Archive for February, 2014

Re-Post of Jim Shepard and Ohio: I’ll be reading from these at Brothers Drake Meadery as Part of Word Church Tuesday @ 8:00

February 24, 2014

Jim Shepard

There were several people whom we bounced around with, the majority were people in our same age group who had the same interest, The New Bomb Turks, Greenhorn, Moviola and various bartenders and bar maids.  Outside of this group there was a core group of Columbus musicians and artists whom we all admired; these were for the most part the 80’s generation of the underground music scene: Dan Dow, Ron House, Mike “Rep” Hummel, Scrawl, Don Howland, Jeff Evans, Dan Dougan and Jim Shepard. We all had our walls, some built up by bandied down rumors, some by musical preference, some by the types of intoxicants people took and others by past and future romantic interests. For a while, Jerry, Jenny and I spent a great deal of time sitting in the wooden booths at Larry’s, standing by the stage at Staches or Apollo’s or manning the corner window at BW-3, drinking a vase of happy hour Budweiser.

Jim Shepard was an outsider in a land of outsiders; he had spent a great deal of his life in Florida, a veritable outpost of misfits and a state that was constructed for interlopers and floaters who would head down south in search of new beginnings and self-inventions. Jim was a short man, who wore his mat of greasy black hair as if it were a prop from a Harry Crews short-story. He walked with a slight lean as if the weight of the world pulled him forward, waiting to smother him in its own gravitational pull. He was constantly unshaven but never bearded; it was as if he had gotten a George Michael shaving kit from the liquor store. He was a constant ruffled sort, who spoke in a deep mumble as if he were sending himself coded messages. In a sense, even though I drank copious amounts of alcohol and spent hours on barstools next to Jim, I never really knew him but then again I’m not sure if I’ve never really known anybody.

Jim had Jerry’s and I respect from the get-go, he was semi-famous by our standards as a long-time home recorder who had been putting out records for well over a decade. He also had garnered a well versed fan base especially with the East Coast music tastemakers such as Thurston Moore, Johan Kugelberg and Byron Coley. He had been performing music for many years and his band Vertical Slit was a quiet, yet solid underground force in Columbus.

When I met Jim, I was working at Used Kids; he was working for a local jukebox repair shop and was good friends with Mike Hummel. Jim would drop in during lunch time and hang out, flip through records and chat. Once in a while he would sell us some of his records which were put out by out of town labels such as Ropeburn and Siltbreeze. He would huddle with Hummel next door at the Used Kids Annex and they would fuck with his tapes and bang out music deep into the night. On certain Monday evenings, Jerry and I would stroll down to Larry’s for our start on the evening and we would be disappointed by the weekly poetry night, we took offense to collegian artist’s types butting in on our time at Larry’s. On many of these Mondays both Jim and Mike would be there, reading and spontaneously spouting off their poetry. Jim’s being more of the science-fiction-cum-gutter-found prose influenced by Phillip K. Dick and William Burroughs. Jerry and I would crowd against one another, no doubt too chicken-shit to express our own poetry in such a stark setting, Jerry would couch his in between blasting guitars and punk-rock beats and I my own would lay dormant in dog-eared rumpled notebooks where they still sit, twenty years later.

V-3 came about after the breakup of Vertical Slit, it was an unsightly band with Jim’s paranoid dark blue-collar mystique, Rudy, a drummer of small demeanor and Nudge Squidfish a jovial wide-eyed gentleman who was prone to talk of UFO’s and conspiracy theories when prompted by a few drinks. Live they were freakish sight straight out of community access television but they carried a powerful force in Jim’s highly melodic art-ish squall that was one part early Fall, another part Joy Division and the rest filled with land-locked Florida bizarreness and mid-Western sludge.

Jim was funny, even if one could not always hear his almost inaudible comments that would slip out of his mouth like a small bump in the road. For a moment when he spoke you would think that a ghost passed through the room, moving a coffee cup or beer bottle across the table; you would think you heard him and then you didn’t. It wasn’t before long that Jim and Jenny Mae had developed a strong friendship, both of them had a fondness for the dive bars of North Campus and both of them enjoyed slurping a few drinks before the sun set down.

