and home pages where Mr. Williamson will send you the record himself.

http://sleafordmods.bandcamp.com/

Stories.

May 25, 2014

“Tell me a story about when you were a little boy!”, Bruno crawls over my lap, his knees poking into my skin, “where has that baby fat gone?” I wonder as a grimace appears across my face. My memory comes in spurts and when it does, it is shaded as if it were hiding behind a soft white, almost transparent curtain. At night. This child has heard all the stories I can remember from my childhood, for the most part these number less than the number of digits on my hands. But the boy never tires of them, in his mind they are always fresh, always new but if I tell the story wrong he commands and corrects my telling, reminding me that I left a part out.

My brother lives across the country, practically in an entirely different country in fact, he lives in Texas and when we talk it is through the hic-cups of our days, mostly when I am driving in my car and he has a moment to spare. I see the other main partner of my childhood, my older sister Erica, more frequently as she just lives down the winding road of Interstate 71 in Southwestern Ohio, near my mother and my nieces. The stories have been bandied about, and if they were a piece of metal they would be burnished smooth by now, as they have traded hands, ears and tongues over the year only the rooms in which they have been told have changed. For the life of me I wish I could remember more, but a childhood spent moving from town to town and school to school (I attended seven by the sixth grade) did not exactly re-enforce memories. I struggled with making friends until the fourth grade, as my brother left my mother’s house in the third grade to end up at living with our father, Zoltan was my constant playmate so emptiness filled me much of my second and third grade years.

Long Island was uh, long, when we entered New York City for the first time, driving straight through from the soon-to-be burned out streets and houses of Youngstown, I was awoken by my mother and siblings, “wake up we are in New York!”, I crawled from the floor of the back seat, no doubt my face filled with the red lines from the plastic floor coverings. I rubbed my eyes and stared straight up out of the window, the highway twisted around high-rises that stood like sci-fi trees, with thousands of lights bursting into the sky I thought of all the people who lived in them. New York City was another world compared to Youngstown, where mornings smelled of rotten eggs from the burning and melding of steel just miles from our blue-collar house.

We lived on the far east end of Long Island, in a small town near East Hampton called Springs. It is best known for being the town where Jackson Pollock lived and William DeKooning lived a few houses down from us, but by that time in the mid-seventies, his mind must have been eaten up by dementia, although my mother remembers him talking to her about us, her children.

For some reason, my memories of Springs (which are very few) are idyllic although we barely spent more than a burp there. My step-father, at the time, David had gotten a job working as a scientist near Montauk which lies at the tip of the Island complete with a massive and brilliant lighthouse. His office, or laboratory (?!) was just down the road from the lighthouse, and I have vivid memories of walking the beach at Montauk as what appeared to be billions of mussel shells stretched over the sand in crunchy bunches that cracked and split under my shoes. The dense odor of salt and fish is still in my nose nearly forty years later. We lived in a small house that abutted a small thatch of woods to the rear of the house, with a quick shuttle through the woods, nary a spit from our back door we would be at a small harbor. We spent hours in those woods and on our small wooded street, where I taught myself to ride a bicycle, got bit by a dog and had a disastrous  first attempt at a sleep over.

There was a community picnic one evening, just off the beach, volleyball was set up and the older children had taken a group of us fishing. The sky was a whirl of clouds, twisting over the ocean, mimicking the breaking waves, filled with grays, whites and iridescence blues that appeared to be a cauldron that could come and swallow the ocean if the universe would only let it. I held an older boys hand, the rain would come, I was certain of that but for now, we were going fishing and my parents lay just beyond the lump of trees that provided a shimmering barrier between the beach and the grilling of chicken, hamburger, hotdogs and corn. In hindsight, this must have been the weekend of the fourth of July. There were piers constructed of hunks of blue and black rock that strode bravely into the sea, where one could fish and stare into the vastness of water while contemplating the smallness of oneself. These were slippery rocks and were instructed not to go to the end of the piers where the water was more dangerous and violent. Only the big kids could go there. A young fattish boy, with a yellow ball-cap helped me bait my hook, I had some experience fishing with my father and told him I could cast the line myself, which I dutifully did. Sitting quietly by myself as the bustle of ten and twelve years old, raged on further down the pier, no doubt engaged in primitive games of masculinity for girls who giggled at their antics, no doubt because they had no other idea of how to react. The fishing rod, pulled gently–a small tug and knowing instinctively to tug a little back and suddenly like shot from a gun, whatever was on the other end of the line swallowed hard and sensing immediately that the food it had just eaten was not a normal dinner as the hook dug deep in its throat, frantically tearing away from the thin line that twisted in its mouth, “good God! What the fuck is this?!” it may have thought, if it was possible for a sea creature to hold such a thought. It fled, and in doing so, my little-boy hands, soft from innocence and barely large enough to hold onto the fishing pole, wrapped themselves around the base of the pole, frantically trying to reel the fish in.

It was a struggle and I was shy, my brother was towards the forbidden end of the pier, no doubt throwing small chunks of rocks into the sea with the other boys, some shouted out behind my slight shoulders, “that kid’s got something!” By now my fishing pole was bending into an almost half moon and the sweat and excitement was now pouring from my brow. “I’m sweating!” I thought, “I never sweat.” Suddenly the fat boy with ball cap, cupped his hands over mine, “let me help you,” he whispered behind me, “wow, you got something big here.” A small group of children hovered around us, trying not to slip on the wet rocks, “be careful” somebody hushed to another. The line was taunt, and for every spin of the reel, the fish would take another foot of wire deeper into the sea. The struggle of the fish was apparent in the effort we were putting into bringing it ashore, with our feet and ankles wading into the sea. Careful not to slip. At one point, it became obvious that we were winning, as the pole almost dragged us into the water, and with a couple of yanks and pulls we managed to shore a long, slick black eel, its body twisting out of the water and the sharp teeth clutching tight against the fishing line. “what is that thing!” yelled yellow cap. “It’s an eel, they are delicious!” I spoke for the first time, “my dad eats smoked eel.” Someone behind me shouted, “that little kid caught an eel!” The realization that I had done something exhilarated me, “hold on!” I screamed and went yelling towards the picnic. Leaving the group of children with the frightened animal, whose entire world had just been transformed into nightmare absurdity, I ran across the sand, “I caught an eel! I caught an eel!” If I had died then, I knew in my heart that I had accomplished something extraordinary. My gravestone, tall and proud, scripted with the words: “He caught an eel.” My mother hearing my shrieks had thought my brother had fallen into the sea, “where is he? is he ok?” She must have thought I was screaming, “Z fell into the sea!” instead of “I caught an eel!” or something like that. Quickly settling things, my parents and others ran towards the pier, and upon arriving on the wet rocks, the wind picking up with thick pellets of rain striking our faces we were informed that the eel had slipped through the rocks and was back out at sea. “did you get the hook out?” I asked, not wanting it too suffer. “Yeah, I was taking it out when it squirmed away” yellow shirt replied, “you are a good fisherman kid,” and he rubbed my head. Zoltan told everybody what happened, how I was fishing by myself and off on my own, and then how I caught the fish, “it smelled real bad!” A part of me was disappointed that the eel had gotten away but I was also relieved.

Bruno loves to hear this story, as I sit on his bed, behind me a large framed Spider-Man puzzle given to him by a close friend and on the other wall a huge Avengers poster (the comic book, not the band), his room littered with Lego’s, Charlie Brown books and on top of his book shelf and Dinosaur Jr. poster. Some nights, as the wear and tear of trying to patch together people’s tattered emotional lives takes its toll on me, I climb in next to him and I tell him a continuous unending story of a father and son, alone of a dingy hiding the plans they had stolen from a mad scientist titled “How to Take Over the World.” His world is simple, easy and I can tell him stupid shit and he’s cool with it, as I tell him the story of the father and the little boy, how they avoid getting caught, I fall asleep. “Daddy, wake up, you’re falling asleep.” Of course I am I think.

 

and a few of Bruno’s favorites:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqZPGT0TsZ8085gaunt-93040805bela2

Pearl Williams part-two

May 13, 2014

Disclaimer: Pearl Williams is not a real person although she is based off of people I have worked with over the years in my job as social worker. A few years ago, I was talking with Micheal Galinsky about creating a book that included some of the clients I have worked with and having Mike take photo-graphs, but we have never gotten around too it. I created Pearl to give light to so many of the impoverished women I have worked with over the years, whose lives are sad reminders of those in society whom we don’t care to look at. I have always been amazed at the fortitude and resilience of these women. This is a work in progress.

 

Pearl stared at the white lady playing with her grandbaby, the child was smiling, big brown wet eyes that gathered in the room, and she breathed deeply and pointed to a black and white picture of a group of Native-Americans on the wall, their faces haggard, clothes constructed of leather and long feathers hanging from belts and it said, “Real Homeland Security.” The little girl poked a tiny brown finger up at the picture, “Who are do’s people?” The white woman smiled and said, “Oh, they are Indians, they used to live here but they had to move away.” Eyes growing bigger, “They lived in this office? All those men, lived here? Where did the sleep?” With laughter erupting, Pearl scooped up her grand-daughter, “Child, you causing trouble?” and kissed her on the cheek. “No mami, they have candy here. Right there in that drawer.” The white lady said, “she’s adorable, she’s fine. Are you done already?” Pearl grimaced, “no, ‘fraid not, still got some more to tell that man.” turning the little girl, “hey, grandma will be back soon, ok?” “Yes mame. It’s neat here.”

Pearl sauntered through the courtroom, she eyed the man she used to know as he sat with his felt hat on his lap, his carefully pleated black trousers, pressed dark shirt and white tie in stark contrast to the young man sitting next to him, who was playing with his tiny tight dread locks with one hand and bouncing the other hand off of his knee as if he were playing drums to some song in his head. Tap-tap, tappitty-tap. Tap-tap, tappitty-tap. It went across the entire courtroom, her old friend leaned over and whispered a loud, “son, you need to cut that out, you in big trouble here. This judge may not like that commotion in his courtroom, and why did you wear that ugly ole shirt?” Tap-tap, tappitty-tap. Pearl shook her head, was it at the boy or more at herself? The courtroom was full now, the Judge was on the bench, his gray haired pulled back, he was holding onto a croquet mallet, gesturing to an attorney in front of him he smirked and said, “now Kevin, I’m not afraid to use this.” There was an entire flock of attorney crowded around him, most of them smiling and joking, a stark contrast to the folks who were sitting in the chairs and the smooth wooden jury box that curved in front of the judge. Here were the great unwashed, a litany of the poor and impaired, some by mental illness, others by intoxicants and every one by unfortunate incidents, somewhere, somehow that lead to being in the courtroom today. Next to her old friend and his grandson, was a young scrawny white girl, her face so taunt that it looked as if it were pulled over her face with pliers. Her eyes hung low and dark, deep into their sockets they were tired. Not just from the dope , whose faint echo in her veins was turning into nausea but from what she they had witnessed. Rapes, countless backhands to her face, two screaming children and the grim of dope houses, sleeping on couches and eating cold Dinty Moore stew from a can.

