Family part one:
Some family portraits are painted with lies constructed with bit of color that is meant to cover and explain the unexplainable, hidden secrets that are slowly uncovered with time, as if there it were discovered that Rembrandt painted over another painting. Details are present but clouded by mystery, and muted even when put under a microscope. Exiting the teenage years felt like we were being propelled by a gun, full of explosions, excitements and smoke we rocketed into our twenties not only with a desire to escape our families but also with the very real possibly of reinventing ourselves on our own terms. The world in which we revolved in was encased in the feasible ideas of rediscovery. The first person who I ever knew to do this was Jack Taylor, who grew up Richie Violet in the small Ohio town of Urbana. Why Richie chose the “John Doe-ish” name of Jack Taylor, whose simple pronunciation screams “average” is unknown to me. Jerry Wick recast himself for a short period as “Jheri Curl”, for the stylized wet-styled look of many African-Americans; he quickly shed that name along with his patchouli oil shortly after we met.
Jenny was in constant re-invention mode, for a quick minute she quickly embraced and the discarded a slight deviated version of a hippie. She listened to the Grateful Dead and dragged me down to the Southberg bar to see Akootisk Hookah and Local Colour for about a month in 1988 before I finally told her I could not stand to see another jammy cover band. I had never liked the Dead nor did I like marijuana and wasn’t all that big on empty statements and gesture such as “Peace”, “Love” and “Why Can’t We All Get Along”, for a while my inner motto could be summed up as an answer to the latter, “Because I Hate All of You.” Jenny was the first person I knew to frequent thrift stores, for the simple reason we were borderline desperate poor. Both of us living off my meager $11,000 a year salary as the assistant manager of Discount Records. In the late eighties and early nineties thrift stores in Ohio were packed with dollar shirts, dresses and shoes from the sixties and seventies. This was pre-irony and soon Jenny was proudly wearing prom-dresses from the sixties and seventies down High Street, sporting feather boas to Staches and fake pearl necklaces onstage. I found my fashion sense quick and have kept to it over the years, mostly consisting of t-shirts and jeans, for a brief spell I embraced western styled shirts and photo enhanced picture shirts from the mid-seventies but soon realized I might have kids one day.
The weight of family can be a lodestone around one’s invisible neck; my life was directed by ideals that were hefted upon my tiny shoulders from a very young age. My father’s family came from the well connected and well-educated old world of Budapest, with a pantheon of politicians, professors, physicians and scientists dating back hundreds of years on his father’s side. My grandmother, whose immense size was only eclipsed by her out-sized personality, came from a family of money. Her father, Karloy Gundel was featured in an extensive New Yorker article in the nineteen forties; he remains one of Hungary’s most famous chefs. Upon stepping into her house, one was quickly transported into another time and place, the was bedecked by seemingly thousands of black and white photographs of both sides of the family. Some of faded images were of well mustached and mutton-chopped men sporting fantastical uniforms of the late nineteenth century, men who were statesmen in Hungry. Other photos of my ever-present great-grandfather, whom I never met, and his hotel and restaurant. Even the menu of Gundel’s was on display. What space on the walls that was not covered by photographs was blanketed by my grandfather’s paintings, my grandfather was as humble as my grandmother was ostentatious. A quiet man, who quickly retreated to her office to draw, paint and read his beloved Nero Wolf novels. He had five degrees and PhD in law but never practiced, but nary one diploma was present on his walls, he wrote several technical books on engineering and I never learned of these until after he passed and I discovered them while cleaning up my grandmother’s basement.
The pressure to make a definite mark in life was unspoken but pronounced and while the expectations were there the tools to achieve such lofty standards was not always apparent. While childhood is magical and fresh, some are marked by disappointment, abandonment and the consequences of unchecked mental illness. From an early age, I felt as if I were an outsider and to this day, while I am happily married, I cherish my time alone yet a part of me still desires the gratification of recognition. My wife must remind me when I disappear into myself. This was true for many of us, as we ducked the consequences of the adverse blows of childhood into a world filled with excitement, alcohol, music, artistic expression and sex. My brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather all taught on the University level and I was a three time college drop-out when I finally returned to college at the age of 35. Inner expectations were crippling at a time. Jerry’s family had no idea the impact he had neither on other’s lives nor of the fact that his dream of being nationally recognized for his music was realized. It took his death and the unearthing of boxes of magazines, fanzines and video for his parents to realize his musical impact on others. Jenny’s father never attended one of her shows or ever acknowledged that his little enchanting girl once graced the glossy pages of Entertainment Weekly.
Success was bound through the fabric of public recognition, from newspaper articles, to the grimy black and white print of Maximum Rock and Roll we searched for a ways of success that would eliminate the secrets of childhood that left inner holes of abandonment and disappointment in our souls. We filled up the cavities with music mostly, the secret ingredient that provided meaning and sense to nonsensical lives, and we also engaged in sex and of course the use of intoxicants to liquefy our feelings, believing they were more real when drunk. More alive. At the time, just a few years removed from the turmoil of high school, escape was not escape it was the answer to all the unanswered and unspoken questions of childhood, of fabrications built upon fear and embarrassment. The fact that my father’s own severe mental illness was unspoken for years played an active role in what I took as my own shortcomings as a full-grown man who tried in vain to get the recognition every little boy craves but was never answered. Later, learning that the personal satisfaction can only come from within and those you trust. We were all afraid to address our demons, which shrouded themselves in alcohol, irony and caustic wit. For me, it took one too many times of crossing my own moral compass to address them, for Jerry, I believe it was something he wrestled with until he was tragically struck down on his bicycle. At the time of his death he was actively rebuilding his relationship with his parents and younger brother, only after the public recognition he so craved came crashing to a crumpled heap when Gaunt was dropped from Warner Brothers. Jenny fights her demons daily, at times they manifest themselves in the stark reality of flesh, vomit and mucus of daily alcoholism and on other days they are subsided long enough for her to play songs on her keyboard and to construct a humble painting on her coffee table.