It would appear that musically that Jim and Jenny would have little in common musically as many of her pop songs where constructed out of a love of early sixties pop, The Beach Boys and the bounce of early eighties college rock whereas Jim’s music was as serious as a life pursuit. What they bonded over was a sense of melody and a meeting of the bohemian lifestyle, filled with creativity, late nights, cheap rent and the cultivation of laughter. Both suffered, more internally than physically, with Jim although it should be noted I did not know him well-he was too closed for that, you could feel the gravity of his darkness through sunken eyes, mused hair and the stubble around his chin. He wore his clothes as if they were an afterthought, articles for warmth-nothing else; they consisted of ragged blouses, jeans and old flannel. He carried himself as if he were Harvey Pekar, one with a distrust of the modern world and its complexities as a point of contention. His songs evolved around science-fiction, social commentary and the pursuit of a connection I think he never gained with the exception of his music.  Perhaps his greatest line was “negotiate nothing, tear it all down.”

Jenny and he started drinking together shortly before his death, they would both meet at either Walt’s or Bourbon Street in mid-afternoon passing the afternoon hours in a connected shadow world lit by bar lights and their own brilliant creativity. Jenny told me one day that she had been drinking with Jim for a while and that they had started recording together, mostly her adding keyboards and trumpet to some of his tracks. I joked that they should record a cover of the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers duet “Islands in the Stream”, which Jenny used to play. She shocked me a week later and told me that Jim was up for it, I have no idea if it were ever recorded.

Our world was small but it opened up the universe where ideas bounced off of one another like bubbles in beer, we would have one ingenious idea flowing after another without a filter to identify the logical of said idea. Huddled around empty bottles and amplifiers the stage of the world was in the basements and living rooms of our lives. Fashioned out of four-track tapes, sticky homemade record covers and note books furnished out of loneliness and dreams that were one part illusion and another part delusion Jim, Jenny and Jerry bonded over the ideal that the world was what you carved out of it, one note at a time.

As much as Jim’s outsider manner defined his life and his being, he made strong connections with other like minded people, although many of us came from somewhat disparate backgrounds we all had (have) a passion of the transformative essence of music. The opportunity to escape the mundane of our lives through the process of electricity, sound and speakers. Jim made an impression on Bob Pollard and commented one drunken evening to Bob while marveling at Bob’s propensity to fashion melodies as if they were breathes of air, that he “was like a vampire on Titus, sucking songs out of the earth.” Titus was the street that Bob lived on at the time, next thing you know the next Guided by Voices album was named “Vampire on Titus.”

Jim, Ron House, Bob, Don Howland and Mike Rep were the elders in our world, wizened cynical “old” men who had been there-done that and were still plugging in and plugging away, making vital music deep into their (aghast!) thirties while most other people we knew of that age were watching Disney videos with diaper fitted children and listening to generic alt-rock pretending that one could be hip with a mortgage payment. That lifestyle was so far removed from what we were living it might have been in an alternative universe. Our own misgivings kept us  happily insolated and isolated.

Jim, Ron, Mike, Don and Tommy Jay somehow having the insight to recognize their own place in the small pond of the Columbus underground scene managed to tolerate one another long enough to record together under the guise of Ego Summit and released a terrific record titled “The Room Isn’t Big Enough” (now available digitally on Old 3-C Records). A smorgasbord of clashing but similar styles coalescing to carve a minor dent in the history of nineties home-tape underground. It contains one of the most disturbing songs in the Midwestern music cannons in Ron House’s “Half Off” about a prostitute who eats her leg off to get out of a trap. Sung/spoken by Don Howland it is as chilling as it is as shittily recorded, with a claustrophobic aura that chokes the listener almost as much as the smoke being exhaled by the musicians when recording the record. Therapy is recommended after every listen, it is that frightening.

In the failed experiment of nineties rock and roll perhaps the most elaborate but yet simple minded plan was for major labels to sign well respected but commercially limited bands and dropping then when sales didn’t match those of Seven Mary Three or Bush. Columbus was ripe for this idiotic take on major label experimentalism, and sadly this would have detrimental effects on most persons in this blog. It’s not as if signing to a major label was idiotic in itself it was that at that point in the business design of corporate music was one part fed off the ideals of the sixties and early seventies when artists as diverse as The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, Moondog and Phil Ochs could be signed and allowed the freedom to be artists. Whereas the major label mindset professed this ideology it still worked (works) with the mind frame of the quick-cash turnover of the most blandest and cynical music of the nineteen-eighties, whereas the bottom line is sales and the exposure. Hence some of the oddest couplings of artists and money since the Hampton Grease Band signed to Columbia. Such was V-3 signing to American imprint Onion records.

