Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 11: first songs and a come-on


1984/1991+

I started writing poetry and short stories in high school although I had never taken a poetry class or a decent writing class while in high school.  Needless to say that rural high schools in Western Ohio, whose student population were encouraged to apply for jobs at the local International Harvester/Navistar factory  upon graduation displayed little credence to the arts. This caught me off guard upon moving to the tiny burg of Catawba Ohio from what (in comparison) appeared to be the cultural giant of Athens, Ohio. As an eighth grader in Athens besides wanting to work in a record store I dreamed of being an artist or an art teacher (which most artists have to be anyway to pay the bills). When we visited Springfield Northeastern just prior to enrollment in the summer of 1982, I was shut out of the four art courses they offered and had to settle for Industrial Arts.  Back then the boys took Industrial Arts and the girls took Home Economics, I was encouraged to take Industrial Arts over Home Economics my freshmen year for I was told I would be the only male in Home Ec.  I followed the guidance counselor’s advice even though I have always had a deep seated fear of any sort of tool, especially one that has volts of electricity running through it. I barely passed Industrial Arts and to this day I would rather wash dishes, cook dinner and scrub a toilet than hold a screwdriver or even open a tool box.

I started writing my poetry my sophomore year, the same year that I discovered masturbation. Imagine that. At times I would transcribe some of this truly sophomoric poetry to the rudimentary song arrangements of my friends Jon Baird and Chris Biester.  Chris is one of the people who can play anything, from any stringed instrument to any found object. He can coax a melody or a beat out of thin air. Chris would later form Appalachian Death Ride, one of the most under-rated bands to come from Ohio.  He, like Jenny Mae, Jerry Wick and I would wrestle with the same monsters as we did. I didn’t have anyone to show my writings to until I met Jenny Mae.

One afternoon as Jenny and I finished up with what was no doubt clumsy, probing awkward teenage sex, she looked in the cubby at the top of my bed and found a stack of notebooks.  These contained the writings of a young man who was trying to make sense out of sex, government, love and abandonment, pretty much what I still struggle with today.  She read them and was amazed, looking back it probably had more to do with the fact that she actually met a boy who wrote alone in his room, among books by Vonnegut and Salinger and records by Lou Reed and the Kinks. A great deal of the poetry was about her, I’m sure I wrote in the stunted language of clichés, trying to make some sort of sense of the avalanche of feelings I had.  Shortly thereafter I wrote my first short story for her little brother Tony; it was about a boy who could see back into the time of the dinosaurs through the ingredients in a candy bar wrapper.  It is long forgotten to the trash bag of candy bar wrappers.

I would continue to write, mostly in fits and starts depending on my mood the next several years. The creative juices usually flowed depending on my emotional state, if things were rough with Jenny then I tended to write more, when they were easy, we laughed most days and nights and this took the place of putting my heart on paper.

