Archive for January, 2010

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Part 24 “The Trailer”

January 16, 2010

Athens: 1990

The trailer sat roughly ten miles outside of town, half-way up a small Appalachian foothill in Athens County. Athens is a small college town, nestled within a high poverty area of Southeastern Ohio, that at one time consisted of many Eastern European immigrants who worked in the high sulfur coal mines. In fact my brother’s pee-wee football coach went by the name Bela although he had a very distinct Appalachian accent. It was known as “The Trailer”, and bore the reputation of an almost living breathing entity, some of my friends in Athens who knew little about my brother had heard rumors and tales of  “The Trailer”. It was a standard size trailer with two bedrooms, a small living area that easily connected to the cramped kitchen area. It was situated in a flat area of the hill, and was completely surrounded by trees. The small drive that widened up the steep pitched hill was basically a smoothed over mud patch, more suitable for BMX biking than driving a car. It’s a wonder how the trailer was moved up to the spot where it rested, perhaps a UFO had plopped it onto the hill.

My brother is a year older than me, he choose a much different career path than me, and he joined the service, became a Green Beret and then proceeded to go to college and became an officer. He is still in the military today. After he returned from his first overseas stint in Germany he went to get his undergrad at Ohio University. For a while Jenny and I would sometimes visit with him when we went to Athens although we generally ran around a much different crowd in Athens. He tended to hang out with his rugby buddies (who engaged is all sorts of unmentionable bar-room activities) and we would hang out at the Union bar and get plastered while watching local and national bands such as The Cows, Guided by Voices and Thinking Fellers Union.

It was odd when my brother decided to move into “The Trailer”, it was a setting that was not conducive to studying and his future roommates where ones whom the term “baked” had nothing to do with bread. He had been all over world because of his career choice, growing up in Athens with a father who was an ex-professor all of us children had assumed we would attend Ohio University. My older sister attended OU for what amounted to an extended burp and Zoltan waited until he was already in his mid-twenties with a military career already full-go. I had used Athens as an escape from my life that was already centered around escaping itself.  Zoltan always had a loyalty that was much more bountiful than my own; I was one to stick with a few ideas and friends while Zoltan could remember every classmate from first grade. When he went back to Athens for school he settled in with the townies, a group of home-grown locals who, at times had a skeptical view of the imported student population but took part in all the extra-carricular activities the student population brought. These consisted of a downtown that consisted of more bars than actual retail businesses, huge block length parties and an abundance of locally grown “spices”.  Just outside of the town limits the environment turned impoverished, with a huge contingent of poverty stricken low-income whites that piece-mealed a sustenance together, cobbling together enough hard work and luck to just get by. The farms that flecked the rolling hills were small and barely large enough to eke out a promising existence.

The trailer was owned by a boyhood friend of my brother, a good-old boy from a traditional Midwestern family that farmed a small plot of land. Danny, was red-haired and large, prone to drinking too much alcohol on a daily basis (as many in the area are) who was cast adrift after completing high school. For many in the area, although they grew just shy of the large state university, college was not a choice. This is not uncommon in most of the Midwest, where even in a largely populated state like Ohio that is filled with a plethora of higher education opportunities, there exists little career opportunities for high school graduates. In Springfield, where we went to high school, one had the choice of working at the large International Harvester, Honda, farming or most likely a shitty fast-food job. In Southeastern, Ohio the two previously mentioned job opportunities were not available.

Many, if not most of the recent high school graduates, schlepped around for a few years, moving through their early twenties unmoored until they either got somebody pregnant, got pregnant or somehow managed to wrangle a suitable job from the hollow economy of the area. For many, life was an endless weekend as opportunities were spaced far between cases of Pabst-Blue Ribbon Beer and bong-loads. With each passing year, life could grapple the ankles of fortune and pull a poor boy down into a pit devoid of favorable circumstance. This was the population my brother gravitated to upon returning to Athens. The trailer housed Danny, my brother and an old grade-school friend named Brian. How my brother accomplished reading one book in the trailer is beyond even my broad imagination, some of it may have to do with his ability to live in a swamp for a week with one knife, one match, one piece of rope and a live chicken.

Jenny and I would visit the trailer on our monthly visits to Athens, although we would never stay very long, for it would reawaken the very recent memories of a high school period surrounded by good-old boys (i.e. rednecks) and the blunt immediacy of personal confrontation. Where manhood could be summed up in loud vocal tones and one’s ability to discuss the ingredients of a powerful engine. I was always looking for a way out. The muddy path sloped up the crooked hill, with hesitant and hic-uppy stops only a large truck or earth moving vehicle had the hopes of climbing up that treacherous driveway. At that time Dominoes Pizza would offer a free pizza if they could not deliver your pizza to you under thirty minutes, on rainy nights they boys would order a few pizzas knowing full well that a car could not drive up the impassable drive, and they would get the pizzas for free. Soon enough, Dominoes refused to deliver pizza to the trailer.