Johan Kugelberg had left Matador Records to take a job working directly under Rick Rubin and was given his own vanity label which he titled Onion, a very tasty but yet smelly vegetable. He managed to sneak in four excellent releases before the label realized his venture would not bring in any money. These were: The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments “Bait and Switch”, The Monks re-issue, The Stiffs (whose uncanny New York streetwise-art-punk would predate the Strokes by several years) and V-3. Even by the non-startled place in our collective world the signing of Jim Shepard to American was stupefying basically because Jim’s music could be equally standoffish and abrasive, a challenge of sorts to the listener just like the man himself. “Photograph Burns” has some very warming songs on it, most notably “Bristol Girl” which ended up on countless mix tapes I constructed on my living room floor deep into the night. There was nothing odd about the conundrum of many of the underground artists signing to major labels, as Jerry once told me “I want to be famous”, what I think he really meant was that he wanted to be immortal. It is easier to be immortal if more people know who you are, so it only makes sense to hitch your song to a corporate machine like Warner Brothers whose Bugs Bunny may be more immortal that any human. Besides one could always return to the basement, although Jim never really returned to the basement after V-3 got dropped after Johan lost his job. He was dead within two years.

            I saw Jim huddled next to the video trivia game console on the end of the bar at Bourbon Street one Sunday night during an absolutely depressing bout of Karaoke sung by half awake hipsters who took pride in the fact that their jobs didn’t require them to be their early Monday morning. He eyes were flat and deep enough in his skull that they could be mined. He had a jar of beer sitting in front of him, I asked if he were ok and he said he was fine. He was a vacant as a vacuum. I said something to Jerry who loved Karaoke about Jim, “he’s just fucked up tonight.” A few days later at work, Ron hung up the phone and said “Jim Shepard hung himself last night.” Jim’s funeral was the first of several in a few years’ times for a small but close knit scene of outsiders, artists and music fans. A collection of dazed and rocked ex-girlfriends, musicians, bar-keeps and family gathered around a photo of a smiling (!) Jim and talked to pass the time as a sweaty undercurrent no doubt sent us all scurrying to various hidden parts of ourselves that we dare not try to touch.

 

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.V-3 photo by Jay BrownJim+Shepard+jim+shep1

 

and please don’t forget the Ramones comic:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nixcomics/nix-comics-two-fisted-rock-n-roll-kickstarter/posts
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Ramones comic book? Full entries and information

February 15, 2014

Ramones

The following entries were written over a two year period, mostly between study sessions while I plowed through graduate school, guzzling coffee and listening to music. The second entry was edited by Matt Ogborn, who edited the blog up until last year when his work life was to busy to volunteer to muddle through my vast punctual and grammatical errors; so it probably reads the smoothest (thanks, Matt). These entries are set to be published by Nix Comics who have moved their 2014 schedule up to have the comic book out by Record Store Day, several distributors have agreed to carry the comic book. You can basically pre-order or order and get some other nice gifts including artwork, comic books and even my autographed copy of “End of the Century” through the Nix Kickstarter campaign. I am not real good at asking for things but if you have enjoyed the blog and want at least a physical copy of part of it, please consider contributing–if it works out, I will pursue other publishing opportunities.

