Archive for January, 2014

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Alcoholism (again?!) 2001-present

January 26, 2014

Cleveland lays at the end of I-71, like a large gray concrete cloud, full of billowing smoke stacks spewing flames and pollution into the air as the highway arches over factories and ethnic neighborhood, in the short distance lays the Terminal Tower, which is also the name of Pere Ubu’s greatest hits package. Cleveland actually starts nearly forty or fifty miles down the freeway when exit signs begin more numerous upon passing Lodi, Ohio and soon Akron, from here on out one finds oneself in the vast suburbs of what was once the crown jewel of the Mid-West. Cleveland, city of lights, the proud blue-collar town that built the steel that first made the first steamships and later the cars and buildings that made America what it was. The suburbs are famous by themselves, Parma, University Heights, Euclid, Lakewood and Bedford Heights, these were much more romantic than the suburbs of Columbus which have always had a more rural feel to them, not only from the inhabitants but also in their names: Grove City, Whitehall (need anymore be said), Dublin, Hilliard and Plain City. The names speak for themselves, the suburbs of Columbus are as white bread and the names themselves, whereas Parma, Bedford Heights all had a connotation of ethnic blending and big-city drama. Jerry was from Parma, his last name was shortened from the Polish Wickowski, dropping the last five letters gave him the last name of Wick. His father worked in a factory, and Jerry would spend his weekends in Cleveland or in his bedroom dreaming of becoming a rock star while listening to Kiss records along with a mix of Cleveland greats such as My Dad is Dead, the Dead Boys, Death of Samantha (Jesus, there IS a death-thread here?!).

Jerry’s funeral was in Parma Heights, his gravesite just a stone’s throw from the exit ramp off of I-71 and a few miles from the Cleveland International airport, as a huddled mass of outcasts, musicians and his bewildered family gazed on as the priest said a final prayer over the muddy hole that would soon envelope his casket one could hear the hiss of car wheels spinning over the asphalt of I-71. Roll on Cleveland, indeed. I was drunk that week, and when I went into the funeral home for the first time and saw Jerry’s body laying in his casket, I hurried out of the wood-paneled room and out into the cold air of January. Moving across the busy street, I bustled into the perfect Parma dive bar that sat just catty-corner from the funeral home. This was perfect civil planning. The bar still had Christmas decorations up and the bartender was sympathetic, “you here from across the street, the funeral home?” she asked as she put my Jim Beam shot and beer in front of me. I nodded as I downed the shot and motioned for another one, “a friend of yours?” “Yeah, he was from Parma, but lived in Columbus for a while now.” “Ohhh, was he that musician? That was in the paper up here.” “Yup,” and I downed the second shot and ordered one more. “Such a pity, did they ever catch that man who hit him?” “Not yet” as I took a pull from my beer.
The next few months were restless, I was trying to maintain my relationship with my soon-to-be-wife , get a handle of my drinking, deal with the death of Jerry all the while living with one-foot in dishonesty and the other in righteous anger, much of it from what I perceived to be great injustice in the world. I was thirty-one at the beginning of 2001 and I felt like fifty-when it ended.
My wife had graduated from Ohio State with a Masters in Fine Arts a few years before and was working at Denison University, she had won a National prize given to an outstanding MFA graduate, and while she was committed to staying in the United States, she was worried that her visa may expire. We had been together for nearly five years and been engaged for two years but I was gun-shy to marry again, the commitment to personal responsibility frightened me, and besides, I had already proven to myself that I was awful at marriage once before. Merijn came home one day as I sat on our blue couch, “my parents are coming next month and we are getting married.” Looking up from my New York Review of Books, “um, ok, what do I need to do?” She shook her head, smiled and said, “nothing, just be there.” She had been applying for teaching jobs, traveling to several conferences and in a short while she interviewed with UC Davis, The Cleveland Art Institute, Columbus School of Art and Design and the University of Florida. On our wedding day she accepted a job at the University of Florida. Gainesville was in our horizon. Soon we were staying at a hotel on the campus of the University of Florida, the area had been hit hard by fires and the smoke of the fires shrouded the campus, as I peered from our room window I had the sensation of living in a dream while gray clouds of smoke crawled across the green carpet of Alachua County.