The man appeared again, he was holding a bottle of water, extending it he offered, “you ready to start again?” “thank you, sure I am.”

Pearl wiped her mouth, looked up at all the certificates and diploma’s adorning his walls, “you sure is a smart man.”

“Aw, not really, these just prove if you pay someone enough money they will give you anything.” She liked his self-deprecation.

“That one there, you went to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland?” She pointed to a large framed diploma.

“Yes, I did. I got my Master’s degree there. I was expensive!”

“Well, I lived there. In Cleveland for a while after my first baby. My cousin lived there, just near the University, I moved up there when I was 18, my boyfriend had family up there so I figured, hell, why not?”

“When was that?”

“Oh, I don’t know, early 80’s or so. Right before that crack-cocaine blew the lid off everything. My boyfriend got caught up in that, I had no idea, I was naive. I mean they called it free-basing back then. That was just after Richard Pryor got his-self on fire doing that free-basing, well shit, they just figured out how to sell it to the ghetto.”

She shook her head at the memory, “yeah, that’s when shit hit the fan….” Her voice trailed off and she took another drink of water. Breathing deep she explained, “he’s the one who got me into it. I was mad, I had three babies by the time I was 21 and I was working as a maid in the Cleveland Clinic. He wasn’t really doing shit except not coming home. I told him one day, he had been gone for like a week. ‘What the hell are you doing all the time’?”

Nodding, he asked, “and what happened?”

Laughing and putting her bottle on the desk, “well, that son-of-a-bitch took me over to  93rd and Chester, or somewhere around there. Do you know where I’m talking about?            Anyway, he took me to a crack house. Although, I don’t even know if that was a term  back then, we just went to a party-house. That’s what we called it. So, I smoked it. I didn’t     leave that damn house for three days.” She shuddered a little, “I left my three babies at  home. I just forgot about them, my oldest must have been eight or nine and he got the       neighbor after we didn’t come home. She watched them. After that though, I was gone. I  mean, there wasn’t nothing that was going to stop me. Eventually, my Auntie took the kids, someone called Children’s Services on me and I told them I was sick, you know like  I had diabetes or something. I was a crazy person. I lost those kids inside of four months of using crack. My man got arrested for manslaughter, and went to prison. He done killed this man on the corner, over nuthin’ really. I think it was drugs but he was gone and then we lost the apartment and I was homeless. It just happened so fast, I wanted to die when they took my babies.”

“That must have been tough, working so hard and then losing your children?”

“Well, it was but you know what? It didn’t stop me from using drugs. Not a bit. I knew something was going on with my mind as well, it had been since I was a girl. I’d hear         things, just little things, like a whisper or someone murmuring but there wasn’t anyone shut it out, I didn’t mind being poor and black or what-have-you but I did not want to be   crazy.” She paused, sighed and looked at him straight in the eyes.

“I was good looking to, one thing I can tell you about crack, it takes the weight off of you. I had three babies and I still wasn’t big like I am now but I did that crack and the         pounds just melted off, I figured, why not use what the good-Lord-gave you and started walking the streets. I had a girl-friend who said I could earn good money doing it, so I  just started doing it, I thought nothing of it. But it got weird and scary real fast.”

He looked at her, his eyes casting over her, and he could not imagine this woman selling herself on the street. Her purple coat bunched up around her, enveloping her and her horrible memories that were burping out of her like pop-corn popping. There was no stopping her.

“It got real strange at that time, mid to late eighties. Hustling the streets, one time I was  out there, it was cold, there were icicles hanging from the gutters almost all the way to the ground, the wind would literally cut you. It felt like a knife, that wind did.. and this limo pulls up and the tinted window rolls down. I walk up to the car  and this man with glasses points at me and my girlfriend and we laugh and jump in. He  was with one of the sports teams, a general manager or something, a rich white guy. He didn’t say nothing but his body-guard or whoever the hell he was did.”

She grew quiet. “That was some fucked up shit” she took a drink from her cold coffee cup and stared a head.

“That fuckin weirdo took us back to one of the fancy hotels downtown, and ordered up all  this seafood, you know those black shell-fish, mussels they call them. He had ordered hundreds of them and he had me and my girlfriend take off all our clothes and he made us     put them things all around our coochies, and he just mumbled some shit about pussies       and mussels. He got us high alright, that made it better but we were there for hours, into  the next day with these fucking little fish that look like tiny pussies up around our legs. I can’t stand the smell of fish to this day, and he never even wanted to fuck us or nothing. I  cut my big toe going to the bathroom on one of the shells they were scattered all over the          floor like as if a big ole chunk of wind just gathered them up and set ‘em down.  That crack put me in some weird spots.”

 

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Love part one

March 23, 2014

Love:

With a certainty that only an adolescence can have, the thought of love was an idea that sat in the forefront of my mind as I slopped my way through high school. The arduous task of shaking my sleeping limbs from bed was enough to cover my morning with blurred anxiety that still pulses through my body today, and then thinking of communicating with a female let alone telling my own worrisome and conflicted thoughts to “simmer down, God-Damnit!” was something that would be tackled when I was off to college. Love mind you, not sex, as sex was the mystery that appeared to be as supernatural as the ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Sex was found in the underwear ads of the JC Penny catalog, the blond from “Night Court, the slithering sounds off of “Exile on Main Street” and Prince records, and of course found in the pages of Ms. June 1977 who slept quite comfortably underneath my mattress. Sex in those years meant only masturbation, and the mysterious thoughts of what a woman’s body would feel like to my trembling and unsure hands. For at fifteen, the hands of a boy are as hesitant as any toddler taking her first steps. I was a voracious reader at that time, at first it was the epic fantasy novels of JRR Tolkien and then I moved onto the fantasy novels of Michael Moorcock and Piers Anthony but soon, I moved onto the essential reading of every adolescence: Kurt Vonnegut, JD Salinger, music bios (“Up and Down with the Rolling Stones”, “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and “Hammer of the Gods”) but soon I picked up Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” with its guilty bathroom descriptions of Jewish-boy masturbation while his mother pounded away at the door, screaming, “What are you doing in THERE?!!!” Although my mother wasn’t the one pounding at my door, it was my older brother who would casually say to his friends, while I silently ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while watching Star Trek, “there’s Bela, all he does is jerk off, listen to music and read. Once in a while he’ll come out of his room to watch Star Trek or David Letterman.” His friends would call me worm, a nickname only they called me and one I hated. “I’ll show you fuckers,” I would think, “I’m gonna end up with the most beautiful woman you will ever meet.” Which is exactly what I did. Not by plan of course but most likely because my wife did something terribly wrong in her former life…..

At the time when this was going on, I had never tried that, masturbation, in fact all I did was read and listen to my records. Incessantly. On the weekends I would listen to the faint sounds of WUSO, the Wittenberg station hoping to hear the static sounds of the Replacements, Smiths or Dead Milkman. But one afternoon, half-way through “Portnoy’s Compliant” I wondered what all the fuss was about, why did this kid masturbate on what seemed like every other paragraph. Shortly thereafter, I was fitted for my first pair of glasses, coincidence, I think not.

But love was elusive and found only on the songs I listened to and the movies I saw. Perhaps the only movie I could relate to the had a love story was the “Wanderer’s” where one of the character’s falls for the folk-loving college co-ed played by the lovely Karen Allen as I saw myself in Ken Wahl’s character who bucks the pressure of the neighborhood to fall for the intelligent and candid Nina. Deep in my mind, I knew I would find my love either in Athens, Columbus or New York and only when I cast off the invisible ropes of rural Ohio. I counted the days until my liberation. Love found me on the front steps of my house on an early evening in mid-December 1985, as Jenny Mae and a collection of her friends bounded up the small steps of the parsonage to serenade me with Christmas carols. Zoltan, was visiting from Germany where he was stationed, and no-doubt his eighteen year old hands, were no longer unsure as he had plenty of experience with the fairer sex, turned his head towards me as he held the door open, “it’s ok Bela, I got it. They’re here to carol, you can go back upstairs.” I was just thankful that he didn’t add, “Bela just sits up there jerking off, reading and listening to records.” But, naturally to the both of us, we figured the girls were there to carol him. “Um, actually Z, we are here to sing to Bela.” “Oh, that’s cool” Zoltan replied, “Hey Bay, come back the wanna sing to you,” and as I passed him he had a wide grin and whispered out the side of his mouth, “fucking go for it, that Jenny is cute.”

As bits of swirling snow hovered around the small flock of girls, my heart heaved wide and large inside, I smiled at them, offered them to come in and when they made excuses that they had other people they needed to carol for, I closed the door and sighed deeply. “Hey, did you ask her out?” As I crammed a hot dog in my mouth, “no, why would I do that?” “Bela, you are fucking worthless, she came over here in the snow to sing for you, you should ask her out.” “I dunno, maybe.” Something in me always recoiled when Zoltan used the word “should.”

The next weekend after Chris Biester bought me a six-pack of Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, Jenny and I lay in my bed listening to the sounds of the first Cars record, and sure enough the coils that hold sex and love together grabbed us both and wrapped around our souls, bustling them together and shaking the ethereal wisps of ourselves to our very core. And as “Moving in Stereo” played loudly in the back ground, I felt her lips around me as her head bobbed to the beat of Ric Ocasek. Afterwards, I strode out of bed and said I was going to take a shower and invited her, figuring I might as well go for broker. She joined me, and later said, “I’ve never taken a shower with somebody before.”

Love had come suddenly, through songs, “Silent Night” and a few days later, “Let the Good Times Roll” as Ric Ocasek sang with moist lips and his oh-so-cool new wave voice. I was staggered, we spent every day together, soon finishing each other’s sentences. She used Gloria Vanderbilt perfume and smuggled it into my house so she could spray my pillow, which I snuggled and smelled after I drove her home. The world seemed brighter, crisper and more relaxed. At the end of our senior year, I was accepted into several colleges, Hiram, Otterbein, and Ohio University although my grades were not good enough to get into the journalism school at OU, I collapsed the lifelong dream of going to college in Athens and stuffed it deep inside to be replaced with a new hope, one that was born out of teenage blow-jobs, pillows that smelled pretty and having someone wanting you. I ended up at Otterbein College just north of Columbus in the dry town of Westerville, a most dumb-ass decision that can only be blamed on teenage blowjobs, pillows smelling pretty and having someone want you.

