Sunnyside Drive was idyllic, even the name gave credence to the pure nature of childhood. Eighty-Seven Sunnyside Drive, “The Sunnyside Gang” is what we called ourselves, my sister, brother, the Miller’s just two houses next door and Moose Moorhead. There were other kids on the block, but this was “the gang.” East Elementary was just three blocks away, my sister and brother walked to school, came home for tomato soup and grilled cheese and then went back to school. I played underneath the front porch, crawling through a small hole and dug holes in the moist dirt, with only fragments of sun slicing through the wood slats that covered the sides of the porch. At times I would dig for treasures under that porch, usually an old Matchbox car or plastic green army man or if I was extra diligent I would come across a copper penny or nickel to put away and be able to buy a piece of one cent candy at Andy’s Confectionary.
My father taught architecture at Ohio University, my mother was active in some of the radical political activities that was common on college campuses during the late nineteen sixties and early seventies. Some days, my brother and I would be dropped off at Mrs. Dougan’s, an elderly lady who lived on a small farm with her husband, we would play Batman and Robin behind her chair, get to eat sliced colby cheese and crackers and throw stones at the daddy-longlegs spiders that stuck to the sun-bathed stone wall in the rear of the house.
Childhood memories poke in and out of our days as the children grow older around our knees, asking questions, wanting stories and as they wrestle with growing up, some of us wrestle with growing old. In the third grade, I brought a record home I had borrowed from a friend, “Great Hits of the 50’s” or something like that, the songs sounded dated to even my young ears, “Sha-Boom,” “Chantilly-Lace” and “That’ll be the Day, ” my mother went crazy. “I haven’t heard these songs in years,” as she bopped around on the cream-colored carpet, smiling and giggling, telling us about Poodle skirts and sock-hops. “what kind of world was that,” I thought to myself, my favorite song at the time was “Fox on the Run” by Sweet and “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, this music my mother was agog over appeared to be out of a world that long since collapsed. At the time, it had not even been twenty-years since my mother graduated high school in Columbus. My father had only been in the United States for fifteen years or so, his world had changed drastically since fleeing Europe as a child, relocating to Caracas and finally ending up in Columbus, alone, at the age of seventeen as a freshman at Ohio State.
In the car we listen to the MP3 player, and in the house its compact discs, although there are at least a hundred vinyl records littering the white IKEA cabinet that holds our twenty-year old television, X-Box game system, a stereo system circa 1995 and a turn table that has been destroyed by the sticky-fingers of a blond haired, blue-eyed boy of four. The CD’s are stacked high, in groups mostly scattered by my particular mood, one stack is full of melancholy, Adrian Crowley, Nina Simone and Townes van Zandt, while another almost has sparks shooting from it as it shows a propensity of sudden dance sessions with the kids, Superchunk, Blondie, The Soft Boys, and Mudhoney. The largest stack is broken into smaller mounds of peacefulness, all classical, Beethoven String Quartets, a Jacqueline Dupree box set, choral music from the Harmonia Mundi label, Arvo Part and some 20th Century avant-garde. In the midst of this emotional path are stacks of CD’s without cases, some burned, many unlabeled and a few that have been sitting in the same spot for over five years. The music is everywhere, still the lifeboat that keeps a middle-aged man’s head on securely. The children have their favorites, and it’s all timeless, Woody Guthrie, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, Justin Townes Earle, anything with loud guitars, Saskia is prone to sentimental music, folk, story songs and classical. In the car she would rather listen to “This American Life” than anything else. At this moment her favorite song is “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” as recorded by the Weavers, done up with so much sentimentality and hokeyness it would make Martha Stewart blush. Bruno’s favorite song at the moment is “Welcome to the Working Week” by Elvis Costelvis (his was of pronouncing it, which is the embodiment of little-kid genius). When singing in the house he snarls about, whilst walking around the house, his little lip curling upward almost spitting the words out. He has no idea what he is singing.
