Posts Tagged ‘guided by voices’

Mike Rep.

April 30, 2017

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The back room of Used Kids was cramped, a musty claustrophobic din of shelves, boxes of records, large bundles of brown paper bags that were as thin as dust, that would tear if someone slid a record in even half crooked and Dan’s desk. His desk was shoved into a tower of peach crates, stacked sideways to form a make-shift shelf where all the receipts, tax paper, and unsold cassettes of Cordia’s Dad and the Wolverton Brothers held down the leaning tower of almost splintering wood. In the middle sat a furnace that had seen better days, whose piping was in fact rusting while in the far corner lay a darkness that only the High Street rats would venture too. Crammed in the rear of the room was the bathroom, itself a frightening hazard as one was not sure if one of the rodents the dodged around the clutter may suddenly appear behind the toilet while someone had dick in hand. There was a period when a series of Chinese restaurants were housed above us, the last one that somehow miraculously dodged the health department despite leaving uncovered tubs of slimy chicken meat by their backdoor and a grease trap that attracted all types of animal life, even in daylight hours. At one point, the rats were dying within our cinder block walls at an alarming rate, and the Chinaman who operated the restaurant would suddenly forget his English when I addressed him, scowling at me, “no rat here!” to which I usually replied, “yeah, cause they all fucking died in our walls!” Finally, one day, he was gone, his shop turned black but he had left all the food and soon enough after repeated calls to the landlord, some poor fuckers came and loaded out all the spoiled food. A heavy blanket of rotten stench coated the record shop for nearly a month before this happened, the heavy summer heat only poured gasoline on the problem. The rat problem slowed to a trickle after that.

Some of the boxes in the back where marked for our Goldmine auctions, Goldmine was a record collector magazine that ran nostalgia interviews with everybody from Mike Nesmith, Nancy Sinatra to Captian Beefheart’s guitarist, Gary Lucas. The back of the magazine was chock full of various record auctions, set sales that small shops across the country would advertise whatever collectable records that they came across. Many of these were of the “bootleg” variety or the always sought after radio shows. These radio shows were really a goldmine to independent shops, mostly put out by Westwood One these multiple LP sets were pristine recordings of FM radio bands. Some were much more famous than others, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, and Bob Seger but there were other, lesser known bands—fly by night artists that barely made a flicker on the charts or even rock radio, bands such as Frankie and the Knockouts, Greg Kihn, Quarterflash and John Cafferty. These smaller bands fetched very little, $5-$20 but the superstars, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles or even R.E.M. could fetch hundreds of dollars. A needed influx of easy cash for us, but a pain in the ass to assemble as all the auctions had to be done via mail or phone. Record keeping and knowledge of what was more collectable were essential, when CD’s came out the shows and programs expanded, In the Studio, Hot Wax and others came on the market and the CD’s were much easier for various DJ’s and radio station employees to smuggle out and sell to us. Besides the radio shows the auctions would also be made up of other collectables, garage singles from the 60’s, rare art and jazz LP’s would sell well. The task for keeping track of these sales fell to two of the most colorful characters on High Street during the past forty years.

Mike Hummel was one of the first people along High Street to record his own music, and then press it to vinyl, his “Rocket To Nowhere” (Moxie) came out in 1977 a blistering blow-out-speaker of a song that at once seemed to capture the sonic waves burping out of Cleveland but infused with Mike’s love of all things Alex Harvey. Mike was able to straddle a fine line of the freedom of punk rock but with a keen eye of the art-y flamboyant sounds of the aforementioned Alex Harvey, early Alice Cooper, and glam-era Lou Reed. Initially he was a shaggy haired figure who would drop by the store, carrying loads of white record boxes to the and from the furnace of the back room, to his car, and later that night it wasn’t uncommon to see him manning the pool table at Larry’s with large leather hat and long leather coat casting a shadow over the table, a large glass of whiskey nearby. He was usually with Jim Shepard or Ron House, frequently one would find them by the back door of Larry’s smoking a joint and talking in hushed tones, probably exactly like they did in high school.  Dan had a contentious relationship with Mike at that time, and if there were any mistakes in the auctions or record show sales, he would berate Ron, “Well, he’s YOUR best friend” as if Mike was responsible for every fuck-up that went on in a store full of fuck-ups.

For Jerry Wick and I, Mike was somewhat of a mysterious shadow, he would slip in on Friday’s picking up a few of the white cardboard LP boxes, huddle in the back with Dan and return the next Monday with a manila envelope holding the winners of that months auction. That night, we would spy him and Shepard at Larry’s poetry night, grumbling that we were constantly shooshed while various nervous types, wearing berets, scarves and inky mascara stood before a bar full of people and read poems and prose from tattered notebooks. “Jesus, I forgot it was poetry night, let’s to go BW’s at least we can drink in peace and play trivia”, Jerry would say as we slumbered to the still local BW-3, that hosted trivia amidst a juke-box the poisoned one’s ears with the latest Jock Jams. Peace indeed.

Soon enough, we discovered the genius of Mike as he was soon working part-time in the Used Kids Annex smiling a broad smile, with his ruffled hair and white teeth he was handsome enough to have been a model for a hybrid of Creem and Playgirl, if such a thing existed. It was easy for us to find fault with Mike, as in our curmungendy-wary twenties, we tended to dismiss a great deal with a thought that would leave our mouth before being properly matured, as Mike was prone to listen to the Doors with the same ease that one of us would put the Stooges or MC5 on. What we didn’t fully realize was Mike came of age when rock and roll turned suddenly more dangerous, when the infuse of psychedelics, marijuana and Quaaludes were stuffed into tight jean pockets to be consumed in Detroit made cars as long as speedboats while the click-click-click of eight-track players boomed out the sounds of “L.A. Woman”, the Bob Seger System and T. Rex. Ron House once remarked that he had felt as if one had to make a choice in high school between Alice Cooper or the New York Dolls, Mike Rep defying both sides would proudly choose both. We all realized that like Jim Shepard, Mike had been making a mix of punk-infused art rock since high school. For the first Datapanik single, label head Craig Regala asked the Boys from Nowhere (themselves a mishmash of punk and 70’s hard rock, that never achieved the success of east coast counter-parts such as the Lyres) to cover “Rocket to Nowhere” while the b-side featured future Greenhorn brothers, the Spurgeons blasting through Peter Laughner’s “Dear Richard.”

“Rocket from Nowhere” is now a highly sought after single, an almost sinister and gleeful three minute announcement of boastful destruction of which Columbus had not quite seen; the Datapanik single was our first introduction to the capabilities of Mike Rep and the Quotas. When the Used Kids Annex opened up, Dan Dow recruited Dave Diemer from Capital City Records down the block to run the shop, Mike came on board full time and usually worked in the afternoons and evenings. There was a large concrete supporting wall that separated the two stores, one tip off that Mike had arrived was the musky scent of marijuana that would seep through the back-room wall. Mike would flip the “Back in Five Minutes” sign up and go to the back of the Annex and fire up, when Lamont Thomas (Bim) worked for us, he would also slip next door for a five-minute escape. Almost like a high-school kid trying to cover up his tracks, Mike would gargle some Scope, and light some incense to cover the smell—it was comical but the fear of drug busts, even for marijuana was still a possibility twenty-five years ago.

One day as I brought over a stack of records to the Annex, Mike was busy pricing 45” records in his shaky chicken-scrawl and singing loudly along to Phil Ochs, in his smooth tenor Mike sang along “I’d like a one-way ticket home, ticket home….” Records can be used a silent code, opening the possibilities of connection almost like nothing else, and for many it is a bigger escape than alcohol, drugs or most anything else. My own fascination with folk music and singer-songwriters started early, an affinity for Richard Thompson whom I saw open for R.E.M. when I was 17, and I had been fed an endless supply for Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Leadbelly as a host of Folkways records as a very young child. Discovering used records stores along High Street when I was 18 was akin to getting into a doctorate program at an Ivy League school, swallowing the songs of Tim Hardin, Townes Van Zandt, Butch Hancock, Gene Clark and, of course, Phil Ochs had an incredible impact on me. To find others who held some of these songwriters as close to their hearts was inspiring, the songs and artists were small fireflies of light in a life drenched in darkness. In the eighties and early nineties most of these acts were still obscure, Ron, Dan, Captain, Mike and I had all seen Townes Van Zandt at a small nightclub/eatery called The Dell in the early 90’s there were only eleven people there and Townes got so drunk during his brief intermission he ended the second part of the show basically telling stories while strumming laconically on his guitar.

 

Phil Ochs was an inspiration, not only because he grew up in Columbus and used to drink at Larry’s but because he was a man who appeared to hold his principals above all else, whose sensitivity to the world around him would eventually lead to his death by suicide. Looking back, it is easy to see that he as many other artists we admired suffered from Bi-Polar Disorder (Mark Eliot’s “Death of a Rebel” is essential reading on art, alcoholism and mental illness), but as young man who himself battled oppressive bouts of depression, including a suicide attempt, Phil was a revelation. When Mike sang along with “One Way Ticket Home”, I stopped in my tracks, and although we had known each other for several years we immediately connected  about Phil and records.

Later that year, a small band of excitable men from Dayton were coming up to the shop to hang out in the Annex, I knew one of them as Bob Pollard who would come up sporadically to go record shopping. Mike had helped mix one of the first New Bomb Turks and Gaunt singles as well as record some of the early Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartment singles, gutting the almost smooth farfisa college rock sounds of Ron House’s Great Plains for a big rock via muffled cardboard 4-track  recordings of the Slave Apartments.

At one point the valley of Ohio was the furthest west the country could have imagined, beyond the mountains of Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky, with the Ohio River holding an almost mythical hold that the Ohio Valley held on the forefathers of America were epic, a land of dangerous promises that appeared almost laughable 200 years later as mid-west promises collapsed under the girth of rust-belt nightmares. The fertile soil in Ohio was bathed in the blood of British, French, American and sadly, Native Americans who were massacred by degrees during the 17th and 18th centuries. Frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, trudged through the swamps of Southeastern, Ohio marking claims with rifles, knives and gunpowder leaving a trail of destruction from Marietta to Toledo. The fables that grew out of the carving up of Ohio by these men were the tales that little boys would play throughout vacant fields and the patches of woods that dotted small town Ohio. Even today, supposedly, there is some buried treasure hidden by Simon Kenton somewhere near Springfield.

The ancient history of Ohio goes back thousands of years, the earthworks of Fort Ancient, specifically the curling 1,300 foot Serpent Mound dates anywhere to 400 BC to the 11th Century, other earthworks dot Southern and Central, Ohio and in a sad commentary on 20th Century capitalism, one in Newark has a private golf course sitting on top of it. One can imagine the ghosts of Native Americans dodging errant golf shots whilst crying paranormal tears. One wonders if the people who grow up in the proximity of the Grand Canyon or the white tipped waves peaking off the coast of Maine realize the beauty and wonderment of the world they live in, or does one just accept these everyday astonishments as melting into the background of their existence, to finally, with just the shadow of a shudder, turn into the mundane? Serpent Mound is one of the great American treasures, as mystical as Stonehenge but with nary a speck of explanation left the builders. Serpent Mound is hidden in the deep Southern portion of the state, at least 100 miles away from Columbus, 250 miles from Cleveland and 80 miles from Cincinnati, the region used to be filled with coal miners and poverty cuts a deep wound into this region of Ohio. Nonetheless, the fascination with Serpent Mound has been relegated to mostly outliers in Ohio, pagans, Native American groups and those who tend to lose themselves in dog eared books, long hikes and the passing of pipes.

Mike Rep was transfixed with Ohio lore and more specially the history of Native American spiritual sites, the importance of locale has been steadfast in Mike’s world, a walking internet of facts about the region, Mike was the first person who told me about the Mothman. It was easy to dismiss Mikes fascination with the buried myths of the past, not only with the historical aspects of the Native culture but, in a shock for Jerry and I the self-myth making of musicians such as Jim Morrison and Donovan, musicians we had dismissed as we climbed out of mid-adolescence to our late-DIY-infused teenage years.

It was somewhere around this time, 91 or 92 that we were introduced to Tom Lax, who runs the fantastically spot-on Siltbreeze records from Philiadelphia. Ron and Mike introduced Jerry and I to TJ (as we called him), most likely at Larry’s or at Ron’s House. I knew Siltbreeze as the label that put out a V-3, Gibson Brothers and Sebadoh singles; Jerry and I were a bit in awe of Tom and Mac Sutherland’s ability to put out quality music from around the world, all hinged on music that was unsurprisingly artistic but full of attitude.

Even though, as a glance over the weighted shoulders of time, Tom, Ron, Mike and Bob Pollard were only a few years older than us, that space between someone who is 19, 20 or 21 to someone who is in their early thirties can appear vast, which turns the space horizontal, making an invisible pedestal in our minds. Siltbreeze mined Franklin County as if the sewers below High Street flowed with music instead of shit, and the avalanche of damaged esoteric music that Tom and Mac championed out of Columbus should have made them both honorary citizens of the city. The list is as long as a some of the tales that would bellow from Mike Rep’s drunken dialogues: Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Creeper: Ohio, Times New Viking, Sam Esh (whose warbling most resembled a washing machine playing a one stringed guitar), the Yips, the Gibson Brothers, Psychedelic Horseshit, V-3 and of course, Mike Rep and the Quotas. Tom, understood the musical acumen of Mike, whose taste in music has been unapologetic as well as trendsetting (see Guided By Voices, Times New Viking, Gaunt, New Bomb Turks, Strapping Field Hands…).

 

Mike walked through the main side of Used Kids one late afternoon to fetch a Black Label beer from the small and overworked dormitory refrigerator that kept us all sane during our salad days and he stopped at the side of the counter and sang along with me as I sang in my off-key quaver to Spirit’s “Animal Zoo.” It was shortly thereafter, that Siltbreeze put together a compilation of Mike’s hard to find and unreleased records stretching back into the 70’s. “Stuper Hiatus Vol. 2”. It’s a retrospective that runs the gamut of the punk-fueled deadism of  “Rocket to Nowhere” to the b-movie-whipit inspired “War of the Worlds” with a great dollop of Mike’s love of Roky Erickson smothering the homemade 4-track recordings. It also showcased Mike’s unusual taste in album cover art, utilizing the cover of a French-easy-listening record with Mike’s name on the cover.

Meanwhile, Mike was working hard on several projects, many of which he (kinda) cloaked in secrecy, per his intentional shrouded self-made persona, “I’m working on something that is pretty interesting, when you close up shop come over and give it as listen” he would tell us through his wide grin as he took a couple beers next door to the Used Kids Annex. After work, Jerry and I would stop in the Annex, with all the lights out except the dangling white Christmas lights that hung from the low ceiling, Mike would be blaring whatever he was working on. It could have been Guided by Voices “Propellor”, Prisonshake’s “Roaring Third” or the Strapping Field Hands “In the Piney’s”  or even a four-track recording of Donovan that Johan Kugelberg had asked him to remix (this is another story) but whatever it was it was always ear-splittingly loud. The smell of marijuana drenched the air like a green wave of humidity, a palpable smell that stuck in your nostrils like cat hair on a sweater. This night Mike was mixing something different, a bouncing effect laden song, it sounded as if the vocals were being channeled through a wading pool of water and ectoplasm, shimmering over fuzzy guitars and a small choir singing, “there’s aliens in our midst.” I stopped dead in my tracks, I had assumed it was a V-3 song although the lighthearted nature of the song, with a glint in the song’s eye suppling an aspect of care-free bizarreness that Jim Shepard would have been too self-conscious to lay down on tape. “Who is this?” I asked. Smiling broadly, Mike replied with wide eyes, “it’s the Quota’s but it’s a Twinkeyz cover.” Not knowing who the Twinkeyz were but assuming I should, I mumbled something like, “this is a great cover”.