The Ramones:
Saturday’s at Used Kids was an event, at times I may have been nursing a hangover and would have stopped at Bernie’s before opening up the store and have gotten a Bloody Mary to go in a styrofoam cup, complete with straw to help me over the ten am hump or I would have sent Jerry down to Larry’s to get a cold six pack of Black Label at two pm to get an early start on a long evening. By early afternoon the CD side of the store would be crammed with people, shuffling around one another, jockeying for an advantageous view of the racks of used CDs and vinyl records. By 1994, we had opened up the Used Kids Annex, which was the “collector’s” side, although the philosophy of the establishment was not to ever have collector prices. Dan Dow’s motto was “get the music to the people” which translated into an almost idealistic socialist idea of music; it should always be affordable. Music may have been a commodity but we felt that it should be an inherent right first and foremost, of course, later as the burned timbers of the music industry crashed around our bewildered, frightened heads we had no choice but to embrace e-bay and other “collectable” venues. But the early nineties were the salad days of music buying, the proverbial party before the dawn.
The Annex was run by a gentle soul, Dave “Captain” Diemer, a large man who had a striking resemblance to Richard Brautigan. Cap at one time worked at Moles Record Exchange with Dan and later ran Capital City Records, the collector’s offshoot of Singing Dog. Dan loved Cap with all of his heart and soul, and Captain was as kindhearted as he was large, a tall man with a bushy white mustache, slightly stooped he lived a life that had captured the essence of the sixties but was cynical enough to embrace the sounds of punk rock and heavy metal. He loved the sweet melancholy sounds of Phil Ochs as well as the death sirens of “War Pigs” of which he could air drum every drum fill. Captain had the most stable family life of us all, an affectionate wife and a young son all living in a small tiny farmhouse in rural Delaware County. Captain was the wise man in our world, one who presented an island of calm in the general neurotic filled days of our lives as we all crashed against the chaos and calm the sundered around us. He was always lending a bent ear to our tales, most mornings when I would bring him a large coffee with cream from Buckeye Donuts, he would beat me to my own punch, lean against me, slowly shaking his head he would mutter “I got so fucking drunk last night.” I never knew Captain to drink but he certainly was accustomed to my proclivities.
The compact disc changed everything from the staid familiarity of the vinyl record, not so much because it sounded better (which it didn’t) but because it was much more convenient. The format duped the listener into thinking the sound was better, just because it had a cleaner sound but the CD lacked depth and the affable inviting sounds of vinyl. The CD did make music exciting again for people and for some years people rushed to replace their old scratched records with shiny new compact discs and Tuesdays (which is the national release day for records) meant something. Used Kids, as with hundreds of other small mom and pop stores across the county, became a destination point.
By nineteen-ninety-three, some bands had achieved legendary status in our lives, maybe not necessarily across mainstream America, we had yet to see the self-congratulating cynicism of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the make believe idiocy of Guitar Hero and for those of us who hid our lives deep inside our record collections we relished the moment to bump shoulders with some these legends. For all intents and purposes, punk rock was not yet thirty years old and for the most part the musicians we adored in high school were still making music. Because of the good easy access of Staches and the Newport, it was quite easy to chat up John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Pere Ubu, and Alex Chilton, whose early work helped shape our comfy world. The Ramones, had turned into a punk-rock version of the Grateful Dead at this point, not in any way to insult either band but they made their money by touring, releasing semi-pedestrian records every so often that was a facsimile to their braver, younger selves. The Ramones were giants in our eyes, pillars of our musical and philosophical foundation. I had first heard the Ramones from the movie “Rock and Roll High School” which I saw in 1981. By the time I was fifteen I owned their first four records.
The Ramones played Columbus yearly, an annual stop at the Newport and at the Used Kids Annex to see Captain. Johnny and Joey never came in together but both would come in and see Captain and peruse the shelves for hours. Johnny was the bigger collector and he would be escorted to the dingy, damp back room to rifle through boxes of hard-to-find sixties garage and surf records. Truly, still a boy at heart.
We had two English gents working at Used Kids at that time, Colin Harris and Keith Hayward (who is now a semi-famous scholar) but quite English and charming in the old world ways. Keith was blond, handsome with a winsome personality that was skilled enough to entice any barmaid in town. Colin wore the dark morbidity of centuries old island living under the guise of his quick wit and eager thirst for draught beer. As I was standing up, slurping down a cold Black Label beer one Saturday afternoon, Keith came barging in the front door of Used Kids.
“Mate, you won’t fuckin’ believe it” he excitedly exclaimed, “but Joey FUCKING Ramone” just walked in the Annex!”
In my knowing, been-there, seen-that voice, I replied “yeah, he comes in every year to see Captain.”
“Holy shite!” Keith shook his head “ I had no idea” he muttered to himself.
I asked him in anybody was manning the counter next door, “um, no but give me a beer.” I handed him a beer and he disappeared. A few hours later he appeared, “you won’t fucking believe this mate but fucking Johnny just walked in.” I told him to show him the stuff in the back and gave him a few more beers to settle his nerves.
I went over during a lull in the action, Johnny asked about Captain, who left early on Saturdays and chatted up Keith, by this time I had met so many of my idols that I was mostly concerned with how I was going to drink for the night and who I would meet. I was already past the hill on disenchantment and while it could appear that I was aloof perhaps even haughty, the feeling I felt was more insular and I realized that people are the same everywhere. Some of us were too narcissistic to bother. Johnny bought a stack of records including a “Wild Angels” soundtrack which he accidently left on the counter. He of course, got tax off. He told Keith and me to come around the back of the Newport that night and he would have some passes for us, as it was already seven o’clock and would be too late to put us on their guest list. After closing up shop Keith and I ambled up to Larry’s to procure a few more drinks so the buzz wouldn’t peter out.