That summer after our senior year was difficult, I had fallen for Jenny’s best friend Kathy who reciprocated her desire for me, in the meantime, in what can only be described as a miniature Peyton Place, Jenny had been unfaithful during the summer. First with a tall, lanky goofy guy named Bob who worked at the drive-in theater with her. Bob was funny, I could see her attraction, he was older at least twenty and shaved his head.  I had also discovered some of the deep secrets that lovers share and my pain for Jenny’s past only confused and angered me, and my desire to leave the emptiness I felt of rural Ohio only intensified. It all came out one drunken evening as Jenny lay passed out in Kathy’s parents living room, Kathy and I were engaged in some heavy petting that could be more described as heavy lifting, when she asked if I had a condom and something snapped, the horrors of Jenny’s past and my own past swelled inside of me and soon I was heaving as great globs of tears sputtered from my eyes. Kathy spilled the beans of Jenny’s unfaithfulness and my wailing caused Jenny to wake up and sadly, because of teenage lust and confusion their friendship was at a standstill for several years.

If one isn’t shown how to love then the dance of love between lovers will be clumsy, performed in fits and starts, full of bliss followed by anger, pain and most likely confusion. Metaphorically, it’s like putting together largest jigsaw puzzle but without a picture to know what you are putting together. Some pieces will slid together, as if by greased by butter while others will struggle under the weight of a thick thumb trying in vain to make that “LITTLE-FUCKER-WORK, GOD-DAMNIT!!” But alas, they don’t and the pain of this confusion leads inevitably to more pain. We learn from our parents, and as I gaze back over the shoulder of my past, lined with globs of dirt bundled up in the road I have walked, at times there are no footprints only the squished plants and the indentation of my body in the trenches off the road, I get the sense that my parents and caregivers had not one idea how to navigate the surging tides of love and sex in their own lives. Truth be told, I am emotionally clumsy, a clumsiness built upon an every changing childhood and with a trepidation to truly give myself, for if that is a key ingredient of love then I have always held back. For to give that part of oneself, can be dangerous, should be dangerous, a risk worth the reward. But, if oneself being is built upon a foundation of worthlessness than how does on accept love in return?

The gray had settled like a robe over Ohio, it came creeping in early November, made itself comfortable in December and dug its thick rotund roots deep into the soil and the psyche of every inhabitant during the months of January and February. In March, when splatters of sunshine would give a shot of hope to those who suffered under the morass of depression that the sky layered upon us, the gray would cackle to itself and with a sudden wave of cruelty would slather its oppressive self with a thickness that stretched from the chilled ground, upwards into space that no doubt was the final bullet for many Midwesterners that blew the back of their skulls because, well, they. just. couldn’t. take. it. any longer.  My car was gray, a compact Ford Mustang whose front quarter panel was held to the rest of the car by durable duct tape, it was a dented as the emotional state of its owner, with a black radio shack cassette deck I had wired and fastened with even more duct tape to the bottom of the console. When the engine revved the pistons, who were no doubt choking and coughing by this point of the blue collar careers made a whirling sound through the sound system. A small whistle that reminded me of the precarious nature of my financial situation. All I really wanted was a sound system that played without sounding like there was a squirrel caught in the inner workings of my speakers.

My hangover was fat in my head, even twenty some years later I can remember it, it was as if someone had placed a large cinder block, ever so carefully, just below the skin that covered my forehead between the spaces of my ears. I was still a little drunk and it was early Easter morning, the road I was driving was familiar as I curved through the sharp bends of Baker Road in Athens county, Ohio. When I was 11 we had lived in an old farmhouse on Baker Road, just a few miles from where I had spent the night. An Appalachian trailer park lived next door, filling some of my childhood nights with de-muffled car engines, screaming and the sound of babies crying into the night. The night before I had spent the night with a woman whose name I can no longer remember, no doubt if I had a shovel to cut through gnarled neural pathways and enough coffee, I would unearth her name and her body which no doubt had danced above me earlier that morning. But the memory of driving from her house near Fox Lake into town is stuck with me, in the slow collapsing tape deck, Superchunk’s  “Foolish” a masterstroke of a decaying relationship, blared while I tried to shake the fermented cinder block in my forehead away. Burbling up inside was a small rope of guilt, meandering its way through my veins, as I had been seeing a woman for a few months in Columbus.

Choices are made based on far flung emotions, outliers they may be but these can tend to control the habits we develop and the woman I was seeing was based on these emotions. At the end of the day, we had little in common with the exception of a love of music and the desire we held for our bodies. In fact, over the course of the time we spent together I had set foot in her apartment only once and she had only spent the night only a handful of times in my apartment. Our meetings were brief, always sexual and then, as she had misgivings about the fuel that drove me in those days, we would part and I would hurdle myself deep into the night, to be with friends.

I had to drive to Cincinnati, to my mother’s that morning as the overcast sky was slowly being unhinged from its wintery mores, singing “Driveway to Driveway” at the top of my lungs, I would rewind it and start the song over, I felt liberated. I knew for certain that I would return to the relationship of the woman in Columbus, who was physically stunning but we were devoid of any other connection. In a moment that had continued to be as real today as it was the April morning, the sun poked through the clouds, breaking apart the hold that winter had gripped the entire state. The small white buds of wildflowers hushed a collective cheer and in a flash the yellowed, thin waving strands of weeds that lined the black asphalt slightly turned green and a part of me awakened even further. The two month relationship with the woman came to an end at that moment, and in some ways a part of me burped somewhat into maturity as the idea of sex over love shriveled just a tad but never disappeared.

Many of my lessons in love came through betrayal, either by what I witnessed growing up with parents who flung dirty details about one another through the mind of a child, to experiences of early love that was tangled with early sexual exploration to dishonesty that pervaded the actions and motivations I carried out. Love is epic, a path that is emotionally wide as the vastness of the sea, and like the sea able to well up in white crested waves that can come crashing down in violence, churning, bending and pulling in every direction. Today my son Bruno, all four feet of him took me from a moment of utter frustration (he peed on the dog), to the fragility of slowly cracking my heart as if it were a thin piece of ice on a parking lot. Careful or it will crack. As I explained to him the rudeness of peeing on something alive, he turned his head, his blue eyes downcast and shame filling his cheeks a small sigh peeping out of his lips. “sorry,” he muttered, quick as if he were an auctioneer. “Ok, don’t do that again. Peeing on things. Now give me a kiss.” He leaned his blond head forward and I gently kissed his forehead pulling him towards me, “hey, I want a kiss from you now” I said. He looked up and with the same delicate hesitation of a moth landing on a light bulb he kissed my cheek. Behind him, his sister said, “Daddy, I wanna give you a kiss but you give me one first.” I suppose, over the years a short dock has been constructed out into my internal sea.

Re-Post of Jim Shepard and Ohio: I’ll be reading from these at Brothers Drake Meadery as Part of Word Church Tuesday @ 8:00

February 24, 2014

Jim Shepard

There were several people whom we bounced around with, the majority were people in our same age group who had the same interest, The New Bomb Turks, Greenhorn, Moviola and various bartenders and bar maids.  Outside of this group there was a core group of Columbus musicians and artists whom we all admired; these were for the most part the 80’s generation of the underground music scene: Dan Dow, Ron House, Mike “Rep” Hummel, Scrawl, Don Howland, Jeff Evans, Dan Dougan and Jim Shepard. We all had our walls, some built up by bandied down rumors, some by musical preference, some by the types of intoxicants people took and others by past and future romantic interests. For a while, Jerry, Jenny and I spent a great deal of time sitting in the wooden booths at Larry’s, standing by the stage at Staches or Apollo’s or manning the corner window at BW-3, drinking a vase of happy hour Budweiser.

Jim Shepard was an outsider in a land of outsiders; he had spent a great deal of his life in Florida, a veritable outpost of misfits and a state that was constructed for interlopers and floaters who would head down south in search of new beginnings and self-inventions. Jim was a short man, who wore his mat of greasy black hair as if it were a prop from a Harry Crews short-story. He walked with a slight lean as if the weight of the world pulled him forward, waiting to smother him in its own gravitational pull. He was constantly unshaven but never bearded; it was as if he had gotten a George Michael shaving kit from the liquor store. He was a constant ruffled sort, who spoke in a deep mumble as if he were sending himself coded messages. In a sense, even though I drank copious amounts of alcohol and spent hours on barstools next to Jim, I never really knew him but then again I’m not sure if I’ve never really known anybody.

Jim had Jerry’s and I respect from the get-go, he was semi-famous by our standards as a long-time home recorder who had been putting out records for well over a decade. He also had garnered a well versed fan base especially with the East Coast music tastemakers such as Thurston Moore, Johan Kugelberg and Byron Coley. He had been performing music for many years and his band Vertical Slit was a quiet, yet solid underground force in Columbus.

When I met Jim, I was working at Used Kids; he was working for a local jukebox repair shop and was good friends with Mike Hummel. Jim would drop in during lunch time and hang out, flip through records and chat. Once in a while he would sell us some of his records which were put out by out of town labels such as Ropeburn and Siltbreeze. He would huddle with Hummel next door at the Used Kids Annex and they would fuck with his tapes and bang out music deep into the night. On certain Monday evenings, Jerry and I would stroll down to Larry’s for our start on the evening and we would be disappointed by the weekly poetry night, we took offense to collegian artist’s types butting in on our time at Larry’s. On many of these Mondays both Jim and Mike would be there, reading and spontaneously spouting off their poetry. Jim’s being more of the science-fiction-cum-gutter-found prose influenced by Phillip K. Dick and William Burroughs. Jerry and I would crowd against one another, no doubt too chicken-shit to express our own poetry in such a stark setting, Jerry would couch his in between blasting guitars and punk-rock beats and I my own would lay dormant in dog-eared rumpled notebooks where they still sit, twenty years later.

V-3 came about after the breakup of Vertical Slit, it was an unsightly band with Jim’s paranoid dark blue-collar mystique, Rudy, a drummer of small demeanor and Nudge Squidfish a jovial wide-eyed gentleman who was prone to talk of UFO’s and conspiracy theories when prompted by a few drinks. Live they were freakish sight straight out of community access television but they carried a powerful force in Jim’s highly melodic art-ish squall that was one part early Fall, another part Joy Division and the rest filled with land-locked Florida bizarreness and mid-Western sludge.