The next time I worked with Mike he handed me a Maxell cassette  with his chicken-scratch pointy scrawl, “this is everything we’ve been recording.” The tape might as well have been stuck in the Pioneer tape deck in my 82 Ford Mustang for as much as I listened to it over the next month, the songs covered a gamut of sounds that spanned Mike’s fondness of music. From Roky Erickson to the Phil Ochs-cum-ragtime “America’s Newest Hero” and experimental Flying Saucer Attack inspired “One Thirty-Five.” Speaking with Mike over beers one night at Larry’s, “maybe I can put the tape out?” Soon enough, Gary Held from Revolver listened to it and loved it, he and Mike had spent some time together when Gary visited, perhaps they had even visited Serpent Mound together? After a few months of putting the cover, itself another in a long-line of bizarre record cover art from Mike, “A Tree Stump Named Desire” came out on CD. Mike wanted the record to come out on LP but due to the length of the record, a proper single LP pressing did not work, although it was cut to lacquer twice, Mike was never happy with how it sounded so there are only a handful of test pressings of the record.

Some people live on an island, not to the extent that it is a conscious choice but in the end the pursuit of art and creation tosses the irons of mainstream life that can fetter and clog the desire some have to pout what is inside their minds and lives onto paper, canvas and at times, into small recording devices, these are the people many of us are attracted to in our lives. Some may create to achieve adulation, to live forever in a moment of song while many do for the moment of the moment, the ones who can capture a singular feeling that transcends all the seconds, hours and days that follow it. The repercussions of the creation are just a bi-product of what needed to be produced. Most likely these are people who may tend to their gardens in self-imposed isolation, write silently in coffee shops or paint alone in their garages or tiny studios. For many they are tethered to small machines that capture sounds to be digested later, fueled by experience, alcohol, drugs and yes even whip-its. Mike Rep Hummel is one of these people, a man who holds no pretenses and who has managed to help discover and guide an unlikely assortment of talent that has helped inspired and influence the lives of many people who find their greatest solace in music. Guided by Voices, Times New Viking, V-3 and the New Bomb Turks all are indebted to Mike, who continues to do what he has always done, which is to cram what is inside of his shaggy head and cut it into tape without a fear of what the outcome will be. Fearless.

 

http://hozacrecords.com/

http://www.siltbreezerecords.com/

https://midheaven.com/search/?search=mike+rep

https://www.prairieghosts.com/moth.html

 

Jerry and Jenny: Holding

October 2, 2016

Desperation filled the room like a bomb, overhead lights flickered on, stuttering for a moment as if they were rubbing their florescent eyes and then illuminating the quiet loneliness with a shimmering pale glow. Women eyed nervous men, whose boldness was powered by Pabst Blue Ribbon, Jack Daniels and Rolling Rock, the upper hand danced upon arched eye-brows and the hesitation of whatever the next moments would unfurl, the anticipation danced as if on the tips of floating curtains through the window of minor death that comes from walking home alone. For many in the bar, home was filled with roommates who crowded spaces with loud voices, broken cigarettes they balanced on moist lips as words hurried out of manic-y mouths, all competing for a chance to share their bed, to keep the emptiness away, in this context the bar was more home than the cramped and messy student housing was. Dating was difficult when trying to be heard over a room-mate’s stereo, television or the constant interruptions of political or personal discourse. The bar was easier, with a wiggle into the wooden booth two people could wall off the world around them, the invisible barriers that shot up from the dark stained brown of the back of the booth shot to the ceiling, with the wooden table making the perfect meeting point for early forming crushes. Beneath the table, legs and feet could get intertwined sending an immediate message that one may not muster the courage to voice out loud.

The floor was ruddy, with cigarette butts flicked away in detached mannerisms, as if the calm they just supplied for an anxious fellow had never existed. The black and brown bits of tobacco soaked up spilled beer and dashed late night dreams like a sponge of rejection. The music blared from the speakers as bartenders, tired from a night of mixing cocktails, pouring doubles and opening endless bottles of beer shouted above the panicked din, “Last call!! This is your last fucking call! Turn them in, it’s time to get the hell out of here!!!” Just twenty minutes ago these bartenders were the masters of wisdom, able to parse small bricks of knowledge as they slid a drink across the counter or keeping fainter hopes alive with a wink and the sashaying of hips. The exposed brick walls wore a fine film of cigarette phlegm that grew in insignificant degrees as ladies and men stuffed inward anxiety by deeply inhaling from thousands, if not millions of these thin paper-y tubes of mental health supplicants, exhaling with a passion, the smoke leaving their bodies after digging deep inside their nervous souls it would settle on the walls, ceiling and light fixtures. Turning everything a bit yellow, as if the innards of the bar were in fact an alcoholic slowly beating his liver to death, one icy beverage at a time.

Outside, the autumn wind flew down from the black sky, making the leaves dance their dances of death before being torn from chilly almost naked branches, the wind gathered its strength to bring in rushes of cold air near the top of the sky and although we were huddled inside, amidst the noise of guitars and rickety cymbals, the clanking of bottles and deep sighs of anticipation we could just feel the cold outside, it was understood that when we exited the building, pulling ourselves in, cuddling ourselves or grabbing a hold of another nervous hand the chill would remind each one of us of how the fragility of our lives were.

Her bedroom was cluttered, small piles of clothes dotted the floor like musty landmines, an unmade mattress stacked upon a pitiful box-spring mattress was shoved against the wall. The walls were covered in art, placed in uneven rows as if a bird had decided to decorate the room, here was a painting of a nude woman and ten inches to the left, and five inches lower hung a poster of a shirtless Iggy Pop, his pubic hair tempting the viewer as if someone could mount Iggy right there on the wall. On another wall were a line of post-it notes, each one marked by day-glow ink that listed a person and date, no other explanation. The far window was covered with a wooly blanket, thinned in the middle by one to many bodies digging in deep with the passion that only the mid-twenties could bring, the splotch of meager fabric was almost as see-through as a bowl of broth. Books were stacked against the make-shift bed, Anis Nin, Kafka, Betty Friedman, Ken Kesey and hardcover copy of Susan Faludi’s “Backlash” informed any visitor that the woman who slept here was smart, concise, funny and suffered no fools. Inviting a person to her bed was not something that was given lightly.

We were drunk, leaning against one another as we entered the room, she grabbed my elbow with one hand, the other in the small of my back, pulling my shirt up. Skin on skin and the ceiling twirled as if it were made up of helicopter blades. The night started early, at least for me with the 75-mile drive from Columbus to Athens fueled by a six pack of Natural Light before arriving at the Union Bar and Grill at nine p.m. There was no plan that evening, stopping at my brother’s and finding his house empty except for a pack of dogs that climbed over one another while trying in vain to run out the front door. No lock was needed and I barked at them louder than they barked at me, “Get back! Get Back, it’s just me”, squirming some of them were so large my knees almost buckled, “God-damnit, get the fuck back!” Putting a brown shopping bag with a change of clothes and one of Robert Caro’s books on Lynden Johnson (as if I would get any reading accomplished), in my brother’s room and I drove back uptown.

That night as former art students plugged in black amplifiers, sat behind a drum kit whose kick drum had a painting of a laughing clownish man whose crooked eyes followed the audience as the thump-ba-thump pulsated across the floor, we smiled at one another while melodic feedback brought us closer than any word could ever do. The music extinguished the anxiety the bubbled up between us, the past or future didn’t matter while heads bobbed back and forth, nobody had to speak and if they did nobody could hear anyway, in fact nothing could be said while the music blasted all internal fears like a coal mining company blowing the top off a mountain. Her black hair rolled down past her eyes, small languid curls the bent and bounced while light glinted from the various wisps that fell under her quilted hat, she smiled broadly, displaying perfect white teeth that fell into order almost in a regimented fashion. During the course of the next fifty minutes we stood closer and closer, and by the end of the last three songs our legs were in unison, and as the last notes rang in humming ears she grabbed my hand.

One of the last things Jenny had said to me as I walked out the two story house on Norwich was “go ahead and leave, your life is going to be miserable and you’ll never get laid again besides you suck in bed.” She continued yelling through the screen door and the large black walnut tree casted even darker shadows that then cloud filled night was already doing, as I trudged across the lawn, these small pockets of inky blackness would swallow me whole for an instant, a reverse strob-light as I bounded away from the insults. A part of me yearned to turn around, as the words nicked the insides of me like a small pen-knife, that section of my being wholeheartedly believed her, that in the end being defective was what I was in essence while another part did not believe her and continuing the way we existed was a life that was doomed to eventual death by my own hand. Alcohol had risen around our ankles and although I was only twenty-two, life had become quicksand, the vomit looking quicksand found in nineteen-sixties B-Movies and there wasn’t much left to do except exist with no hope for happiness. It was October just a few years prior to the experience described at the beginning of this entry, the ground was muddy, there was very little that would grow on the slight slope of the front lawn. Wet leaves had already started rotting into the soil, a slight breeze swept from the west with a tablet of cold attached just to make sure that a person felt small against Mother Nature. Against the backdrop of the stone church that bordered the yard, I glanced up, a few small tears trickled down my face, feeling nothing except for the hope for a God that I wasn’t really sure about I said a prayer and climbed into the car. I would spend that first night in Athens, the hour and a half drive providing thoughtful calmness and solidifying, what was perhaps, up to that point in my 22 years, the most terrifying decision I had ever made. It felt as if my entire life was one melodramatic scene from a shitty movie when all that was wanted was a slap-stick comedy.

A small, damp and disorganized apartment in the basement of the James’s house, they were lifelong family friends, the eldest child, Lisa was my sister’s best friend in high school. While the middle son Ian was a tall blond haired, intellectual rabble-rouser bonded with Zoltan, both of them made well-worn paths in plenty of the townie bars. The apartment had a side entrance, from a brick constructed alley that climbed up from State Street to the toppermost street in the county. In the winter one could easily slip near the top of the hill and slide straight into State street in a whoosh. The apartment was small, hardly an apartment at all, a bedroom, a hallway and the stairs led up into the kitchen, itself cramped with dishes, grocery bags and a coffee pot that had almost fossilized bits of burned coffee grounds molded into its base. Arriving in the middle of the evening, sitting on the edge of the bed holding a Rolling Rock, it had seemed that the future was but a panic attack away.

I stayed in Athens for the weekend, keeping to myself as I nursed the broken bits of ego and raw self-esteem, and drove back to work at Used Kids early Monday morning. The start of a pin-ball styled existence that would ricochet my life from bed to bed, bar to bar and of course, record to record had, unbeknownst to me, commenced and would continue for the next decade. As my Monday evening shift ended at Used Kids ended, the thought of driving to Athens and sleeping in the musty, sad apartment, itself a veritable crumpled brown paper bag of a room, almost staggered me. I called my friend Joe Moore, whom I had met while living in the Ohio State dorms, Joe and his friend Frank Peters had won my friendship by plastering their dorm room walls with posters of the Rolling Stones, Husker Du and the Replacements. “Joe, what are you up to?” Without flinching, “you need a place to stay tonight? I heard about you and Jenny.” That night after a few drinks, and listening to records, lying next to a woman with long red hair in the back bedroom, telling her stories of a broken heart and how it had been laid-way by the jabs of Jenny.

Her bed was cramped, almost glued to the wall as the room pressed in upon us, it could have been a large closet instead of a bedroom. Joe had mentioned to me earlier in the year that he had been sleeping with her for a while, but now, the hallway between their rooms might as well been the Atlantic. Her hair lay around her head in bunches, we were like eighth graders, talking to the ceiling as we talked to each other, unloading the worst experiences of our lives while never looking at one another. After a while, the words lost all fuel and the room was filled with separate breaths trying to play catch up with the other. A soft nervous panic rose from the middle of my bones, cut through soft skin and hovered just centimeters from my body, it was soon punctured as she placed her left hand on my thigh. And soon, we rolled to each other, sharing soft kisses while the hands roamed and fumbled and finally I pulled away. The thought of Joe sleeping in the other room, the pain of Jenny and finally, and most loudly the doubt that this was a real thing. “I can’t do this, can we just sleep?” “yes, if that’s what you want,” she murmured, gripping my uncertain hand.

Larry’s was emptying out, as wounded egos shuffled out with a six-pack in hand, the lights flickered on and some of us, with the hope that glistens like a bronze bell during the noonday sun inside of us giggled into the street. Bouncing with drunken giddiness I held her elbow as she cupped her hand into mine, my other hand holding fast to the cardboard handle that held the beer that would take us deeper into the night like a beacon sitting in a far off hill. She laughed freely, and smiled against my shoulder, we had not yet kissed but at this point it was a formality. Sauntering up High Street as a fistful of cars passed slowly by, on the lookout for the police we soon headed to Pearl Alley as it provided more privacy amongst its bits of broken glass, crumpled up fast food bags and the smell of alcohol and piss. Roughly was block down, we stopped as she backed me into the cold brick of a building long torn down, and kissed me full on the lips, flitting herself into my mouth she held me with eyes wide open and felt me against her. Cheeks flushed, kissing while street light hummed above us we walked some more, cutting up to another, more residential street, the large maple and oak trees swayed above us, mimicking my drunken gait, the soft shadows of the leaves making small splashes of darkness against our bodies as if nature had constructed an organic strobe light to frame our slow dance of loneliness deferred. In her bed, we kissed and giggled some more, as we lay naked in her bed, candles stacked like small wax trees around her windowsill, her dresser and her floor. “I need to tell you something before we do this, ok?” lifting her head as she looked me in the eye. Her smile disappeared in that moment, “what? Is something wrong?” I whispered, waiting for the other shoe not to just drop but splinter like a raindrop on hot cement. “I’ve been sleeping with Jerry on and off for about six months.” Bubble thought burst in my head. “I don’t care; I won’t tell him if you won’t.” leaning back into the her bed. “I won’t” she smiled as we grew closer. That night, it wasn’t guilt that closed the evening as if it were made of soft doors shutting it was too much beer and whisky as after some struggles we decided to sleep as birds yawned their early morning songs.

Saskia takes her time dressing every morning, and after we go to the gym together she says,

“dad, wait for me I will be out in 20 minutes. I have to get ready.”

“Honey, no you don’t we just worked out for an hour and your mother is waiting. Hurry up” I sigh annoyingly.

“I just have to put on my makeup.”

“Nobody puts on make up after leaving the gym, not even Taylor Swift” looking for someone she can relate to.

“Ok, give me five minutes” she shouts from across the lobby of the gym.