Ramones, part two
Bruno, my blond-haired, blue-eyed, energy-at-11 boy but age at 4, loves punk rock. We get in the car and he asks, “Daddy, can we listen to punk rock?” His sister, who has a remarkable fondness for opera and classical music, is under his shrieking assault as to what is played on our morning drive to school. “No! Saskia, we have to listen to PUNK ROCK!” Something about guitars tends to move our joined hearts.
The other day I walked out of the courtroom where I work and noticed a young woman, sitting in the blue felt and partially stained chairs in the hallway as she casually tried to look cool with a tint of blue hair hanging like a dropped flower over heavily mascara eyes, her legs pulled tight under her with a snippet of torn fishnet stocking poking from under frazzled blue jeans. To top off her ensemble she was wearing a faded, black Ramones T-shirt, the one with the Ramones Presidential seal. As I took her back to my office to conduct her assessment, I wanted to tell her of my personal Ramones experience, as if this would help bridge the therapeutic relationship between a 19-year-old, mentally-ill heroin addict and a graying 44-year-old man wearing a wrinkled dress-shirt and a tie with a dollop of jelly. I decided not to.

After Keith and I drank our fill at Larry’s, we decided to head down to the Newport, the large concert hall on High Street. My own experiences at the Newport were tenuous, as I had had a difficult experience with several bouncers at a dynamic triple bill of Th’ Faith Healers, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and the Breeders. I had ended up losing my temper and clocking a man several times my weight, after which his coworkers dragged me out by my neck, my feet dangling under me like a chicken carried across the barnyard, with me clutching my dark-rimmed glasses that were not built for barroom skirmishes. Bob Pollard was in line while I was on my way to being flung out the front door. He said, “Hey Bela, do you need help?” and then, upon noticing the thick-necked, beefy men escorting me out, “Uh, never mind!”
I had also managed to criticize the Newport management in one of the weekly papers for their lack of support of local and underground music in their pursuit of money, which was not the wisest move. At times, my own sideline hobby of promoting music was hindered by this “Fuck you” attitude toward the local corporate rock scene, as many of the bands that I had booked into Columbus who had risen to the status of playing a room the size of the Newport left me out in the dark when I could have had a nice payday for my earlier efforts. I had explained a part of this to Johnny Ramone, and he instructed Keith and me to come to the rear of the Newport to pick up some backstage passes after I assured him that my name would be crossed off the guest list for my past behavior.
Keith was excited, repeating, “The fucking Ramones, wow, can you believe it? The fucking Ramones, they know my name.” I was excited, but more so because I was to meet a woman at Larry’s after the show. We were to meet around midnight, which meant we were really just meeting to have sex.
The back of the Newport bordered Pearl Alley, and a large tour bus with a Western sunset motif painted along the side was parked next to the club. There was a small line of young women standing outside the back stage door that sat atop a small fire escape. With beer and whisky breath we stood on the crunchy gravel, keeping our distance from the chattering, nervous young punk rock women waiting to meet the elder statesmen of American punk rock. Suddenly, the Ramones tour manager, a dark-haired man wearing mandatory Ray-Ban sunglasses and chewing gum, appeared to be arguing with several staff members of the Newport. Another man in a brown suit appeared, clean-cut and holding a walkie-talkie, and yelled above the burgeoning din, “You guys have been selling your passes to all these girls all night. The show is sold out and none of your passes are good anymore!”
Mr. Ray-Ban yelled back, “That’s bullshit, you can’t do that! Show me the proof!” Keith and I looked at each other. How odd this all seemed.
Abruptly, Joey was on the scene, with his thin, angular frame and wearing a T-shirt. He pointed towards Keith and me, standing in the parking lot, giggling to ourselves. “Hey, I don’t know about all these girls, but those two guys get passes.”
Mr. Brown-Suit looked down at us, “I don’t care who it is, nobody else is getting in!”
Joey scoffed, “They don’t get in, we don’t play!”
I looked over at Keith, “This is fucking crazy.”
“Yup,” he said with a nod. It went back and forth for a few minutes.
Finally, Joey came down the stairs with Mr. Ray-Ban. “Hey, someone in our crew was selling our back-stage passes and they won’t let us. Why don’t you guys come up to Detroit tomorrow and we’ll get you in then?”
The next day was a Sunday. “I can’t, I have some family stuff going on,” in reality knowing a full-on hangover would impede driving the three hours to Detroit, getting drunk again, and driving back.
“How about Cincy, we’ll be there in two days?” This worked and we agreed to see them in Cincinnati.