Our firs excursion to the trailer happened on a Friday night, I had just gotten a new car, a 1984 blue Chevette, complete with an AM radio and stick shift. I had bought it off my former step-father for $400 and was proud of the small, compact and ugly machine. On the way down, Jenny and I stopped at a McDonalds to get some coffee to chase the 40 ounce beers we had. While waiting in the drive-through window line she asked to drive, I said “No, you can’t drive a stick. You’ll ruin the transmission.” She protested, saying “my dad taught me how, last summer.” I knew this was a bald-faced lie, I taught Jenny how to drive and not in a stick-shift. In fact, I took her to get her driver’s license in my former car. “Jenny,” I smiled “you’re lying, I taught you to drive. You can’t drive a stick.” Smiling back, “yes, he did. I promise I know how, I won’t mess it up. I’ll make it up for you.” I knew what this meant, a sexual favor. “O.k. but be careful.” We switched places and as she tried to pull forward she grinded the transmission, making a horrific racket, all of sudden with eyes bulging out and me screaming the car shuttered to a spasmodic halt. She looked over to me and proceeded to hand me the shifter. “Oops….here.” I was dumbstruck as I held the foot-long stick shift in my hand, staring at the oily end hovering above my lap. “What the fuck?! What the fuck?! What the fuck?!” I yelled. She said matter-of-factly “maybe you should drive.” With that she got out of the car.

The car was in second gear and somehow I manage to stick the shifter into the grimy black hole and get it into third gear. We ended up driving the rest of the way, praying that we didn’t hit any stop lights. I silently wept for the first twenty minutes and Jenny talked and drank beer as if nothing had happened. We eventually got to the imposing hill, as muddy stream of water cutting down the center of it. I managed to get the haggard Chevette half way up the hill where eventually because I could not downshift it stalled and rolled back into a small sapling. The night was going to be a disaster. Climbing out of the car, our shoes quickly filled with mud and we trudged up the hill, with each step our feet became enormous globs of mud. I went from a size eleven to a size thirty in three steps. Next to the trailer sat a large 4X4 truck that was left for dead as evidenced by its bed housing a mountain of empty beer cans that towered over its cab like an aluminum tower.

Opening the door, our boyhood friend Brian laughed at us, as did the living room full of townies. The living room had two couches and several chairs with a small table that was overfilled with empty beer cans and liquor bottles. My brother got up, and said “that hill is a trip isn’t it. Should have told you to park at the bottom and walk up.” I handed him my stick-shifter, “we had a little trouble on the way down” I said glancing over at Jenny. Danny jumped up, laughing he said “sorry for laughing at you trying to master that hill, I can fix that for you now.” With that he disappeared into the wooded darkness and reappeared several minutes later, “all fixed”. He did it with nary a tool as his hands were covered in grease. “It just kinda pops back in. It should stay that way.” I went to use the rest room, peeing I looked over and saw a fork lying next to the tub. After rinsing my hands in the filthy sink I grabbed the fork to take it back into the kitchen. As I walked into the living room everybody howled “Oh, shit put that back and scrub your hands” and “shit, do you see what he has?!”  I held up the fork as if it were an unexploded grenade. “This?” “Yes, that’s our pube remover.” I was confused. “What, your pube remover? What the hell is that?” My brother got up and bravely took the fork from my hands and escorted me back to bathroom. “Be, we use that to pull the pubic hair from the drain.” As I scrubbed my hands I murmured “obviously.”

When we left the rest room, Zoltan motioned to the room off to the side, “that’s my bedroom, you guys can stay in there but I should warn you we saw a black snake in there last week.” I decided then we were going to stay with Chris Biester in town. Sitting on the couch my backside nearly touched the floor. Everybody noticed my clumsiness, and explained “we cut the legs off all the couches because guys were just shoveling their plates underneath and squirrels were getting in and eating the food off the plates.” I offered “why don’t you just wash your dishes?” This drew cackles. I then noticed the shotguns lying next to the couches, there were four of them. I asked what they were for. “Oh, in the daytime we take bets on who can shoot a squirrel from the couch. Whoever misses has to go on the next beer-run.”  “Oh, makes sense.”

Jenny and I sat on one of the couches, we were handed fresh beers, directly to my left sat an older sandy haired man named Tommy. I knew everybody else which consisted of childhood friends Danny, Brian, Mark, and my brother’s younger girlfriend Sandy. Tommy shook our hands and winked at Jenny. He was a Vietnam vet and was very pleasant at first. We drank beer and played drinking games and after an hour Tommy switched, he looked over at my brother’s girlfriend and grinned, with clumsy syntax he stuttered “you, my dear are quite munch able.” Zoltan chimed in “Hey, Tommy cut it out, that’s my girlfriend you’re talking about.”  Tommy looked over at Jenny “I must say, you are too.” That was it; my brother stood up and demanded an apology from the drunken vet. They faced off; one broken ex-Vietnam vet whom, I later learned had spent a great deal of time in prison, and a large young buck of an Army officer. Circling each other, Tommy baited my brother, “hey you may be Army but you ain’t really army till you kill somebody. Going to Germany ain’t nothing like getting’ shot at.” Zoltan, who towered over the smallish thimble of a man, was keeping his cool, “Tommy you can stay if you settle down and apologize.” Tommy sneered, “fuck you, I can take you. Fuckin’ pussy.” Being mindful of all the shotguns, that I assumed didn’t have their safeties on we moved towards the kitchen. Finally, Tommy left. I told Zoltan that we needed to meet up with our friend Chris in town. We left with minutes after Tommy left. Things just didn’t seem right.

Later that night, Tommy came back brandishing a handgun which he shoved into my brother’s stomach. As the other inhabitants of the trailer scrambled out of the way, ducking behind legless couches and grabbing their own guns my brother managed to talk him down but not before Tommy needing to prove the severity of the situation fired several shots into the woods. Tommy would later die in prison; my brother forgave him and sent him letters and books while he was incarcerated. Zoltan would soon after move to First Street where he lived with a cast of other characters and eventually he too would see the havoc of war. We never returned to the trailer.

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Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 23: Rev. Horton Heat and Jerry

January 3, 2010

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."JERRY WICK AND JIM WEBER" PHOTO JAY BROWN