My drinking was limited to several times a week, I drank very little in the house, maybe a beer or two with dinner and we usually had at least three bottles of hard liquor in the house. Maker’s Mark, some vodka, and maybe a bottle of gin. Merijn liked to drink wine and we bought several bottles a week. I shied away from wine as the hangovers were too much and once I had a glass, we would finish off whatever wine we had left in the house. We went out to eat several times a week, usually on Friday or Saturday we would go to a more expensive restaurant, usually downtown and our bar-tab was as much as the dinner. On the way home, I would ask her to drop me off at Larry’s, Little Brothers or somewhere else to continue my drinking and making up little lies to have her drop me off, saying so-and-so’s in town or that I would have to meet somebody to talk about a record. Slivers of truth became towering trees of lies and I would let the night swallow me up.
Alcoholism is a malady of feelings, one where the reality of life is processed through a perception of reality that is always shifting, like solid ground melting into liquid as if the soil that once held tight to your feet had slowly turned into a pool of alcohol. Believing for years that the only truth that existed was the certainty of feelings, the hurt from personal relationships and perceived slights pushed against the sanguine nature of every other person who entered my circle of self. Clutching onto fixed beliefs that were only enhanced by the world that I swam in, the derision I felt (feel) towards anything outside my comfort zone, slowly, over years painted me into a corner. Addiction, to be sure is a motherfuck. One that can render the ability to navigate through an hour at a time difficult, at once tying up feelings and then moving towards the brain and finally, fitfully into action and behaviors.
I had my first drink as a child, probably four or five, my grandmother would serve us tiny glasses of port wine mixed with sugar and every grandchild who wanted a small kid’s serving of beer would get one at her dinner table. My brother and I would try to convince our sister to take one so we could have hers. This was natural, and it only goes to reckon that it was quite normal in the old country. Grandma Isabel’s house was a museum of the Gundel and Koe-Krompecher families, the walls stuffed with artifacts of our history, a veritable dare to any guest to question the greatness of the family names. The Krompecher family dates to the 14th Century, and she had the family coat-of-arms on the wall, just above the entrance way to her kitchen. Diagonally, there was a photograph of the Hungarian government, and there in the circle of leading politicians was our great-great somebody, who was Chief Justice. On the wall above the brown vinyl couch hung a picture of my great-grandfather Karloy Gundel, one of the great chefs and restaurateurs of Hungary. My grandmother could barely utter a sentence without extolling the greatness of her father, he was empathetic, a larger-than-life figure whose shadow lorded over her house as if he were the sun itself. This made an indelible mark on the grandchildren, whose trips to her house were adventures and yet, at the same time I felt a mark was etched into my being that, I too had to achieve greatness to even be in the same breath as this history.
Unspoken in these rooms was anything that had to do with mental illness, depression, isolation or substance abuse. The drunken stories of my dear uncles Pablo and Peter were propulsive in fueling a sense of adventure, the lives they lived were epic and even today some elderly grandfather or grandmother will approach me and ask, “Koe-Krompecher? Wow, I haven’t heard that name in a while, are you related..” It is here where I cut them off, “Peter and Pablo?”. “Yes, how did you know?” their eyes sparkle and a mischievous smile crawls across their face, as if they can recall the first taste of adventure. “Oh, I know. Trust me.” “Man, they were some crazy guys, so much fun, I’d tell you but you probably shouldn’t know.” Oh, I know. Trust me. These yarns were slyly dug into my conscious as we ate egg and chicken soup, Hungarian paprikash, mashed potatoes with sour cream and a dessert made with copious amounts of rum. I got drunk the first time around the age of nine at my Uncle Peter’s house at Christmas, there is a wonderful picture of my brother Zoltan, tipsy as fuck holding a glass of champagne. He is eleven. That party was crazy and perhaps was the first inkling that there were some anger and mental health issues in my family, my father got into a fist fight with his younger brother outside in the winter cold and I remember vividly the spots of blood in the snow. My father left hastily that night and we stayed at my uncle’s. A few years later my father would exit my life, pretty much for good, leaving a void that years later had me contemplating having my children having my wife’s last name as if this would prevent the misery of depression, rage and substance abuse from their lives.
