Posts Tagged ‘dan dow’

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Mudhoney part one.

October 7, 2015

Mudhoney part one.

 

High Street in the mid to late 1980’s probably resembled most college town strips, rows and rows of bars serving pitchers or even plastic buckets of beer, beers for a quarter, tacky named drinks like “Sex on the Beach”, “Flaming Dr. Pepper”, $.50 shots of bubblegum flavored schnapps and Jell-O shots because who wouldn’t want to have a nice slimy sickly sweet mound of rubberized alcohol with luc-warm keg beer in a plastic cup? As the moon settled over the brightly lit destination, it would become overflowing with every type of stereotype of American, as young tie-dyed women with long flowing hair bounced off the curbs, twirling Eddi Brickell curly long hair into the night, vying for their attention were thick-necked and thicker-skulled frat boys arms bulging from weight sets next to dorm refrigerators fueled by twelve-packs of Old Milwaukee, they were here to score pussy damnit!, trying to be innocuous were the punks and burgeoning Goths, silently blending into the fabric of the concrete street with darkened mascara eyes, fishnet stockings and towering mohawks, and on the further outskirts were the other misfits, the soon to be called Gen-Xerox indie-rockers, we with jeans and rock concert tee-shirts, clothing picked fresh from the plentiful thrift stores, where the 1950’s and 60’s were not so long in passing. There would be rows and rows of shiny button up shirts for men, pill-box hats for women and even rows of formal dresses that would make Jackie Onassis proud. Bars after bars vied for all of this attention, with the vast majority catering to the white middle-class students, there was one bar on the strip that catered to the African-American students and of course, Crazy Mama’s that was the cauldron of Goth-punk-indie STD stew, where punk rock guys really did go out with new wave girls.

College radio was the invisible string the tied the huddled pockets of punks, new-wavers and the black mascara crowd together across campuses around the country. Meager, tiny sounds emanating from silver metal radio towers, perching high on libraries, gymnasiums and English buildings provided small budding scenes with a fuel and energy that encouraged the sharing of music, ideas and romance. Major labels would devote entire departments to market records to this small crowd of passionate fans, although none of them appeared to care to much to bringing many of these bands to a wider audience as mainstream radio was rife with payola and the white-bread sounds of Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Hall and Oates and on the hard-rock stations, it was Def Leppard, RATT and genteel versions of ZZ Top and Van Halen (i.e. “Velcro Fly” and “Jump.”) It wasn’t until the overwhelming success of R.E.M. that was built town by town, show by show, record by record over seven years that the major labels decided to spend a bit more even then the popularity of “college” rock was relegated to university campuses, record stores and the midnight 120 minutes show on MTV. Unknown at the time was the importance of struggling but essential gateways to this music, which was the independent record label. It would be difficult to think of music today without the heavy stone foundation laid by bands such as Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, the Replacements, Scrawl, Husker Du and the Bad Brains, all of which sprung from the indie-label scene.

It was upon this stage that many of us sowed our oats, filling our young pockets with the vibrant echoes of music that could transform a day of idleness to one of pure creative output, with fingers clutching onto the cardboard sleeve of our favorite record at the moment, transportation came the moment the needle struck the grooves. The secret handshakes were the concert tee-shirts we wore, the rolled up fanzines we stuck in our back pockets and the glee of live music, as the notes invaded our ears, we caromed off one another, bouncing to and fro from the bars, dance floors and into our beds. The smell of sweat, alcohol and sex pressed against our faces and loins the next morning, it was a far world from stuffy and the conservative communities many of us had sprung from.

Drinking was as present as air, a bottle clutched in my hand as sure as I wanted a hand to hold onto my heart, it was the next best thing–a solid glass method of fending off loneliness while at the same time energizing everything I did, a record simply sounded better with a drink and a woman was easier to humor with a wry smile and a the floating bubbles of beer. Talent is a young person’s urge, stepping out of adolescence, kicking off the insecurities of early and awkward sexual experiences, leaving behind pimples, oily skin and bodies that were never quite what one wanted–I stalked away from my teenage years with no regrets and an acute sense of relief all the while finding out that my passion play with music, painting, and writing. A body couldn’t walk down High Street without bumping into someone who was busy recording, making and breathing art, wearing the passion the burned inside fully on the outside, carrying canvases, guitar cases, bundles of notebooks, and knapsacks stuffed with methods of creating and collecting thoughts, ideas that were day-glow in nature, screaming from clothing, hair and even the make-up we wore.

Pacing my walk, counting my steps while I read the paper in one hand, a bulky Sony Walkman in the other, it was a minor miracle I never knocked anybody’s teeth out nothing could hold my attention. Music helped focusing, notes to lead the way as I shuffled through life, barely lifting clumsy feet through days filled with the afterthoughts of nights that never turned off, even now they are like streets lights made of wax paper, filtering into nothingness, pulling around the edges as if roasted in an oven. My walks were the same, from whatever apartment/house I lived in to the store, then to Larry’s, to Bernie’s, the corner carryout near 15th, Buckeye Donuts and then to Staches. Repeat, sleep, repeat. There were some weeks when I never drove, there wasn’t a need, opening the car door, a small blast of stale hot air would billow out and engulf me, wavering from the slight stench, plopping in the front seat making sure the correct tape was in the player, turning the key and the sweaty vessel was transformed into an instant feeling machine, never mind the dry air, the empty beer bottles on the backseat floor or the scrunched up McDonalds bag on the passenger side. Nodding to myself as “Flat out Fucked” blared into the late morning sun, the car was another home, a clubhouse of my own.

Slipping from my corporate record store job everyday day around three, with my best rumpled dress shirt, brownish off the rack pleated pants and a bulky name tag stuck to my chest I would venture to Used Kids, and soon after Dan and Ron would offer me a Black Label, and feeling like one of the crowd I was soon talking records with them. Gerald Moss, worked there, par laying his own passion for music to rise up in the Koch Distribution corporation, he and I would discuss Phil Ochs, Richard Thompson and classical music. A full-blown passion for records had exploded when I got to High Street, living in small town Ohio, record stores consisted of the clean lines of chain stores, where posters and cassette tapes lined the walls. Getting underground music was a chore, where as a fifteen year old I would peruse the racks and buy records depending on their labels or even by their album covers. It was as if a fat man walked into an ice cream shop that sold more than vanilla or chocolate, I didn’t want to leave and I wanted to try everything. The dollar bins were bulky, stuffed with an assortment of titles, based not just on the redundancy of previous year’s sales (Bad Company, Peter Frampton, Heart, easy listening) but also by condition or cut-out bin titles, one could easily find semi-beat Replacements, Soul Asylum, Breaking Circus, or Salem 66 records in the cut-out bin, I bought my first Guided By Voices record, “Self-Arial Nostalgia” record for a $1, sealed. The music that the Ron and Dan played was always good, making an impression on ears that gobbled up music like the desert does rain. Sucking the notes out of air, an appetite for melody that was as much as an addiction as the alcohol I was consuming at daily and afternoon intervals.