Keith and I looked at each other as if we were being filmed for a sitcom. “Did Joey Ramone just say they wouldn’t play unless we were will allowed in?” I asked Keith.
Keith nodded, “Yeah, he said, if the two record store guys don’t get in, we don’t play.” I had a feeling it could have stemmed from my being banned from the venue for that idiotic move of slugging the bouncer. “Well, now what?” Keith asked.
“Well shit, we’re already on South Campus, so let’s go to Crazy Mama’s.”
Nodding, “Yup, sounds cool, might was well dance.”
As we started walking away, a bespectacled man with a beard right out of a King Crimson gatefold record cover, complete with pot seeds in the bent spine, yelled after us. “Hey guys, hold up. The fellas feel terrible and are embarrassed you couldn’t see the show, so I wanna help you out a little.” He explained that he was one of the roadies and drove their bus, the huge concert bus with a Western motif airbrushed on the side—a perfect cover for one of the most essential punk rock bands in history. He led us to the bus, telling us he was from Poland, Ohio, and had been with the Ramones for nearly ten years. “The best band you could hope to work for, even if they don’t talk to each other much. Total class guys. Salt of the earth.” As he was talking he pulled a baggie out of a worn, green satchel that was filled with marijuana. “Hey, this is for you guys, for your trouble,” and he tossed it to me.
I explained to him, “Man, we don’t need this, I don’t even smoke—I only drink.”
He smiled, “Hey, it’ll come in handy sometime.”
Keith grabbed it, “Shit, I know some girls who smoke,” and he tucked it into his pants. We thanked the bus driver from Poland, Ohio, assured him we would be in Cincinnati in a few days, and trudged off to get our dancing shoes on.
The night was strange, with an eerie energy that was fueled by our intake of Jim Beam and Black Label throughout the afternoon and evening. But South Campus in 1994 was much different than the sparkling new buildings and movie theater of the Ohio State University campus today. At the time, it was lined with bar after bar that made money selling an abundance of alcohol at a cut-rate, served in plastic pitchers and wash-buckets of beer, all with a fine film of grease floating on top. One could get shots of peach or peppermint schnapps for a mere dollar, and before stumbling home at the end of the evening, clutching hard against the person who would quiet one’s loneliness for a few hours, a person could grab a gyro for only a dollar—a perfect mint to share kisses with at 3 am. The street would be lined with cops on the weekend, some on horseback trotting over to break up fights and to help guide the lines into the packed, smudgy bars, pulsating with sounds of Bananarama, The Cure, Ah-Ha, and if one were lucky enough, New Order or The Clash. One bar even made a Sunday evening of playing mostly AC/DC and The Cult, a choice that was popular at the time but in hindsight was about as short-sighted sonically as Ian Asbury singing for The Doors. Columbus’s finest would line thin wires around the telephone poles so no future politicians, doctors, engineers, or teachers would drunkenly slip off the curb into an oncoming giant pick-up truck from one of the nearby rural burgs that dotted the adjacent counties.
I had shed South Campus several years prior. My drinking tastes no longer required me to search for the cheapest beer around, and the clientele of these establishments only pushed my buttons as I was just as likely to lose my temper with frat-boy lunk-heads or what I assumed were silly coeds. Besides, I had moved up north, closer to the store, near Larry’s and Stache’s——a convenient walk from any of these hangouts with little to no danger of getting into a row.
“Let’s take the alleyway, that way we don’t have to deal with the bullshit of High Street,” I suggested to Keith.
“Good call, man, that shit gotten even crazier, didn’t it?” I was drunk. We stopped at UDF to share a 40 ounce in the alley as we needed to feed the buzz lest it be too diminished before we completed the three-block walk to Crazy Mama’s.
“To be honest Keith, that was some really weird shit. I mean, it was like they were honored to know us, not vice-versa.” We hustled to the alley, pulling swallows from the bottle, and had finished it by the time we got to Crazy Mama’s. Dumping the empty bottle in a dumpster, I remarked to Keith, “It’s amazing that these dumbasses can’t seem to do this. Here we are drunker than shit and we know enough to throw our bottle away.”
Crazy Mama’s had steep stairs and as we climbed them we could feel the sweat inside the room. Bauhaus was playing. “I dunno Keith, they’re playing gothic shit tonight, maybe we should just go back to Larry’s.”
“We’re already here, besides some gothic chicks are sexy.”
Rolling my eyes, I said, “Whatever.” It was packed, with a whole slew of folks we hadn’t seen and a lot of punks from out of town, including a group of skinheads that lurked on one side of the dance floor on the opposite of the bar. “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I murmured to Keith. I hated crowds. Especially drunk crowds. With skinheads. Suddenly “Beat on the Brat” exploded over the bar, and I said, “Cool, we’ll stay” as I grabbed three beers, two for me and one for Keith.


