Archive for April, 2010

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 30: Funerals and Winter

April 18, 2010

Funerals and Winter

Winters in Ohio are made of the emotional dregs of depression, the ashen polluted air of decrepit steel mills and coal mines and a landscape populated with battered hopes and forlorn thoughts. These somehow congeal together to make a gray morass of dingy desperate grey that rises with the fallen hopes of fall football fans stretching from Cincinnati (the Bungles), through Columbus (the Luckeyes) and settling into Cleveland (the Mistake on the Lake. This gray wraps around the skyline from November, just in time for most of the football Gods to have squelched any hope for a January championship, into the late blasting winds of March. It is unrelenting and oppressive, with an ability to cause statewide cursing on a daily basis by almost broken saddened masses who wrap themselves as snuggly as they can in winter coats, multi-colored scarves and wet boots that get their monies worth in the ever ending slush of winter.

There is a certain physical hardness that comes from living in Ohio, where brutal winter after brutal winter can shape a face into a soft enamel of skin. This is more from the neurotic impact of the never-ending gray than the wind and snow. Ohio lacks any semblance of a mountains and the haphazardness of the weather disallows such outdoor winter fare as pond skating, skiing or hockey so we naturally hold things in, wearing brave faces, drink beer and hone a cynicism that only a veteran bar-fly would appreciate. For many Ohioans, they go underground, hibernating in basement dens with large televisions, pizza and sports television thus resulting in bodies transfigured by lack of exercise and shitty food, bloated and immense as the depression that festers inside the girth. For others of us, we pined for escape through art, music, treadmills and alcohol we found our relief in stumbling through the slop of icy mud while we looked for our cars that we only parked a few hours earlier. I am not certain if there are any studies on the rise of alcohol sales and the use of anti-depressants in the winter months but I am quite certain that in Ohio these tend to skyrocket.

Jerry passed away in January, it was fitting that his death arrived amid snow drifts and the general crappiness of Ohio weather. Where the general mood is “what the fuck else can go wrong”, where many people tend to take the weather personally as another gray filled day is an act from God, exacting one more piece of a bruised soul. Anyway, this was how I felt when Jerry died, I had suffered from depression for many years and the old ways of dealing with it were drying up as much as I was trying to keep them wet. The music scene was changing for me, and much of my hopes in bands and artists were being vanquished by the personal choices the musicians were making. Jenny was living in Florida, having given up her music career as she stood on the brink of minor-celebrity in the indie-rock world, Moviola had shrunk from the favors of major-label overtures in favor of children and home buying, Appalachian Death Ride had basically ceased to exist as members battled their own demons, only the New Bomb Turks were still making music. Jerry was dead and I felt my life was now being defined by lose.

The world was getting suffocating, the choices fewer and while not yet thirty-three I couldn’t see myself at forty yet alone at thirty-five. Instead of being an active participant, as I once was I struggled to find a place within my shifting existence. I was certainly becoming someone whom I swore I would never become, a cynical bitter shadow who ducked from participation to search for meager pockets of laughter and sex brought by the ingestion of alcohol. Even these once fantastical pursuits were shriveling up and unsatisfying. Jim Shepard had hung himself, his life defined by his rejected death, swinging by a belt fastened to a doorway whose sole purpose was to hold the weight of the walls above the passerby’s was now betrayed by the ultimate act of sadness. For myself, the suicide of Jim was an event that reached deep with my own psyche bringing a long thought act into fruition, it was as destabilizing an event as any as I had ever encountered. Until the death of Jerry.

Jerry’s funeral was planned by his family, who were sweeter than I would have thought, as for many years Jerry shied away from his upbringing as so many of us were prone to do. Our insular world was filled with familial outcasts who not only scattered far from our physical upbringing but tended to push the memories of broken childhoods away to be replaced by the swagger and commotion of searing guitars, cigarettes and laughter. These latter three ingredients were the saviors we always searched for, and for me they were being replaced by urns and pine boxes. Jerry was buried in Parma, Ohio and large working class suburb of Cleveland, filled with tiny shoe-box houses constructed after the Second World War to house the returning G.I.’s and their lustful spouses. I met his father, mother and younger brother, trying in vain to let them know the joy their son had brought to our confined world. How Jerry’s music had touched people overseas and most importantly been able to grant those who knew and love him a starting point for merriment and copious amounts of late night cackling. I don’t know if I ever came close to succeeding. Jerry, flinched with the sound of religion especially fundamentalist Christianity, he would badger me for my weekly attendance to mass and try in vain to poke holes in my belief in Catholicism. His funeral was rigid, with a large gathering of his friends from Columbus, Cleveland and Chicago crowded into the hard wooden pews that were symbiotic of the service. The pastor didn’t try to capture Jerry’s audacious sense of humor and was much more focused on the afterlife, with little semblance of hope for those gathered around his coffin that we could emerge from foolish lifestyles.

I had driven up with Brett Lewis and our friend Jim, my girlfriend was going to meet us up there for the funeral. They picked me up at my house, I brought along a bottle of vodka I had started to become friendly with and a twelve pack of beer. We landed in at the motel and caught up with Bettina Richards and Elliot Dix, a Columbus native who had become a fixture in the Chicago music scene. We went out to the small neighbor dive bars that Jerry no doubt would have inhabited if he chose to stay in Parma and laughed as we told ridiculous Jerry story after ridiculous story. When I walked into the funeral home the next day and saw Jerry laying in the casket I quickly turned heel and found a dive-bar just a muddle away from the funeral home. I had two doubles of Maker’s Mark and returned, emboldened by the alcohol I could now face my friend. I knew at that moment I had a very serious issue with alcohol.

Cleveland was gray with a callous skyline that heaved masses of smoke into the air, as if the smoke stacks that pocketed the area were upturned water faucets, gushing grayer into an already overflowing bathtub of sky. We huddled around his grave as tears fell to the ground and the shattered expressions blossomed around the cemetery, I felt guilty as I did not answer his father’s call for pall bearers. I wanted to hide somewhere but stood there with my back against a tree, muttering to our friends about the Jerry’s foolishness. Jerry’s parents made a beautiful gravestone for him, complete with a guitar carved into the granite surface. For them, the loss must have been greater as they never had the opportunity to know the sheer pleasure of their adult boy, only unanswered questions. I was too chickenshit to help them clean his house out, I begged off every opportunity I could as they made the trip from Cleveland; they were left alone to piece together his life over the past twelve years. Later, his father contacted me, asking for video of his son. I still haven’t gathered these together.

I quit drinking roughly over a year later; I had a very difficult year after Jerry died. A year filled with trepidation, loss, and eventually new awakenings. As, I traversed early sobriety, Jerry would flash across my mind and leave tiny bits of encouragement as I fought feelings of escape and angst. I was one of the only persons I had known to give up the drink at that time, a singular figure in my life held up by the unsettling events of my near past and the promise of strangers I had no idea existed. When my daughter was born nearly four years later, I would cradle her in my arms and think of Jerry. How much he loved kids, he loved to be silly and how much he would have loved my darling little daughter.  For once, I think Jerry would have been brave enough to tell me he was proud of me. For a moment even the gray of an Ohio winter, cast rays of light throughout my life.

photo by Jay Bown

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Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 29: Ohio

April 3, 2010

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.