She is eleven, experimenting with her looks, her discovery of fashion and now, with sparkling whispers she tells her mother of boys and happenings at middle school that her father, no doubt could ever relate to. Offsetting everything with humor, I make her laugh, she tosses the sarcasm back at me, and shakes her head. “Dad, you are not cool, you have no idea.” She wears her mother’s clothes, and balances her growing tall body on skinny shoes, as I stand in the kitchen nursing another cup of black coffee, hoping that while she walks into adolescence and young adulthood she is spared the self-doubt and ache of solitude that has hung around her father as an invisible cape since the third grade. “Dad, seriously you don’t understand what I’m even talking about as she dances clumsily on high heel shoes while holding her phone to her ear. I suppose not.

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:

 

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Pokemon

April 12, 2015

Pokemon:

His hair is a soft blonde, shaggy-it is starting to hang in his eyes, long curls twisting just above his sea blue eyes, and the room brightens when he smiles, giggles worth a lifetime of pleasure. Bouncing up to me a few weeks ago, “Daddy, can I have Pokémon cards?!” Sighing deeply, “Pokémon? They still make them?” Bruno shoves a muddied yellowed card in my face, “yeah, look—I found this on the playground. My friends play it, they are really cool. See dad?” and he shoves the bent card, complete with little kid footprint in my face. He grins, and somewhere a chunk of the universe’s ceiling becomes unhinged. “Sure, we can get you Pokémon cards.” He thrusts his hands up high in the sky, as if he just scored a World Cup goal, “YES!!! Pokémon!!!”

Growing up in the 1970’s was almost surreal as I look at faded blurred photos, it can as if even the memories are as bleached out as the pictures of a young me, wearing a long-sleeve yellow turtle neck, looking crookedly at the camera, a mischievous smile (the same that my Bruno holds the world captive with) anchored towards my brother who is laughing as the camera clicks. Behind us a hazy Christmas tree stands, a prop for our childhood and my father wearing black plastic framed glasses, a moustache and his arm around my mother, her long red hair reaching just below her shoulders. She eyes him nervously, no doubt wondering just how soon she can jettison herself from his madness. I collected comic books with my brother, my step-father David had let us read his, a large collection of early to late sixties Marvel titles, that no doubt would pay for my kids college education if we still had them. Early “Spider Man”, a nice run from the early twenties to the late 90’s, “The Incredible Hulk” most the early ones from #102 onward, “Fantastic Four, “Sub-Mariner”, “Thor” and “Silver Surfer.” We kept them in a small cardboard box, David was very kind and patience with us and we were told not to let them leave our rooms, be careful how we handled them and he would later buy us comics. This was 1975/76, a rough period in our lives, lots of movement both in the relationships my mother was involved in and geographically. From 1973 to 1976, we moved five times, after divorcing my father my mother moved us to an apartment in Athens, soon she married David and we moved to Youngstown where he got a job working in a steel-mill, not the quite the job a future PhD. professor at MIT had envisioned for himself. Soon though, David procured a job in Springs, New York where he worked as a scientist near Montauk–we lived just a skip from the ocean. From New York we moved to Newport News, Virginia and in Newport News we moved a few times.        The commotion of moving was difficult to say the least especially for my older brother, who had a difficult time adjusting, we relied on each other. With our plastic green army men, Lincoln Logs, and especially comic books. We dug in deep with them, losing ourselves in the adventures of Peter Parker, who always seemed to doubt himself and for me, the Hulk as misunderstood anti-hero whom I identified with at that early age. Completely bewildered, Bruce Banner yearned for acceptance yet, because of his emotions and the state of the world, he could not. This was me, even as an eight year old.

Coming home, I was latch-key before there was a latch key from second grade onwards, if the sun wasn’t shining I would get a plate of cookies and a tall glass of Kool-Aid and head to my room. Pulling the box from the closet, sitting in front of the closet door–not even making it to the bed, sprawling out I would read the comics over and over. The slightly mildewed smell of the pages, a bit musty even the ink had its own smell. This was comfort. After moving to Athens with my father and my brother at the end of the 3rd grade, my brother started coming home with other comics with the same vintage as the ones we had in Virginia. He and Mark Schazenbach, would come home and lay them out, teasing me by locking me out of his room while they read the comic books. Eventually, the lead me to Haffa’s, a literally underground store in Athens that not only sold comics from $1 on up, but also just as importantly sold records. Soon, I would make Haffa’s my destination point, hanging out – and saving my weekly quarter allowance to buy both records and comics. Soon though, the competition for our affections increased as we discovered football and baseball cards, they were cheaper than comics and we bought and traded these constantly. This was the hey-day of rough and tumble football our favorite teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, and soon we would have multiple cards of Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swan, Fran Tarkington, Sammie White and Chuck Foreman. Taping them to our desk tops and carrying them in our back pockets, with nary a care that someday, people would collect these cards, handle them with gloves and diapering them in small plastic sleeves. This past summer, my brother stopped by my house on his way to Alabama and we finally divvied up the cards, passing them down to our own sons. Oddly, Bruno has no care for football as he has never played the game nor has he watched one on television, so the cards still sit in a box.

During my fourth grade year, “Star Wars” came out and soon the world was transformed especially for a ten year old. My mother would not allow us to see Star Wars as it was PG, but I was able to watch the movie by buying and trading Star Wars cards, soon stacks appeared all over the house. They came out in colored series, blue, then red and finally yellow, if you flipped them over and connected them it made a giant poster. Finally towards the end of the summer, my father took my brother and I to see it. The next summer, Jaws II & Battlestar Gallectica came out, and soon there were more stacks of cards cluttering the already cluttered house. Clutter upon clutter. A cluttering mess. All the while, we still bought comic books, but soon as I entered fifth and sixth grade my interest was more laser-sharp on music, all I wanted was records and soon I was hanging out after-school at Side-One Records which was above Haffa’s, on a daily basis.

The nineteen seventies was now coming to a close, the decade was birthed with bell-bottom pants, the blossoming of soft-rock, tinged with the optimism of the baby-boomer coming into their own, just below the surface though the snarling cauldron of greed, cynicism and the darkness of Nixon, Vietnam and racism boiled. For the most part, the children of the 70’s were protected by the innocence of PBS television: Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mr. Rogers, then Saturday Morning Cartoons and whimsical movies starring a talking Volkswagen Beetle, or small dogs and as the decade wound down, the story of a coming of age man saving the universe with the help of a princess and smuggler. In small town Athens, before milk-carton kids and the immediate fear mongering of the internet, we chased each other around the neighborhood, our weapons of choice were nerf footballs, wiffle ball and vicious games of kick-the-can. Nobody locked their front doors, while parents only saw their offspring at dinner time. Cable television barely existed, late night Friday and Saturday nights were crammed with Double Chiller Theater’s or Fritz the Night Owl, my brother and I would make a fort of blankets and shovel sugar cereal into gaping mouths as Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price cracked open our minds with sinister cackles and tales of murder. Music had changed dramatically from those early feel-good am radio days of the early seventies to the closing racket of punk rock. The Boss Guitars, a pub-y rock garage band formed by Ohio University students played my eighth grade dance, they not only played originals but also covers and it was here that I witnessed the seed of punk rock in a live setting. Sporting slicked back hair, wore leather jackets, torn jeans and mutton-chops, they played the Clash as well as sixties soul, a small pit of stinky adolescence boys careened off each other while the band smiled at one another. John Denver and David Gates were miles away. Later members of band would form Cleveland’s Bongo’s Jungle Party, and write an ode to Prisonshake’s Doug Enkler, there is no way these men, who seemed so old to me then, would have an inkling the impact they would have on a smallish curly brown haired boy with crooked teeth and an imagination that could muster an entire world out of clods of dirt and a plastic water pistol

During that same time period, a new way of playing games began to gain traction, gone were the luck of the dice roles of Risk and Monopoly, and new way to play had infiltrated the minds of awkward young men around the county. “Dungeon’s and Dragons” invaded Athens Middle School in a swarm, transforming the be speckled kids of University staff from brainy analytical kids who sat passively on the sidelines of the gravel encrusted playground into Necromancers, wizards and battling elves with the role of multi-sided dice and stacks of hardcover books whose artwork appeared to be drawn by an 8th grader sitting in Geometry class. Soon D&D took over, even some of the jocks were playing but it was mostly played by a small group of us, I played with my best friend Eric and a few other kids, during lunch and over the weekends where we would settle into a spare study room at the University library. The entire day would float by as we battled our way through orcs, disgruntled kings and heaven forbid a snarling smoking dragon. My mother was poor, at the time we lived in cramped University housing, four of us pinched into a small two bedroom apartment on Mill Street. My sister slept on the couch or with my mother, my brother and I had metallic bunk-beds that was cold to the touch, only slightly more freezing in the winter months than the brown speckled linoleum floors; I couldn’t afford any of the books but in between drawing pictures of Cheap Trick, Rush record covers and action shots of Lynn Swann or Chuck Foreman I would draw the plans for a castle that our band of made-up warriors would investigate the coming weekend. This infatuation lasted two years, by the end of my eighth grade year, hormones had taken over as well as a growing desire to read as much as I possibly could all the while saving whatever coins and I could slap together to buy dollar records at Haffa’s. The wanting to lose myself in the imaginary world of dice had faded against the fantasy of unhooking lacey brassieres, guitars and in the printed word of Michael Moorcock, JRR Tolkien, and soon, Kurt Vonnegut and outrageous musical biographies with names like “No One Here Gets Out Alive”, “Up and Down with the Rolling Stones”” and “Hammer of the Gods.” Video games consisted of Pong or Tank, and while the early Atari systems came out, the covers of those early games were much more imaginative than the blocky, cumbersome graphics–there was no bother in playing these games as they looked nothing like the games in the arcade. By the time Nintendo came out, I was seventeen, getting blowjobs, sneaking into bars and seeing some of my favorite bands such as R.E.M., The Replacements and Lou Reed—I had no time for television games. At some point during this time period as many of us found our footing amid our later high school years, getting lost in the musical underground of the time, though the sharing of fanzines, college radio and of course, the center of the collective universe of music fans everywhere, the local record store, a new generation that was being raised on the much improved computer graphics of Nintendo tended to stay indoors and made the jump from video games into the expanding world of cards played with gaming cards. Magic and Pokémon spread their wings, while at the same time relegating Dungeon and Dragon’s to an afterthought, the teenagers who had spent countless hours rolling dice and pleading with an often-cruel and power-hungry dungeon master had now become adults. We were off to college, or jobs or yet into other subterranean worlds filled with like minded outcasts, shaking our collective asses to the spinning sounds of black vinyl records and holding the backside of the be-speckled blond haired girl who manned the counter at Kinko’s while screaming along with the Jad Fair, Steve Malkmous, Marcy Mays or the Lazy Cowgirls was much more fun than pretending you were a 16th level Neurotic Ranger. The pleasure was now fucking a real neurotic person, than being an imaginary one with a cape, sword, amulet or pouch with secret potions.

Several years ago I took my kids to the Laughing Ogre, the large comic book shop in Columbus, just up the road from our house. I had not been in comic book shop since buying Hate!, Cherry Pop-Tart and Eightball at Monkey’s Retreat the essential underground bookstore that operated next to Staches for nearly twenty years. Monkey’s not only sold comics but also adult magazines, underground publications like ReSearch, Forced Exposure and lots of paperbacks, it was one of those places that attracted not only the underside of High Street but also the certain type of person who has no problem crouching down on bended knees, rifling through dusty and musty old boxes for hours at a time, the sort of place which required a shower upon getting home. These stores were akin to flea markets or antique stores except the pursuits was intellectual curiosity, some brief present or future titillation, and perhaps the greatest motivator of all, escape. For many along High Street, Monkey’s Retreat was the person’s first introduction to Charles Bukowski, Robert Crumb, Lydia Lunch or the fascinating black and white photos of S&M, latex or homosexual literature. These were things that were not easily found in the local Little Professor bookstore. Laughing Ogre is a different sort of store, family and kid friendly with clean shelves, pristine book spines, large open tables to display the imaginative world of graphic novels and comic books. The days of sitting on a mucky floor, getting red eyes and blackened hands looking for the one Spider-Man comic that is has interrupted a run for twenty-seven in a row has disappeared as the underground has turned itself inside out-now my daughters favorite show is Comic Book Men, a reality show starring Kevin Smith and his side-kick staff who gently insult one another and customers, for many of us this was the sort of life we had lived for year, albeit not the shiny clean version on television.

The comic book shop is a destination for us, especially for my daughter who has an active imagination, relishes good story telling and can lose herself in a book for hours. She has met famous graphic novelists and I encourage her to ask questions, read as much as she can and to express herself as much as she can. Standing in the middle of life stepping forward while glancing back is a bizarre excursion, as the past can be brittle, cracked around the edges with the rush of minutes, hours, days weeks and years pouring over tangible memories that appear so real they can bring a gulp in the throat or a hearty chuckle, but in the end they are nothing—simple thoughts dissipating into the next moment, all the while I see the future for my children the wonderment they have, sudden rushes of emotions at the simple acts of holding a book, staring at Luke Skywalker with a light-saber in hand, overcome by the special effects that are cemented in my own head, the sound of a song transforms them, still as it transforms me.

“Daddy, when can we get Pokémon cards?” Bruno asks, as he leaps from one couch to another, curls flopping, arms swinging while the stereo blasts Superchunk’s “Crossed Wires.”

“We can go today, after soccer and guitar practice, I’m sure the Laughing Ogre             has some.”

“Saskia, daddy said we could get Pokémon cards!!”

“Bruno, I don’t care about Pokémon, daddy can I get a new book–Raina Telgemeier has a new book,” replies Saskia dancing on the table, her slim body twisting and contorting, she appears to be having a seizure when she dances, she is that clumsy.

After guitar lesson we drive to the Laughing Ogre, the sun has managed to splash through the dullish Ohio sky, a veritable sidewalk of gray and bleakness that has tortured millions through the years, outside the traffic is bottled up as people try to escape into the sun, our neighborhood is filled with coffee shops, craft stores and restaurants. Bruno is jabbering non-stop, he spits out words as fast as a auctioneer, completely focused on one subject: Pokémon. The shop is filled with other families and their children, books and graphic novels are displayed on clean even shelves, the comic books are stacked side-by-side along the walls, glossy covers, signs announcing new releases. There are grown men and woman holding stacks of new comics in their hands, children bustle about and Saskia heads towards the Archie comics and grabs a copy of “Sisters”. Bruno sighs deeply, pulls on my shirt, “daaaad, ask about Pokémon!” “Do you want a comic book buddy?” He enjoys Popeye and Peanuts but has no interest today.

A small wisp of a woman sits behind the counter, she has a nose rings, a thin brown tee-shirt and a collection of silver brackets that rattle around her left wrist. She also self publishes her own comics, small press real-life sketches of the mundane and slow moving actions of the day, she smiles at us, “can I help you?” Bruno, fingers gripping the counter, “do you have Pokémon?!”

“yes, we have some Pokémon Manga’s over on the wall.”

“I’m sorry, he wants Pokémon cards, not the books.”