The Ramones: Part Three
Crazy Mama’s was cut in half by a steep stairwell. On the north end of the room there was the bar and a tiny area filled with Formica tables and hard plastic chairs that were most often found in elementary school cafeterias, the easier to wipe them down. To the left of the bar was another tiny room with a pinball machine and one of those machines you could blow into to see if you were too drunk to drive. To the right of the bar was the dance area, small, sticky, and packed to the gills with sweaty bodies dotted by black dyed spiky hair, pierced lips, leather jackets, and more borderline disorders than a community mental health center. A huge mirror ball hung down and splashed white-light reflections over the herky-jerky and morose bodies, and the reflections went on into eternity as all the walls were covered with mirrors. There was a doorway that sat on the other side of the stairwell that connected the dance floor to the sitting area. It was used by those who wanted to avoid the rush of the bar, and it was here that the skinheads were congregating, apparently spoiling for a fight with anyone who dared venture into their territory.
I sat at a table with my two beers, milking the bubbles spiraling from the dark bottles for the courage to twist myself about on the dance floor. I just need to collect my wits. Between the sparkles of the bursting white lights that flecked the pulsating bodies in a projection of phosphorescence the made every person quiver in the haze of smoke and the discomposure amplified by the guitars blaring from the speakers, the room shook with the energy of stripling sexuality fueled by the eagerness that alcohol imbues. I gazed at my shoes, cracked black leather with heels burnished raw—a fantastical thrift store find that were discarded once and needed to be again. My jeans were frayed, a hairy knee poking out as if it were a rodent looking for a moment to cut free. I swallowed the last of my beer and walked towards the dance floor. Spinning onto it in swirl of fluid movements, I skirted across the floor, the worn leather soles gliding in the spilt beer as the moment where guitar combines with dance shut the rest of the world out.
The next song, “One Last Caress” by the Misfits, was the most beautiful ode to murder and rape ever written. Part macho bombast, part crooning Jim Morrison, and all Ramones derivative. That little muscle bound dwarf Glenn Danzig rode a spark of glory for one set of anthem evil demos before morphing into a farcical cartoon of himself. Barely over a minute and a half, enough time to dig into the subconscious isolation that the best punk rock brings to live action. In a moment the DJ blended into “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” perhaps sensing that the tension in the room was now palpable. Echo and the Bunnymen penned a few outright hymns of geeky cockiness for the mascara drenched and lovelorn who brandished tattoos under fishnet stockings, spiky hair, and black lipstick. The whole room swayed to the words of disintegrating love. Wrought over the unfulfilled passions of their twenties, couples collapsed into one another.
As the song petered out I headed to the bar to fetch another drink or two. I stepped around two of the skinheads who were discussing the sudden change to “fuckin’ pussy music.” As I listened to the DJ playing the heartstrings of the mirror people, and Julian Cope instructed the world to shut its mouth, Keith came upon me and said, “Mate, those fuckin’ skinheads are fuckin’ with me.” He gestured over his shoulder towards several glaring skinheads who wore their uniforms of intimidation as if they had picked them from the rack at the local JC Penney’s: ankle high boots with white shoelaces pulled tight, white t-shirts, and gray suspenders making a perfect “X” across their broad backs. They looked menacing, but that was half the battle they were waging. There were roughly seven of them, but through the lens of drunken history and the perturbation of the moment, I can’t recall with certainty. They smiled at us,
“Um, those skinheads over there?” I asked, as if there were skinheads in every pocket of the club.
“Yeah, especially the big fucker.” Keith was short in stature and handsome, with long curly golden locks that had seduced many a beautiful girl. He oozed easy charm and in our own personal battles of seduction he clearly had the battle won before even engaging in conversation. The big fucker was a big fucking skinhead. He was nearly a head taller than me, with a crooked grin and his big fucking shaved head, the baldness speaking volumes of fear.. We walked over, feeling braver than I ever should have, with guts full of alcohol and a temperament that was as shaky as North Korean foreign policy. I put my beers down on table next to the doorway.
Keith stood next to me. He was smiling. Perhaps the friction of violence energized him or perhaps he didn’t really think there would be violence. With a history of barroom brawls and some frequent ass beatings by my older brother while growing up, I wasn’t scared to take a punch. I also knew when to quit. One skirmish I got in off of Chittenden Avenue lasted one gigantic swing and a miss. If it would have connected, perhaps I would have been like the great home-run/strike-out champion, Dave Kingman for a day, but if I missed I was still Dave Kingman. On Chittenden, the gentleman smiled and punched me square in the front teeth. I yelled out, “Owww!, Ohhh, that hurt! Okay, you win,” and walked over to pick up my pizza, wiggling my front teeth all the way home as the big galoot hollered at me, “Hey, you can’t quit after one punch.” Turning I explained, “Listen, I gave you my best shot, you hit me in my teeth. I It hurts, so you win. I’m going home and eating pizza.”