When I was 14, a goofy, nerdy smartass stuck in the middle of cornfields, pick-up trucks, John Deere hats and coveralls, a veritable intense scary version of Hee-Haw to my adolescent mind I got wasted for the first time in Jeanette George’s barn party. All of a sudden the farm boys who didn’t understand the dopey kid with the weird name was kinda cool as one-liners poured out of my mouth as if directed by God himself, and those girls who had been conditioned to fall for the stereotypical macho country boy smiled slyly at me. I had had several girlfriends when I lived in Athens, but the move to rural Ohio, burst whatever yearning hope I may have had in those budding teenage years. I was lonely. The cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon went down slowly and soon I found some good friends who were much like me, Chris Biester, Jon Baird, Mark Geiger and Jeff Entler were boys who loved music as I did and liked to drink beer on the weekend as we mocked everybody in our school, trying in vain to shake the awkwardness we all must have collectively felt.
It was brisk that night, one where the soft wind pulled the weakening hold of the leaves on the chilly trees, the breeze would blow up into the branches and slowly tug at one leaf and suddenly, like an invisible trap door a flutter of leaves would empty towards the ground. The changing fall season crept into our adolescence psyches, enveloping up with the social anxiety that dwells within children who are budding adults and fueling late night hopes of kisses, heavy petting and the wonderment of sexuality. I wore large wire-frame glasses, they were new to me as I was fitted with them upon complaining that I couldn’t see the blackboard in Mr. Chamberlin’s oh-so-boring Freshman English class, I suppose Mr. Chamberlin just thought I was another over-active dumb kid but I just couldn’t see his shitty sentence diagrams on the board. Sometime during my sophomore year, I got contacts which I wore until my alcoholism told me glasses were easier when you passed out. Glasses didn’t tend to stick to someone’s eyeballs.
The didn’t unfold as much as it burst forth as if rocketed from the barrel of a shotgun, the minutes flicked past as if they were motorized and as stars twinkled and winked from the deepest of space, I had collected a small audience as I bellowed jokes and asides. The warmth of smiles is something I cannot forget, while the thirty years that have passed since then have swept whatever funny words that tumbled forth from my lips, I realized then and there that a tiny bit of beer carried me a long way. Drinking happened on the weekends, mostly in the back seat of a car or at Mark’s house as his mother and stepfather went on trips to ride horses. It was sporadic, alcohol was easy to procure and the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I spent in Athens. It was there that drinking became easier, I looked old enough to get into bars and the hurried energy of bars excited me. Besides there were a lot of college women in Athens and this fueled my feelings of being older and a part of something much grander than a fifteen year old boy lost in the Ohio wilderness.
When I was child I would sit upon my grandfather’s knee in his cracked leather chair, he would hang his left leg over the side with a small wooden knob at the end of the arm chair being the last guard of his leg slipping off onto the floor, his foot dangling, pants leg pulled tight revealing his black socks collapsing around his ankles. He would welcome me up as he watched the news, rocking me on his knee and I could smell the Jim Beam in a glass that worked more like an extension of his hands as he nursed the smooth bourbon from late morning, to mid-afternoon to early evening before rising from the comfy chair and lumber off to bed. The smell of water and Jim Beam dug deep into my brain and when I started drinking liquor, I soon lost interest with the intense and feverish buzz that Jack Daniels gave for the smooth comfort of Jim Beam, somewhere buried into my essence was the memory of my grandfather holding me, murmuring in my ear and letting me eat salty Lay’s Potato Chips right from the bag as Walter Cronkite spoke from a black-and-white universe and for moments the world was safe. I would order a beer and a Beam and water and soon learned the fine are of cultivating a buzz. Giving up on shots after I smashed my ribs into the floor of Staches one night and after several summers of puking into an old brown bucket the lure of shots no longer enticed me, the art of drinking was about establishing a pace that could hold off the desperation of loneliness until deep into the night, and when cruising one did not want to get to sloppy as it would be easy to scare off any suitors who could take away the pangs of desperation.