Summer was bleeding Ohio dry in the summer of 1988, the pavement was so hot that the soles of tennis shoes stuck to the sidewalk, waves of heat shuddered in the thick air and if one did not have the luxury of an air conditioner, nights were spent with a fan blasting away on naked sweaty bodies, cooking on top of damp sheets. Discount Records, since it was a corporate store, complete with carpet that was replaced every few years had air conditioning, but we also couldn’t play a lot of the music I wanted to. The manager didn’t approve, we played mostly jazz, classical and non-offensive pop music such as Tracy Chapman, James Taylor, and soft R&B, when he agreed to play 10,000 Maniacs or the Rolling Stones he was being adventurous but for me, it was better than working at Sears, United Dairy Farmers or lawn-work. Used Kids had no air conditioner, the best way to cool off was to grab a beer from one of the always laughing men, and hope that it wasn’t too crowded, propping open the door the store felt damp, sticky and with the scent of sweaty men and hippie oils in the air, I would thumb through the records. Suddenly Ron put on a single, eyeing him from the corner of the dollar bin, he held a bottle to his mouth, nodded and smiled as he put the bottle on the counter, his left hand wheeling the volume knob, the sound came blurting out of the speaker above my head, a fat-squishy and ragged blast of noise that asserted itself as not just new but primordial in the best sense of the word and the singer’s voice cackled out as if where a comic-book burp, “blarrghhhhh!!!!” and when the chorus hit, something had transformed me, the sloppy and crusty sound, bellowed out like an lion, albeit a drunken, soiled and rabid lion, but a lion nevertheless.

“Touch Me I’m Sick” was the first single by Mudhoney a soiled diamond of a song that for many of us, changed everything. It was one of the few songs that I remember where I was the first time I heard it, along with “Everything Flows” by Teenage Fanclub and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but it was another revelation that music was ugly, beautiful and comical all at the same time. Lyrically it was brilliant, nobody was singing songs like this—at least to my young 20 year old ears—a stab against the clean bullshit of hair rock, the pastel sounds of Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis, the soft-light videos of dancing candles that framed the clean cut faces of Phil Collins, the Police and that ilk.

There are moments in life where perspective switches, an inner shift where the world changes, for some it maybe discarding matchbox cars, putting the doll in a box, or taking a last drink of alcohol. At other times, the shift is subtle, a slow movement, wading into the ocean as the waves crawl up around chilly thighs, small pushes against a body not quite ready to change—these changes happen in slow motion. Punk rock hit me like my first orgasm, it made total sense and a part of me asked myself, “why didn’t I know about this before?” The world changed, there was no longer a hierarchy to art, no longer a manner in which someone had to dress a certain way or for music to be used to sell anything other than pure emotional, either frustration, anger, joy or confessional sloppy love (sex).

At one point around this time, I started going out with Sharon, her quiet mysterious manners, her steely beauty and the fact that she was as big of a fan of loud guitars and spitting, sputtering, saliva spewing vocals only helped to make an up-to-that-time world a bit more clear. Sharon, who had lived with J Mascis, hung out with Sonic Youth and lived in Alphabet City, had eyes for me and the punk-outcast-arrogant me felt a “I fuckin-told-you-so” to the small town Ohio, that I had thrown off my shoulders just a few years prior. Sharon went to art school in NYC, although she was from Columbus she too, had shed her own upbringing and made herself anew-the person she was. Astute, coy and with a wise eye for detail, Sharon loved fashion, at one point we argued about the idea that I had a great sense of fashion, which I found absurd as I usually wore tee-shirts, jeans and thrift store button-ups. Many of the latter were from the 60’s and early 70’s as those decades were not so much in the distant past, were now, as I stand on the verge of 50, those decades appear to be faint wisps of smoke disenagrating in my mind. Fa-la-la-man. Sharon took me to Barney’s and other stores that would bludgeon my eyes with their price tags. Later when I met my wife, herself fashionably acute, and also an artist I gleaned some idea of fashion and style although it was more about how these lovers had used them. My style was comfort and easiness, and the idea of punk while married to fashion was more about being creative, of being confident to make and live life as you could carve it out, perhaps by plucking a guitar or bass, transforming a body that was at one time abused into a walking, breathing canvass or painting your hair purple, or green or cutting off the entire fucking mop.

Mudhoney contacted Jerry one day, asking Gaunt to open up a few shows for them, Steve Turner was/is one of the most passionate music fanatics I have ever met, and he had heard Gaunt and loved them, soon he convinced the rest of the band to allow Gaunt to play some shows with them. Another by-product of this wonderful indie-world was constructed around the idea of creative and no hierarchy it was common for well known bands to pick and choose local bands to open for them or to tour, Pavement had the Ass Ponys open for them several times in Ohio, Superchunk toured with Gaunt a few times, Billy Childish asked the New Bomb Turks to play with him in Columbus and the list goes on. The only requirement I needed to go to a show was to be loaded, which was a pretty easy task.

I drove with Gaunt to Bogart’s in Cincinnati, it was on the edge of the University of Cincinnati and the Over-the-Rhine, a mixed neighborhood that had been kicking and screaming into the idea of gentrification. It was a hotspot for racial tensions, poverty and drug use—and it was not uncommon to read about police shootings and high crime. We drove a small mini-van, Jerry, Brett Lewis and I drinking the entire way, it was as if we were ten year olds driving to Kings Island Amusement Park instead of our twenty-something selves on our way to a punk-rock show. Jerry was loose, cracking jokes and bahawing all the way on the 100 mile car ride, we giggled uncontrollably and right before we got there Jerry got his serious face on, one where he felt the need to wear the weight of the free-world on his shoulders, pumping cigarette after cigarette into his lips he would suck one up and start another. Brett said, “relax Jerry, we’ll have a good show.” Nodding Jerry stammered, “I am fucking relaxed dude!” Eyeing one another, Brett and I laughed again.

ps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02Uuufjw9qY

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/04/shopping-malls-1989_n_6269304.html

this is pretty great:

 

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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.

http://lightbox.time.com/2013/11/26/flashback-to-the-timeless-malls-of-the-1980s/#1

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.

http://rumur.com/johnny

 

Jenny Mae and Jerry Wick part 46: Guided by Voices, Part II-The Beatles, The Grifters, and Sparks

January 22, 2012

Guided by Voices, Part II: The Beatles, The Grifters, and Sparks

The house on Patterson looked good in every season, as it was constructed of bulky, brown, stained, wooden clapboard and had stony, raised gardens. In the winter it looked lonely and almost haunted, while in the summer the peeling brown clapboard was blistered by the sun, but in autumn the house was in it element. With its tarnished grass fading gray and brown and yellowing leaves bulging out of its overstuffed gutters, it could be a grimy wooden effigy or the loss that October seems to bring.

The days and nights shuddered and burped along. Every package we received at Used Kids came bearing gifts of sound, and the mail box on Patterson always seemed to contain some letter requesting music from Columbus. Time was as still as a television station that was always on but never watched. Nobody paid heed to it.

I had fallen hard for the sound of the Grifters, a band from Memphis that annihilated sound and built it back up with blasts of melodic sounds that were at once disquieting and soothing.  I had received their first full-length, So Happy Together, from Scat Records. I listened to it while working at Used Kids one morning, and by the third song I was on the phone with Robert Griffin, seeing if he could get me in contact with them. By the end of the afternoon I had booked them a show at Staches with Moviola and Gaunt.

Onstage, the Grifters were a shuddering, calculated, belching wreckage of sound. With a cloud of distorted guitars straining to stay out of tune and, in a spurt of electric coughing, the audio version of a halfback darting from the pile into open space, they would bend into a melody as breathtaking as a dive into a warm pool of water. They were, in a sense, a counter balance to Guided by Voices. Where GBV would inject a heavy dose of smiling hope into their minute-and-a-half epics, the Grifters were more concerned with the disappointment that tragedy brings, a sorrowful blend of noise and crankiness.

At that first Grifters show at Staches, there was hardly anyone there, only myself and a few patrons who had managed to pick up the band’s record at Used Kids. Jerry Wick was not yet too impressed with the Grifters, but the Ted Hattemer and the other fellows in Moviola were enamored of their sound. The Grifters took a step into the freedom of feedback and built something that was as extraordinary as a stone castle, a noisy blackened musical hook to hang yourself with.