“Oh….I see….well, we don’t sell those” her voice now reduced a whisper, “I think the Soldiery in the back of the building has those, but I don’t know, I’ve never been in there.” Her nose wrinkles a bit, her eyes grow big, suddenly I get the feeling that I’m involved in a drug deal. “Oh, is that the gaming store?” I ask. “Yeah, I think they should have what you are looking for but, like I said I’ve never been there.”

Bruno, eyes exploding, as if they were replaced with resplendent blue crystal bowling balls, “can we go?!!” As I pay for Saskia’s book, the clerk winks and says, “good luck.”

Exiting we walk towards the back of the building, the entrance to the gaming store is basically off an alley, an almost dweebish speakeasy, against the brick wall outside the store we shuffle past a rouges gallery of misfits and techie types, one man is stuffing an oversized submarine sandwich into his mouth, his black tee-shirt with a bleached out image of a space-invader icon barely containing his girth, his beard filled with crumbs and droplets of mayonnaise, there are a few men holding tightly onto two-liter bottles of soda and tall energy drinks. Entering the store, the smell of awkwardness is palatable, with tables upon table of gamers, ranging in age from high school far into adult hood, the oil of acne pervades the air. I feel out of sorts. Saskia looks at me, and I return her smile, the walls are covered with fantasy posters and shelves are stacked high with role-playing, war, and fantasy games. One the counter is a stand of multi-sided dice, bringing back memories of D&D and my own long weekend afternoons stretched out as I battled made up dragons and evil forces in the library at Ohio University. We take a small walk around the shop, mostly the clientele are boys and men, layers of cards cover the tables, some of the players also appears to be playing video games while playing these other games. Games within games. I show Saskia a row of games she may like, there is a small section of historical games, the one I show her takes place in Victorian England, she looks at it, “I can ask my teacher at the gaming club if he comes here.” She is enjoying looking around, Bruno is transfixed, and we make our way to the counter.

Bruno, shy to a fault, his hands on my backside, sticking his fingers in my back pockets, he is suddenly my living shadow. Two young women are at the counter, timid and self-conscious, no doubt they would feel more comfortable if the counter was a drive through, “hey, do you have Pokémon cards?” I motion to Bruno, “he is really interested in Pokémon and he doesn’t have any.” The blonde girl, with brown framed glasses, small splotches of acne climbing her cheeks, quivers her lip, “ummm, you want Pokémon cards?” “Yeah, do you have those?” Biting her top lip, fiddles her fingers, “oh….do you know what kind you want?” I look at Bruno, “hey buddy, what kind do you want?” “daddy, I want Pokémon cards” speaks the shadow behind me. “He wants Pokémon.” She glances to her co-worker, her eyes shifting sideways, “hhmmmm, we have all kinds of Pokémon cards. Which ones do you want?” My mind throws up a little and quickly swallows it, “see, he’s never played before so I suppose the basic cards? Are there beginning cards?” The poor girl appears to faint inside, sighing, she explains, “here, we have these, there are all kinds” She places a small display box of shiny cards with bright colors and fanciful Japanese cartoon characters on it, “this is the newest series.” Bruno thumbs through them, pulls a pack out and we choose two. “Are there directions to these?” I ask and my questions goes unanswered, behind us, gamers are queuing up to purchase their own cards and candy bars. We pay and leave.

This becomes a weekly pattern, Bruno can’t read that well yet but he looks at the cards, carries them and talks about them incessantly. People move clumsily through life, protecting oneself from the world at large, building identities brick by brick, layers upon layers of ideas, wearing passions on tee-shirts, pins, decals, tattoos, music and even magical games played on thin cardboard cards. We bump in our own fragilities on a daily basis, for some even ordering a cup of coffee brings on brief seconds of anxiety, the internal mechanism of calm has never been calibrated correctly, at other times we joke through the waiting of the hours trying to find relief for our inner shakiness by making the world around us laugh. We escape, through fantasy, losing touch with the present through digital and imaginary avatars, standing alone is a frightening experience. Many years ago in a former life I was known for my propensity to drink, the logo of Anyway was “buy me a beer” and at one time, while I was on an episode of Al Franken’s Air America, somebody had written in on the feed, “hey, I only know one Bela in Columbus, and that has to be in” and later in the thread someone wrote, “if it was that Bela he was probably drunk.” That was my identify, I created it, through looking for something to help with whatever unease I had, it was created drink by drink, through years of practice until finally the disquiet within me had eaten me from the inside out. While I am closer to the terms of this lonely echo in my guts, I laugh continuously, making disparaging remarks about myself to melt the inner friction of others, and at the end of the day, I still rely on music to calm the white tipped waves of thought that never seem to settle. Hoping my kids find the same relief.

 

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL22CIEWJgc

http://www.amctv.com/shows/comic-book-men

http://www.truelifecomix.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vy9A2PSjVxc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3pCgxowNN4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaC0sXzH9o8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dD9_9giZm4

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Stuff Collected, Stuff Discarded

February 22, 2015

There are shelves and shelves of books along the bedroom, the hallway, the living room and almost as much bunched together in cardboard boxes, piled high with thousands upon thousands of unread pages, the mountains of thoughts that went into constructing these ideas and stories maybe never be climbed as the tomes sit unread. At some point, in some strange dimension, they call out to feel affirmed, wanting eyes and brains to soak them up, all in order to continue living. The thought of immortality, transcribed into the printed word. Along the wall of the bedroom, stands a six foot shelf packed with past and future memories, long-playing records, most of which have been listened to multiple times, etched in the mind of the listener as much as a childhood Christmas is branded into one’s consciousness. Collections breed dust, a finger tracing along covers and spines, marking time with bits of dirt, dried skin and sunlight, and as I wipe the memory on a blue pant leg, itself a document of age with faded denim declaring that these pants are older than half the people alive in the world, a thought bubble up, “why do I have this shit?”

Years ago when our world consisted of trading news and record reviews off of Xeroxed copies and crappy blurry black and white impressions of even crappier photos, Tuesday mornings were reason for weekly celebrations as boxes of new records arrived, bearing new and old sounds to fill all the cracks in our lives, the door to the record store would open inwards and right there in the path to enter the store was where a small batch of seven inch singles stacked against one another. There would be a fight to thumb through them between customers, as people would jockey for new releases to lift them, even for only two or four minutes tops, out of the inner squalor of their lives.

It was during these halcyon times where my roots set in, as the sound of needle to black (or white, red or clear, if you were lucky enough) vinyl was a mini-vacation from life, and the community that was built around small round plastic cylinders impacted me almost as much as the sound of the music itself. there were those who were audiophiles, the ones who needed to have first editions, or colored wax, who may purchase two copies of a record, one to play and the other to sit on the shelf, untouched by human hands and ears. Stillborn. There were others, like myself, whose sole purpose was to be transported by the sound, and if we were lucky enough to get a rare record or pressing then it was just the icing on top of the melody, so to speak. Most of us did manage to get first pressings as procuring these hidden treasures was a weekly if not daily affair, but in the end that was not the goal. Some were blessed enough to this sort of listening for a living, a mini-miracle in our lives that allowed to LISTEN TO MUSIC ALL FUCKING DAY, AND GET PAID FOR IT!!! Holy-fucking shit, even.

The hallway is stacked with books, boxes of CD’s (I recently unpacked nearly 30 boxes of CD’s and alphabetized them) and tubs of children’s clothes. The house I live in is old, built in the 1870’s, it’s tall and thin, as if it were an adolescent boy–all elbows and creaking voice but the voice comes from the old wooden floors, the thin walls that shudder when the wind smacks into it in the middle of the night. The Ohio cold winters give no respect to age, even old blue houses just a long-jump from High Street. As such, the house has little closet space, the ceilings are tall and there are plenty of window, which is one reason why it is a beautiful place to live, as the sun and shadows of the day make the various shades of light dance through the house. Sparking bits of action against the bone-white walls while I hold a cup of coffee, there is no need for television in a house like this. The house was purchased from friends, Jake had tore down the original garage, probably built in the 1940’s with his bare hands, carrying the burnished and battered wood into a trailer to be hauled away. He built a two-car garage with a studio on top where Moviola would craft timeless indie-rock sounds with the aid of Rolling Rock and gallons of wine, I was privy to some of these recordings as I made Moviola practice the starting point of my weekly Wednesday night adventures for a number of years. The outside of the house resembled the face of an old man, cracks, creases and the peeling paint showed the experience of a weather past, the house look stark, withered and lonely. Jake had moved out and wanted to sell it, with his help, we redid the floors and fixed painted the frayed exterior (which now resembles an old woman’s face, shrouded in pale blue make-up). There were no soft feet hitting the floor at that time, just my wife and I and when our daughter was born there was still plenty of space in the house. Soon, our son was born and I packed up half my music and 3/4 of the books that sat quietly in the little boy’s room. I had two yard sales, selling roughly 1,000 LP’s and ended up taking five boxes of books to the used book store place that gives a person less than Spotify does for a stream. And yet, space was still a commodity.

Children collect things, not out of any sense of greed but because of interest, every moment is a discovery a chance to step into another portal of the world, be it a comic book, the scribbling of bold markers on typewriter paper, blackened sparkled stones or a handful of acorns handed to a father on a walk through the park. These things stack up, in one corner of our house there sits several brown grocery bags, stuffed with homemade maps, sketches of houses, animals and super-heroes, homework assignments and glued school projects made out of wooden tongue depressors, plastic rhinestones and cut out magazine photos, the only thing missing are uncooked macaroni. There are several years of these, even the parents don’t want the arduous task of sorting them out, they sit in the corner collecting more dust and becoming forgotten memories.

My son has a collection of stuffed animals, although there is only one he uses to sleep with, a tiny 6″ bean-baggy bear that he calls “teddy” the rest are nestled together in several wooden storage bins on his shelves. The animals lay atop one another in the ultimate cuddle-fest but the boy never picks them up. At various points throughout the year we ask him to go through them and pick out some to donate, and suddenly the young child’s attachment to these multi-colored, plush animals grows with such ferocious intensity he will toss himself upon the floor, writhing in frustration that he can’t explain. His body grows rigid, feet flexed and his face contorted, “noooo, I need that one! it’s my favorite!!!” He says this for every single one, even the shitty anti-freeze colored Care-Bear that his sister got from a friend eight years ago. Soon, the boy wins, it isn’t worth it and truth be told, the line of records, books and other artifacts that I collect do not provide him with an example of less is best.

Several years ago, I went through boxes and boxes of old fanzines, photos, old flyers for concerts I promoted, leftover unsold homemade tickets for said concerts, poetry and paintings I had collected over the years. The vast majority of these stemmed from the early to mid-nineties, I had quit promoting shows by the late nineties, when my alcoholism and depression had grown to such a “I don’t even care about live music” stature that going to shows was a drag, and once I put a drink in me I didn’t want to stop—even to make it to the show. This is a ritual that has been performed again and again, mostly when moving but also, coincidently with life events such as the birth of our children, the moving of children’s rooms and, at other times when the weight of ownership gets too deep and the urgency to purge takes over. The garage is stacked high with boxes of these things, they are in no order, just piled on one another–haphazardly with nary a concern for order. Zines with long-forgotten names such as “Spank”, “Wiglet” and “Feminist Baseball” are getting friendly with flyers whose existence are a testament to events that actually happened, although with the vapor of time, alcohol and the slippage of the mind, it is difficult to trace the events that I hold in my hands to what transpired. They are in essence, just smoke in my mind as my hands collect the thin dust of age. These things happened, I can see it as I hold a flyer from 1993, “The Ex w/ Tom Cora, V-3 and Guided By Voices.” I remember painting flyers on newspapers, I did this for a while, unfolding the newspaper, painting the black rectangle and using white paint to announce the show. I would paint several of these, they were bold and easy to do, I usually added a small drawing of my dog drinking and smoking a cigarette at the bar or other times, a baseball cap, something, anything to keep it simple and noticeable.

There was one evening when I went to an afterhours party and there on the wall was a framed flyer I had done of a Sebadoh show, with Gaunt opening up, it was a simple flyer, with a wiener dog over the black frame. I was shocked, I sat there drunkenly and stared at the flyer, and one of the women who lived there asked me why I was staring at it and I told her that I had made it. An odd feeling, later that night, her roommate with whom I had a crushing crush on, asked me to stay the night, conflicted I went home as I was living with my wife. My alcoholism had not yet pushed me to the breaking point of crossing lines. Small things alter our lives forever. Inevitably when I hold that old flyer of Sebadoh in my hands, the yellow paper even more yellowed and crisp around the edges, the thoughts of Lou Barlow and company slaying a packed Staches house are not what cross my mind but of the missed opportunity of sleeping with that beautiful woman.

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The objects hold memories, some false, some faded and others that have shriveled and withered away as if they were the last brown leaves on a towering oak tree in the middle of February, cracked and frayed, not yet knowing that the time to burst loose for the moorings of its brittle stem passed months ago. Bruno can remember small tall-tales I told him at bedtime from three years ago, as I wrap my hands around his soft body he grins and buries his head into my neck, “daddy, can you tell finish that story about the boat and the daddy and the little boy fishing when the bad guys were after them?” Thoughts go in rewind, “what the fuck story is he talking about?” I think, “hey, I don’t know what story you are thinking of buddy,” I whisper in his ear. “You were telling it in bed one time, remember that little boy had the plans that the bad guy was going to take over the world? And then they fooled the bad guys by fishing, and the little boy caught a Red Snapper. Remember, Daddy?” This was a story I had made up some years ago to get him to sleep, it sprang back, “oh yes, the one with Mr. Terminus who was fooling everybody. That one?” “Yeah, that one. Can you finish it?”

In my own life, I recall very little of my childhood, it falls between the cracks of my mind, rolling in the ether of my mind like coins dropped on the ground—they are there but not, what is real and what isn’t? I don’t know, at times I believe they are true but then I pull a metaphorical sheet over the memory, did the babysitter really do that? Did I really paint a picture with my grandfather? The memories that I’m certain of are there, most are funny and some are painful, mostly the ones with separation from my parents—my dad especially, like a carving in my psyche. I can touch them, almost glide my fingers through the burnished memory of sitting in the backseat of my mother’s car as my father looked through the window, tears streaming down his cheeks as we drove away. And again later, when I was ten, how he glided down the aisle of the Piedmont propeller airplane to give me a final hug as I was flying back to Virginia. Fast forward to my early twenties, when after a long argument, I asked him to leave my apartment after not seeing him for nearly a year, he bounded back up the metal fire-escape and we hugged each other tight, tight enough to force more tears out of our hardened eyes. We would try harder, for maybe the ten minutes after he drove his white Volkswagen Golf away from my house, I’m guessing that’s the last hug I ever got from my old man.

