Posts Tagged ‘new bomb turks’

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.



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.


this is pretty great:


Jerry and Jenny: The Goners 1989-2014

September 6, 2014

The Goners. 1989–2014

Counting steps kept the hangover from keeping my knees from buckling, one step after another as the sun poked through leaves that dotted the sky with waving shades of greens, oranges, yellows and purples a soft autumn breeze would hit me in the face and I would pick my step up. The yards of the campus houses were filled to crunched plastic beer cups, smashed Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and the discarded litter of fast food papers that had been quickly wrapped around various types of hamburgers, taco’s and burritos, an inglorious end of the line for any animal, even a fatted cow. Some of the houses were still family owned and one, an old woman whose white overweight collie looked surprisingly like her, with a weighted girth that caused the dog to do an awkward shuffle off the porch. Some mornings I thought both of them would topple over in her manicured yard, the woman had a well coifed bun of white hair, and hips that were level with her shoulders and wire framed glasses that sat on the bridge of her nose, and when I walked by she would raise her head backwards, lower her eyes and stare at me through the coke-bottle lenses and follow my counting steps and right when I got to the edge of the street as I stepped of the curb away from her house she would whisper a “hello there young man.” “hi,” I would breath back, thinking they looked like a panel from The Far Side. One day, after many years of plopping over the cracked sidewalk, I noticed a squad car in front of her house. Soon after the house was emptied and I noticed the dog standing alone in the front while a man in a gray tweed jacket and a hat straight out of 1955 standing on the porch clutching a cigarette and muttering, “shit, you damned dog, shit already.” I never saw the dog again. “well, that’s that” I thought to myself.

The neighborhood had changed over the years, I was born near downtown Columbus, in Mt. Carmel East Hospital and by the time I had returned nearly eighteen years after being packed into an orange Datson at the barely alive age of six months and being driven down Route 33 to Athens, Ohio, the neighborhood surrounding the hospital had fallen into hard times. The era of Reagan had been a disaster for the west-side of Columbus, many of the small manufacturing jobs that employed the blue-collar residents were mangled for tax breaks and the shipping of jobs out of the country, the streets near Mt. Carmel East swelled with crack addicts, poorly written graffiti and boarded up houses. It has never really recovered. My neighborhood, the one that I was born in and the one that I still live in never really suffered, being so close in proximity to Ohio State has kept the neighborhood insular even if the residents are fluid, camping out in the rental properties for four or five years, building life-long memories of fucking, studying and experiencing the troublesome nature of early adulthood, the units could breath stories if they were only alive.

The walk to the record store was roughly a mile and a half, when drunk it was three miles depending on the gait my body chose and it would take me about 25 minutes to half an hour and no matter what I would always be ten minutes late to work. If, by chance I arrived early, the expected ribbon accompanied by small feeling of superiority hung over me for a small portion of the day over my less responsible co-workers but this did not happen very often. Autumn and spring were the best times to walk, the summer heat in Ohio could be debilitating and it was not uncommon to arrive at work with a shirt that was spotted with sweat if walking was the preferred choice and later, the brutal Ohio winter would lay a thick chunk of ice that stretched from the steps of my house all the way to High Street and even further to the banks of the Ohio River. The south never had to deal with this shit. The south only had to deal with human bondage, nothing compared to an Ohio winter. When the gray hovered over the skyline like a heavy burlap rug, my eyes would face the icy sidewalk as the ground was brighter than the sky, never lifting their gaze skyward until early April.

Seasons begat behavior and when summer limbered up, gave up the thick drape of smoldering oppression for the refreshing whiffs of September, it was as if the insides of a body had been cleansed and turned outwards. House parties, claustrophobic night-clubs hidden under the bowels of High Street and the patter of singing rain droplets bursting like small grapes on shoulder and arms tethered together with sweaty hands became the rage during these months. We hung off the curbs of High Street, swaying into the thick of the night as if we were peering over a boat. Everything changed as cut-off jean shorts and withered tee-shirts tattooed with bands such as The Meat Puppets, The Fluid and The Leaving trains were traded for heel length black jeans, withered tee-shirts with band names such as The Meat Puppets, The Fluid and The Leaving Trains with either a sweater or a western styled pearl buttoned shirt overtop, and the dropping of summer infatuation was killed by the first frost. Love came crushing, it came quick and left us in mounds of tears and confusion that were easily gulped for giddiness of a heart beating faster and electric orgasms. Summer was built to hold our breath, fall was the exhale, winter froze us to the floor –choking under the gelid injustice of the season, and when spring came bounding out of the cursing month of March, we danced on air. Fucking and sucking hands, fingers, necks and other parts as we celebrated living through another winter.

Needing to be held was as powerful as any drug or drink, with anxiety fraught with apprehension and bold know-it-all statement that spurt from twenty-three year old lips, things happened clumsily and secrets were made and kept deep into the early morning. On mildewed couches, scattered floors, hidden hallways and uneven mattresses that some of us lugged from deceased grandparents, friends and just maybe from an alley. Playing it cool wasn’t hard to do, it came easy because being cool is easier with a soundtrack and we made our own as we sprouted out of our teenage years, stalking slowly first, and then dancing later to songs that inhibited our lives more than our families did at that time. The music met the experiences as if it were kerosene to a flame, burnt into my mind like a branding iron: being taken by a woman I barely knew, as she leaned into me as Godspeed You Black Emperor played off her broken stereo, the last song stuck until she finished the job, holding hands tightly as Jad Fair belted out “I’m living a charmed life!!” and we all giggled together and later, scrabbling to not be forgotten as the New Bomb Turks blasted their way through their final song at Bernie’s Bagels deep into a Sunday morning. Or sighing deeply as the Thinking Fellers, sung of the precarious nature of life and asked to be born again, either as a bug, bird or flower. Beauty indeed bounded around our cracked sidewalks and haggard clothing.