The next morning over coffee in my dining room, I played some Guided by Voices for the Grifters, explaining that I thought they had a lot in common musically. It was apparent that Dave from the Grifters was every bit as much a music fan as Bob Pollard. We spent the morning playing records and talking music.  This listening together was a form of breaking bread, and the bond of kinship was born.

There is really nothing as a stranger asking, “What kind of music do you like?”

I always think that a good response would be, “I really like the idea of Anal Cunt, but I never really liked their sound,” or, “I really like the first Cars record because I got my first blow job to it, but after that they went completely and embarrassingly downhill.” There was a difference in the world I inhabited. It was common knowledge that we all obsessed over sound. The knowledge that the mechanism of sound could be used to transport a person somewhere else was the adhesive that held our community together.

Bob and the rest of Guided by Voices were making monthly visits to Columbus, usually to record with Mike Rep and drink beer with Ron House, Jim Shepard, Jerry and me. Shuffling into the store in the late afternoon, fresh from the hour drive from Dayton, they would arrive just in time for the five o’clock God-given right to a beer. Dan Dow once made the outrageous claim that getting stone drunk at work was not always a good idea. Ron replied, “Well Dan, that’s why we fought the fuckin’ revolution!” There was no argument from us—how could anyone dispute the constitutional right to happy hour? After sharing Rolling Rocks or vases of Budweiser at Larry’s or BW-3, Bob would huddle with Mike in the annex and mix and mash-up the tinny four-track recordings he had made. We talked music and sports mostly, because in Ohio there is really nothing else that matters. The weather is always gray, the economy is grayer, and politics is just a slick slope to traverse over beer..

One afternoon Bob asked me if I was familiar with Odyssey and Oracle, by the Zombies. “Yeah, I love it. It’s kinda like Odessa by the Bee Gees. In fact, it’s my girlfriend’s favorite record.”

“Do you have a copy?”

“Yeah, it’s not on CD yet. In fact, there’s only a crappy best of on CD. I actually think I have a first pressing as well as a Rhino re-issue. You can have the reissue or I’ll trade you something for the original.”  Bob offered to trade his copy of Slay Tracks, the first single by Pavement, which I gladly accepted.  We also talked about new bands we liked, especially the Grifters, whose tarnished, feedback-laden sound had made an impression on Bob.

He wondered aloud, “That’s what I’m trying to do, get that sound, but maybe my songs are too poppy.”

“Oh, you have to see them live. They pull all that noise off in person and it’s like watching a choreographed car wreck.”

Bob excitedly replied, “Lemme know when they play next and I’ll make sure GBV plays with them.”

Guided by Voices were playing in Columbus quite a bit. Dayton hadn’t embraced them  yet and they were not quite polished enough to get shows there, so they would come to Columbus and play with the Slave Apartments, V-3, Belreve, Gaunt, and Jenny. One of the most memorable shows they played around this time was when they opened for  V-3 and the Dutch noise band The Ex.

Roughly a month or so later, Flower Booking called me and asked if I would be willing to book another Grifters show. Although I had already brought them to Columbus several times, losing a pocketful of money on every occasion, I gladly accepted. By now Jerry had become a fan, mostly on the basis of their single “She Blows Blasts of Static”, a song of epic, noisy wreckage that pulled you in and then pummeled you with leathery hooks before offering release, so Gaunt was on the bill. I phoned Bob, who said that because it was on a week night not everyone could get off of work to play the show, but he would come up anyway. During the show, Bob, Jerry, and I were just to the left of the stage. As the Grifters plied their splintered sound in front of thirty or so souls, Bob turned to me and Jerry and yelled, “The three best bands ever: the Beatles, The Grifters, and Sparks!” Jerry and I would repeat this often to one another, nodding our head with laughter at our own inside joke. “The Beatles, the Grifters, and Sparks!” Indeed.

Bob wearing a Used Kids t-shirt on this early video

no Jenny Mae on youtube:

go.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 45: Gay

November 13, 2011

Gay.

Steve was interesting; unlike anyone I had never met, especially in Springfield. He was somewhat short, with wispy blond hair that was cut in layered steps, and he was lean but athletic, with veiny forearms and biceps that bulged slightly under his Little Caesar’s pizza shirt. He had a trimmed mustache, which wasn’t odd in 1986, when Magnum P.I. mustaches weren’t yet ironic. The only suspicious thing was that he had multiple gold hoops in both ears. I couldn’t remember if it was a right or left earring that meant a person was gay, as nobody at Northeastern High School would come out of the closet for years. He was funny, hysterically funny in fact; cracking jokes while he plied the dough, rolling his eyes at the serious assistant manager who wanted every pizza pie to contain the exact amount of cheese, sauce, and pepperoni—deviating from the scale meant a loss of revenue! This couldn’t happen if Little Caesar’s were to ever usurp Dominoes. The fact that the pizza tasted like the cardboard it was served in didn’t seem to matter.

Steve had recently left the Navy and was working at the pizza place to get enough money to return to San Diego. It was obvious that he was worldlier than all of Livingstone Avenue in Springfield, Ohio. I awkwardly kneaded the dough, weighed the cheese, and constructed pizza boxes, never ending pallets of pizza boxes. I was shy, so I kept to myself, singing my favorite songs and hiding in my car during my breaks so I could listen to WOSU, finding the strength to make a hundred more pizza boxes with college radio.

He asked me what music I listened to and it turned out that he was familiar with the same bands. He had also seen R.E.M. a few years ago at the Wittenberg Field House and he said he saw Husker Du in San Diego. He asked me to go party with him and his friends after work the next time we worked together.

That night, I told Jenny that there was one island of sanity in the Little Caesar’s Pizza shop, one person who didn’t talk about his truck, niggers, or pussy. There was a sense of loathing when it came to the pizza shop, not just due to the awkward anxiety that presented as laziness, the co-workers with their constant hate filled masculine chattering. Jenny said I should go out with him and his friends the coming Friday. She would be working at the drive-in theater, and I could pick her up afterwards.

Friday rolled around and I went to work, flush with my first paycheck, all $85 of it. I was ready to hit the bars. I looked old enough and had a smudged up I.D.; the drinking age was only nineteen at the time. He asked if I wanted to go out after work and I said, “Sure, but I need to leave at midnight to get my girlfriend.”

His eyebrows rose. “Oh, you have a girlfriend? I would have never guessed.”

That’s odd, I thought, replying with, “Why not?”

He laughed and said, “Oh, I just assumed you were gay like me, that’s all.”

For a moment, the world flipped-flopped. Gay, he thinks I’m gay, and furthermore, he’s gay. Nauseated, every assumption I held true was under attack, Maybe I’m gay and don’t know it, I thought. I made excuses and left early, telling him that I would catch him next week.

What now? If I’m gay, then I can’t be in love with Jenny. Is this why I want to move to Columbus? I had been told that Columbus was a “smorgasbord of homos”. Two years prior my father had tried to convince me that Lucifer walked the earth, and that he would try to tempt me, most likely in the guise of a gay man. I paid no heed to this—even as a fifteen year old I knew the absurdity of it, but it may have watered the seed of homophobia that was the norm for any high schooler in rural Ohio.

I picked Jenny up and we went back to the parsonage, where I confessed my fear to her that maybe, just maybe, I was queer. I couldn’t remember ever being attracted to a man before, though, and I had a stack of Playboy magazine’s next to my bed. That had to mean something. “It’s okay if you’re gay,” she said, stroking my head, “although I don’t think you are.” She put a soft hand on my lap. Afterwards, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I was gay. Steve had no gay behaviors, no lisp. He was built like a running back and he liked the same music as me. And I liked him—he made me laugh, made me feel welcome in the shit-hole fast food pizza place where I worked.