Knowledge carries a lot in any experience. I don’t believe that Keith had ever taken a punch let alone thrown one. I knew that most bar or street fights ended quickly, in fact mostly in a matter of seconds after three or four punches, the majority never connecting. Take two drunken men, place them in a smoke-filled room with loud music and other people and ask them to try to hit one another and most likely you’ll end up with a PG-13 version of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I leaned up into the big skinhead’s face, stared into his eyes and said, “Hey, are you fucking with my friend here?”
Noticing that several of the smaller skinheads had gathered around him, as if they were the stink on his shit, he smiled and said, “What the fuck is it to you.” As he glanced at his skinhead buddies for support, I hit him right in the chest and he toppled over like a drunken man is prone to do. Immediately, regret rained over me as several of his team plowed into me as if I were a tackling dummy. I was clutching my thick plastic brown glasses in my hand. Flipping over a table with our momentum, I yelled to Keith as I felt big- leather skinhead boots kicking my ribs
I thought, “Oh yeah, these guys kick, I forgot about that. They fight in packs.” I felt a boot against the back of my head, and got scared. Being a twisty sort, I had perfected the practice of escaping from years of fleeing my brother. I held onto one guy’s leg and turned into it. When he fell over I scrambled away and headed towards the stairs. Keith was nowhere to be found.
I ran into Pearl Alley, which runs parallel with High Street, cut through another small alley, and was back on High Street. I ran all the way to Larry’s, where I knew I would be safe. Nothing felt like comfort than being part of something where everybody knew your name, your choice of drink and easily submerged themselves into your drama. I ran like a fat kid from school. I felt some blood dripping down my neck, but it did not seem too bad.
Bursting through the doors of Larry’s I went up to the bar and asked, “has Keith shown up?”
Becky, the tall bartender, looked aghast and said, “No, what happened? Your head is bleeding a little,” as she handed me a drink. There is nothing better for a concussion than a few alcoholic beverages.
“We got jumped by some fucking skinheads at Crazy Mama’s. I didn’t see Keith.” I retold the story to others and the woman I was supposed to meet seemed to enjoy it. “This may work in my favor,” I thought.
Roughly an hour later, Keith sauntered into the bar, flashing his white teeth and grinning. “Oh, thank God you’re okay, mate. As soon as you were flung over that table, I ran. They chased me all the way to 15th Avenue. I didn’t know where to go, so I ran into a party and they were going to kick me out until…I pulled out that bag of weed! It fuckin’ did come in handy!
Two days later we arrived in Cincinnati to meet up with the Ramones. We had backstage passes and saw the show from the wings of the stage, drinking the backstage Heineken’s. Joey said that they waited until five because they wanted to take us out to eat but couldn’t wait any longer. Johnny asked if I had brought his copy of the Wild Angels soundtrack. I had forgotten it, so he said, “Well, next year I’ll pick it up.” At the end of the show, Keith pulled out his camera. I suggested he take a photo of the costume cabinets—those huge black leather cabinets found backstage at Broadway shows. Written in white spray paint on the side was “Ramones” and inside there were four leather jackets on hangers. The band had changed into normal, casual t-shirts, and I don’t recall them drinking any alcohol. They were truly salt of the earth. There never was a next year. They never returned to Columbus and broke up about a year and a half later. I still have Johnny’s copy of Wild Angels. If anybody knows his widow, I would love to return it to her.

turning part of the blog into a comic, to read in the john, or at work, or under the blankets, or to your kids

February 8, 2014

turning part of the blog into a comic, to read in the john, or at work, or under the blankets, or to your kids

over the course of the past four years, many of you have supported my blog and other endeavors (the blog has reached more than 63,000 readers) and i have been working on trying to complete (two) books. In the meantime, I spoke with Ken Epstein who runs NIX comics about turning the Ramones entries into a comic book, he was so excited he has moved it to the forefront of his schedule but needs money to get it out. Hence this Kickstarter campaign. The art is drawn by Andy Bennett who has drawn for Marvel & DC comics as well as other known entities. Ken did a wonderful job of turning my words into a comic/graphic novel. For $8 you get the comic and get to help. Plus Bruno is really excited to see his dad in a comic, please contribute if you can. The other comic in the Kickstarter is a long out of print repress of a NYC underground comic with such then unknowns as Bob Camp, Peter Kuper, Mort Todd, J.B. Bonivert and others.