Towards the end of my drinking I would loathe the night, a farce compared to just a few years prior when the twisting inside of me burned as if there were simmering coals alighting the innards of my body during the day while I pined for the night. For the comfort of cigarette smoke, music wafting overhead and through my body and the twinkle of a pretty woman, all to soothe an unsettled fragment of me. Conditioning takes years, whether it is the body or the mind, with alcoholism it is a combination of both, one feeds the other while the circumstances that compels a person may shift the symbiotic relationship remains strong. Desperation came in bursts, emotional upheavals the unraveled as the moon rose high above, pining for affirmation was a sick exercise one that still urges me to this day.

Undercurrents of discourse percolated through my mind and veins, as the excuses to drink piled on one another my behavior became dishonest, selfish and in the end extremely risky. Jerry had this at times during our friendship, where the haunting of his depression could sink him to tears or to futile anger at anyone around him. His look of utter frustration with his obsession of drinking stunned me, “Bela, I can’t fucking stop” he would utter as I clutched a handful of Black Label’s to disperse around the chunky wooden booths at Larry’s. “Aw Jerry, relax, come on. Everybody is having a good time.” He would then slide away, camping in his upstairs apartment surrounded by his best friends, that is his record collection. Jenny, on the other end approached her alcoholism with glee at that time, “I’m a fucking alcoholic, so fucking what” she would blurt out as she downed a whiskey, her life by then had not yet unraveled a horrific pace that would have her living in a mansion in Miami to the streets of Columbus in a matter of months. “Shit, I know what my problem is, and I frankly I don’t care” she would say, as we sat around her glass tabletop playing a game of quarters. Later, as a resident of Jackson County Hospital in Miami, when the apparitions that would sporadically spring from her mind grew too dangerous and the alcoholic tremors would grind her to the floor, she confessed, “I’m so fucking scared of being alone BELA,” her intensity almost breaking solid heavy plastic of my phone, “I don’t know how not to drink, it’s the ONLY THING THAT HAS EVER WORKED.” By then, I had gone through my own treatment for alcoholism and was sober. I believed her only answer was the same path I had chosen, which was twelve-step groups although I had little knowledge of the severity of her mental illness.

Sadness has cloaked me since childhood, at times burying me deep into my mind as is the sky were trying to shake the clouds free, I tore myself loose through alcohol, as a means to find companionship. At times, depression is a salve, especially when young as emotions are so strong, so immediate and encompassing, the uniqueness of heartbreak is by itself a shelter from the rest of world. Later, I would discover meditation and other acts of non-acts, so to speak but depression still pokes its head out, a goblin of sorts to trip up my day. Music has always been the consistent, more than the booze, and certainly more than the women. It was there when I was twelve and around still as I turn the page into middle age. Headphones yank me back from the precipice of the dark gloominess of my mind, of emotions that lie to me, over and over. Today, I don’t pick up a drink but many of the reasons for drinking are still there. Inside of me.

and I love THIS song now.

and THIS!!!

2013 in review: Thanks for reading, cool things coming in 2014 (hopefully a comic book about the Ramones entries!)

January 6, 2014

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Michael Galinsky & Suki Hawley

January 4, 2014

(not edited)

I first met Mike Galinsky in 1991 or 92, I had stumbled across his band, Sleepyhead, via a Shimmy-Disc compilation titled “Chinny Chin Chin” which consisted of four NYC bands. Perhaps the best known was Kicking Giant. I gravitated towards Sleepyhead, that sounded like a fast Superchunk, if something like that was even possible. Somewhere along the line I got a hold of Michael, and his two band mates, Chris O’Rourke and his then girlfriend (now wife?) Rachel. I have a vague recollection of maybe Bettina Richards or her Pier Platters cohort, Otis Ball giving me Michael’s phone number.

Anyway, soon enough, I had booked Sleepyhead to play a weeknight show at Staches with Gaunt. Nobody came to the show but they didn’t care, they were happy to be playing with a decent rock band, and besides, they were impressed that Gaunt was going to be on Bettina’s fledgling Thrill Jockey Record. Michael was tall, and very thin with one of those skinny man Adam’s apple that made his neck and face even more pronounced. I, on the other hand had a triple chin to look forward too as I grew older (not yet though) thanks to the fat Hungarians in my family. Michael wore red cut off jean-shorts and talked a mile a minute, I was intrigued by Rachel as she drummed and I only knew of few female drummers at that time, Georgia from Yo La Tengo, and Janet from 11th Dream Day both of who also shared singing duties along with their significant others.