I ran to the toilet, barreling through doors, and crouched on the floor to empty my guts into the toilet bowl. “I want to go to my mom’s,” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks. The world was asunder.

My mother drove me to Galion, where she lived with her boyfriend, and I spent a day there contemplating what being a gay man might be. Everything would be different, my relationships, my family, and the way I socialized, and, most importantly, sex would change.  Where I grew up, kids were fed hate and ignorance about gay people. We weren’t taught that there are many kinds of relationships. Instead, people who were frightened, who wore their racism, homophobia, and sexism as badges of honor, told us the world was black and white.

While I tried to reject this worldview, it could be difficult, especially the homophobia aspect. Bewildered, I didn’t understand that a person could have relationships with gay men without having gay sex. I came to the realization that in order to be truly gay, one must want to have gay sex, which I didn’t.

On the bookcase in the living room of my in-laws house, thousands of miles from the Franklin County Courthouse, there is a small photo of me and my wife standing across the street from the courthouse, a small bouquet of flowers in her hand and an expectant smile on her red, flushed face. I’m standing next to her with a freshly pressed powder-blue shirt with a crooked grin that seems to say, “This time I will get it right.” We married just four years and two days after the end of my previous marriage in the same courthouse where both that marriage and the subsequent divorce took place.

The courthouse is huge in Franklin County, three towering buildings that mete out justice between marble and drop ceilings. They are a trifecta of fear, loathing, and, in some rare cases, joy, with the Justice of the Peace sandwiched between Adult Probation and the Public Defender’s office. Dizzyingly busy at times, they are filled with pleated skirts, blue suits, leather-bound briefcases, and lawyers carrying piles of documents in the hope that the sheer magnitude of paperwork will turn a judge or jury in their favor. By contrast the other inhabitants of the court house, are the poor and economically malnourished, many of the men brandishing neck tattoos, and women pulling along toddlers, at times picking up the child by the arm, the frustration of the day being put into action. Parking is a chore, with few parking meters available. If you’re unfamiliar with how the courthouse works, then understanding how long a marriage or divorce takes is a puzzle.

Today, one of the responsibilities of my job is to appear in court with mentally ill clients, who approach the courthouse with a very real sense of trepidation or fear, not knowing if they will be leaving the courthouse in a bus with corrugated fencing over the windows via the basement entrance. The fear I once had of the courthouse is a far cry from the fear of my clients.

 

Me and Robin, my soon-to-be-ex wife drove to the courthouse in the same car, a white Metro that I had bought with money borrowed from Dan Dow (a sum that he would largely forgive a few years later). I was going to give the car to her as part of the divorce—that and temporary custody of Istvan, my beagle-collie mix who liked to eat records and shit on the floor. I would have given anything to rid myself of the pangs of guilt caused by yet another failed relationship.

 

We drove to the courthouse together to untie the knot that we had just months prior banded together, hoping that this dreadful day would never come. We were nervous and somehow on this particular morning this energy somehow brought us together when we were publically tearing ourselves apart. I had arranged for our mutual acquaintance Mark Fisher to handle the dissolution. Mark is known as the “rock and roll lawyer” in Columbus circles. He helped organize the annual Community Festival, a somewhat self-congratulatory endeavor of the bohemian, left-minded wing of Franklin County that celebrates local music, liberal ideals, and lots of alcohol. I have never cared for the festival, although it tends to be the one gathering that brings the Columbus music and arts scenes together for one mud-filled and alcohol-soaked weekend a year.  Mark did the dissolution for the low sum of $500, and, since we owned very little, it was easy. We appeared in the courtroom, signed some paperwork, and our marriage was dissolved.

An emptiness came with our failure, a type of vacancy that blended the present moment with the past, muddled together to wipe out any sense of body or emotion. For a moment, when the realization hit, I couldn’t feel the outside, as if I were a flag, shifting with the wind, the skin like bare thread bouncing but not feeling anything expect the lack of feeling. Stepping to the curb, Robin and I looked at one another, nervous smiles across our faces. We had a permanent public scar on our history; the brunt of our deteriorated relationship would be in the newspaper tomorrow. We looked at one another, trying to figure out the next step. On the car ride back to her apartment we stopped for a drink, and then another drink, before finally succumbing to one another. We got a twelve-pack and drove to her house, with nervous energy bouncing off of one another like invisible emotional darts. Did we feel sadness, anger, relief, or shame?

Heading to her room, we undressed to engage in the one activity that lifted all oppressive emotions for at least a moment. Afterwards, she laid her head on my chest. Feeling as if I were standing too close to a campfire, my eyebrows singeing, I bolted upright. “I gotta go, now,” I stammered.

Scowling, she replied, “That’s just like you, you are such a fucking asshole. God, I hate your fucking guts. You’ve RUINED my fucking life!” I listened to her screaming while I wrestled a pair of jeans on in the other room. My little dog Istvan stared up at me, wondering where I was going.

Lurching home, I picked up a 12-pack of Milwaukee’s Best Light and, with drama in every step, plodded up Ted Hattemer’s wooden porch steps. The dazzling sun was in stark contrast to the grayness that filled me. Plopping down in front of the stereo, I listened to “Dear You” by Jawbreaker, a favorite of both me and Jerry Wick. And looked back at the drama I had set up for myself as if it was something straight out of a John Hughes movie. In reality, everything about me that week was a wreck. That night, after a quick drunken nap, I decided to go out. I went to Larry’s and quickly started a conversation with a dark-haired woman who had tattoos stretching up one arm and down the other. A few hours later I found myself in her bed. After sloppy and guilt ridden sex, I laid on my back, trying to see if the ceiling in her room really had a tapestry pinned to it. I wanted an inner shower.

The next day, sauntering in to work with a large black Buckeye Donuts coffee to purge my sweaty hangover, my colleagues were kind enough not to mention the day before. The drinking started early again that day, as it would for the majority of the next year. It usually began at five p.m., but sometimes it started earlier, at around three. A quick double shot of vodka and lime juice at Larry’s followed by a six pack of Black Label to get me through the last few hours of Used Kids and I was ready to stumble into the coming night.

That night I went to Staches and ended up at The Blue Danube, where I ran into Jerry and two women drinking at the bar. Jerry cracked to the women that I just gotten a divorce, which somehow impressed them. Either they were amazed that someone would marry a schlep like me or that I had lived long enough to be married and divorced. Nobody in our scene actually married. We eventually ended up downtown, the four of us, dancing at the Garage, better known to wizened souls as the Gay-Rage. Our bodies twisted and we flicked our sweat onto all the gay men hurtling themselves to the heavy techno beats of the time. Feeling lost, I went home with one of the two women. I urgently needed to be held, smelled, and felled. Waking up the next morning, in another strange house, was unnerving. She was gone, and she had left a note on her dinner table that directed me to the still-warm coffee and gave me her phone number and name. Walking home, I was overcome with an even heavier sense of loss than I’d had the day before.

Rinse and repeat. The next night I found myself at Dow’s on High and then at Dick’s Den, two havens for drunken outsiders who were fond of classic country music and jazz. I ran into Eric Davidson’s girlfriend, Heather, and a female bartender from Bernie’s named Jen. Jen and I had been flirting for several years, trading gazes across the bar that implied we both wanted more than drinks. She was short, with solid blonde hair that wasn’t dyed, and she had a quick wit that works well when serving drinks to the cynical crowd. At Dick’s Den, under the influence of a mixture of Maker’s Mark and Pabst Blue Ribbon, she said “Good” when I told her I had gotten divorced three days ago. Later, on groggy, loose legs, I asked her if she wanted to go back to my house to listen to records. This was the indie version of asking a woman if she wanted to have sex. Although on this night, as the effects of the PBR and Maker’s Mark went from pleasing to drudging up more guilt, listening to records was actually what I wanted to do.