Climbing into the future is not an easy task when considering the weight of the past, in one sense the idea of immortality is the tether provides the motivation, and so the subconscious provides this through our children, our songs, writing and painting but the mundane of everyday life is set aside, the waiting at the traffic light, eating a crappy meal and using the restroom, these are forgotten as if Christ, Beethoven or Mark Twain never did such things. The fireworks of our lives are remembered after we go but what we remember are digging in the dirt, looking for pieces of treasure, a bottle cap, a bruised nickel or waiting for our older brother to get home to help us make a city of blocks and forts of Lincoln Logs.
As an adult I couch myself in humor, it bursts out of me, discharging out of my mouth with no safety gauge, a loose cannon in a inkwell of tie’s and decorum at the Franklin County Courthouse where I work. At times, I mutter to myself, letting the joke release in hushed tones or else my jaw may fall off. Humor is the weapon of choice for the over sensitive, for many, the prickly sharp edge of a witty barb deflects the blunt emotional force of being left behind and isolated. From childhood on, when discovering that making a person smile could actually improve the environment. Jerry Wick had the same loose cannon, his inner filter must have broken by the age of 14. He was emotionally obtuse at times, with a chasm of eloquence between his intention and his speech. This proved dangerous for him at times, on one occasion Pat McGann , the forceful drummer for Greenhorn chased him around Bernie’s Bagels one night. All because Jerry insulted Dan Spurgeon, Greenhorn’s excellent songwriter and on-time roommate of Jerry. As Pat chased Jerry around Formica tables and plastic chairs, spilling beer and knocking half eaten bagels to the ground with teeth grit and leveling more threats than a chained up pit-bull, Pat clutched air and Jerry gleefully cackled about the room.
The humor was self-depreciating, always was and always will be, I suppose, it is easier to point out one’s own shortcomings than having another do it for you. Jenny was quick to point out her sexual promiscuity, perhaps annoying some of the men on the music scene. On her first tour t-shirt instead of cities she wanted to list her sexual conquests on the back and with a nod to the Staches motto, “Staches….I Been There”, she wanted to write, “Jenny Mae, You Been There.” It is the things that tend to hurt us the most that we mold into the humor that defines us, using a weakness for a strength, I suppose other’s bury it with shades or dollops of stereotypical bravado, feminmity or decorum but it was easier for the average Sub-Pop fan to self define himself as a “loser” than to have the middle linebacker from the football do it to him first.
One night, after I had fallen in love with my first New York Girlfriend, I had planned on meeting her on High Street with her old roommate J. Mascis who had almost single handedly defined my existence with his blazing guitar solo on “Freak Scene”. I was nervous, aware of my own sense of awkward and clumsy body, of wire framed glasses that had been bent and bruised by too many late night stumbles and having Jenny toss them across the room to see me scurrying after them, “God-Damnit Jenny, these are my only fucking glasses, I can’t fucking see without them.” “ahh, but you are adorable looking for them, Nerdla.” Sharon was beautiful, with a sense of style and she loved the same hip-hop I did (Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul) and fortunately she was attracted to witty guys, with crooked teeth, bumbling hands and a deep sense of emotion that sunk into a passion for music. J was visiting Sharon with his girlfriend at the time, Maryann, and they wanted to see Soundgarden at the large boxy, concert venue the Newport. I had seen Soundgarden at Staches the year before and was non-pulsed by them, they sounded like a lumbering Led Zeppelin with a heavy bottom and yowling vocals, with nary a semblance of a melody the entire evening. I did not care, I was excited, I had drank a great deal of coffee and a shot of Jim Beam. The alcoholic drinking that would develop was kept at bay by the fear of being emotionally adrift again. As I walked back from Bernie’s in the cool autumn sun, smiling