Jim was funny, even if one could not always hear his almost inaudible comments that would slip out of his mouth like a small bump in the road. For a moment when he spoke you would think that a ghost passed through the room, moving a coffee cup or beer bottle across the table; you would think you heard him and then you didn’t. It wasn’t before long that Jim and Jenny Mae had developed a strong friendship, both of them had a fondness for the dive bars of North Campus and both of them enjoyed slurping a few drinks before the sun set down.

It would appear that musically that Jim and Jenny would have little in common musically as many of her pop songs where constructed out of a love of early sixties pop, The Beach Boys and the bounce of early eighties college rock whereas Jim’s music was as serious as a life pursuit. What they bonded over was a sense of melody and a meeting of the bohemian lifestyle, filled with creativity, late nights, cheap rent and the cultivation of laughter. Both suffered, more internally than physically, with Jim although it should be noted I did not know him well-he was too closed for that, you could feel the gravity of his darkness through sunken eyes, mused hair and the stubble around his chin. He wore his clothes as if they were an afterthought, articles for warmth-nothing else; they consisted of ragged blouses, jeans and old flannel. He carried himself as if he were Harvey Pekar, one with a distrust of the modern world and its complexities as a point of contention. His songs evolved around science-fiction, social commentary and the pursuit of a connection I think he never gained with the exception of his music.  Perhaps his greatest line was “negotiate nothing, tear it all down.”

Jenny and he started drinking together shortly before his death, they would both meet at either Walt’s or Bourbon Street in mid-afternoon passing the afternoon hours in a connected shadow world lit by bar lights and their own brilliant creativity. Jenny told me one day that she had been drinking with Jim for a while and that they had started recording together, mostly her adding keyboards and trumpet to some of his tracks. I joked that they should record a cover of the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers duet “Islands in the Stream”, which Jenny used to play. She shocked me a week later and told me that Jim was up for it, I have no idea if it were ever recorded.

Our world was small but it opened up the universe where ideas bounced off of one another like bubbles in beer, we would have one ingenious idea flowing after another without a filter to identify the logical of said idea. Huddled around empty bottles and amplifiers the stage of the world was in the basements and living rooms of our lives. Fashioned out of four-track tapes, sticky homemade record covers and note books furnished out of loneliness and dreams that were one part illusion and another part delusion Jim, Jenny and Jerry bonded over the ideal that the world was what you carved out of it, one note at a time.

As much as Jim’s outsider manner defined his life and his being, he made strong connections with other like minded people, although many of us came from somewhat disparate backgrounds we all had (have) a passion of the transformative essence of music. The opportunity to escape the mundane of our lives through the process of electricity, sound and speakers. Jim made an impression on Bob Pollard and commented one drunken evening to Bob while marveling at Bob’s propensity to fashion melodies as if they were breathes of air, that he “was like a vampire on Titus, sucking songs out of the earth.” Titus was the street that Bob lived on at the time, next thing you know the next Guided by Voices album was named “Vampire on Titus.”

Jim, Ron House, Bob, Don Howland and Mike Rep were the elders in our world, wizened cynical “old” men who had been there-done that and were still plugging in and plugging away, making vital music deep into their (aghast!) thirties while most other people we knew of that age were watching Disney videos with diaper fitted children and listening to generic alt-rock pretending that one could be hip with a mortgage payment. That lifestyle was so far removed from what we were living it might have been in an alternative universe. Our own misgivings kept us  happily insolated and isolated.

Jim, Ron, Mike, Don and Tommy Jay somehow having the insight to recognize their own place in the small pond of the Columbus underground scene managed to tolerate one another long enough to record together under the guise of Ego Summit and released a terrific record titled “The Room Isn’t Big Enough” (now available digitally on Old 3-C Records). A smorgasbord of clashing but similar styles coalescing to carve a minor dent in the history of nineties home-tape underground. It contains one of the most disturbing songs in the Midwestern music cannons in Ron House’s “Half Off” about a prostitute who eats her leg off to get out of a trap. Sung/spoken by Don Howland it is as chilling as it is as shittily recorded, with a claustrophobic aura that chokes the listener almost as much as the smoke being exhaled by the musicians when recording the record. Therapy is recommended after every listen, it is that frightening.

In the failed experiment of nineties rock and roll perhaps the most elaborate but yet simple minded plan was for major labels to sign well respected but commercially limited bands and dropping then when sales didn’t match those of Seven Mary Three or Bush. Columbus was ripe for this idiotic take on major label experimentalism, and sadly this would have detrimental effects on most persons in this blog. It’s not as if signing to a major label was idiotic in itself it was that at that point in the business design of corporate music was one part fed off the ideals of the sixties and early seventies when artists as diverse as The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, Moondog and Phil Ochs could be signed and allowed the freedom to be artists. Whereas the major label mindset professed this ideology it still worked (works) with the mind frame of the quick-cash turnover of the most blandest and cynical music of the nineteen-eighties, whereas the bottom line is sales and the exposure. Hence some of the oddest couplings of artists and money since the Hampton Grease Band signed to Columbia. Such was V-3 signing to American imprint Onion records.

Johan Kugelberg had left Matador Records to take a job working directly under Rick Rubin and was given his own vanity label which he titled Onion, a very tasty but yet smelly vegetable. He managed to sneak in four excellent releases before the label realized his venture would not bring in any money. These were: The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments “Bait and Switch”, The Monks re-issue, The Stiffs (whose uncanny New York streetwise-art-punk would predate the Strokes by several years) and V-3. Even by the non-startled place in our collective world the signing of Jim Shepard to American was stupefying basically because Jim’s music could be equally standoffish and abrasive, a challenge of sorts to the listener just like the man himself. “Photograph Burns” has some very warming songs on it, most notably “Bristol Girl” which ended up on countless mix tapes I constructed on my living room floor deep into the night. There was nothing odd about the conundrum of many of the underground artists signing to major labels, as Jerry once told me “I want to be famous”, what I think he really meant was that he wanted to be immortal. It is easier to be immortal if more people know who you are, so it only makes sense to hitch your song to a corporate machine like Warner Brothers whose Bugs Bunny may be more immortal that any human. Besides one could always return to the basement, although Jim never really returned to the basement after V-3 got dropped after Johan lost his job. He was dead within two years.

            I saw Jim huddled next to the video trivia game console on the end of the bar at Bourbon Street one Sunday night during an absolutely depressing bout of Karaoke sung by half awake hipsters who took pride in the fact that their jobs didn’t require them to be their early Monday morning. He eyes were flat and deep enough in his skull that they could be mined. He had a jar of beer sitting in front of him, I asked if he were ok and he said he was fine. He was a vacant as a vacuum. I said something to Jerry who loved Karaoke about Jim, “he’s just fucked up tonight.” A few days later at work, Ron hung up the phone and said “Jim Shepard hung himself last night.” Jim’s funeral was the first of several in a few years’ times for a small but close knit scene of outsiders, artists and music fans. A collection of dazed and rocked ex-girlfriends, musicians, bar-keeps and family gathered around a photo of a smiling (!) Jim and talked to pass the time as a sweaty undercurrent no doubt sent us all scurrying to various hidden parts of ourselves that we dare not try to touch.

 

Ohio

Growing up in Ohio is different for all Ohioans, most because, like so much of the United States, Ohio is both vastly rural and also contains some of the largest and best known cities in the country. Everybody has heard of Cleveland and Cincinnati two large cities with history and reputations. Cleveland was populated by a large ethnic population from Eastern Europe, with massive Serbian, Hungarian and Czech immigrants who traveled west-ward to boil away their lives in the steel mills and manufacturing jobs of Northeastern Ohio. Cincinnati is nestled in the southwestern part of the state, just across from Kentucky; it is metaphorically across the invisible mason-Dixon line of Ohio. Hamilton and Clermont counties are two of the most conservative counties in Ohio, and while much of the state has overcome many of the racial tensions, Cincinnati with several large riots in the past two decades appears, at times mired in the early 1960’s.

Columbus would be that invisible Mason-Dixon Line, most people have heard of Columbus, the largest in terms of population of all the cities in Ohio it is mostly known as the largest college town in the country. A city that lives and breathes Ohio State football, which was mired in a multi-decade hangover after repeated defeats in the Rose Bowl that costs the saintly Buckeyes numerous National Championships. Even the smaller cities of Ohio are known, Toledo, Dayton, Canton and Akron have all garnered space in the minds of national citizenry, even if it is for such pop-culture phenomena as Corporal Klinger, the Wright brothers, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and rubber tires.

Then there is small town Ohio, with images of Sherwood Anderson, unlocked doors, county fairs filled with cotton candy and first kisses. An idealistic concept that feeds into the basic American dream that a small-town anybody can arise from corn-fields and hidden glens to climb into space like Neil Armstrong or John Glenn, the Presidency (seven of them-all mediocre hail from Ohio, or the silver screen such as Paul Newman and Clark Gable.

Because of its history and rich tradition, Ohio ranks fifth in colleges and universities which logically lead one to believe this is the reason it is home to so many artistic and inventive people. In spite of all of this, when one grows up in Ohio, one has the feeling of being the underdog, of someone who always just comes up short.

Ohio is known and felt as an also-ran, an area known for what it almost has but never had, and in fact never will. For an ocean we have a large lake, for mountains we have foothills and we are forever defined by our collective losses. Our sports teams are known for despair, in Cleveland it is brought out in such slogans as The Fumble, The Drive and losing the World Series with one out to go. Cincinnati is tethered to a football team better known as the Bungles and Ohio State Football went thirty years between National Championships and is better known now for losing two in the past five years. We are in our hearts cynical but lovable malcontents.

Musically, Ohio is rich, especially when it comes to punk rock, with an abrasive arty sound that helped birth the movement. Helped by the ample liberal arts colleges that dot the state, such as Oberlin, Kenyon and Antioch and huge state universities such as The Ohio State University, Ohio University, Kent State and Bowling Green. The arts scenes have always burped out terrific and idiosyncratic fare such as Pere Ubu, Devo, the Wolverton Brothers, the Dead Boys, and Guided by Voices. In the late eighties each town had its own brand that helped define and nurture the other bands and artists. Cleveland had the most excellent and under-appreciated Prisonshake, the Mice, Death of Samantha, My Dad is Dead and Cruel, Cruel Moon. Dayton had Guided by Voices. Cincinnati had the aforementioned Wolverton Brothers whose shambling country-art punk is as twisted as anything from a David Lynch movie, the Ass Ponys and the Afghan Whigs. Athens birthed Appalachian Death Ride and Geraldine, two sinister bands that would be at least marginally famous if they resided anywhere but Athens, Ohio.