When I was seven or eight my brother and I were at a gathering of Venezuelans held at a party hall somewhere in Columbus, it was loud and I can recall vividly talking with a Vietnam veteran who showed us the bullet that was still suck in his knee, he let me put my hands on top of the knee, and move my finger over the bump made the bullet, like a roly-poly bug of violence. Later that night there was dancing, swells of Latin-Americans gyrating and twirling, in the middle was a thin-tiny elderly man who was leading the throng of party-goers, shimming and swaying his hips, a smile as large as a Volkswagen Beetle stuck on his face. Wide-eyed we soaked it in, stealing sips of beer and daring ourselves to venture into other hallways and empty rooms, I can recall the sweat dripping down my back. Later that night my brother and I sat in the hallway, exhausted, our backs to the wall when suddenly the double doors from the dance-hall burst open. The elderly man staggered, put both hands on his knees, wobbled some more and started running towards us. He was at least twenty-feet away and then suddenly as he ran he vomited with such force that his dentures rocketed from his mouth and slid down the hallway. As if in slow motion, the fake teeth skidded past me, just a few feet from my lap, in a small flood of pink puke until they came to as stop between my brother and me. I eyed those teeth for a good ten minutes while the grandfather was escorted to the rest room until a long dark haired woman came with a brown napkin and picked up the poor man’s teeth.

Some people say that “the mirror doesn’t lie”, which is bullshit because one of the gyms I run in has one of those mirrors in front to the treadmill that makes a person look thinner a trick to make everybody running that our bodies are transforming in front of us, with the flicking of sweat as the MP3 player pulsates, the illusion is obvious but it’s easier to believe in the dream than the reality of the treadmill. There are lines of people stationing themselves atop curved metal machines, complete with book holders, flashing lights and with flat screen televisions perched above them to help distract the fact that each person is pretending that their body is that of a child. On the televisions are images to help propel the sweat from our bodies- sports shows, talk-news and action movies, all an effort to pre-occupy ourselves and to help inspire the declining athlete in all of us. On my headphones is a wealth of music, all slipping into my ears, transporting me back into my bedroom in high school with the pulsating clamor of the Jesus Lizard shaking through my legs, my balding sweaty head bobbing up and down. No longer a forty-six year old, perhaps I am twenty-five again, as David Yow gets hoisted above the crowd, his jeans more burnished than mine we hold him high and in a flash, as he leans into us, back arching towards dusty ceiling panels, this small gathering of music fanatics has won. We are one, spilling beer and yelling at each other, in unison as the din of guitar, bass, drum and yowl (yow–l) cover us as if we were all playing under a parachute in second grade, pulling our knees in tight, giggling as the fabric billowed above us. We are all grinning now. Suddenly the song switches, my head snaps up, neck waving side to side, I could be riding my bi-cycle with feet stretched straight out as I glide down Sunnyside Drive, seeing how far this yellow bike with coast or I could be standing next to the corner of a black, tarnished stage, singing at the top of my lungs for a sweetheart that only lives in between the notes I hear, “they seem to assume possession, change your expectation….you changed in…” and when the song ends everybody pulls a little into themselves and nod as if we all felt the universe giggle. When on the treadmill, I push the song backwards, to get as many giggles as I can. It’s always been easier to listen to a song than to listen to you, or anybody else.

When the last bubble of Natural Light popped up and then out of my glass, all those years ago it took quite a while to let wobbly feet find themselves, as I started drinking in earnest around the age of 15 or sixteen, stopped for a moment for my mind to catch its breath when I was 22 and didn’t let up until that last speck of a beer bubble shattered the ceiling I had been living under. Some six months of after-care, at least 300 12-step meetings and therapy found me in a bookstore, holding a gift certificate sent by my sister for my thirty-fourth birthday, I was counting time it was all many can do after trying to regain control of mind, body and the spiritual aspect of ourselves. Time meant a cushion from the last drop of turmoil that entered my bloodstream and for me that meant another day farther away from wanting to no longer breath as all the breaths I had taken before, fueled by risky behavior, loathsomeness and alcohol had finally ended up suffocating me. I pulled out a yellow book, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” and after reading two pages, the realization that I perhaps there was something I was that I never knew I was. And that finally breathing was enough.

I once had a very nice girl-friend who said I always reminded her of this song, because she always smiled when she heard it, can’t get sweeter than that.

My very nice ex-wife once cried when listening to this because she said it reminded her of our lives together:

I have a wonderful phone video of my kids dancing their skinny little asses to this:

I have a very fond memory of Ron House singing this with Yo La Tengo at an in-store at Used Kids probably 1992 or so:

Recent memory of driving through New Jersey singing this at the top of my lungs:

Jenny Mae used to sing this all the time, like daily for about a year:

played constantly with my wife in summer of 1999 while we were in Italy/Germany/Netherlands

my daughter was born as we listened to Jacques Brel:

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Love part one

March 23, 2014

Love:

With a certainty that only an adolescence can have, the thought of love was an idea that sat in the forefront of my mind as I slopped my way through high school. The arduous task of shaking my sleeping limbs from bed was enough to cover my morning with blurred anxiety that still pulses through my body today, and then thinking of communicating with a female let alone telling my own worrisome and conflicted thoughts to “simmer down, God-Damnit!” was something that would be tackled when I was off to college. Love mind you, not sex, as sex was the mystery that appeared to be as supernatural as the ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Sex was found in the underwear ads of the JC Penny catalog, the blond from “Night Court, the slithering sounds off of “Exile on Main Street” and Prince records, and of course found in the pages of Ms. June 1977 who slept quite comfortably underneath my mattress. Sex in those years meant only masturbation, and the mysterious thoughts of what a woman’s body would feel like to my trembling and unsure hands. For at fifteen, the hands of a boy are as hesitant as any toddler taking her first steps. I was a voracious reader at that time, at first it was the epic fantasy novels of JRR Tolkien and then I moved onto the fantasy novels of Michael Moorcock and Piers Anthony but soon, I moved onto the essential reading of every adolescence: Kurt Vonnegut, JD Salinger, music bios (“Up and Down with the Rolling Stones”, “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and “Hammer of the Gods”) but soon I picked up Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” with its guilty bathroom descriptions of Jewish-boy masturbation while his mother pounded away at the door, screaming, “What are you doing in THERE?!!!” Although my mother wasn’t the one pounding at my door, it was my older brother who would casually say to his friends, while I silently ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while watching Star Trek, “there’s Bela, all he does is jerk off, listen to music and read. Once in a while he’ll come out of his room to watch Star Trek or David Letterman.” His friends would call me worm, a nickname only they called me and one I hated. “I’ll show you fuckers,” I would think, “I’m gonna end up with the most beautiful woman you will ever meet.” Which is exactly what I did. Not by plan of course but most likely because my wife did something terribly wrong in her former life…..

At the time when this was going on, I had never tried that, masturbation, in fact all I did was read and listen to my records. Incessantly. On the weekends I would listen to the faint sounds of WUSO, the Wittenberg station hoping to hear the static sounds of the Replacements, Smiths or Dead Milkman. But one afternoon, half-way through “Portnoy’s Compliant” I wondered what all the fuss was about, why did this kid masturbate on what seemed like every other paragraph. Shortly thereafter, I was fitted for my first pair of glasses, coincidence, I think not.

But love was elusive and found only on the songs I listened to and the movies I saw. Perhaps the only movie I could relate to the had a love story was the “Wanderer’s” where one of the character’s falls for the folk-loving college co-ed played by the lovely Karen Allen as I saw myself in Ken Wahl’s character who bucks the pressure of the neighborhood to fall for the intelligent and candid Nina. Deep in my mind, I knew I would find my love either in Athens, Columbus or New York and only when I cast off the invisible ropes of rural Ohio. I counted the days until my liberation. Love found me on the front steps of my house on an early evening in mid-December 1985, as Jenny Mae and a collection of her friends bounded up the small steps of the parsonage to serenade me with Christmas carols. Zoltan, was visiting from Germany where he was stationed, and no-doubt his eighteen year old hands, were no longer unsure as he had plenty of experience with the fairer sex, turned his head towards me as he held the door open, “it’s ok Bela, I got it. They’re here to carol, you can go back upstairs.” I was just thankful that he didn’t add, “Bela just sits up there jerking off, reading and listening to records.” But, naturally to the both of us, we figured the girls were there to carol him. “Um, actually Z, we are here to sing to Bela.” “Oh, that’s cool” Zoltan replied, “Hey Bay, come back the wanna sing to you,” and as I passed him he had a wide grin and whispered out the side of his mouth, “fucking go for it, that Jenny is cute.”

As bits of swirling snow hovered around the small flock of girls, my heart heaved wide and large inside, I smiled at them, offered them to come in and when they made excuses that they had other people they needed to carol for, I closed the door and sighed deeply. “Hey, did you ask her out?” As I crammed a hot dog in my mouth, “no, why would I do that?” “Bela, you are fucking worthless, she came over here in the snow to sing for you, you should ask her out.” “I dunno, maybe.” Something in me always recoiled when Zoltan used the word “should.”

The next weekend after Chris Biester bought me a six-pack of Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, Jenny and I lay in my bed listening to the sounds of the first Cars record, and sure enough the coils that hold sex and love together grabbed us both and wrapped around our souls, bustling them together and shaking the ethereal wisps of ourselves to our very core. And as “Moving in Stereo” played loudly in the back ground, I felt her lips around me as her head bobbed to the beat of Ric Ocasek. Afterwards, I strode out of bed and said I was going to take a shower and invited her, figuring I might as well go for broker. She joined me, and later said, “I’ve never taken a shower with somebody before.”

Love had come suddenly, through songs, “Silent Night” and a few days later, “Let the Good Times Roll” as Ric Ocasek sang with moist lips and his oh-so-cool new wave voice. I was staggered, we spent every day together, soon finishing each other’s sentences. She used Gloria Vanderbilt perfume and smuggled it into my house so she could spray my pillow, which I snuggled and smelled after I drove her home. The world seemed brighter, crisper and more relaxed. At the end of our senior year, I was accepted into several colleges, Hiram, Otterbein, and Ohio University although my grades were not good enough to get into the journalism school at OU, I collapsed the lifelong dream of going to college in Athens and stuffed it deep inside to be replaced with a new hope, one that was born out of teenage blow-jobs, pillows that smelled pretty and having someone wanting you. I ended up at Otterbein College just north of Columbus in the dry town of Westerville, a most dumb-ass decision that can only be blamed on teenage blowjobs, pillows smelling pretty and having someone want you.

That summer after our senior year was difficult, I had fallen for Jenny’s best friend Kathy who reciprocated her desire for me, in the meantime, in what can only be described as a miniature Peyton Place, Jenny had been unfaithful during the summer. First with a tall, lanky goofy guy named Bob who worked at the drive-in theater with her. Bob was funny, I could see her attraction, he was older at least twenty and shaved his head.  I had also discovered some of the deep secrets that lovers share and my pain for Jenny’s past only confused and angered me, and my desire to leave the emptiness I felt of rural Ohio only intensified. It all came out one drunken evening as Jenny lay passed out in Kathy’s parents living room, Kathy and I were engaged in some heavy petting that could be more described as heavy lifting, when she asked if I had a condom and something snapped, the horrors of Jenny’s past and my own past swelled inside of me and soon I was heaving as great globs of tears sputtered from my eyes. Kathy spilled the beans of Jenny’s unfaithfulness and my wailing caused Jenny to wake up and sadly, because of teenage lust and confusion their friendship was at a standstill for several years.

If one isn’t shown how to love then the dance of love between lovers will be clumsy, performed in fits and starts, full of bliss followed by anger, pain and most likely confusion. Metaphorically, it’s like putting together largest jigsaw puzzle but without a picture to know what you are putting together. Some pieces will slid together, as if by greased by butter while others will struggle under the weight of a thick thumb trying in vain to make that “LITTLE-FUCKER-WORK, GOD-DAMNIT!!” But alas, they don’t and the pain of this confusion leads inevitably to more pain. We learn from our parents, and as I gaze back over the shoulder of my past, lined with globs of dirt bundled up in the road I have walked, at times there are no footprints only the squished plants and the indentation of my body in the trenches off the road, I get the sense that my parents and caregivers had not one idea how to navigate the surging tides of love and sex in their own lives. Truth be told, I am emotionally clumsy, a clumsiness built upon an every changing childhood and with a trepidation to truly give myself, for if that is a key ingredient of love then I have always held back. For to give that part of oneself, can be dangerous, should be dangerous, a risk worth the reward. But, if oneself being is built upon a foundation of worthlessness than how does on accept love in return?

The gray had settled like a robe over Ohio, it came creeping in early November, made itself comfortable in December and dug its thick rotund roots deep into the soil and the psyche of every inhabitant during the months of January and February. In March, when splatters of sunshine would give a shot of hope to those who suffered under the morass of depression that the sky layered upon us, the gray would cackle to itself and with a sudden wave of cruelty would slather its oppressive self with a thickness that stretched from the chilled ground, upwards into space that no doubt was the final bullet for many Midwesterners that blew the back of their skulls because, well, they. just. couldn’t. take. it. any longer.  My car was gray, a compact Ford Mustang whose front quarter panel was held to the rest of the car by durable duct tape, it was a dented as the emotional state of its owner, with a black radio shack cassette deck I had wired and fastened with even more duct tape to the bottom of the console. When the engine revved the pistons, who were no doubt choking and coughing by this point of the blue collar careers made a whirling sound through the sound system. A small whistle that reminded me of the precarious nature of my financial situation. All I really wanted was a sound system that played without sounding like there was a squirrel caught in the inner workings of my speakers.

My hangover was fat in my head, even twenty some years later I can remember it, it was as if someone had placed a large cinder block, ever so carefully, just below the skin that covered my forehead between the spaces of my ears. I was still a little drunk and it was early Easter morning, the road I was driving was familiar as I curved through the sharp bends of Baker Road in Athens county, Ohio. When I was 11 we had lived in an old farmhouse on Baker Road, just a few miles from where I had spent the night. An Appalachian trailer park lived next door, filling some of my childhood nights with de-muffled car engines, screaming and the sound of babies crying into the night. The night before I had spent the night with a woman whose name I can no longer remember, no doubt if I had a shovel to cut through gnarled neural pathways and enough coffee, I would unearth her name and her body which no doubt had danced above me earlier that morning. But the memory of driving from her house near Fox Lake into town is stuck with me, in the slow collapsing tape deck, Superchunk’s  “Foolish” a masterstroke of a decaying relationship, blared while I tried to shake the fermented cinder block in my forehead away. Burbling up inside was a small rope of guilt, meandering its way through my veins, as I had been seeing a woman for a few months in Columbus.

Choices are made based on far flung emotions, outliers they may be but these can tend to control the habits we develop and the woman I was seeing was based on these emotions. At the end of the day, we had little in common with the exception of a love of music and the desire we held for our bodies. In fact, over the course of the time we spent together I had set foot in her apartment only once and she had only spent the night only a handful of times in my apartment. Our meetings were brief, always sexual and then, as she had misgivings about the fuel that drove me in those days, we would part and I would hurdle myself deep into the night, to be with friends.