to myself with the wide eyed excitement of meeting J and maybe holding hands with Sharon (sex was out of the question for me at that time, again the fear of emotional disappointment loomed large), a small group of teenagers approached me, a thin white male with close cropped hair and wiry eyes approached me, “Hey look at Urkle!” he yelled to his friends and punched me full on in the mouth. Spitting half a tooth into my mouth, “You little fucker” I stammered, knowing the hopes of impressing Sharon and J had disappeared with the teen-ager’s perfectly placed fist, I grabbed him and wrestled him to the ground, my glasses hurtling into the other direction. During the next fleeting moments, as the skirmish ballooned with his posse of friends trying to kick me and him scrambling under my clutches, a few college kids pulled them away and yelled for someone to call the police. I sat on the ground, heat rising into my ears, heart beating fast and for a moment I was back in high school–the nerd. It last for only a moment, and I went looking for my glasses. They were gone. One of the ruffians must have taken them. I was angry, but did not feel humiliated, we were taught to fight if we needed to fight and the back-yard grapplings and living room punch outs with my older brother had prepared me well. I could take a beating but now , on the eve of the date of a lifetime and meeting my favorite musician, I sat toothless and blind on the High Street sidewalk. Soon, Sharon and J walked up, I used my humor to diffuse the situation. We saw Soundgarden, J shrugged them off as I had earlier in the year and we ended up back at Larry’s and I let myself pound Jim Beam as my tooth lay open to the sensations of the world. Later that night I slept at my friend Joe Moore’s house, in the bed of his roommate who clutched me tight in the night while I resisted her overtures as I had already fallen and in my mind been taken by Sharon. The next morning, I went to Lenscrafters and bought a new pair of glasses with all the money I had, $90. The frames I bought were on the bottom of their sale drawer, a pair of darkish-brown Buddy Holly type frames that I assumed would hold up well during drunken evenings and the dangers of bar-room drinking.
Saskia looked at an old picture of me and Jerry Wick the other morning, Jerry who had been practicing poses long before had ever thought about it, is staring into the camera, smoking a cigarette and holding a Busch beer. His attire is all black, “Rocket from the Crypt” t-shirt and black jeans, the confidence of having his photo taken, for all eternity. I am standing next to him, a bit anxious, too insecure to look into the camera, knowing my inherent goofiness carries well into photos, I look over at Jerry. I’m wearing torn jeans, and a fraternity t-shirt I had found at a thrift store. The absurdity of me wearing a frat shirt always tickled me and I have Walkman in my hand. I remember the day well, I had just got finished with a run and Jerry and I went to Jay Brown’s house for the photo, it was late afternoon in the spring. I had not yet plunged deep into drinking as of yet and was in fairly good shape, and my dark plastic frame glasses suited how I felt most days; hesitant yet a bit bold. Saskia stared at the picture, “daddy where are your tattoos?”
“I didn’t have any tattoos, I never really wanted them.”
“Oh, well you look like a guy who should have them.”
She looked more at it, “Daddy, is that your dead friend Jerry?”
“Yes dear, that’s him.”
“Where are his tattoos? He looks like he needs some also.”
Sighing, “well, he didn’t really like tattoos either, they were not as popular then although we knew a lot of people with them.”
“What are you guys doing?”
“just standing there, in a kitchen, getting our picture taken.”
“Daddy? Was he famous?
“Umm, not really, I mean he made records and people liked his music but he never was on television or anything. But he had a lot of friends, we loved him a lot.”
Saskia continued to look, “did he want to be famous?”
“I think so.”
“Daddy, I’m hungry.”
“ok, let’s eat.”
Tags: Adrian Crowley, alcoholism, Anyway Records, Athens, Bela Koe-Krompecher, BERNIE'S BAGELS, Brett Lewis, children, Columbus Ohio, Elvis Costello, gaunt, Greenhorn, High Street, J Mascis, Jenny Mae, Jerry Wick, lo-fi, lonliness, Mudhoney, Nerds, Ohio, Sharon Anderson, STACHES, Superchunk