The attic of Ted’s house had been reconstructed to handle me post divorce. I had asked Ted if I could move in with him some months earlier, and he had converted the attic into a two room area with a half bath for me. It was lined with records, CDs, books, and a few barely alive plants. The floor was littered with t-shirts and most of the free areas on shelves and the dresser were filled with empty beer bottles stuffed with cigarette butts.

I had my grandmother and grandfather’s huge bed, which was nearly an acre across in order to hold my grandmother’s enormous girth and the dying body of my grandfather. The bed filled the room, with sheets twisted across it as if they had been lifted by a tornado and deposited at the other end. The dog hair was thick on both the bed and the carpet beside the bed, but I kept it as clean as I could. I had slept in enough strangers’ beds to be aware of how it feels to lay back naked on a filthy mattress. I explained all of this to Jen in a drunken, laughing dialect that only alcohol can create. “It’s clean,” I said as I pointed to the bed, “except for all that dog hair. I mean, the dogs are also clean. I bathe them, you know? Those beer bottles are new. Smell them. They don’t smell like Bernie’s or anything. I drank them in the past few days—same with the clothes. I mean, I didn’t drink the clothes…I wore them, but just the past few days…I’m not dirty.” At this point, I started to move my hips ever so slightly to the rapturous sounds of Les Thugs. She smiled. “I mean,” I said, casting a mischievous smile her way, “I’m dirty but not like dirt dirty.” I thought that this sounded wiser than “I’m horny.” I leaned in to her and we kissed, but suddenly I wasn’t feeling so dirty any longer, just sad.

I stopped kissing Jen and sat on the edge of the bed until “I Love You So” faded into the next song, which wasn’t nearly as epic. Putting on the first Bee Gees’ record, I left to take a piss. When I came back, talking to myself about the greatness of the Bee Gees, there she stood, completely naked but for her earrings. Shit, I thought, I can’t do this—three nights in a row with different women. I had plenty of hang-ups about sex, even without considering the divorce I had gotten a few days ago. I hugged her and then perched myself back on the corner of the bed. She kissed my neck, placing a hand on my chest. I said, “I can’t do this now.”

“Why? You know we didn’t come to your house to listen to records.”

I looked down, not knowing what to say; even though this scene was something out of a fifteen year old’s fantasy. “Well, I just got my divorce,” I stumbled over words as she pulled my shirt up. I was listless both inside and out.

“Yeah….” She purred. I waited a few moments, taking some breaths, thinking as the moments ticked by. What do I say? I thought, as my mood was quickly changing. “Ummm, I got my divorce because I’m gay,” I stammered.

She waited, thinking, and then turned my head. Before kissing me fully on the lips she said, “you ARE NOT gay.” And we completed the task.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 43: Waiting.

August 17, 2011

Waiting.
The moments of contemplation were rare; grabbing them when the opportunity would present itself in the helter-skelter of the my twenties, the din of the previous evening still fresh as the waning bits of alcohol was absorbed within my body. This was a challenge and for one who had only learned of reflection only through the impressions of childhood the effort was great but clumsy at best. My father, who jettisoned from modern life after divorcing my mother, voyaged to the Benedictine monastery, St. Vincent located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania-home of Rolling Rock beer and summer camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had expressed to me several times in my worrisome childhood, as I was fraught with anxiety and trepidation, that his two years there were the happiest times in his life. Fatherhood obligations, led him away from the hidden and quiet secrets of the contemplative life and most likely, the stress of contemporary life led to continued mental isolation whose manifestations suggested something far darker.
Living by proxy through books, music and magazines, I envisioned myself as a traveler in a world that was populated by barriers that clouded the simple view. Jenny would recoil when I slunk deeper into silence, as if the sensitivity that brought her closer to me, would bend so far under the weight of mental oppression that there was no other choice but to retreat into silence. A fondness for classical music was a refuge, especially upon hearing Pergolesi’s “Stabet Mater” when I was nineteen, it was also a happy coincidence that the copy I had purchased was on Hungaroton Records, performed by the Hungarian Radio and Television Chorus. In some way, the soft epic reinforced the mysterious relationship I had silently offered to my father, unbeknownst to him. I retreated to books on Catholicism, “City of God” by Saint Augustine, “The Lives of the Saints” and of course the New Testament. All the while, I ingested biographies both political and musical in nature, fanzines, newspapers, The New York Review of Books and of course, Spin magazine. Concocting an intellectual brew that was filled with pop culture and a sense of both entitlement and utter waste, was an odd way to find simplicity.
Holy Name church, sat just a few doors down from two of my houses, one on Adams street, I shared with the two feminists who helped nurse me back to mental health through humor, long talks and the an openness I had only encountered a few times. The second home was on Patterson, just two buildings away from the large church. I started attending mass twice a week, shuffling to 5:30 mass on Wed. afternoons after working the afternoon shift at Used Kids. For a campus church, Holy Name was not the norm, there were no long-haired glad-handers here, parts of the mass consisted of Latin, there were no “rock-and-roll” styled guitar songs, proclaiming the happiness of Christ. Much more sober than anything around, the hymns were sung a-capella and tended to be slow, as if the way to salvation consisted of miniscule movements of breath rather than the frantic pace of the ringing strings of caustic guitars. The congregation was older, and at times barely existed, just a few slow moving gray-hairs and myself, huddled alone in the back pew as I resisted the urge to leave and grab a drink to wash away the sins of anxiety and the persecution of unknowing. Tall columns lined the chapel, built of marble and thick chunks of stone; this was a building for the stern who quietly bellowed for safety.
Used Kids opened at ten am, and in the late eighties, early nineties, there was nary a person who would come in before eleven, perhaps the UPS driver delivering a box of untold secrets of longing and sexual urges, driven into the grooves of vinyl with names such as Beat Happening, the Vaselines, Bette Serveert and Yo La Tengo. But this was all; the person who opened the shop had the place to himself until eleven. This was a time for meditation, record store style, which meant an hour of coffee, an open front door and the warm grooves of whatever record we used to commune with our inner thoughts. The playlist at this hour, for myself consisted of either classical (Dvorak, or the choral music of Shultz or Byrd), Townes Van Zandt (usually “Flyin’ Shoes), Van Morrison (“Into the Music”, “Enlightenment” and “Avalon Sunset”), Phil Ochs and Gram Parsons. The search was ever-present. Sipping the bitter coffee of Buckeye Donuts, and slowly pricing out records in silence was our way of carrying water, chopping wood and washing dishes.
Most people, who knew me, were aware of the tendency that I had towards some sort of spiritual life, although it was odd that I gravitated towards the orthodoxy of Catholicism. Jerry was always respectful of my choice, and although we never really spoke of spiritual matters he was conscious enough to know my mass schedule, at times volunteering to meet me later, after mass. Jenny was at times dismissive of the yearning I had for quiet, as if the barrage of noise in her head could not comprehend, and was, in fact threatened by the fact that I had an itch that only the quiet could scratch. With the exception of Dan Dow, who was utterly dismissive of my proclivities towards the Catholic church, it was as if he wanted to punish me for some idea of a God that had been foisted upon him, all of my friends were extremely considerate of my pursuit of something that had no name or shape. It should be noted that Dan, was appreciative on the importance of early morning record listening, a feeling of calm brought out by a needle and electricity, he seemed to know that the way to peace is found at times through the application and communion of caffeine and brit-pop.
Next to the vast stone entrance of the church was a small walkway that led through a wrought-iron fence, around a statue of Christ, arms extended outwards, welcoming the repentant sinner and then into a small side chapel with five rows of pews. There, underneath the shiny polished wooden beams, I would sit in silence waiting for some sort of answer. I sat here when the hangovers were too bold and the alcohol dripped out of my pores as if I were a pungent flower, emanating the sweetest yet sickliest odor known. Listening through the small door that led into the main chapel, hoping that I could catch redemption through osmosis although, I only wanted to hear nothing. Not the drumming of my thoughts, not the fear of being alone or worse yet, the fear of acceptance. I would cobble together a prayer, feeling the awkwardness of solitary unskilled appeal. Leaving, under the guise of sheepishness and clumsy guilt, I would slink away as if I were a gawky lover who had left his partner unfulfilled. “Nothing is good enough” I would think about myself.
Today, my daughter asked me about God, and who God was and how do people believe in God. Trying to explain this to a five year old is more difficult than one would think, I said that I didn’t know and I gave up trying to find out long ago. When I gave up the booze, I decided that I would no longer allow myself to be stomped into submission by an idea that there was a mystery that could only be found through prayer. I explained to her that I thought, we should try to be helpful to those who are suffering, easing the lives of others and that in this way we will find our own answers. She asked what other people believed, carefully plucking the words from a stream of muddy thoughts, deliberating choosing the words that she could only understand. “Try to just be a good person.” I believe now, that God is an action and that is all.

