Jerry and I were so similar in many ways but in others we drastically different, this came out in the way we communicated with each other. While I was looking for saviors I believe he was looking for validation that for him came in the recognition of being an artist, a burning cinder of compulsion that would last long after he arrived and departed. In the latter sense this was truer than he could have ever imagined. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my former best friend Jerry and the path he carved through my shambled over-grown mind. Perhaps the most memorable aspects of Jerry wasn’t so much of the music he created, which in terms of artistic talent never achieved the heightened hopes we may have hoped but of the person who by sheer force of personality penetrated his four chords and rudimentary drumming into his music, sculpting his very being into simple pop music clouded by brawny yet sophisticated guitar licks that amped his songs like all the laughter he created.
I was a fan of pop music, a person who idolized Randy Newman, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones until the age of fifteen when I discovered Lou Reed, The Ramones and R.E.M., and till this day if it doesn’t have a melody I couldn’t really give a fuck. Jerry, was firmly rooted in the Cleveland punk and underground scene. In a sense most of us on the scene were historians, the kind of geeks that would trace the musicians on a particular record back to their deepest roots; we knew the engineers, the producers and the meanings behind the songs. What was a revelation for us as we navigated and operated through the incestuous underground scene was that people listened to us, we both became authorities on the validations of My Dad is Dead, Dead Moon and the Dead Sea. This trust emboldened the both of us and we could talk for hours about the historical significance of Pere Ubu or such up and coming bands as Pavement (Jerry only liked the 10”) and Urge Overkill (Jerry thought they were brilliant, I thought they were all show with little purpose.) In hindsight it was all silly, but of great importance to both of us at the time. As much as I can sense the seriousness of witches for my four year old daughter from my wizened perch of forty-one, I realize that purpose is essential to many of us.
I was never a fan of nostalgia, hated the glamorization of the nineteen sixties growing up and thought that “the greatest generation” was always a self-congratulatory affirmation used to assuage guilt and sell product. I have always believed that people have certain times and incidents in their lives that help shape and build them regardless of the year in their lives. For me, it only made sense that I huddled near other like-minded souls in my twenties and if I was alive in 1961, no doubt I would have breathed in the same air as a young Phil Ochs and other Larry’s regulars. I would have been a fan of be-bop in 1949 and would have read the early beats and no doubt if I were twenty today I would relish the newest recordings by The Gaslight Anthem , Eat Skull and Kurt Vile. In this way I was always distrustful of artists who gravitated towards the past and the people who followed them.
I never cared for Rock-a-Billy music too much, I liked Elvis as a kid but the only thing close to rock-a-Billy I liked was the punk influenced art-fucked sounds of The Cramps, the Cheater Slicks, the Gibson Brothers and Big Stick. I hated Brian Setzer and had no feelings towards tattoos and thought wearing sun glasses indoors was pretentious and un-necessary. I always wanted to cut to the chase, get to the meaning of things and never mind the glamour or fashion of any community. Being a loner for most of my life provided me the opportunity to pick and choose and while I spent much of my life in and around nightclubs it was very common of me to go to Staches for the opening band and then wander down to Bernie’s or Apollo’s for two other bands. Most of us did this.
One night, the Supersuckers were opening for the Reverend Horton Heat at Staches. The Supersuckers had just released “The Smoke of Hell”, their finest moment on record, full of cock-sure bravado with tongues firmly in cheek; they managed to encapsulate all the importance of making devil-may-care music with the right amount of self-mockery that allowed one to fully trust them. To me, the Reverend Horton Heat was no difference than a glorified underground version of Brian Setzer or ever worse George Thorogood whose rock-a-billy was even worse because he played blues music. I was already sad enough, I wanted to dance, cheer and shake my head to the music not talk about guitar licks and being a lower middle class white kid from Ohio I couldn’t pretend to relate to Muddy Waters—I had no need for blues music. Anyway, Jerry was a big fan of Horton Heat. We met at the show and loved the Supersuckers who put on a fast triumphant show that consisted of cowboy hats, choreographed stage moves and genuine silliness backed by Marshall stacks. They had managed to turn to all-to-seriousness of 70’s guitar rock onto the flamboyant funniness of punk rock; which is much harder than it sounds.
After they played I told Jerry I was leaving, he was incredulous and followed me outside. “What, I can’t believe you’re leaving?!” I looked at him, “I hate Horton Heat, he’s like a glorified George Thorogood. I’m going down to Bernie’s to see Clay.” Jerry shook his head at me as I wandered, half-lit down High Street to hear the spasmodic sounds of Clay who came on like a carnival version of Pere Ubu and Brian Eno. For three months in 1993, Clay was the best band in Columbus.
Later that night, Jerry came down to Bernie’s and said that Horton Heat was an asshole. Apparently Jerry, overcome by cheap beer had decided to heckle the Reverend. Calling him among other things “a George Thorogood wannabe”, this prompted Mr. Heat to stop the show and threaten to come down and beat Jerry’s ass. The next day, Jerry sold all of his Reverend Horton Heat records.
If there was line that people adhered to, we crossed it, taking the opportunity to make someone feel uncomfortable we took it, Jerry much more often than I ever did. Jerry thrived in doing this; it is a testament to his charm that he didn’t get beat up on a weekly basis. There were times we would go to certain clubs, such as the Newport or restaurants where we thought the food was too expensive and we would go to the rest room together. We would both stand next to each other at the urinals and pull our britches all way down to the floor so our little bare asses stared out to the waiting masses. It was all five-year-old pissing style and we would be pelted with a variety of insults such as “you fucking fags” or “come-on, grow up you fucking idiots” which just made us cackle louder. This was always unsettling in some of the high end restaurants we would sometimes drink at, as men in suits would shake their heads at us no doubt wondering just what the hell we were doing in a place that was a step below a dress code. We would laugh on the way out and saddle up at the bar, next to our dates that always got a kick out of our adolescent behavior. The angry businessmen to doubt wondering how such beautiful women would be in the company of such idiots. We laughed louder, longer and more heartfelt than anybody in those crusty establishments and we took a certain amount of pride in this.
Jerry wanted to matter, to be remembered as some of his heroes such as Peter Laughner, Townes van Zandt and Johnny Thunders. The best songwriters we both knew up close and personal were Ron House and Mark Eitzel. We both had a vast amount of respect for Ron and Jerry craved his acknowledgement as if he were the coach’s son. Since we all lived in world built upon not revealing too much of ourselves, our praise came in the form of back-handed compliments and perhaps a nod of appreciation. We dare not venture to let someone know they moved us; this was an impossibility. Ron and Jerry bickered more than Jerry and I did, I respected Ron and we held respectable distance from one-another, each one confident in our own ability to navigate our lives in spite of vices that could be debilitating. This was most likely also due to the fact that I wasn’t a musician, I may have painted and wrote but I didn’t play a guitar-I really wasn’t a threat to all the other big fish in our medium sized pond.
Sadly, for many of us we didn’t get the opportunity to tell Jerry how much he mattered to us musically until after he died. I was living in Gainesville when I received an e-mail from Rough Trade records in the U.K. They were assembling a compilation of their greatest rock and roll songs of all time, all of them post 1977. As a testament to the talent of Jerry and Ron both Gaunt and the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments were to be included on the compilation. This would have been the perfect validation for Jerry, as the CD contains such essential acts as The Stooges, Mudhoney, Rocket from The Crypt, The Pixies and Suicide. Seven years later The Columbus Alive would vote that Gaunt’s “Kryptonite” the best Columbus record of the past thirty years.