In Columbus, we first had Jim Shepard (Vertical Slit/V-3), Scrawl, the Great Plains, the Gibson Brothers, Royal Crescent Mob, Boys From Nowhere and Mike Rep all made up of various odd-balls and characters who would play a huge role in the development of what is somewhat now being regarded as a high point in the Columbus underground scene. The specialness of that time was mostly due to the large and fanatical friendships and respect we had for not only one another but also for those bands that set the stage. Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae would both be besides themselves to share the stage with any Ron House fronted band and the same would be said for the New Bomb Turks who would open for any band they deeply respected, whether it be the Fastbacks (from Seattle) or Prisonshake.

We put stock in ourselves and to a large part, our friends. Friends who would carry the torch of loneliness offset by a burning desire to be heard and to hopefully lay next to another congenial soul by five am. Our hopes, crashed as theirs did when things did not quite pan out as we had planned. We were prepared for it, as it is in an Ohioan’s soul to step up to the plate and be called out by the proverbial sinker ball. Three strikes. The Trip. The Fumble. The Drive. Etcetera and so forth. Nobody got famous, nobody ever really made a dent in any product counting mechanism like Billboard, The College Music Journal or MTV but we loved and cherished one another as if our lives depended on it, night in and night out. What we discovered was the result wasn’t the prize; the prize was the friendship and the making of art for fuck’s sake. That is what an Ohioan does, not always stylish but always sincere.V-3 photo by Jay BrownJim+Shepard+jim+shep1

 

and please don’t forget the Ramones comic:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nixcomics/nix-comics-two-fisted-rock-n-roll-kickstarter/posts

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Ramones comic book? Full entries and information

February 15, 2014

Ramones

The following entries were written over a two year period, mostly between study sessions while I plowed through graduate school, guzzling coffee and listening to music. The second entry was edited by Matt Ogborn, who edited the blog up until last year when his work life was to busy to volunteer to muddle through my vast punctual and grammatical errors; so it probably reads the smoothest (thanks, Matt). These entries are set to be published by Nix Comics who have moved their 2014 schedule up to have the comic book out by Record Store Day, several distributors have agreed to carry the comic book. You can basically pre-order or order and get some other nice gifts including artwork, comic books and even my autographed copy of “End of the Century” through the Nix Kickstarter campaign. I am not real good at asking for things but if you have enjoyed the blog and want at least a physical copy of part of it, please consider contributing–if it works out, I will pursue other publishing opportunities.

The Ramones:
Saturday’s at Used Kids was an event, at times I may have been nursing a hangover and would have stopped at Bernie’s before opening up the store and have gotten a Bloody Mary to go in a styrofoam cup, complete with straw to help me over the ten am hump or I would have sent Jerry down to Larry’s to get a cold six pack of Black Label at two pm to get an early start on a long evening. By early afternoon the CD side of the store would be crammed with people, shuffling around one another, jockeying for an advantageous view of the racks of used CDs and vinyl records. By 1994, we had opened up the Used Kids Annex, which was the “collector’s” side, although the philosophy of the establishment was not to ever have collector prices. Dan Dow’s motto was “get the music to the people” which translated into an almost idealistic socialist idea of music; it should always be affordable. Music may have been a commodity but we felt that it should be an inherent right first and foremost, of course, later as the burned timbers of the music industry crashed around our bewildered, frightened heads we had no choice but to embrace e-bay and other “collectable” venues. But the early nineties were the salad days of music buying, the proverbial party before the dawn.
The Annex was run by a gentle soul, Dave “Captain” Diemer, a large man who had a striking resemblance to Richard Brautigan. Cap at one time worked at Moles Record Exchange with Dan and later ran Capital City Records, the collector’s offshoot of Singing Dog. Dan loved Cap with all of his heart and soul, and Captain was as kindhearted as he was large, a tall man with a bushy white mustache, slightly stooped he lived a life that had captured the essence of the sixties but was cynical enough to embrace the sounds of punk rock and heavy metal. He loved the sweet melancholy sounds of Phil Ochs as well as the death sirens of “War Pigs” of which he could air drum every drum fill. Captain had the most stable family life of us all, an affectionate wife and a young son all living in a small tiny farmhouse in rural Delaware County. Captain was the wise man in our world, one who presented an island of calm in the general neurotic filled days of our lives as we all crashed against the chaos and calm the sundered around us. He was always lending a bent ear to our tales, most mornings when I would bring him a large coffee with cream from Buckeye Donuts, he would beat me to my own punch, lean against me, slowly shaking his head he would mutter “I got so fucking drunk last night.” I never knew Captain to drink but he certainly was accustomed to my proclivities.
The compact disc changed everything from the staid familiarity of the vinyl record, not so much because it sounded better (which it didn’t) but because it was much more convenient. The format duped the listener into thinking the sound was better, just because it had a cleaner sound but the CD lacked depth and the affable inviting sounds of vinyl. The CD did make music exciting again for people and for some years people rushed to replace their old scratched records with shiny new compact discs and Tuesdays (which is the national release day for records) meant something. Used Kids, as with hundreds of other small mom and pop stores across the county, became a destination point.
By nineteen-ninety-three, some bands had achieved legendary status in our lives, maybe not necessarily across mainstream America, we had yet to see the self-congratulating cynicism of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the make believe idiocy of Guitar Hero and for those of us who hid our lives deep inside our record collections we relished the moment to bump shoulders with some these legends. For all intents and purposes, punk rock was not yet thirty years old and for the most part the musicians we adored in high school were still making music. Because of the good easy access of Staches and the Newport, it was quite easy to chat up John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Pere Ubu, and Alex Chilton, whose early work helped shape our comfy world. The Ramones, had turned into a punk-rock version of the Grateful Dead at this point, not in any way to insult either band but they made their money by touring, releasing semi-pedestrian records every so often that was a facsimile to their braver, younger selves. The Ramones were giants in our eyes, pillars of our musical and philosophical foundation. I had first heard the Ramones from the movie “Rock and Roll High School” which I saw in 1981. By the time I was fifteen I owned their first four records.
The Ramones played Columbus yearly, an annual stop at the Newport and at the Used Kids Annex to see Captain. Johnny and Joey never came in together but both would come in and see Captain and peruse the shelves for hours. Johnny was the bigger collector and he would be escorted to the dingy, damp back room to rifle through boxes of hard-to-find sixties garage and surf records. Truly, still a boy at heart.
We had two English gents working at Used Kids at that time, Colin Harris and Keith Hayward (who is now a semi-famous scholar) but quite English and charming in the old world ways. Keith was blond, handsome with a winsome personality that was skilled enough to entice any barmaid in town. Colin wore the dark morbidity of centuries old island living under the guise of his quick wit and eager thirst for draught beer. As I was standing up, slurping down a cold Black Label beer one Saturday afternoon, Keith came barging in the front door of Used Kids.
“Mate, you won’t fuckin’ believe it” he excitedly exclaimed, “but Joey FUCKING Ramone” just walked in the Annex!”
In my knowing, been-there, seen-that voice, I replied “yeah, he comes in every year to see Captain.”
“Holy shite!” Keith shook his head “ I had no idea” he muttered to himself.
I asked him in anybody was manning the counter next door, “um, no but give me a beer.” I handed him a beer and he disappeared. A few hours later he appeared, “you won’t fucking believe this mate but fucking Johnny just walked in.” I told him to show him the stuff in the back and gave him a few more beers to settle his nerves.
I went over during a lull in the action, Johnny asked about Captain, who left early on Saturdays and chatted up Keith, by this time I had met so many of my idols that I was mostly concerned with how I was going to drink for the night and who I would meet. I was already past the hill on disenchantment and while it could appear that I was aloof perhaps even haughty, the feeling I felt was more insular and I realized that people are the same everywhere. Some of us were too narcissistic to bother. Johnny bought a stack of records including a “Wild Angels” soundtrack which he accidently left on the counter. He of course, got tax off. He told Keith and me to come around the back of the Newport that night and he would have some passes for us, as it was already seven o’clock and would be too late to put us on their guest list. After closing up shop Keith and I ambled up to Larry’s to procure a few more drinks so the buzz wouldn’t peter out.

Ramones, part two
Bruno, my blond-haired, blue-eyed, energy-at-11 boy but age at 4, loves punk rock. We get in the car and he asks, “Daddy, can we listen to punk rock?” His sister, who has a remarkable fondness for opera and classical music, is under his shrieking assault as to what is played on our morning drive to school. “No! Saskia, we have to listen to PUNK ROCK!” Something about guitars tends to move our joined hearts.
The other day I walked out of the courtroom where I work and noticed a young woman, sitting in the blue felt and partially stained chairs in the hallway as she casually tried to look cool with a tint of blue hair hanging like a dropped flower over heavily mascara eyes, her legs pulled tight under her with a snippet of torn fishnet stocking poking from under frazzled blue jeans. To top off her ensemble she was wearing a faded, black Ramones T-shirt, the one with the Ramones Presidential seal. As I took her back to my office to conduct her assessment, I wanted to tell her of my personal Ramones experience, as if this would help bridge the therapeutic relationship between a 19-year-old, mentally-ill heroin addict and a graying 44-year-old man wearing a wrinkled dress-shirt and a tie with a dollop of jelly. I decided not to.