Jenny Mae & Jerry Wick part 39: Matador at 21

October 16, 2010

Matador at 21

Standing on the shoulders of the past is a dangerous position gazing through the haze of dead bodies, former lovers, and the highs and lows of the past can provided a remedy for today. 1989-1990 were years of planting seeds, at least for the soft underbelly of the fermenting underground scene. At night we huddled in bars, clutching long-necks as if they were talismans, eyeing bands on crumbling stages while looking for lovers through the haze of cigarette smoke. Back then we got paid to listen to records and laugh at the responsibilities of the rest of the world. Very few of us had children, had jobs that required button-down shirt or, god forbid had mortgage payments to make. The thirst inside of us was for music, booze, and the sense of belonging that those two ingredients can provide.

The grotesque hierarchy of major labels and commercial entities tried to foist the sickening, barbaric, and sexually destructive machismo of such drivel as Warrant, Motley Crue, and other purveyors of all things hair, spandex, and stupidity on us. The underground scene was more approachable, and although Dinosaur Jr. may have lacked the audio sheen of “Girls Girls Girls”, the guitar solo from “Freak Scene” ferociously laid waste to the whole ridiculous genre of 80s corporate rock, and Dinosaur Jr.’s song was more honest about relationships than anything Vince Neil and his skinny dumbfuck drummer could ever hope to aspire to. We discovered that those who made the most precious, moving art were among us, just a phone call or, better yet, a 7-inch away.

At Used Kids, we were connected to the loose but sophisticated network of labels, booking agents, fanzine writers, and fans across the country. There were only a few distributors getting the music into people’s hands. The labels were started in living rooms and some, by sheer force of personality, perseverance, and hard work, lifted themselves out of those living rooms and into real offices with fax machines, computers, and maybe even a Starburst commercial or two. It’s ironic that now, twenty years after the static indie/grunge rock revolution, many labels are again being run out of living rooms, coffee shops, or wherever one’s laptop may be. Because of the kind but acerbic enthusiasm of Ron House and Dan Dow, whose reputations preceded them, I got to know most every important player in nineties underground rock. A tiny touchstone in the largest college town in America, soon I was handling the ordering at Used Kids, and I started booking shows into the cozy confines of Staches and Bernie’s. My own enthusiasm was exhausting—records were more important than anything. more important than sex because a record can’t hurt you, more important than jobs because songs don’t have responsibilities, and more important than families because music can’t leave you.

Gerard Cosloy phoned Used Kids one day and asked Ron to order the first full-length record on his new label, Matador Records. My memory is clouded because I thought it was Teenage Fanclub’s A Catholic Education, but it must have been Superchunk’s self-titled debut. In any event, we ordered a handful and were blown away by both records, especially the life-affirming sound of Superchunk’s “My Noise” and “Slack Motherfucker,” the sentiments of which laid the groundwork for an entire generation soon to be labeled Gen-Xers. A Catholic Education was itself an epiphany, combining the raggedness of Sonic Youth with the fragility of Dinosaur Jr. (two bands that Gerard had worked closely with at Homestead Records). Teenage Fanclub’s record was beautiful in every staticky, disordered note, a watershed of sound coalescing into what may be described simply as Perfect Sound Forever.

We ordered direct from most labels; Scat in Cleveland, Dischord in Washington, DC, Ajax in Chicago, Siltbreeze in Philadelphia, Sub Pop in Seattle, and Revolver in San Francisco. All of them were run by people with the same devotion to musical escape that we shared. It wasn’t too long before I was working closely with the labels as bands played and sweated through the college towns and major cities across America. Bands and label employees knew that they could find ears and couches in Columbus, and it wasn’t long before Columbus had become a main stop for touring bands. I discovered that every town had someone like me who was all too willing to shell out meager guarantees to musicians who were escaping their own mundane jobs for two weeks to eat greasy eggs and falafel and snuggle up to a stranger’s dog. I got to know some of these folks myself, either closely or by the casual association of the scene. In Athens, Georgia, Henry Owings booked shows and was soon putting out the devastatingly funny Chunklet zine that lampooned our entire tiny universe. In Pittsburgh, a curly haired, overtly serious short man named Manny brought bands in by the dozens. In Cleveland, Kathy Simkoff eked out a living finding bands to fill her small club, the Grog Shop, with many of the same bands who would wake up at eleven A.M. on my floor and make the two-and-half-hour drive to Cleveland.

I had only two unpleasant interactions with bands over the years, both involving bands that I booked as favors for their labels. The first was H.P. Zinker, who managed to have the debut releases for both Matador and Thrill Jockey Records. I had gotten a last minute show for them at Bernie’s on a Monday night with Gaunt, who had just “signed” with Thrill Jockey. There were all of six people at the show—me, Gaunt, and one rabid, blonde-haired fan who stood in front of H.P. Zinker for their entire set. The drummer also played in the Amherst band Gobblehoof (for whom J. Mascis moonlighted on drums) and he was a bit irate that I didn’t have more than the fifty bucks I gave him out of my pocket. He threatened to take me outside and “kick my skinny little ass.” At that point in my life, I was sober—a quiet, peaceful record store guy whose only aspiration was to listen to the next Ass Ponys record. There were to be no fights that night, although I did not offer my couch or to introduce them to my lovable dogs.

The second unpleasant interaction was with Moonshake, an English band signed to the brilliant Too Pure label. They lacked the frenetic genius of label mates Th’ Faith Healers and Stereolab, and leader Dave Callahan and songstress Margaret Fielder didn’t have the charm and politeness of those bands. After receiving a call from the Matador offices asking for a last minute show for Moonshake as they came from Chicago to New York for the annual College Music Journal Marathon, I placed them on a bill with three noisy, garagey bands on Thrill Jockey: Zipgun and Gorilla were from Seattle (Gorilla had released a brilliant song called “Detox Man”) and, of course, Gaunt.  Moonshake didn’t like the fact that they had to go on second nor did they approve of the garage drunkenness of the other bands. Several times during the night, Margaret complained to me about the order of bands and the sounds of the bands.  At the end of the night, after splitting the modest door four ways, each band made roughly $150 (with the exception of Gaunt, who usually played for free on the shows I booked). Needless to say, Margaret was none too pleased with this and said, “Well, I think most people were here to see us as we are on Matador.” I was in no mood to get in a pissing match with a musician, so I simply walked away. Several days later we bumped into one another in the Matador offices, as we were all in New York City for the CMJ festival.