I had to drive to Cincinnati, to my mother’s that morning as the overcast sky was slowly being unhinged from its wintery mores, singing “Driveway to Driveway” at the top of my lungs, I would rewind it and start the song over, I felt liberated. I knew for certain that I would return to the relationship of the woman in Columbus, who was physically stunning but we were devoid of any other connection. In a moment that had continued to be as real today as it was the April morning, the sun poked through the clouds, breaking apart the hold that winter had gripped the entire state. The small white buds of wildflowers hushed a collective cheer and in a flash the yellowed, thin waving strands of weeds that lined the black asphalt slightly turned green and a part of me awakened even further. The two month relationship with the woman came to an end at that moment, and in some ways a part of me burped somewhat into maturity as the idea of sex over love shriveled just a tad but never disappeared.

Many of my lessons in love came through betrayal, either by what I witnessed growing up with parents who flung dirty details about one another through the mind of a child, to experiences of early love that was tangled with early sexual exploration to dishonesty that pervaded the actions and motivations I carried out. Love is epic, a path that is emotionally wide as the vastness of the sea, and like the sea able to well up in white crested waves that can come crashing down in violence, churning, bending and pulling in every direction. Today my son Bruno, all four feet of him took me from a moment of utter frustration (he peed on the dog), to the fragility of slowly cracking my heart as if it were a thin piece of ice on a parking lot. Careful or it will crack. As I explained to him the rudeness of peeing on something alive, he turned his head, his blue eyes downcast and shame filling his cheeks a small sigh peeping out of his lips. “sorry,” he muttered, quick as if he were an auctioneer. “Ok, don’t do that again. Peeing on things. Now give me a kiss.” He leaned his blond head forward and I gently kissed his forehead pulling him towards me, “hey, I want a kiss from you now” I said. He looked up and with the same delicate hesitation of a moth landing on a light bulb he kissed my cheek. Behind him, his sister said, “Daddy, I wanna give you a kiss but you give me one first.” I suppose, over the years a short dock has been constructed out into my internal sea.

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.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Cars, New York and Alcohol 1991-2003

December 14, 2013

Cars, New York and Alcohol 1991-2003

The great American fascination of the automobile fell upon deaf ears to most of us, unless it was tied up in a song (ala, “Born to Run”), books (“On the Road”) or film (as a metaphor for escape), the insular world that we inhabited was confined to walking distances or to the touring van. In rural Ohio, a car is a necessity, a way to get from here to there, which covered miles not city blocks. Springfield Northeastern High School was nearly eight miles from my house, a fifteen minute car ride or a nauseating school bus ride over rolling hills, sudden stops and a rollicking-rolling trip spent upon spent shocks that lasted nearly an hour from school to home. It is impossible to ride a bicycle on these rural roads where the average speed of cars rocketing over the sudden mounds of earth and slopping quick valleys, that if timed with the right amount of acceleration could lift a small car over the peak of the hill. The roads, even the state routes are all two lanes and for even the most accomplished cyclist this method of transportation would be inviting trouble.

In high school we drove when we could, and upon reaching the age of sixteen procuring a car was the highest sense of order no matter how poor the family was. For a car provided an escape, from the boredom of the humid summer days that cracked upon the sweaty backs of angst-ridden teenage boys, from the isolation of playing Atari video games while Pink Floyd sang about adolescent rebellion masking as claustrophobic stardom and as the pangs of burgeoning sexuality cause near madness. Our family was poor, we lived off of Bob’s sole paycheck which hovered just over $12,000 for a family of four. Zoltan was given a car by a friend and I relied on the broken-up and often broken-down Corolla that Bob drove. Eventually, Zoltan gave me his pale gray Mustang that had never driven correctly since he tried to plow through a creek only to have the car get stuck in the mud and slowly fill up with rising creek water. Smoke billowing out above the cool water that rose above the bumper, I crawled in and yanked out the Radio Shack tape player–the player someone forming a perfect union with the engine for as one pressed the gas pedal the whining of the engine would play through the speakers. “Bela, get the hell out of there! The car might blow up!” yelled Z from the bank of Mud Creek. “It can’t blow up, it’s buried in water!” I screamed under my breath as I wrestled with the wires, my knees getting soaked in the brown water. Eventually we got a kind farmer to pull the car out with a tractor and after a few days of airing out, it ran again but never quite like the $400 car it was. More like a $350 car.

In Columbus not everyone had a car, Jerry Wick never had a license as far as I knew although I had offered to let him use any of the litany of the small compact cars I had over the years. He walked everywhere and eventually got a bicycle and this was this mount that he riding on when he was tragically killed. Sadly, Jerry a punk till the end didn’t think he needed a light, reflectors or a helmet (although a helmet would not have prevented his neck from being snapped like a twig when he was hit that night twelve years ago.) Road trips were common, mostly to Cleveland to see bands, either at the old Euclid Tavern, the Grog Shop or sometimes Public Hall. Other times to Cincinnati to Sudsy Malone’s a Laundromat bar that hosted bands as well or to Bogart’s, Cincinnati’s answer to the Newport but more of a shoebox than the ornate Newport with its high oval ceiling and elaborate wooden balcony. Most of my trips were to Athens, where the hour and fifteen minute drive, fueled by a six pack and a handful of cigarettes would fix my racing mind.

Other times, I would drive to New York, my first drive in the 1967 Dodge Valiant, which I bought for $500 from Matt Newman a guitarist for High Sheriff Ricky Barnes who was the first in Columbus to start playing old country standards among a handful of, at times brilliant originals. Soon, the Gibson Brothers, Hank McCoy and others followed suit. Matt was moving to California to seek more lucrative professional possibilities than playing for a handful of regulars at Staches, while wearing thrift-store western attire. I got his light blue Valiant, a standard “3 on the tree” that had a warming system that just worked on the passenger side and left a small pools of ice on the floor when parked overnight during the winter. My first drive to New York was to see Sharon, who lived with Herbert Hunke. Herbert lived in the same apartment he had lived in since the mid-seventies, and he was still on daily methadone and would rise early, write and walk the five blocks or so to the methadone clinic. Sharon said he would venture out with a young Puerto-Rican man who she wasn’t sure was Herbert’s boyfriend or not. I made that first trip with Jack Taylor (Richie Violet) who was going to see his friends in New York. He was pals with Judah Bauer from The Blues Explosion, the men in Railroad Jerk and Charlie from Surgery and the band Unsane. He was close to Sharon and would razz her in front of me about her relationship with me, partly due to his own crush on Sharon and partly because he did not feel I had enough rock “acumen” to go out with such a beautiful woman. Perhaps I didn’t but I was head-over-heels for Sharon who was not only stunning beautiful but also carved out a life in NYC.

The drive was good for both Richie and me, he was trying to stay clean, and while we did not discuss his heroin habit we bonded over “Exile on Main Street”, The Blues Explosion and our love of Great Plains and country music. He was funny and poked fun at me for my unabashed love of alcohol which he derided as “unnecessary, you don’t need that to laugh do you?” he would ask me. As we pulled into view of the Manhattan skyline, the tape deck blasting the Silos my heart beat faster, “Good Lord” I thought, it’s the biggest fucking thing I’ve seen. As a child I lived on Long Island, in Springs NY, just an echo from East Hampton and my memories of the city were vague as if looking through a pool of water. We went through the Holland Tunnel, and came out upon a sea of graffiti and garbage piled high, I was lost in a storm of streets as I tried to navigate traffic and Richie pointed where to turn. Soon we were driving towards Alphabet City where Sharon and Herbert lived.

The apartment was between Avenues C & D on 8th, just below the sidewalk, and the apartment was filled with books, magazines and old furniture. Sharon blushed when she saw me, we kissed and she introduced me to Herbert who saw small and hunched over. He shook my hand, his grip was strong and his hands seemed to be constructed of leather, rough and covered with the experience of hustling and scrapping. He had bright blue eyes and a shock of gray hair the sprouted from the top of his head. He did not appear to be a man in his eighties. “Bela! Glad to meet you, Sharon has told me all about you. Bela, like Bartok? Right? She tells me you love to read, I’ll be curious to find out what you like to read. Did you know that I’m a writer?”  I had known who Herbert was, not only from what Sharon had told me but I had read some of the Beats, although I was not the outrageous fan of so many in the underground. In fact, I was never a big fan of William Burroughs whom I regarded as somewhat anti-women but I enjoyed the beat poetry and the movement itself.  Hunke’s own influence on the Beat movement was massive, from the coining of the term Beat to being a major influence on both Burroughs and Ginsberg, He was portrayed in both Junkie by Burroughs and also in Kerouac’s “On the Road” and when he asked me what I read and what I wrote about he appeared pleased.

I felt at home in New York, although this partly came from ingesting the music from New York since the age of fifteen, I had devoured the Ramones, Lou Reed, Garland Jefferies and Springsteen as a teenager. The grim of the lower east side was burned into my consciousness and as I walked the streets, the busyness of the sidewalks were already tattooed to my synapses. I had picked up Garland Jeffrey’s “American Boy and Girl” at Woolworths for a $1, his entire solo catalog, like that of his sometime collaborator, Lou Reed was easily had for a buck a record. Although Garland had never had the amount of press or even credit he deserved he made a couple of seminal NYC albums that rank near the top of all music NY. Perhaps he is best known as writing “Wild in the Streets” which catapulted The Circle Jerks to their punk-rock fame but from the mid-seventies until the early 1980’s he constructed a trio of albums that hold up quite well.

In a teenager’s mind, New York was built of asphalt and steel, with bustling sidewalks that mimicked the opening scene of Cagney & Lacey or of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight huddled next to one another, it was not constructed of clumps of dry cornstalks, gravel roads and flat ranch houses. The music from New York filled my ears, especially Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. I had never heard as anything as grotesquely inviting as “Street Hassle” from the mid-west and it would be a few years before the frantic noise of Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, Cleveland punk bands that would echo the realistic poetry of Lou and other New Yorkers.

On later trips to the city, which came in bunches over the next few years as I visited Sharon whenever I could and would make the nine hour trek to various rock and roll shows at Under ACME, CBGB’s, and the Knitting Factory all of who were open enough to book Columbus bands. The shows themselves are a blur, as are the years and the trips. Through the memory is a faded as the soft light in a 1970’s soap opera, it is burnished at times through the recollections of friends who were there at that time. One such trip when Gaunt played with Prisonshake and a few other Ohio bands at CBGB’s whose restroom was designed after the open sewer systems of Calcutta. I drove on my own and got to the club early, Gaunt was already there, mid-afternoon and as I walked in, sunlight bathing the sidewalk outside the bar was long and smelled like any other bar; with a scent of bleach and stale beer, I ordered a Budweiser and was alarmed at the $7 cost. How in the hell anybody could afford to drink in New York was beside me, Jerry grabbed me in the dressing room, “Dude, don’t drink here” he said as he grabbed my shoulder and steered me out of the bar. We strolled across the street to a small carryout, complete with guy-with-unwashed-clothes-and-defeated-look sprawled out on the sidewalk, brown paper bag clutched firmly in his hand as his head leaned on the brick wall and directly to his left a metal garbage can. One half expected Oscar the Grouch’s head to pop out or a needle laying next to the man, or a needle hanging out of Oscar the Grouch’s neck. Jerry walked right to the good stuff, which was 24 ounce bottles of Crazy Horse a malt liquor that had recently been discontinued in Columbus and next to that rows of green bottled Balintine, another malt liquor that was guaranteed to fuck-you-up. They were about $2.50 each and I bought one of both. “Were the hell do we drink it?” I asked. Jerry scoffed at me, “on the street you dumbshit! They don’t fuckin’ care, it’s fuckin’ New York!” After this lesson these malt liquors and well hidden bottles of Jim Beam were my preferred choices.

New York made me feel big, as if the soles of my feet made an indentation into the sidewalks, my mother had briefly flirted with New York in her late teens. Living in the Bowery District before heading back to Columbus, for reasons she never explained. There was an energy that fed into the boyhood dreams of a Midwest outcast, of the idea that I could shake the inner turmoil and isolation I felt in high school, by smelling the smells, tasting the food, blending into the scenery of the city–as if feeling small in the smaller town of Catawba propelled the perception of being gigantically alive in the city. I had become friends and acquaintances in the city through the record shop, indie-rock was a very small world and it was common to have coffee, lunch or drinks with many of the folks who the store did business with. The community I felt a part of was much more comforting in New York than whatever I felt in Catawba.

Even still the feelings of unease hung onto the tails of my shirt and enveloped me no matter where I was, whether in the living room of my father and his wife as they foisted homemade Hungarian cookies into me, lecturing me on the dangers of homosexuality, God’s retribution and my indeterminist failures, or the talking to Sharon while we laid in her bed, waiting for her to end the magic I felt between us. Later, the unease would be swallowed by gallons of alcohol, as brown and green bottles were turned upside down, the unease would melt into a carefree carelessness that could quickly break down the walls of trepidation between me and another. I pined for attention, yet like a bug trying to land on a light bulb, I would scamper away when the emotions were too much. In my mind, I had already been defeated.

Some ten or twelve years after that first trip to New York, so long before it had appeared to be only a fleeting appiriation in my mind, for the world had changed so much in a decade. I arrived in New York with my wife, as we drove north to Vermont to see our old friends Dave Sweetapple and Ron Schniderman in Brattleboro. My wife had some business to do in the city with her job, she and I had suffered through a precarious spell in the preceding years and many of the old haunts I had know were now left to the faded pages of punk rock books and time-stained saved flyers of music collectors. CBGB’s, Under ACME and Brownie’s had been shuttered, the move out of  lower Manhattan had already begun, with the bearded and ironic hipsters moving into Brooklyn where rents were still low enough. The dive bar that our friend Paul Lukas had taken us to a few years prior in Red Hook had now become a destination point and anyway, I had decided just a year prior that a bar was a dangerous place to be. We stayed with our friend Matt Majesky, a man of unblemished taste in books and music, who suffered no fools and had a stinging sense of humor. I went into the city and while my wife attended her conference I headed to the lower east side, this time not in search of a bar but instead a twelve-step meeting. There was a clubhouse on 14th near Avenue C that was open 24 hours a day, that week I went to three or four meetings there. Upon entering the first meetings, I grabbed a small cup of coffee, holding the tiny Styrofoam cup in my hand I took a seat in the third row. I glanced around the small room, there were roughly sixteen or seventeen plastic chairs in the room, a few people ducked in and out, one man, with black greasy hair, matted to his forehead, jumped down the three stairs that emptied into the room. Look nervously around, he clasped his hands together, his tattoo’s covering his forearms, a biographical inking for all the world to see, as if his arms were issuing a challenge for anyone who looked in his direction. An image of Lucifer snaking up his arms, with flames, nude women and  a pair of dice camouflaged in the middle of the bursting reds, yellows and blues that careened off of his forearms, there was no room for hair or his pale skin. It was if he had gargled an entire tattoo magazine and they magically appeared on his body. He bounced on the balls of his feet, shook his head and bounded back up the stairs. The air was charged, as if someone had taken the tops of the electrical sockets and the air was being pumped full of invisible sparks. To my rear a man with a dark suit and a briefcase sat back, whistling softly to himself, was he whistling a John Denver song? I looked back, he appeared tired, fatigued, glancing at his watch he too was bobbing his head, nobody was relaxed. In the front of the room, two men whispered to one another, and one pointed to me. Raising my eyebrows I asked if they needed something, “well yes, we do. I think you have the most sobriety in the room and we need someone to qualify for us.” Luckily, after absorbing many Lawrence Block books about an alcoholic private detective named Matthew Scudder, I knew that qualifying on the east coast meant giving a lead in the Ohio. That is, I had to tell my story. I had only nine or ten months sober but I had been instructed by my own AA sponsor that when AA asks something of you, you are compelled to give back. I accepted.