After Keith and I drank our fill at Larry’s, we decided to head down to the Newport, the large concert hall on High Street. My own experiences at the Newport were tenuous, as I had had a difficult experience with several bouncers at a dynamic triple bill of Th’ Faith Healers, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and the Breeders. I had ended up losing my temper and clocking a man several times my weight, after which his coworkers dragged me out by my neck, my feet dangling under me like a chicken carried across the barnyard, with me clutching my dark-rimmed glasses that were not built for barroom skirmishes. Bob Pollard was in line while I was on my way to being flung out the front door. He said, “Hey Bela, do you need help?” and then, upon noticing the thick-necked, beefy men escorting me out, “Uh, never mind!”
I had also managed to criticize the Newport management in one of the weekly papers for their lack of support of local and underground music in their pursuit of money, which was not the wisest move. At times, my own sideline hobby of promoting music was hindered by this “Fuck you” attitude toward the local corporate rock scene, as many of the bands that I had booked into Columbus who had risen to the status of playing a room the size of the Newport left me out in the dark when I could have had a nice payday for my earlier efforts. I had explained a part of this to Johnny Ramone, and he instructed Keith and me to come to the rear of the Newport to pick up some backstage passes after I assured him that my name would be crossed off the guest list for my past behavior.
Keith was excited, repeating, “The fucking Ramones, wow, can you believe it? The fucking Ramones, they know my name.” I was excited, but more so because I was to meet a woman at Larry’s after the show. We were to meet around midnight, which meant we were really just meeting to have sex.
The back of the Newport bordered Pearl Alley, and a large tour bus with a Western sunset motif painted along the side was parked next to the club. There was a small line of young women standing outside the back stage door that sat atop a small fire escape. With beer and whisky breath we stood on the crunchy gravel, keeping our distance from the chattering, nervous young punk rock women waiting to meet the elder statesmen of American punk rock. Suddenly, the Ramones tour manager, a dark-haired man wearing mandatory Ray-Ban sunglasses and chewing gum, appeared to be arguing with several staff members of the Newport. Another man in a brown suit appeared, clean-cut and holding a walkie-talkie, and yelled above the burgeoning din, “You guys have been selling your passes to all these girls all night. The show is sold out and none of your passes are good anymore!”
Mr. Ray-Ban yelled back, “That’s bullshit, you can’t do that! Show me the proof!” Keith and I looked at each other. How odd this all seemed.
Abruptly, Joey was on the scene, with his thin, angular frame and wearing a T-shirt. He pointed towards Keith and me, standing in the parking lot, giggling to ourselves. “Hey, I don’t know about all these girls, but those two guys get passes.”
Mr. Brown-Suit looked down at us, “I don’t care who it is, nobody else is getting in!”
Joey scoffed, “They don’t get in, we don’t play!”
I looked over at Keith, “This is fucking crazy.”
“Yup,” he said with a nod. It went back and forth for a few minutes.
Finally, Joey came down the stairs with Mr. Ray-Ban. “Hey, someone in our crew was selling our back-stage passes and they won’t let us. Why don’t you guys come up to Detroit tomorrow and we’ll get you in then?”
The next day was a Sunday. “I can’t, I have some family stuff going on,” in reality knowing a full-on hangover would impede driving the three hours to Detroit, getting drunk again, and driving back.
“How about Cincy, we’ll be there in two days?” This worked and we agreed to see them in Cincinnati.
Keith and I looked at each other as if we were being filmed for a sitcom. “Did Joey Ramone just say they wouldn’t play unless we were will allowed in?” I asked Keith.
Keith nodded, “Yeah, he said, if the two record store guys don’t get in, we don’t play.” I had a feeling it could have stemmed from my being banned from the venue for that idiotic move of slugging the bouncer. “Well, now what?” Keith asked.
“Well shit, we’re already on South Campus, so let’s go to Crazy Mama’s.”
Nodding, “Yup, sounds cool, might was well dance.”
As we started walking away, a bespectacled man with a beard right out of a King Crimson gatefold record cover, complete with pot seeds in the bent spine, yelled after us. “Hey guys, hold up. The fellas feel terrible and are embarrassed you couldn’t see the show, so I wanna help you out a little.” He explained that he was one of the roadies and drove their bus, the huge concert bus with a Western motif airbrushed on the side—a perfect cover for one of the most essential punk rock bands in history. He led us to the bus, telling us he was from Poland, Ohio, and had been with the Ramones for nearly ten years. “The best band you could hope to work for, even if they don’t talk to each other much. Total class guys. Salt of the earth.” As he was talking he pulled a baggie out of a worn, green satchel that was filled with marijuana. “Hey, this is for you guys, for your trouble,” and he tossed it to me.
I explained to him, “Man, we don’t need this, I don’t even smoke—I only drink.”
He smiled, “Hey, it’ll come in handy sometime.”
Keith grabbed it, “Shit, I know some girls who smoke,” and he tucked it into his pants. We thanked the bus driver from Poland, Ohio, assured him we would be in Cincinnati in a few days, and trudged off to get our dancing shoes on.
The night was strange, with an eerie energy that was fueled by our intake of Jim Beam and Black Label throughout the afternoon and evening. But South Campus in 1994 was much different than the sparkling new buildings and movie theater of the Ohio State University campus today. At the time, it was lined with bar after bar that made money selling an abundance of alcohol at a cut-rate, served in plastic pitchers and wash-buckets of beer, all with a fine film of grease floating on top. One could get shots of peach or peppermint schnapps for a mere dollar, and before stumbling home at the end of the evening, clutching hard against the person who would quiet one’s loneliness for a few hours, a person could grab a gyro for only a dollar—a perfect mint to share kisses with at 3 am. The street would be lined with cops on the weekend, some on horseback trotting over to break up fights and to help guide the lines into the packed, smudgy bars, pulsating with sounds of Bananarama, The Cure, Ah-Ha, and if one were lucky enough, New Order or The Clash. One bar even made a Sunday evening of playing mostly AC/DC and The Cult, a choice that was popular at the time but in hindsight was about as short-sighted sonically as Ian Asbury singing for The Doors. Columbus’s finest would line thin wires around the telephone poles so no future politicians, doctors, engineers, or teachers would drunkenly slip off the curb into an oncoming giant pick-up truck from one of the nearby rural burgs that dotted the adjacent counties.
I had shed South Campus several years prior. My drinking tastes no longer required me to search for the cheapest beer around, and the clientele of these establishments only pushed my buttons as I was just as likely to lose my temper with frat-boy lunk-heads or what I assumed were silly coeds. Besides, I had moved up north, closer to the store, near Larry’s and Stache’s——a convenient walk from any of these hangouts with little to no danger of getting into a row.
“Let’s take the alleyway, that way we don’t have to deal with the bullshit of High Street,” I suggested to Keith.
“Good call, man, that shit gotten even crazier, didn’t it?” I was drunk. We stopped at UDF to share a 40 ounce in the alley as we needed to feed the buzz lest it be too diminished before we completed the three-block walk to Crazy Mama’s.
“To be honest Keith, that was some really weird shit. I mean, it was like they were honored to know us, not vice-versa.” We hustled to the alley, pulling swallows from the bottle, and had finished it by the time we got to Crazy Mama’s. Dumping the empty bottle in a dumpster, I remarked to Keith, “It’s amazing that these dumbasses can’t seem to do this. Here we are drunker than shit and we know enough to throw our bottle away.”
Crazy Mama’s had steep stairs and as we climbed them we could feel the sweat inside the room. Bauhaus was playing. “I dunno Keith, they’re playing gothic shit tonight, maybe we should just go back to Larry’s.”
“We’re already here, besides some gothic chicks are sexy.”
Rolling my eyes, I said, “Whatever.” It was packed, with a whole slew of folks we hadn’t seen and a lot of punks from out of town, including a group of skinheads that lurked on one side of the dance floor on the opposite of the bar. “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I murmured to Keith. I hated crowds. Especially drunk crowds. With skinheads. Suddenly “Beat on the Brat” exploded over the bar, and I said, “Cool, we’ll stay” as I grabbed three beers, two for me and one for Keith.