In the pastures of middle age, when the difficulties in life are simpler yet can be complicated by the spilling of apple juice, finding a moment to sink into the electric hum of guitars requires planning. Choices are made based on the effects that they have on one’s ability to navigate through to the next day and provide a modicum of the appearance of responsibility. In my office, the records climb the walls, the compact discs wrestle for space, and books long ago read ply for space on cheap warping particle board shelves. Downstairs, the stereo is surrounded by more compact discs and a few long lost but just discovered cassettes, with every vinyl record I have purchased over the past three years stacked underneath. Most are unopened, as I buy them out of habit, by rote as I navigate the various websites to purchase music. Again, as I did twenty years ago as the buyer for Used Kids, I either order directly from the labels (both Matador/Beggars and Merge are favorites, as their LPs contain download codes) or obtain new music from e-music (I subscribe to the connoisseur plan, 75 downloads a month) or get it on the cheap from Amazon. I usually run out of my downloads from E-music within a week and wrestle with whether I want purchase more downloads. Like a fat man eating pizza, I don’t always taste what I shove in my mouth—I consume and forget how to digest the music I hear. I find favorites for a moment (currently Bare Wires, Justin Townes Earle, and Love is All) and continue to be bowled over by old friends like Superchunk and Teenage Fanclub.

Over our lifetimes, we gather, hoard, and discard, playing a mathematical game of emotion versus materialism. I have spent the last nine years quitting—quitting drinking, quitting screwing around on my wife, trying to quit eating shitty food, quitting expecting myself to be someone who I may have been but can no longer be. I have seen the destruction of longing and attachment eat up the ones I love the most, leaving bare spaces of loss in my psyche that I try to fill up with a new life of young children and, of course, music.

Sometimes I play a mental game, revisiting myself as a younger man wading into a scene I was once very much a part of. Now I sit outside the lines, learning to not so gracefully be a bystander to the lives of others who are a bit younger and a bit more curious. I can see myself picking up a bottle at whatever show is playing at Columbus’s newest version of Staches (this year it is the Summit) and making the young women cackle and the men nod in agreement. I realize that with my graying hair sticking out like a thorny bush, a slight paunch not from alcohol but from exhaustion, and daily stubble that resembles tiny bits of prickly confetti scattered around my mouth as if they were a small parade for the losers, I would be a mess in a matter of hours. I would pine for my new self while wrestling for a time that came and went and was left asunder by alcoholism and mental illness that, fortunately, never held me hostage. Instead, I climb into bed early, even when I have the notion to huddle next to the stage, bobbing my head back and forth while a band plays loud and passionately.

I got an email from my cousin’s wife a few months ago asking if I was going to Las Vegas for the Matador Anniversary show—three nights of memories that would not be a nostalgia act but a celebration. I gazed at the lineup: Superchunk, Guided by Voices, Chavez, Pavement, and Yo La Tengo. These names brought me back to some of the happiest moments of my life, as they provided a soundtrack to a life that I lived and still live. They all meant something personal to me, either by casual relationships or because of the sheer beauty of the music they made. Superchunk’s music defined several breakups in my life. Their album Foolish provided me with solace as I maneuvered through several fleeting relationships in 1995, grappling with the fact that perhaps a fuckup means you’re not able to sustain any type of relationship that requires being able to navigate the end of a night without some assistance from a bottle. Likewise, Here’s to Shutting Up provided the balm to me when, at the ripe age of thirty-three, I was as broken and shattered as the plane imagery of that album, with lines such as “plane crash footage on tee-vee, I know that could be me” (“Phone Sex”), and “they’re building skeletons out of steel” (“The Animal Has Left It’s Shell”) and another song “Out on a Wing”, the record eerily mirrored the tragedy of the Twin Towers. Sometimes, crawling inside of a record is the safest thing a person can do, safer than the clutch of another body holding on for dear life as the emotions drip from the ending of and the beginnings of dreams. In the comfort of sound, we could be who we dreamed to be, with invisible walls that drew attention away from the bewildering aspects of our lives, we found consolation in sound. Even water is drawn to water, so it was the underground sounds found is home in those of us who choose to live outside the parameters set for us. The fact that most of us were white, (somewhat) college educated, and prone to make cynical and ironic statements made us prone to derision by some, surely not the same amount of derision we felt for much of mainstream culture.

As my wife and I visited Gainesville in the late spring of 2001, we stayed in hotel in the middle of the University of Florida campus. The atmosphere was thick with smoke erupting out of fires that had engulfed much of central Florida. As I gazed out into the swamp of the campus, the environment thick with green, creeping plants and the encroaching smoke snarling the hopes I had for a successful marriage, I had a feeling that the fires did not portend a hopeful year. While there offering my newlywed spouse the fragile words of encouragement for a lifelong and very adult dream of teaching fine arts to adults, I felt a touch of sickness for myself and for her, in her dreams I slowly realized that a part of mine was shifting, disintegrating around me. Snaggled and constricted like the smoke that was slowing covering the ground below. Appropriately one of the most painful songs on Here’s to Shutting Up that I repeatedly subjected myself to, is titled “Florida’s on Fire.”

After gazing at the line-up for the anniversary show, I emailed my wife, whose last concert was five years ago (Sonic Youth and the Flaming Lips). I was startled by the fact that she said that she might consider attending. Sadly, but with a tiny amount of relief, I realized that the event would be held during my monthly weekend of graduate school classes. We could not attend. I would be in Cleveland, learning how to be more skilled in the act of providing clinical compassion. In the years since giving up the bottle, I have learned that I suffer from a social phobia. It is with a small sense of dread that I attend concerts. I set little rules for myself when attending shows—I go late, usually when the band I want to see is ready to go on and I leave when I grow tired. Last month I saw Titus Andronicus, staying for only about six songs. I thought that they were brilliant, but I had to get up the next morning and shuffle off to work after helping balance a jittery house filled with two over-anxious youngsters. I know that I can’t operate on as little sleep as I once did, even without a hangover. Seeing Pavement earlier this month was a pleasant experience, but I had no desire to wander up to the stage or try to talk to the band that once slept on my floor after I booked them several times in Columbus. I sat back and marveled at the easy pleasure they had in playing old songs and how well they all looked. Tonight the reformed Guided by Voices are playing in a show that may be one of their only Columbus shows that I did not have a hand, I haven’t decided if I am going to go yet (I did decide to go and had a wonderful time). Perhaps more than any other band, I have been identified with GBV, mostly due to the fact that a very good bootleg was recorded at my 26th birthday party when they were hitting their stride. Crying Your Knife Away was recorded shortly before Bee Thousand was released and after Alien Lanes was already finished (Alien Lanes was tentatively called Scalping the Guru at the time). We were all friends then, but over the course of time we have become un-friends. This is not due to any squabbling, but my own interests rise and fall as every diaper is changed.