The next time Sleepyhead came to town they had just signed with Slumber land Records and came with an opening band. The art-slop damaged Dung Beetle who made a racket of a noise at Bernie’s, fronted by the novelist and writer Sam Lipsyte, Dung Beetle was more of an beer fueled art experiment than the fast-paced guitar sounds of Sleepyhead. Again, no one came to the show but we all got smashed, my alcoholism at this time was only a murmur, blanketed by my outsized humor and a yearning to please. Every time that Sleepyhead came to town, I had a different woman and the carousel of sweethearts would be as constant as the Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Budweiser that I clutched tightly to. Michael and the band grew very fond of my two small dogs, Richard and Istvan. Richard was incredibly lovable and Istvan was a dick, he ate everybody’s food was prone to biting if someone tried to say, get a loaf of bread from him or just as easy piss of the floor after eating the “g” section out of my record collection (all my Giant Sand and Gibson Brothers have Istvan scars.)




The third time Sleepyhead came to down was in support of Half Japanese (and maybe Moe Tucker?), there is a very nice photo the Mike took of Jad Fair and Istvan having a stare-down near my grill that appeared in Option Magazine. Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, loved Richard so much they had her photographed taped above their van’s rear-view mirror next to the Queen of England and thanked her on one of their records, for “inspiration.” Mike took more photos this trip and my favorite picture of the dogs is one he took of them, side by side after they devoured an entire bag of Sleepyhead’s cough drops. On this trip, their van was in a crazy accident, as Chris opened the driver’s side door and car drove by and tore it off. Kept on driving, as is the Columbus tradition for night-time drivers (i.e. see the death of Jerry Wick). There was a mad scramble the next day to get the door back on.


There were several more trips to Columbus by Sleepyhead, on one Mike filmed the only known Gaunt video. Soon, as the nineties came to a lurching and (for me) wasted in, Mike had married Suki Hawley who I believe had played or toured with Ruby Falls another NYC band I had booked at Bernie’s. They had made a mad-dash of a film, called Half Cocked which involved members and cast-abouts of the Louisville and Memphis music scenes, it was a burst of black and white along with improvised dialogue and a nugget from that era of indie-rock. Mike brought the film to Columbus and we showed in on a screen while Tim from Two-Dollar Guitar and Sleepyhead opened it up.

A few years later, I was in NYC with my soon to be wife staying in Brooklyn and Mike had just gotten married, and he invited us over for the celebration. I remember sitting on the phone and wanting to go but my wife had a big art opening and I knew I could not trust myself to go to a party and maintain my wits for my wife. I would get too loaded so I quietly demurred.

Mike and I remained in contact, and when I lived in Gainesville he sent me a package of his films on DVD, “Half Cocked” and “Horns and Halos” a documentary involving President George W. Bush, and a man, JH Hatfield who wrote a biography on President Bush that claimed that Bush was arrested for cocaine. Hatfield later committed suicide, in 2001. I terms of what Mike was doing in NYC, I felt left behind, as I picked up the shards of my life that I had not just figuratively but also quite literally smashed upon the hard wood floors in one sad epic afternoon, the anger, frustration and stupidity of my life was slammed into the walls and floor, splintering into a million cracked, pointy specs of things I held dear. I felt adrift, or perhaps I was adrift and had come crashing into the rocky beach? Mike and Suki had taken the ideals of the indie/underground movement, the true ethos of DIY that had given me and so many others the propulsion to exit our tired, and at times, a hopeless grey future and gave us permission to carve and whittle our own lives through our art. We had taken whatever talent we had musically, artistically, and romantically and fed it into the festering creative engine that burbled inside of us and forged an identity. Burnishing ourselves with the confines of notes, paint and typewriters and effervescence conversations, that spilled out of our collective mouths like coffee percolating we forged ourselves with the parameters of nothing except ourselves. As I galloped into my early thirties, so many of my friends, dead, or left for dead as addiction and mental illness chewed not only their talent but also their souls alive, I knew I had lost my way.