The Ramones: Part Three
Crazy Mama’s was cut in half by a steep stairwell. On the north end of the room there was the bar and a tiny area filled with Formica tables and hard plastic chairs that were most often found in elementary school cafeterias, the easier to wipe them down. To the left of the bar was another tiny room with a pinball machine and one of those machines you could blow into to see if you were too drunk to drive. To the right of the bar was the dance area, small, sticky, and packed to the gills with sweaty bodies dotted by black dyed spiky hair, pierced lips, leather jackets, and more borderline disorders than a community mental health center. A huge mirror ball hung down and splashed white-light reflections over the herky-jerky and morose bodies, and the reflections went on into eternity as all the walls were covered with mirrors. There was a doorway that sat on the other side of the stairwell that connected the dance floor to the sitting area. It was used by those who wanted to avoid the rush of the bar, and it was here that the skinheads were congregating, apparently spoiling for a fight with anyone who dared venture into their territory.
I sat at a table with my two beers, milking the bubbles spiraling from the dark bottles for the courage to twist myself about on the dance floor. I just need to collect my wits. Between the sparkles of the bursting white lights that flecked the pulsating bodies in a projection of phosphorescence the made every person quiver in the haze of smoke and the discomposure amplified by the guitars blaring from the speakers, the room shook with the energy of stripling sexuality fueled by the eagerness that alcohol imbues. I gazed at my shoes, cracked black leather with heels burnished raw—a fantastical thrift store find that were discarded once and needed to be again. My jeans were frayed, a hairy knee poking out as if it were a rodent looking for a moment to cut free. I swallowed the last of my beer and walked towards the dance floor. Spinning onto it in swirl of fluid movements, I skirted across the floor, the worn leather soles gliding in the spilt beer as the moment where guitar combines with dance shut the rest of the world out.
The next song, “One Last Caress” by the Misfits, was the most beautiful ode to murder and rape ever written. Part macho bombast, part crooning Jim Morrison, and all Ramones derivative. That little muscle bound dwarf Glenn Danzig rode a spark of glory for one set of anthem evil demos before morphing into a farcical cartoon of himself. Barely over a minute and a half, enough time to dig into the subconscious isolation that the best punk rock brings to live action. In a moment the DJ blended into “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” perhaps sensing that the tension in the room was now palpable. Echo and the Bunnymen penned a few outright hymns of geeky cockiness for the mascara drenched and lovelorn who brandished tattoos under fishnet stockings, spiky hair, and black lipstick. The whole room swayed to the words of disintegrating love. Wrought over the unfulfilled passions of their twenties, couples collapsed into one another.
As the song petered out I headed to the bar to fetch another drink or two. I stepped around two of the skinheads who were discussing the sudden change to “fuckin’ pussy music.” As I listened to the DJ playing the heartstrings of the mirror people, and Julian Cope instructed the world to shut its mouth, Keith came upon me and said, “Mate, those fuckin’ skinheads are fuckin’ with me.” He gestured over his shoulder towards several glaring skinheads who wore their uniforms of intimidation as if they had picked them from the rack at the local JC Penney’s: ankle high boots with white shoelaces pulled tight, white t-shirts, and gray suspenders making a perfect “X” across their broad backs. They looked menacing, but that was half the battle they were waging. There were roughly seven of them, but through the lens of drunken history and the perturbation of the moment, I can’t recall with certainty. They smiled at us,
“Um, those skinheads over there?” I asked, as if there were skinheads in every pocket of the club.
“Yeah, especially the big fucker.” Keith was short in stature and handsome, with long curly golden locks that had seduced many a beautiful girl. He oozed easy charm and in our own personal battles of seduction he clearly had the battle won before even engaging in conversation. The big fucker was a big fucking skinhead. He was nearly a head taller than me, with a crooked grin and his big fucking shaved head, the baldness speaking volumes of fear.. We walked over, feeling braver than I ever should have, with guts full of alcohol and a temperament that was as shaky as North Korean foreign policy. I put my beers down on table next to the doorway.
Keith stood next to me. He was smiling. Perhaps the friction of violence energized him or perhaps he didn’t really think there would be violence. With a history of barroom brawls and some frequent ass beatings by my older brother while growing up, I wasn’t scared to take a punch. I also knew when to quit. One skirmish I got in off of Chittenden Avenue lasted one gigantic swing and a miss. If it would have connected, perhaps I would have been like the great home-run/strike-out champion, Dave Kingman for a day, but if I missed I was still Dave Kingman. On Chittenden, the gentleman smiled and punched me square in the front teeth. I yelled out, “Owww!, Ohhh, that hurt! Okay, you win,” and walked over to pick up my pizza, wiggling my front teeth all the way home as the big galoot hollered at me, “Hey, you can’t quit after one punch.” Turning I explained, “Listen, I gave you my best shot, you hit me in my teeth. I It hurts, so you win. I’m going home and eating pizza.”
Knowledge carries a lot in any experience. I don’t believe that Keith had ever taken a punch let alone thrown one. I knew that most bar or street fights ended quickly, in fact mostly in a matter of seconds after three or four punches, the majority never connecting. Take two drunken men, place them in a smoke-filled room with loud music and other people and ask them to try to hit one another and most likely you’ll end up with a PG-13 version of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I leaned up into the big skinhead’s face, stared into his eyes and said, “Hey, are you fucking with my friend here?”
Noticing that several of the smaller skinheads had gathered around him, as if they were the stink on his shit, he smiled and said, “What the fuck is it to you.” As he glanced at his skinhead buddies for support, I hit him right in the chest and he toppled over like a drunken man is prone to do. Immediately, regret rained over me as several of his team plowed into me as if I were a tackling dummy. I was clutching my thick plastic brown glasses in my hand. Flipping over a table with our momentum, I yelled to Keith as I felt big- leather skinhead boots kicking my ribs
I thought, “Oh yeah, these guys kick, I forgot about that. They fight in packs.” I felt a boot against the back of my head, and got scared. Being a twisty sort, I had perfected the practice of escaping from years of fleeing my brother. I held onto one guy’s leg and turned into it. When he fell over I scrambled away and headed towards the stairs. Keith was nowhere to be found.
I ran into Pearl Alley, which runs parallel with High Street, cut through another small alley, and was back on High Street. I ran all the way to Larry’s, where I knew I would be safe. Nothing felt like comfort than being part of something where everybody knew your name, your choice of drink and easily submerged themselves into your drama. I ran like a fat kid from school. I felt some blood dripping down my neck, but it did not seem too bad.
Bursting through the doors of Larry’s I went up to the bar and asked, “has Keith shown up?”
Becky, the tall bartender, looked aghast and said, “No, what happened? Your head is bleeding a little,” as she handed me a drink. There is nothing better for a concussion than a few alcoholic beverages.
“We got jumped by some fucking skinheads at Crazy Mama’s. I didn’t see Keith.” I retold the story to others and the woman I was supposed to meet seemed to enjoy it. “This may work in my favor,” I thought.
Roughly an hour later, Keith sauntered into the bar, flashing his white teeth and grinning. “Oh, thank God you’re okay, mate. As soon as you were flung over that table, I ran. They chased me all the way to 15th Avenue. I didn’t know where to go, so I ran into a party and they were going to kick me out until…I pulled out that bag of weed! It fuckin’ did come in handy!
Two days later we arrived in Cincinnati to meet up with the Ramones. We had backstage passes and saw the show from the wings of the stage, drinking the backstage Heineken’s. Joey said that they waited until five because they wanted to take us out to eat but couldn’t wait any longer. Johnny asked if I had brought his copy of the Wild Angels soundtrack. I had forgotten it, so he said, “Well, next year I’ll pick it up.” At the end of the show, Keith pulled out his camera. I suggested he take a photo of the costume cabinets—those huge black leather cabinets found backstage at Broadway shows. Written in white spray paint on the side was “Ramones” and inside there were four leather jackets on hangers. The band had changed into normal, casual t-shirts, and I don’t recall them drinking any alcohol. They were truly salt of the earth. There never was a next year. They never returned to Columbus and broke up about a year and a half later. I still have Johnny’s copy of Wild Angels. If anybody knows his widow, I would love to return it to her.

turning part of the blog into a comic, to read in the john, or at work, or under the blankets, or to your kids

February 8, 2014

turning part of the blog into a comic, to read in the john, or at work, or under the blankets, or to your kids

over the course of the past four years, many of you have supported my blog and other endeavors (the blog has reached more than 63,000 readers) and i have been working on trying to complete (two) books. In the meantime, I spoke with Ken Epstein who runs NIX comics about turning the Ramones entries into a comic book, he was so excited he has moved it to the forefront of his schedule but needs money to get it out. Hence this Kickstarter campaign. The art is drawn by Andy Bennett who has drawn for Marvel & DC comics as well as other known entities. Ken did a wonderful job of turning my words into a comic/graphic novel. For $8 you get the comic and get to help. Plus Bruno is really excited to see his dad in a comic, please contribute if you can. The other comic in the Kickstarter is a long out of print repress of a NYC underground comic with such then unknowns as Bob Camp, Peter Kuper, Mort Todd, J.B. Bonivert and others.

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Alcoholism (again?!) 2001-present

January 26, 2014

2001–present.
Cleveland lays at the end of I-71, like a large gray concrete cloud, full of billowing smoke stacks spewing flames and pollution into the air as the highway arches over factories and ethnic neighborhood, in the short distance lays the Terminal Tower, which is also the name of Pere Ubu’s greatest hits package. Cleveland actually starts nearly forty or fifty miles down the freeway when exit signs begin more numerous upon passing Lodi, Ohio and soon Akron, from here on out one finds oneself in the vast suburbs of what was once the crown jewel of the Mid-West. Cleveland, city of lights, the proud blue-collar town that built the steel that first made the first steamships and later the cars and buildings that made America what it was. The suburbs are famous by themselves, Parma, University Heights, Euclid, Lakewood and Bedford Heights, these were much more romantic than the suburbs of Columbus which have always had a more rural feel to them, not only from the inhabitants but also in their names: Grove City, Whitehall (need anymore be said), Dublin, Hilliard and Plain City. The names speak for themselves, the suburbs of Columbus are as white bread and the names themselves, whereas Parma, Bedford Heights all had a connotation of ethnic blending and big-city drama. Jerry was from Parma, his last name was shortened from the Polish Wickowski, dropping the last five letters gave him the last name of Wick. His father worked in a factory, and Jerry would spend his weekends in Cleveland or in his bedroom dreaming of becoming a rock star while listening to Kiss records along with a mix of Cleveland greats such as My Dad is Dead, the Dead Boys, Death of Samantha (Jesus, there IS a death-thread here?!).

Jerry’s funeral was in Parma Heights, his gravesite just a stone’s throw from the exit ramp off of I-71 and a few miles from the Cleveland International airport, as a huddled mass of outcasts, musicians and his bewildered family gazed on as the priest said a final prayer over the muddy hole that would soon envelope his casket one could hear the hiss of car wheels spinning over the asphalt of I-71. Roll on Cleveland, indeed. I was drunk that week, and when I went into the funeral home for the first time and saw Jerry’s body laying in his casket, I hurried out of the wood-paneled room and out into the cold air of January. Moving across the busy street, I bustled into the perfect Parma dive bar that sat just catty-corner from the funeral home. This was perfect civil planning. The bar still had Christmas decorations up and the bartender was sympathetic, “you here from across the street, the funeral home?” she asked as she put my Jim Beam shot and beer in front of me. I nodded as I downed the shot and motioned for another one, “a friend of yours?” “Yeah, he was from Parma, but lived in Columbus for a while now.” “Ohhh, was he that musician? That was in the paper up here.” “Yup,” and I downed the second shot and ordered one more. “Such a pity, did they ever catch that man who hit him?” “Not yet” as I took a pull from my beer.
The next few months were restless, I was trying to maintain my relationship with my soon-to-be-wife , get a handle of my drinking, deal with the death of Jerry all the while living with one-foot in dishonesty and the other in righteous anger, much of it from what I perceived to be great injustice in the world. I was thirty-one at the beginning of 2001 and I felt like fifty-when it ended.
My wife had graduated from Ohio State with a Masters in Fine Arts a few years before and was working at Denison University, she had won a National prize given to an outstanding MFA graduate, and while she was committed to staying in the United States, she was worried that her visa may expire. We had been together for nearly five years and been engaged for two years but I was gun-shy to marry again, the commitment to personal responsibility frightened me, and besides, I had already proven to myself that I was awful at marriage once before. Merijn came home one day as I sat on our blue couch, “my parents are coming next month and we are getting married.” Looking up from my New York Review of Books, “um, ok, what do I need to do?” She shook her head, smiled and said, “nothing, just be there.” She had been applying for teaching jobs, traveling to several conferences and in a short while she interviewed with UC Davis, The Cleveland Art Institute, Columbus School of Art and Design and the University of Florida. On our wedding day she accepted a job at the University of Florida. Gainesville was in our horizon. Soon we were staying at a hotel on the campus of the University of Florida, the area had been hit hard by fires and the smoke of the fires shrouded the campus, as I peered from our room window I had the sensation of living in a dream while gray clouds of smoke crawled across the green carpet of Alachua County.