Alcoholics Anonymous was an entity that I had heard about during my twenties, I had even visited one through a family member when I was seventeen, not for my own concern but for support. I had thought nothing of it, it was a place for old people to hide out, I supposed. The charms of the alcohol had provided were too great, too strong and too fun to ever think about, but the charms were constructed of liquid and while the laughter, belonging and sex the bottle brought into my wife also rolled out on my life like piss down my leg and eventually rolled down to the floor. The puddle would take years to grow around me, taking a bit of myself one drop at a time until eventually, there was nothing left except confusion, anger and bewilderment. Attending a meeting in a Lower East Side AA clubhouse was startling, considering where I was just 24 month prior, contemplating suicide and being unable to trust myself in front of a bottle any bottle.

Sauntering up to the plywood podium, that was cracked around the edges, with the plastic wood veneer pulling itself up from particle board, it appeared as if it were hoisted from the gutter as many of the alcoholics who stood before me appeared. Eyes opened wide, with an emotional shakiness brought alive as the hourly obsession of a fix either by needle, pipe or bottle throttled from inside some of them, it was expected that I would bring some salve to their pining obsession. Shaking myself I took a deep breath, this would be the first time I stood in front of a group and tell my story. One man, nodding to himself, stood up and paced the small room, the yellowed walls, tanned by years for cigarette smoke provided a backdrop to his skittish walk, his hands petting his legs, smoothing out crinkles that just weren’t there.

Speaking for 25 minutes, I took questions afterwards, this was a bit different than the meetings I was used to in Gainesville and Columbus. Afterwards, a balding, toothless man from Iran approached me. “Hello Mr. Bela, thank you so much for qualifying, you helped me so much today. I live on the streets here, it is hard to not drink. I am from Iran, and it is so hard to be an alcoholic in Iran as you are not allowed to drink. It was easier here, always drink. Always good times. Always. But I lost everything, my wife, my child even my uncle will not help. I have eleven days today, and thanks to you, I will have 12 tomorrow.” With a flat smile I thanked him, I was never good with compliments. As I stood in front of the clubhouse, the sun splashed against the concrete, and my shadow stretched from the curb into the street. An elderly man approached me, “Hey, that was a nice qualification. My name is Ed” he said as he extended his hand, “would you like a cup of coffee?”  We walked down the street to Avenue C, and entered a polish bakery. Telling me his story, he was a playwright and had gotten sober in the early 1970’s, “I come here nearly every day, especially since my partner passed away a few years ago.” I was encouraged, “I still write, every day a little bit of something, the alcohol was important back then but it staggered me, I lost my job as an editor and my contacts but I found AA or as they say, it found me. And here I am, nearly thirty years later, happy.”1967plymouthvaliantcoupe04

Later that week, I met my friend Lyle, we talked and had a coffee. Lyle had gotten married, and had several small young children. The last time I had seen Lyle was when his band had played an Anyway Fest, and the night they played I had inadvertently walked into his room while in a brownout. The guest room was halfway between our bedroom and the bathroom and it was not uncommon of me to me to fall into the guest bed upon relieving myself as I was too drunk to manage to stumble the ten more paces into our bedroom. I was in a brown-out that night, and ended up spooning Lyle waking up to his shrill, “Duudeee, you are fucking naked!!” and then having him hand me off to my wife, “I believe he is your responsibility” he said as he passed me off in the night. Sitting on a bench in New York, Lyle said, “Bela, you seem happy now.”

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Crushes 1990-1992 (sort of)

September 21, 2013

Loneliness was marked one listen at a time. Three in the morning, shrouded in the dark front room, only the streetlight out front flicking light streaks through the window as infrequent cars, no doubt also filled with the near despondent with a night full of booze and nicotine like myself came through. The record would spin in circles until it reached the end, at times I would lift the needle to the beginning of a certain song, the song what would capture what I felt, maybe a chorus maybe a riff or maybe the sounds of  a bow on strings. I fell in love frequently, it was easy. It was needed. Nervousness was cloaked in laughter, in the foolish things that would tumble from my lips, I would say anything to garner a smile. Jerry would as well, and Jenny was an expert at burying her feelings under six feet of joke.

In a five month period I managed to fall for four woman named Jenny, it was comical almost as if there was a sitcom screenplay my life was following. Jenny number one was of course, Jenny Mae, whose fragile existence made me worry at night. The romantic love had burned bright for two years and then the love that is born of responsibility and loyalty took over, it has somehow continued for over twenty years since I walked out in the fall of 1991. Transformed from puppy-love to the concern of parental responsibility, she is symbol of how, as a society we take care of our own for me. A fountain of frustration and stubbornness that, is rarely tempered by blasts of laughter that somehow make up for the frustration of observing a twenty-one year car accident in progress.

I had begun to make bi-weekly and weekly visits to Athens, ducking out of work early on a Saturday night, loading up my pale blue Chevrolet Chevete, perhaps the saddest sack of a car this side of a Gremlin with cassettes and a six pack. Motoring down route 33, past the flat farms of lower Franklin County, towards Lancaster where the landscape would shift abruptly mid-town town. From the smooth as a quarter landscape of the north end of town into the staggered foothills of Appalachia on the other end, just a three mile distance. One could feel the molting of Columbus as the landscape shifted, a renewed energy boiled inside as I replaced “Daydream Nation” with Superchunk’s “Foolish” and what would become the soundtrack for my next three break-ups. The affinity I felt towards Athens was profound, even though I had made and found a home and finally a sense of community in Columbus, the roots of my childhood lay in Athens. In the college town atmosphere and liberal politics of the region, while Columbus was home, Athens felt like a refuge. Chris Biester was one of my best friends, perhaps the most talented musician I have ever come across, at once a storyteller but also one that could make his guitar to do anything he desired. A master word conjurer of sorts, that could spit out a lyric that could lay next to America’s greatest poets and then entertain with a way with the spoken word with the same wryness as Will Rogers.

Chris lived haphazardly, at certain points in his life, he resided in a tent in rural Meigs County and at other junctures he lived the shambling existence of most bohemians, that is a life filled with roommates, dogs and countless lovers all of them promising relief from the storms of life. Chris was well aware of my precarious mindset, and when I would greet him at the Union, he would enquire about my mental health with a quizzical look complete with a frozen raised eyebrow and ask again, “I mean how are you?” “Great” I would reply, as I was filled with at least six drinks from my way down, a few cups of coffee and the hope only a Saturday night can promise a young man of 23. Chris introduced me to Jenny number two, a thin woman with full lips who rolled her own cigarettes and eye lashes that could reach out and break a man. They had been a couple and Chris had moved on, he had no doubt counseled her on my recent mental health issues and the precarious nature of my own existence. She was devoted to Chris, not just a former lover but as a guidepost, one whom would see that the neurosis that climbed inside him was scrubbed out. One weekend, Jerry and I drove to Athens and saw Chris’s band Appalachian Death Ride at a sub-level bar called the Dugout. ADR, as they were called amongst their faithful had just received welcoming and positive press in the College Music Journal and  Your Flesh magazine. That night a sonic bomb went off in the underbelly of Court Street, as ADR ripped through a set that, 21 years later is still fresh in my mind. They ended their set, shirtless, with the walls sweating from the overabundance of hair and stickiness of the patrons, with covers of “Pale Blue Eyes” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” It was brilliant. That night I went back to Jenny’s apartment, just up the hill from Sunnyside Drive and across the street from a playground I had played at when I was a toddler. To uneasy to make love, I held her tight until the room quit spinning and woke up with a dog licking my face.

Jenny and I started to become a couple and by early December she made the drive to Columbus to spend the weekend with me. She was going to spend the month in San Francisco with an Aunt. That night we finally made love and the next morning I drove her the airport that New Years Eve we spent the weekend in her new apartment in rural Athens County with her best friend Haynes. I remember drinking one glass of wine, walking in the early morning through brown weeds and a gray morning sky while thinking to myself that I would have to end this relationship. A week later she called to tell me that she was pregnant. I had helped make arrangements for her to terminate the pregnancy, and while I was a practicing Catholic, I felt relief that she had decided to make this choice. She stayed at my apartment that weekend.  And soon after the relationship ended as quietly as a leaf landing in the forest.

Jenny number three was a librarian from Philadelphia, bookish, with large eyes and a wide smile that held perfect white teeth. She was committed to a man in Philly, who she missed like the wheat misses the wind. Jenny number two came in the store frequently and my crush was solidified when she bought a Nothing Painted Blue single.  The next time she came in she went to buy a ticket to see Unrest at Staches,

“hey, you wanna go?” I asked.

Smiling a smile that was more grimace than smile, “uh, yeah. That’s why                                         I’m buying a ticket. You know, because. I. Want. To. Go.”

“Yeah, I know that but I mean, if you don’t want to pay for it I could take                                                 you. Like, for free. We get in free” gesturing towards the entire store with                                      my hands.

She put her wallet back in her purse, tilted her head, thinking for a                                                  moment, “ok, sure. why not” she replied, more to herself than to me.

“We can meet at Dicks Den across the street? How about nine or ten?”

She looked at me strangely, “is that too late?”

“no, it won’t start until ten, Gaunt is opening up. That’s Jerry’s band.”

“oh, Gaunt, they are local right? Who is Jerry?”

Jerry sat at the back counter, smoking a cigarette, head tilted back, staring                                      at the flyers on the ceiling. “that’s Jerry.”

“He’s in Gaunt? I didn’t even know they were from here. I thought they                                         were from like Chicago or something.”

“Yeah, you’re not from here are you?

“No, I’m from Philadelphia but I went to school in D.C. We played Gaunt                          on the radio. That’s cool” she smiled back toward Jerry, her head nodding                                     in approval. Jerry waved to her, as if he were sitting in the back of a                            station wagon, and he was five. “Sure, ten at Dick’s Den then?”

“Yup, see you then.” I was already worried she was going to fall for Jerry.

He walked up to the counter, “Did you just ask that girl out?”

“Yeah, well sorta, I mean I offered to take her to the show tonight, I don’t                                                 think it’s a date though.”

“She’s cute.”

Jerry, at that time swore he was celibate, “I don’t need sex, it’s over-rated” he would say between swigs of beer and draws off his cigarette. It was an odd thing to say, but he was not seeing anybody at the time, and he hadn’t yet started seeing the woman who would compel him to write “Yeah, Me Too” and “Kryptonite” in quick succession. There was a bit of jealously between us, the competition for the affection of women was unspoken and while I thought Jerry was silly for stating he was celibate, he thought I was nuts for the want of women after the dangerous break-ups I had.

“You should just stay away from them, you can’t handle them” he would offer       without prompting.

Stung by his words, “shut up, Jerry. I never fucking asked you.”

“whatever dude.”

Jerry skipped out of work early that night, he was always anxious on the days Gaunt played, his nervousness combining with his over caffeinated and nicotine addled brain made him unbearable as if he were clawing the back of his eyeballs out. “Yeah, just leave–I can handle the last hour by myself” I said as he mentioned for the fourteenth-fucking-time that his band was playing.  A relief poured over him for a flash, “thanks dude, I’ll see you tonight. Good luck on your date!” he yowled as he left the store, I stammered back, “It’s not a fucking date!.” As I heard him reach the top of the stairs, no doubt blowing a stream of smoke from his lips, “Whatever duudddeee!”

Jennifer number three and I met at Dick’s Den, she was wearing a red skirt and black hose, with a tee-shirt. She was stunning and I was still dressed in the same grimy  shirt and jeans that I had worn all day, only now they smelled of cigarettes, booze and pizza. A winning combination unless you were meeting someone for a first date. I had bounced from Used Kids to Larry’s where I made conversation with the tall bartender Becky who was just hired from Buckeye Donuts. Running into Eric Davidson, singer for the New Bomb Turks, he plopped up next to me. “Going to the show tonight, Unrest, pretty cool. Jerry must be fucking stoked. That’s all he has been talking about all week at the house. It’s like we FUCKING know Jerry, it’s cool your punk-rock band is playing with Unrest but it’s not like you haven’t played a fucking show. They aren’t the Dead Boys for Christ sakes.” Eric popped a pretzel into his mouth. The man was always eating pretzels. “Yeah, he drove me nuts at work, always fidgeting, he would take a record off three songs in, then turn his back to counter while people were waiting to buy shit and then look at them like they were stupid. He’s the most neurotic person I’ve ever met,” shaking my head, I ordered another beer.

“You going as well?”

Eric said, “yeah, I hated but I had to ask Jerry to put me on the list, I’m fucking broke and he can be such a dick about it. It’s not like I wouldn’t put him on the list for one of our shows but you guys get into everything for free so why bother. He was like, ‘Jesus, Eric, I don’t even know how many people we get on the list?’, like I was asking him to wipe my ass or something, he can be such a douche.”

It was easy to pile on Jerry, he himself had a unique way of piling on everybody else unbeknownst to him.

“I know he’s excited, I remember when he brought them last year and interviewed                                     them    for Cornhole.” Cornhole was Jerry’s Kinko’s stapled fanzine, he published                          four or five issues.

I looked at the time behind the wall, “I gotta head up to Dick’s, you wanna walk                           up there with me?”

Eric shook his head, “no thanks, I’m meeting Majesky and a few other guys in a                             little bit, we’ll be up there soon.”

“Just don’t miss Gaunt, or Jerry will kill you, ‘I put Eric on the fucking guest list                             and he can’t even see our band.’ That’s what I’ll have to hear all day tomorrow at                                   work if you don’t make it in time” explaining as I swallowed half a beer in a                            single gulp.

Crossing High Street, ambling up the west side of the street, so as to walk in the long shadows of the trees that blanket that side of the street, I get my bearings. It’s early but I can feel the cool wind of an Ohio autumn, with the flecks of hope the change in the weather brings. The old feelings of new school are brought to life, stirring as if the wind was doing the stirring itself within me. Hands plunged deep into my pockets, keeping my head down and counting my steps. There are roughly five blocks to cover, and for a good chunk of it there are little to no commercial businesses on High Street. Just past Lane Avenue, the longest road in Columbus grows quiet for a moment as canopy of trees leaning over the sidewalk into the street it’s as if the city planners knew this area would be ripe for graduate students, professors and young families. I walk past Northwood and glance across the road and up the dark slight hill that Northwood disappears into, I think of my father. Sometime, many years ago, he and my mother brought me home from the hospital to a small white house sitting on a corner alley up the road. I think of the nervousness in his hands, wiping his hair out of his eyes and he breathed in deeply, almost holding his breath as my mother handed this tiny infant into his clumsy hands. Inside were my sister and brother, with my Aunt Cheryl and my mother’s parents. We lived on Northwood for six months before moving to Athens, and as I stroll by I wonder what my life would have been like if we stayed. “No doubt, I wouldn’t be working in a record store, getting drunk off my ass” I think as I quicken my pace.