Mike and Suki were an inspiration, casting aside the music that had propelled him in his early twenties he rediscovered or more appropriately turned his attention to the visual world. The making of “Half Cocked” must have been liberating and soon they were making award winning documentaries, and as of this past fall releasing several books of photography. Mike’s first book of photography, titled “Scraps” is a black and white time capsule of east coast indie rock, mostly concentrating on New York and the Simple Machine crowd, the book is cover to cover with young kids piecemealing a life on the road, living in conversion bands while banging out three chord stutters of love and longing to a roomful of twenty people at best most nights. Bands such as Versus, The Grifters (who I have written extensively about), and 1/2 Japanese, who would all in some way touch my life as well as my couch stare and smile slyly as Mike borrows a small piece of their essence to be stained onto a white page.

Mike and I connected on Facebook, an avenue of connection that I make no apologies for, it is exciting to be able to touch someone whom I always held an affinity for whether it was only through a shared passion for Paul K., Joel Phelps, Daniel Clowes or the passion of helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Mike updated me on his life, he had just finished a documentary called, “Battle for Brooklyn” which was made over an eight year period documents the struggle over the Atlantic Yards and the Barclay Center where the New Jersey Nets now stake as their home. It was a revelation in terms of rank unrestricted capitalism and how in even a liberal bastion like Brooklyn, politicians and those with money can snuff out the small guy. The same issues are being repeated across the country, most notably in Atlanta where the baseball Braves will shrug off a publically built stadium less than seventeen years after the public paid for it, in Columbus during the 1990’s the citizens voted several times stating collectively and unequivocally that the public would not pay for a hockey arena on the spot of the historic Ohio Penitentiary (that once housed O. Henry, David Allen Coe and Johnny Paycheck). The city and the powerful Wolfe family teamed with Nationwide Insurance and just last year the city gave the arena to the Columbus Blue Jackets (owned by the…….Wolfe Family and Nationwide.) It should be noted that the Wolfe’s are archly conservative, and the editor of their newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch, has almost tea-party beliefs, have been against most public services such as affordable health care, higher funding for financing um, wars but are quite alright for the taxpayers to pay and then give them an shiny new revenue generating arena.

“Battle for Brooklyn” won a litany of awards and ended up on Roger Ebert’s best of 2011 and was shortlisted for an Oscar. Mike’s films have been screened all over the world, on various network stations (Showtime, PBS, Sundance Channel and more) and his audience has found him, not vice-versa. Several years ago, Mike started a Kickstarter campaign for a book he was assembling. It was a book of photographs he took as he drove across the country in the late eighties and early nineties, all the photographs were taken in various shopping malls across the country, each one not surprisingly no different than any of the other ones. The book, titled “Malls Across America” (the title makes me think of Hands Across America, the charity driven failure that imploded when people realized not that many people live in rural America) was soon picked up by the Steidl publishing house after some of the photo’s Mike posted went viral. Mike had asked several writers, including myself to contribute essays to the book and I readily agreed. Mike has been a huge supporter of my writing and we have discussed another book of photography to accompany essays on some of the clients I have meet over the years.  A few of these essays are in rough form within this blog, “Ron the Surfer” and “Pearl Williams”. “Malls Across America” came out in the fall of 2013, and quickly sold out, it has garnered positive press in USA Today, The Week, and New York Times as well as being named one of the books of the year by Time magazine. And in the back there are two essays by contributing writers, and yes, one of them is mine.

Mike has a new film out soon, “Who Took Johnny” about the 1982 abduction of Johnny Gosch, a twelve year old paper boy from Des Moines, Iowa. My wife and I watched it last week and she was in tears throughout, it is a gripping and unsettling movie that closely observes the fears of any parent. And yes, many of those fears, sadly come true in some instances. Mike is launching another Kickstarter to help with distribution of the film, whose subject matter is not one film companies flock to. Please follow the link for more information, and to Mike and Suki, you have made a brilliant film. Thanks.