In the newest New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones writes a somewhat dismissive article about Pavement, accusing the band in not-so-subtle terms of playing reserved and couching their sound in an attitude built around their supposed “normalcy” to exclude people who were unlike them.  He thus dismisses the cultural times that the band was created in—that of Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior, the aforementioned prefab shit of eighties hair-metal, the radio bombast of Phil Collins, and the tepidness of inauthentic rebels like Billy Idol and Bon Jovi, who were about as dangerous as a two-liter bottle of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. Mr. Jones misses the point. We longed for normalcy to combat the force-fed tripe many of us suffered through while growing up in high schools across the land. There were sonic oases to be found on the far-left bands of FM radio stations and in the bins of local record stores. It was bands like Pavement, Guided by Voices, Mudhoney, and Superchunk that bound us together, providing the belief and determination that we didn’t have to buy the bill of goods that mainstream America was throwing against the wall. If anything, Pavement brought the warm, reality-based sounds of the Velvet Underground into the nineties, and they had enough self assurance not to have to wear sunglasses indoors or have tattoos of women whose breasts were as big as watermelons on their arms. There was no need to pretend to be something else—a Disney version of rock & roll—because we were self assured enough in our own lives to realize that we may not have known what we wanted, but we did know what we didn’t want. If you were in the middle of Mr. Jones, so-called clique, it didn’t feel that way, it felt like home.

After having spent a vast amount of time trying to tear our worlds down night by night, beer by beer, shot by shot, and note by note, I now spend my days trying to rebuild lives, sentence by sentence, listen by listen, and patience by patience. It is an ongoing struggle that is tempered by the gold soundz of my MP3 player.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part nine w/ photos

September 3, 2009

1991/92

Jerry loved to dance; he was in fact quite a good dancer, one who would let his emotions empty out of his body. I can see him today with his pointy teeth sticking below a grin cast towards the heavens, beer in one hand and the other hand raised high above his head.  I loved to dance to, every since I was fifteen and saw Michael Stipe doing the crooked-shimmy in a trench coat at Wittenberg University, I was directly in front of the stage and was mesmerized.  Michael Stipe was one of the first men besides my crazy Latin-American raised Uncles, who let himself go dancing. I figured if he can do it so can I. I am someone with very few inhibitions, to the chagrin of some and dancing always seemed natural.

Jerry and I bonded over our love of dancing, and we would go to Crazy Mama’s on the weekends and the Garage (Columbus’ biggest gay bar) during the week. So many of our friends in the underground rock scene were too self conscious to dance, and we both fused over the fact that we loved to shake our skinny almost transparent asses. Music was the escape for us, a way to close out the world and tie our emotions to something tangible yet ethereal a passage to our innerselves yet encapsulating the whole world. When we combined the music with movement, it heightened the moment, for both of us we would be in front of the stage for any show that was more important. The opportunity to be transported was too important to be standing in the back, hands in pockets, we never had sense for that sort of hesitancy if the music performed was that vital. Dancing was the same but not as intense as seeing a live band, but it provided us with the escape we so much coveted.

Crazy Mama’s at that point had seen its better days, this was early 1991 or so, and the club’s heyday had been in the mid-eighties. We had come upon its glamour only by the retelling of what seemed almost fantasized stories of the club from our local heroes Ron House, Dan Dow and Don Howland. They had held our attention with stories of playing and doing drugs with Paul Westerberg at Mr. Browns and then heading for some dancing and drug use at Crazy Mama’s.  To Jerry and me and its fair to add most members of the New Bomb Turks we held an almost godlike respect for the Columbus scene of the 80’s.  Jerry had paid tribute to that Columbus scene with the cover of the first Gaunt single, the cover was shot at Used Kids; Eric was a Great Plains t-shirt and Jerry was doing a Ron House pose. When we arrived at the Crazy Mama scene the bar was trying to stay alive, genuinely torn between new-wave gothic-ism and the more bass heavy twitterings of techno.  One never knew what one might hear when you stumbled up its steep staircase.

At times there would only be a few old (looking back now, I would guess they were mid to late 30’s) patrons, with slashing eighties haircuts and the weighted down or skinny (depending if the person chose alcohol, cocaine or heroin) jowls, eyes quickly scanning the stairwell, praying that 1986 would enter the room.  The glamour of Crazy Mama’s had faded like a bloated Elvis, but once in a while the club would be packed again and the sounds of Jesus and Mary Chain and The Cramps would rattle the rafters, like an old pitcher who suddenly is in the midst of tossing a no-hitter. On Thursday evenings the bar closed with the epically wonderfully gorgeous Felt song “Primitive Painters.” I imagine that “Primitive Painters” was written to capture the special feeling that only two a.m. can provide, when one is soaked with sweat, plastered with cigarette smoke and being filled with only the absolute freedom that alcohol once provided for so many of us.  Jerry adored Felt, as did I coming into their beauty via Jerry and Dan Dow. We would swirl across the sticky dance floor under the glow of a disgruntled aging disco ball and the world would be alright for five minutes, then the lights would come on, shattering the moment like an alarm clock at six a.m. or a phone call in the middle of sex.

One night Jerry and I were hanging out at Bernie’s and decided to head to Crazy Mama’s.  Matt Reber whom I just casually knew joined us, as we strolled through the waves of frat boys and sorority girls through the south campus jungle made up of bars such as Mother Fletcher’s, The Oar House, Papa Joes and other meat markets we laughed at our own seriousness and the silliness of the college students whom we perceived were so different than us. We arrived at Crazy Mamas already wasted, full of cheap Bernie’s draft beer and cigarettes. Making a bee-line towards an unfathomably great pinball game called Carnival we hunkered around it while drinking up the fortitude to hit the dance floor. Tonight Crazy Mama’s was packed.

Jerry was an energetic pinball player who practically dry-humped the machine when playing it, thrusting his hips into the game as if pinball was an erotic exercise. As we played Jerry and I started to talk about some of the songs he had been recording with Jenny, whom I had broken up with the previous year. He was amazed by her songs and I think he had a slight crush on her because he mentioned that he couldn’t go out with her because of our past history together. It was amazing that at that time we had a sense of chivalry towards one another because as time went by we no doubt slept with several of the same women. Matt finally chimed in and asked if we were talking about “Crazy Jenny?”  Jerry said “Yeah, that’s her.”  I had no idea whom they were referring to, but I knew Jenny was about as on the edge as anyone I had known. Matt went on, “Man, that chick is nuts. We knew her from the dorms, we see her at Larry’s sometimes. She writes songs?”  Jerry, eyeing the multi-ball, “yup, I recording some of them now.” “Christ,” I thought “Jenny has a reputation for being crazy.”

We made our way to the dance floor although the place was packed; the music was fairly shitty by our esteemed taste. Techno was starting its mini-revolution full of full on beats and the stuttering of synthesizers left us feeling annoyed and empty. Suddenly a moment of ridiculousness arrived, a gothic (as in mid-evil) song blared out of the speakers and the dance floor was filled with more black clothing than a funeral. It was called “O Fortuna”, a remixed techno version of a Carl Orff composition, it was as if The Omen downed a smart drink and took a hit of ecstasy. We were baffled by the overtly enthusiastic reception the song had, soon I started pacing the length of the dance floor, posed like Bela Lugosi with an imaginary cape draped over my face.  Soon, Jerry and Matt joined me; we were jostled and scowled at, which just made us laugh harder. We could sense no joy in the other dancers which just propagated more laughter; we were eventually told to leave the dance floor. In hindsight it was probably the only time that ever happened at Crazy Mama’s. Matt went back a week later and half the crowd was doing the vampire dance.

We took great pleasure in thumbing our noses at others whom we didn’t see eye to eye with, Jerry more so than myself. For him it was an art form, even if it meant mocking an entire dance floor of vampire worshipers. If you had a balloon Jerry would be obliged to pop it, sometimes with hilarious results and at other times it would go over like a shriveled penis.