My drinking was limited to several times a week, I drank very little in the house, maybe a beer or two with dinner and we usually had at least three bottles of hard liquor in the house. Maker’s Mark, some vodka, and maybe a bottle of gin. Merijn liked to drink wine and we bought several bottles a week. I shied away from wine as the hangovers were too much and once I had a glass, we would finish off whatever wine we had left in the house. We went out to eat several times a week, usually on Friday or Saturday we would go to a more expensive restaurant, usually downtown and our bar-tab was as much as the dinner. On the way home, I would ask her to drop me off at Larry’s, Little Brothers or somewhere else to continue my drinking and making up little lies to have her drop me off, saying so-and-so’s in town or that I would have to meet somebody to talk about a record. Slivers of truth became towering trees of lies and I would let the night swallow me up.
Alcoholism is a malady of feelings, one where the reality of life is processed through a perception of reality that is always shifting, like solid ground melting into liquid as if the soil that once held tight to your feet had slowly turned into a pool of alcohol. Believing for years that the only truth that existed was the certainty of feelings, the hurt from personal relationships and perceived slights pushed against the sanguine nature of every other person who entered my circle of self. Clutching onto fixed beliefs that were only enhanced by the world that I swam in, the derision I felt (feel) towards anything outside my comfort zone, slowly, over years painted me into a corner. Addiction, to be sure is a motherfuck. One that can render the ability to navigate through an hour at a time difficult, at once tying up feelings and then moving towards the brain and finally, fitfully into action and behaviors.
I had my first drink as a child, probably four or five, my grandmother would serve us tiny glasses of port wine mixed with sugar and every grandchild who wanted a small kid’s serving of beer would get one at her dinner table. My brother and I would try to convince our sister to take one so we could have hers. This was natural, and it only goes to reckon that it was quite normal in the old country. Grandma Isabel’s house was a museum of the Gundel and Koe-Krompecher families, the walls stuffed with artifacts of our history, a veritable dare to any guest to question the greatness of the family names. The Krompecher family dates to the 14th Century, and she had the family coat-of-arms on the wall, just above the entrance way to her kitchen. Diagonally, there was a photograph of the Hungarian government, and there in the circle of leading politicians was our great-great somebody, who was Chief Justice. On the wall above the brown vinyl couch hung a picture of my great-grandfather Karloy Gundel, one of the great chefs and restaurateurs of Hungary. My grandmother could barely utter a sentence without extolling the greatness of her father, he was empathetic, a larger-than-life figure whose shadow lorded over her house as if he were the sun itself. This made an indelible mark on the grandchildren, whose trips to her house were adventures and yet, at the same time I felt a mark was etched into my being that, I too had to achieve greatness to even be in the same breath as this history.
Unspoken in these rooms was anything that had to do with mental illness, depression, isolation or substance abuse. The drunken stories of my dear uncles Pablo and Peter were propulsive in fueling a sense of adventure, the lives they lived were epic and even today some elderly grandfather or grandmother will approach me and ask, “Koe-Krompecher? Wow, I haven’t heard that name in a while, are you related..” It is here where I cut them off, “Peter and Pablo?”. “Yes, how did you know?” their eyes sparkle and a mischievous smile crawls across their face, as if they can recall the first taste of adventure. “Oh, I know. Trust me.” “Man, they were some crazy guys, so much fun, I’d tell you but you probably shouldn’t know.” Oh, I know. Trust me. These yarns were slyly dug into my conscious as we ate egg and chicken soup, Hungarian paprikash, mashed potatoes with sour cream and a dessert made with copious amounts of rum. I got drunk the first time around the age of nine at my Uncle Peter’s house at Christmas, there is a wonderful picture of my brother Zoltan, tipsy as fuck holding a glass of champagne. He is eleven. That party was crazy and perhaps was the first inkling that there were some anger and mental health issues in my family, my father got into a fist fight with his younger brother outside in the winter cold and I remember vividly the spots of blood in the snow. My father left hastily that night and we stayed at my uncle’s. A few years later my father would exit my life, pretty much for good, leaving a void that years later had me contemplating having my children having my wife’s last name as if this would prevent the misery of depression, rage and substance abuse from their lives.
When I was 14, a goofy, nerdy smartass stuck in the middle of cornfields, pick-up trucks, John Deere hats and coveralls, a veritable intense scary version of Hee-Haw to my adolescent mind I got wasted for the first time in Jeanette George’s barn party. All of a sudden the farm boys who didn’t understand the dopey kid with the weird name was kinda cool as one-liners poured out of my mouth as if directed by God himself, and those girls who had been conditioned to fall for the stereotypical macho country boy smiled slyly at me. I had had several girlfriends when I lived in Athens, but the move to rural Ohio, burst whatever yearning hope I may have had in those budding teenage years. I was lonely. The cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon went down slowly and soon I found some good friends who were much like me, Chris Biester, Jon Baird, Mark Geiger and Jeff Entler were boys who loved music as I did and liked to drink beer on the weekend as we mocked everybody in our school, trying in vain to shake the awkwardness we all must have collectively felt.
It was brisk that night, one where the soft wind pulled the weakening hold of the leaves on the chilly trees, the breeze would blow up into the branches and slowly tug at one leaf and suddenly, like an invisible trap door a flutter of leaves would empty towards the ground. The changing fall season crept into our adolescence psyches, enveloping up with the social anxiety that dwells within children who are budding adults and fueling late night hopes of kisses, heavy petting and the wonderment of sexuality. I wore large wire-frame glasses, they were new to me as I was fitted with them upon complaining that I couldn’t see the blackboard in Mr. Chamberlin’s oh-so-boring Freshman English class, I suppose Mr. Chamberlin just thought I was another over-active dumb kid but I just couldn’t see his shitty sentence diagrams on the board. Sometime during my sophomore year, I got contacts which I wore until my alcoholism told me glasses were easier when you passed out. Glasses didn’t tend to stick to someone’s eyeballs.
The didn’t unfold as much as it burst forth as if rocketed from the barrel of a shotgun, the minutes flicked past as if they were motorized and as stars twinkled and winked from the deepest of space, I had collected a small audience as I bellowed jokes and asides. The warmth of smiles is something I cannot forget, while the thirty years that have passed since then have swept whatever funny words that tumbled forth from my lips, I realized then and there that a tiny bit of beer carried me a long way. Drinking happened on the weekends, mostly in the back seat of a car or at Mark’s house as his mother and stepfather went on trips to ride horses. It was sporadic, alcohol was easy to procure and the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I spent in Athens. It was there that drinking became easier, I looked old enough to get into bars and the hurried energy of bars excited me. Besides there were a lot of college women in Athens and this fueled my feelings of being older and a part of something much grander than a fifteen year old boy lost in the Ohio wilderness.
When I was child I would sit upon my grandfather’s knee in his cracked leather chair, he would hang his left leg over the side with a small wooden knob at the end of the arm chair being the last guard of his leg slipping off onto the floor, his foot dangling, pants leg pulled tight revealing his black socks collapsing around his ankles. He would welcome me up as he watched the news, rocking me on his knee and I could smell the Jim Beam in a glass that worked more like an extension of his hands as he nursed the smooth bourbon from late morning, to mid-afternoon to early evening before rising from the comfy chair and lumber off to bed. The smell of water and Jim Beam dug deep into my brain and when I started drinking liquor, I soon lost interest with the intense and feverish buzz that Jack Daniels gave for the smooth comfort of Jim Beam, somewhere buried into my essence was the memory of my grandfather holding me, murmuring in my ear and letting me eat salty Lay’s Potato Chips right from the bag as Walter Cronkite spoke from a black-and-white universe and for moments the world was safe. I would order a beer and a Beam and water and soon learned the fine are of cultivating a buzz. Giving up on shots after I smashed my ribs into the floor of Staches one night and after several summers of puking into an old brown bucket the lure of shots no longer enticed me, the art of drinking was about establishing a pace that could hold off the desperation of loneliness until deep into the night, and when cruising one did not want to get to sloppy as it would be easy to scare off any suitors who could take away the pangs of desperation.

Towards the end of my drinking I would loathe the night, a farce compared to just a few years prior when the twisting inside of me burned as if there were simmering coals alighting the innards of my body during the day while I pined for the night. For the comfort of cigarette smoke, music wafting overhead and through my body and the twinkle of a pretty woman, all to soothe an unsettled fragment of me. Conditioning takes years, whether it is the body or the mind, with alcoholism it is a combination of both, one feeds the other while the circumstances that compels a person may shift the symbiotic relationship remains strong. Desperation came in bursts, emotional upheavals the unraveled as the moon rose high above, pining for affirmation was a sick exercise one that still urges me to this day.

Undercurrents of discourse percolated through my mind and veins, as the excuses to drink piled on one another my behavior became dishonest, selfish and in the end extremely risky. Jerry had this at times during our friendship, where the haunting of his depression could sink him to tears or to futile anger at anyone around him. His look of utter frustration with his obsession of drinking stunned me, “Bela, I can’t fucking stop” he would utter as I clutched a handful of Black Label’s to disperse around the chunky wooden booths at Larry’s. “Aw Jerry, relax, come on. Everybody is having a good time.” He would then slide away, camping in his upstairs apartment surrounded by his best friends, that is his record collection. Jenny, on the other end approached her alcoholism with glee at that time, “I’m a fucking alcoholic, so fucking what” she would blurt out as she downed a whiskey, her life by then had not yet unraveled a horrific pace that would have her living in a mansion in Miami to the streets of Columbus in a matter of months. “Shit, I know what my problem is, and I frankly I don’t care” she would say, as we sat around her glass tabletop playing a game of quarters. Later, as a resident of Jackson County Hospital in Miami, when the apparitions that would sporadically spring from her mind grew too dangerous and the alcoholic tremors would grind her to the floor, she confessed, “I’m so fucking scared of being alone BELA,” her intensity almost breaking solid heavy plastic of my phone, “I don’t know how not to drink, it’s the ONLY THING THAT HAS EVER WORKED.” By then, I had gone through my own treatment for alcoholism and was sober. I believed her only answer was the same path I had chosen, which was twelve-step groups although I had little knowledge of the severity of her mental illness.

Sadness has cloaked me since childhood, at times burying me deep into my mind as is the sky were trying to shake the clouds free, I tore myself loose through alcohol, as a means to find companionship. At times, depression is a salve, especially when young as emotions are so strong, so immediate and encompassing, the uniqueness of heartbreak is by itself a shelter from the rest of world. Later, I would discover meditation and other acts of non-acts, so to speak but depression still pokes its head out, a goblin of sorts to trip up my day. Music has always been the consistent, more than the booze, and certainly more than the women. It was there when I was twelve and around still as I turn the page into middle age. Headphones yank me back from the precipice of the dark gloominess of my mind, of emotions that lie to me, over and over. Today, I don’t pick up a drink but many of the reasons for drinking are still there. Inside of me.

and I love THIS song now.

and THIS!!!

2013 in review: Thanks for reading, cool things coming in 2014 (hopefully a comic book about the Ramones entries!)

January 6, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


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