In 1989 we were living in a duplex on Summit Street in Columbus, we lived with a man named Dan Miller who was a buddy of my brother and took great pride in his occupation as a carpenter.  Dan was beautiful in his simplicity, at times hilariously so. He worked hard, harder than I ever had and he enjoyed coming home caked in mud and pride and would drink a six pack and laugh along with the laugh-track of the television. He would open a can of Campbell’s Beef Soup with his key ring and eat the soup cold. Then he would pass out. He was never the cleanliest man and it wasn’t uncommon for him to wear part of the mountain of clothing I had at the corner of my room after his clothes had become too immobile from grim.  One time he came home from work, my eyes grew wide when I eyed his shirt. I glanced toward Jenny, “Look what Dan’s wearing.”  Her  mouth dropped and she excused herself from the living room.  I quickly followed her into the bed room where we both slowly dived into a mass on the floor. We were laughing so hard we weren’t making any noise, kinda like when a baby falls, opens her mouth to cry but nothing comes out but you know the howl is brewing. “Oh fuck, we have to tell him” she said. “O.k. you do it,” I stammered.  Just then Dan appeared at the doorway.  “Tell me what?”  Jenny pointed at me, “Bela has something to tell you about that shirt you’re wearing.”  Dan, looking apologetic said “hey, you said I could wear your clothes if I needed.”  I took a deep breath, “Dan, hate to break this to you but you’re wearing our cum rag.” Dan’s face twisted into a slow motion earthquake, his eyes literally filled with tears, “Oh fuck!!!???” he yelled, this too was also oddly in slow motion. It came out as “O-o-o-o-h-h-h-h-r-a-a-a-g-g-g-g-h-h-h f-f-u-u-a-u-g-h-h-k-k-k-k!!!?” As a question. His disbelief at the realization that he had been wearing this article of spent love for an entire day was too much for him. He attacked the shirt from every angle, wanting to tear it off but not wanting to touch it at all, it was if he were smothered in centipedes. Frustration was flying off of him as if he were a living algebra problem. We laughed harder, there was nothing we could do. Finally he wrenched the shirt free, making animalistic noises by this time. “You guys are assholes” he stammered and stalked out of the room. “What could we do?” we asked ourselves. We laughed for a good two weeks on that one, Dan gave us the silent treatment for at least that long.

The Summit house was pretty insane at times, I was the house dad, and we had a number of revolving roommates, each one with a distinctive odd trait about them. One got drunk a pooped in the heating vent, even we thought that was a bit much by our lengthy standards. Another one, a woman’s whose name I can’t remember was a compulsive liar, who has probably now been diagnosed as a border-line personality disorder. She once asked me to have a threesome with her and Monica, I literally ran from the house.

Summit was where we were living when we met Jerry Wick, with his and Jon Stickly’s (who would form Boy Scout Love Triangle, a midwestern’s take on the U.K. Paperclip record label) encouragement I bought a small Casio for Jenny to write her songs on. Soon she was taking bits of my poetry and adding some of them to her incredibly catchy melodies.  The first time she played me one I didn’t even recognize my words, she had used words from several different poems.

I always thought that some of Jenny’s best songs were the ones where she wrote the words and I think she used my words somewhat because she was lazy with lyrics. I also think that as I grew older I made a concerted effort to shed the clichés of my earliest writing. This provided Jenny with an opportunity to avoid the standard love-struck simplistic pop song, which was her forte and come up with something a bit different but the same. When I left Jenny she had a nice storehouse of excellent songs, most of which would appear on her first record “There’s a Bar around the Corner” and some would never appear on record. She would write songs in the same manner as I would construct my poetry and stories, in brief manic efforts. She may write ten songs in three days and then not anything for several months.

Jerry was very supportive of her songs; soon she caught the ear of Craig Dunson who was the guitarist for one of Columbus’s most popular live bands, Pica Huss. Craig was an interesting guy, an ex-marine who wore Roy Orbison styled glasses and who had a great knack for melody and whose guitar playing was always sophisticated but not showy. One may miss the carefulness of his playing during a Pica Huss show which was usually one part Butthole Surfers, one part heroin or cocaine and one part orgy.  They were the freak central. Craig took a direct shining to Jenny’s songs, and soon he started recording her on his portable studio which was a step above sonic-wise, to Jerry’s self described Cornhole studios. Jerry was a bit miffed when this happened. I think Jerry wanted Jenny to be his discovery, but she had a knack for attracting some of the most gifted musicians to help her despite her living demons.

Jenny took no mind to whom I wrote my poetry about, she would stop by my apartment sometimes and take one of my little notebooks.  At one point she wrote a song with a poem I had written for Nora from the Slave Apartments, what was meant as declaration of immediate love was transfigured into a dark paranoid paean to love that she called “Blazing Saddles.” I always hoped Nora would never hear it because it had never been my intention for it to wind up like that.

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One Response to “Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 11: first songs and a come-on”

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