Just past Patterson Avenue, just two blocks from home, I spy Dow’s on High, I need to pee. The campus area reeks of urine from too many drunken frat guys and out-of-campus visitors relieving themselves on the sidewalks, alleys and doorways of High Street and neighboring streets, it is unfathomable that these are the future leaders of the new world. I made a vow not to do this unless it was absolutely necessary, I do a slow motion backwards count of how many drinks I have had, “let’s see, at least four at work but I had pizza and I started at four.  Three beers and a shot at Larry’s, that’s only like um, seven and half over five hours. I’m fine.” The alcohol has settled in my knees and around my ears, I can feel it but I am thinking clearly. I don’t want to overshoot it, so, I manage the intake well. this has been done countless times before, I open the door to Dow’s, it isn’t very busy. “I’ll have a Bud, be back in a moment.” The bar is small, with a thin walking space next to the bar and a jukebox that almost hides the men’s room, just to the left of the men’s room is an underutilized room that has a haber-dash of beer signs and posters left over from the nineteen eighties, an old Cleveland Browns poster complete with a schedule from 1990 dangles from the far wall. The season is only half-filled out, by week nine, after a drubbing by the Buffalo Bills that left the morose team, 2-7, even the hardcore owner of Dow’s had given up. And he was an ex-Brown and played for Ohio State. The poster has started to curl at the end, a seldom used pool table sits under a thin hanging light with only three of the four bulbs working, there are stacks of beer protruding from behind an area that was once a kitchen. It would be easy to make off with several cases of beers out the back door which is at the end of a long hallway jutting off from the far wall. That would not happen in a place like Dow’s though, which is the loneliest dive/sports bar on this stretch of High Street. It’s a good place to drink, with polite bartenders who eye us carefully but after several visits accept us. The jukebox sucks, filled with the likes of Journey, Bon-Jovi and Heart, and most times when there isn’t a Brown’s game on it is playing, “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Barracuda” for the four thousandth time. I wait outside the men’s room, although there are only a handful of patrons in the bar, one of them is taking a leak. Behind me sits a small table, with a crock-pot filled with homemade Barb-queue, and a large spoon ready to fill up a thin white roll that is housed in a yellow and clear plastic bag. A stack of styrophom plates and a bag of rippled chips sits on the table. There is a football game flickering on the television but it is not the beloved Browns. While waiting to pee, I shake my head at the juke book, where Billy Idol is bellowing away.

Dick’s Den is one of the oldest bars around the campus area, with multiple nights of live jazz being played, although Dick’s was no piano bar, a tiny almost platform stage wedged between a the doorway to the most cramped area laid out for a pool table, just to the left of the doorway, shoved into a corner as if straddling a cliff sat a Terminator II pinball machine. If you played the game a bit rough, full with fits, bumps and lunges you may well make the jukebox, filled with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, skip. Below the stage were a handful of tables, where the drinks would jockey for space much like the musicians on the stage. The bar staff was older than the staff at Larry’s, the Blue Danube and Staches, with many left over from the High Street debauchery of the 1960’s and 70’s. It was, in a way the post-doc equivalent of a bar compared to the graduate student manner of Larry’s. I was usually frustrated with doorman at Dick’s, due to the explosion of college clientele during their carnival/riotous nights of quarter beer nights during the early nineties. While, I’m sure the loved the business they made quick changes to the flood of frat types on the Wednesday nights of quarter beer nights, the first upping it to .50 beer nights and cracking down on carding people. I took some umbrage at being carded every time I went into Dick’s, mostly because I drank there at least once a week and also for the fact that I had assumed I had long-ago cemented my credentials as a High Street veteran.

Dick’s was busy that night because, sure enough, it was .50 beer night and as I stuck my ID back into my back pocket, I eyed Jenny sitting at the bar with a tall bottle of Rolling Rock in front of her. “Hey,” I said as I saddled up next to her, raising my finger to the bartender and mouthing the words, Budweiser to him. He was a Used Kids regular, prone to buying Lucinda Williams, Jimmie Dale Gilmore as well as jazz titles, he nodded and smiled, silently placing a beer in front of me he stuck his hand up, signaling I didn’t need to pay. I flipped him $2 for a tip and nodded my thanks. Jenny smirked at me, “you come here often I guess?” Looking sideways at her, as I lifted the bottle, now neck empty, “not too much, really, maybe once a week. He comes to the shop a lot, I usually give him a deal. The secret to successful drinking is to know how to treat your bartender, in or out of the bar. Smiling, and shaking her head, “I see that.”

After a few formalities she cut to the chase, “hey, I think it’s cool that you asked me to join you, I could have paid for  a ticket but you know, graduate school money doesn’t go very far. So, that was nice. But I need to let you know I have a boyfriend, Kevin, and he lives in Philadelphia. I just don’t want you to think that, um, I don’t know…..”, she looked skywards, “now, I feel stupid.” Thinking to myself, “only Jerry thought this was a date”, I smiled, “I didn’t think of anything more than just getting you in, really, I didn’t think this was a date or anything. I’m not good at that sort of thing anyway.” In some way I was relieved, shirking from any sort of romantic investment was easy for me, a great deal of the people I spent time with were woman, almost all on a platonic level. “Whew, I was worried you might be upset with me,” she replied, almost to herself, and it was obvious a burden was taken off her shoulders.  “nope, not at all.” I stuck my hand up for two more beers, pointing to her half empty bottle and my empty one. “Don’t you think we should go? It’s like 10:30 and I think the ticket said 9:30. I wanna see your friend’s band, Gaunt.” “it’s alright, shows here start late, and besides there is another band playing first, there are always three bands. I think their called Swivel-Arm Battlegrip, Gaunt will go on in about twenty minutes and they’ll play a short set because Jerry is nervous about playing with Unrest. He loves them so he won’t play too long.”

Staches was half-full, Unrest had just put out the finest record of their career, “Imperial F.f.r.r.” and chimy, ringing piece of guitar pop, the was one of the most catchy records of the year. They had played Staches the year before, again with Gaunt, and were lack-luster as was the turnout for the show. It was a decent crowd for a Wednesday night, and when we entered, I got three beers from the bar, two Budweiser’s for me and a Rolling Rock for Jenny. “you don’t have to buy me any drinks, in fact I probably shouldn’t drink very much more, I have class tomorrow.” “It’s ok, I don’t mind.” I motioned to the stage, where Jerry was just getting ready to plug his guitar in, Gaunt had jelled into quite a live band by this point, having released three records on Thrill Jockey (“Whitey the Man”, “I Can See Your Mom From Here” and “Sob Story”) and doing several tours. Jovan Karcic was a welcome addition to the band, of Serbian descent, Jovan had a startling resemble to a more handsome Frank Zappa and with his mop of curly hair hanging down the second guitar he supplied to Jerry’s fuzzy tone was at times humorous, with its startled burst of frenetic balls of feedback and sudden stops, Jovan fills bolstered Gaunt’s sound tremendously. That night, taking a cue from Jerry’s neurotic energy, they bulldozed their way through a short set, built mostly on the songs from “Sob Story” and a few new songs that came out as singles, “Good Bad, Happy Sad” and “Pop Song”, they were superb. In fact, a small crowd had gathered around the stage, I was in front, just to the right of Jerry. Jenny stood next to  the thin barrier that kept the customers at the bar from spilling into the area in front of the stage, where there were a few tables. I looked back and saw her bopping her head, smiling the entire time. Eric Davidson and Jim Weber stood next to me and as Gaunt launched into “Lies” we all yelled “Spirit of the Radio” to the feigned annoyance of Jerry, as “Lies” shared a close melody to the more known Rush song. It was absurd to think that Jerry had ever listened to Rush.

Unrest were pale in comparison, with both a male and female singer, their brand of indie-rock was almost sober following the sonic assault of Gaunt. They were decent, especially to those of us who knew all the words to their songs. Afterwards, I asked Jenny if she wanted to come by my house and listen to a few more records, it wasn’t too late I offered. Only 12:30 or so, plus we could have another beer. She thought about it, “how close do you live?” Pointing to the back of Staches, “Like two blocks from here, it is literally a stumble away.” Breathing deeply, she sighed, “O.k., but just for a little bit, I really have to go to school tomorrow.” I had no aspirations of anything from her that night, at that time of the evening my goal was to continue to listen to music and drink more beer. As I introduced her to Richard and Istvan, my two dogs, I opened the beers. Excitedly I started playing records, mostly 45’s of bands she may or not have heard of, The Puddle from New Zealand, Number One Cup from Chicago, Belreve from Columbus and the pure bliss of the Flatmates, a female fronted band from the UK who sounded somewhat like the Wedding Present. We were almost hugging the stereo, as if the giant piece of furniture and electronic wires were an Iron Lung for us, she grabbed my arm, “Listen, I need to leave. I’m sorry but there is way too much sexual energy for me right now, going on. I don’t know, I need to leave.” I was dumbfounded, at that moment, I had felt no sexual tension, I was like a five year old showing off his toy trucks. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not thinking of that. You can stay.” I don’t think she believed me. “You aren’t? Well I am, and I need to leave.” Jenny walked home that night, I walked her partway. After this my crush became immense and over time nothing more became of our friendship, she became a late night voice for me, as I would tremble from the loneliness I felt after drinking until three am, I would call her and she would talk to me until I drifted off to sleep. She eventually broke up with Kevin, I went through a series of relationships and one failed marriage before we were ever romantic together. And these moments were few and rushed, heavy petting on a couch and a furtive brief front seat hand job that ended because, well we were on a residential street. “Listen,” she breathed towards me, “I have to teach tomorrow, but we can go out this Saturday ok?” “Are you sure you just don’t want to come up now, I get up early, I can wake you up,” I promised. “I can’t, I’d like to but I need to go, I can’t risk it.” Her responsibility to her job was very enticing, she was different from many of the women I knew. “Ok, I’m promoting the Grifters show on Saturday night, we can go to that, and get dinner before.” “Deal.” Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if she would have went upstairs with me to my bedroom that night, as the next day, my (current) wife came in the store and we scheduled our first date for Thursday. I had to call Jenny on Saturday and let her know that I had fallen for someone but would still put her on the guest list. She was very understanding.

Crushes came and crushes went, like the passing of the trees at the side of the road, if one pulled the car over, took a gander at the tree it would be easy to fall in love. To see the muscled roots burrowing into the ground, plowing deep into the soil, with the passage of time and branches stretching high into the sky with a billion leaves shaking forth in the wind, the site would be breathtaking. Currently, in between worrisome moments, where the future crushes any thoughts of the past as the phone bill winks as I rustle the keys from the front door. A child around my knees, spurting out ideas that have just been born form his young mind, I panic. “What the fuck, where I am?” I think to myself. The dog jumping high into the air, in my moment of worry I am annoyed. A flash of anger grabs my throat forcing out a stammer, “fucking stop! Hold the fuck on!” I am lost again. Other moments take flight of a mind that tries to placate the suffering the winds up in my office, the homeless woman with two kids living out of her car, the veteran trying to drive to work but can’t because his license is suspended, the woman who goes home to a house where her elderly father, in failing health waits for her to clean him even though he is the one that raped her when she was  four. The time for crushes appear to have fluttered to the earth, like the giant tree jarring it’s leaves free.

Jenny number four lived around the corner from me, her roommate who everybody called Kat was friends with Richie Violet (Jack Taylor), Kat later became a well known poet but at the time I associated her with hanging out with druggie Jack. Jenny had long red hair, she went to Ohio University and was good friends with Chris Biester, she was in a total sense an Athens woman and while we were attracted to one another the thing we did the best together. She had a wide smile, with white teeth sparkling with her blue eyes. And we cackled together frequently, the absurdity of life cast itself around us, from this hillbillies in Athens to the pretentious mob of art-fucks who sometimes infiltrated Larry’s. Jenny and I were never a couple, she would crash at my apartment when Jack and others were at her apartment. She had experimented with heroin and did not want to be tempted, she said, “I don’t need to be around it, it makes me do dumb shit. Weed is cool but all in all I’d rather get drunk with you. You’re funny.” We would listen to records, walk to bar, take in a show at Staches and eat at the Due. She was too strange for Jerry, “you hanging out with that Athens chick tonight?” he’d ask, with a skepticism in his voice. “I dunno, probably, I suppose.” “She’s got big tits, doesn’t she” he would grin, “I dunno, probably, I suppose.” I would answer.

Jenny worked as a stripper that summer, and after she left work she would drive to my house, climb in my bed and cry. “I fucking hate that shit, I hate it, this guy keeps trying to follow me home.” We never made love, that summer, she would resist when we got to that point, explaining, “I can’t do it, I want to but, I can’t.” I never pushed it, we were in a sense fuck-buddies without the fucking. More like blow-buddies.

She left for Athens that fall and during the course of the coming year, there were a few times we would fall into each other at the Union but soon she fell in love with a handsome be speckled guitar player named Brandon. The next summer, while she and Brandon had temporarily broken up she showed up at a Flat Duo Jets show at Staches. The Flat Due Jets were fronted by Dexter Romweber, a frantic front man, whose hyperkinetic energy onstage pulsated the duo’s sound. He cracked jokes and took his music seriously. During the course of the evening, it was decided that the after-hours party would be at my apartment as soon by three am, the apartment was filled with the lonely and the drunken crowd from Staches.  The house was filled with people I barely knew, it didn’t matter, just as long as I heard voices and could see people smiling. Playing a freewheeling trove of music to have bodies move was easy, the dancers may have expected rare rockabilly or art-punk damaged grimy 45’s but I kept things simple, always.

From James Brown to Pet Shop Boy remixes perhaps and Bloodstains Across (whatever) song would be thrown in but by the time four am rolled around, everybody was dispersing.

Jenny cooed in my ear as we swayed hips and spilled beer on the scuffed hardwood floors, “hey, can I stay here tonight”, “oh, yes” I mouthed back over the din of Prince’s “when you were mine”. As people left out the door, Jenny and I headed to my bedroom, sitting in the middle of my bed, we traded gulps of beer and kissed each other. the light was on and the door was cracked, in a moment Dexter strolled into the room eating a leg of fried chicken. He plopped himself down in the middle of the bed, climbing over my shoulder and leaning his head against the faded white wall. I looked at Jenny, “um, we were kinda making out.” I explained. Jenny giggled. Nodding his head and taking a bite out of the leg, “that’s cool.” Jenny and I looked at each other and laughed. Dexter was moving his head to the distant music, “so, Columbus is pretty neat. I like it, great afterhours by the way” he mumbled as a flake of chicken skin fell from his mouth, wiping if off, “sorry, I guess I shouldn’t eat this in your bed.”

After about five minutes of awkwardness I leaned over and said just above a whisper, “hey man, um I’m trying to get laid here.” Jenny blurted out, “yeah, and I think he just might!”  Dexter, nodded again, “oh? cool, that’s cool, I didn’t even realize that, I thought you both were just hanging.” And with that he left the room. That was the last night Jenny and I went out.

for Jenny # 2

for all Jenny’s

for Jenny number #4

for Jenny number #2

for Jenny number #1:

For Jerry Wick:

and