The love was easy, the heartbreak was harder and for some, it crushed our spirits as if we were constructed of Styrofoam. Jerry would say to me as he sucked on the very cheapest cigarette in the world, “fuck love, I don’t need it and you don’t need it either. You always get hurt by girls, Bela.” In retrospect, it would be fair to say, “no Jerry, I just always hurt.” Music just keeps it at bay. Music doesn’t hurt when it goes away, and it doesn’t make the longing for a touch seem like a five mile chasm in your belly and it never slips off into the night with someone else, bringing rejection into form with bulbous tears dropping onto the street, exploding onto the pavement as if it were filled with fire instead of salt.

Recently my wife gave me a tape of one of the students that work in the gallery she works at. “Here, honey, this is one of my students bands, I think you would like it.”I held the homemade tape in my hand, flipping it over and carefully pulling the soft folded paper out, every fold stuffed with words that suggested the immediacy of creative energy of the person who put this together. I slipped the tape into my wife’s fourteen year old tape deck and from the back seat my daughter yelled, “daddy, that is too loud, I can’t read.” Turning to my wife, “see if she can get you a CD for me.”

Then. I forgot about it until a friend sent me a message asking if I had heard of the band, called the Goners. “Yeah, my wife has a tape but I need a CD.” A few days later, my wife handed me a CD, with Goners scrawled across it. Putting into my 2009 Rabbit, I was immediately transported back twenty years ago, all the feelings that kept me glued to my friends, my scene and my music surged through me. Feeling the sweaty walls and the blurry shadows of combustible parties where fingers clutched bottles and lightly touched someone who caught our eye, wondering to ourselves, “did she feel that too?” Looking back, of course she did but in the prism of awakening to adulthood, perspectives are still too selfish to fully understand the feelings of others. The music of the Goners, is one splashed together with the desolation of climbing over bruised teenage years and plopping into one’s twenties, when the taste of disappointment is much stronger than the taste of success but the feeling of comfort is brought through friends, imagination coming to fruition (movies, books, writing, music—ART for fuck’s sake.) Sonically as strong as anything that disgorged itself from the early nineties on labels such as K, Homestead, Rip-Off or even Goner Records, mostly recorded on a combination of a Tascam and with assistance of laptop recordings, the songs a stretched tight by the emotional undertones of space and time that is plastered to being 22 but in the end the emotions are timeless. As are these songs. from “Ghost Bruise”: i don’t want to name you. i don’t want to get attached but if my bug bites dissolve back into flesh maybe i will let you touch my skin. my body is a valley and you’re sliding down to meet me and if my bangs grow long enough to cover my eyes you can use them to climb out any time. i learn so much every day, what do i do with it all? i couldn’t say. i learn so much every day but it just adds more weight, yeah that’s all. it’s all fighting to come out, i feel it pushing at my throat. how come all i can ever say is ‘this weather is so bad for my skin’? i wish i could wrap myself around it.” She sings, “I learn so much every day…,” and I think, “I forget so much every day….” This is about as perfect as it gets.


Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: part 50–Two Funerals

October 20, 2012

Two Funerals: 2012.

With the flicker of lights and  widened eyes, I learned of the tragic death of a childhood friend’s wife this week. Scrolling through many mindless electronic updates of photos of food, electronic ironic cards, political outrages aimed at the choir, and links to music videos I caught one that stopped my mind for a moment. The wife of one of my oldest friends, Mark, had  fallen down the stairs and broken her neck. She had died. My first thought was of their two young boys and then of Mark himself, and how the suddenness of empty space can cripple us. How would he manage? Staring at the computer screen, contemplating phoning my brother, I did nothing except send an electronic message. My stomach hurt. Shifting on the brown leather couch, the football game seemed suddenly trite, grown men banging into one another while somewhere across town two little boys were trying to sleep without their mother to tuck them in.

On my way to work the next morning, I thought that I needed to phone Jenny. Her companion, Dale Chandler (not William, as I have previously named him in this blog) was in hospice care and I had promised her I would take her to see him, as she is confined to a wheel chair and has no transportation available. The cell phone shuddered. It was Jenny.  She croaked, “Dale just died, about five minutes ago. The nursing home called, he just died. I’m so sad. He died.”

“Oh Jenny, I’m so sorry.”

Through tears she matter-of-factly explained the obvious, “Well, we knew it was going to happen. Shit, his eyes weren’t even straight anymore, he didn’t know what the fuck was going on. But it still fucking hurts. I’m not going to see my Dale anymore.”

“Listen, I’m late to work and I have two meetings, but I’ll leave early and see you.”

Sniffling, she said, “Really, you don’t have to do anything. Nothing can be done. He’s dead. They’ll call me from the nursing home. I’m not going to fuck up though. I got my paperwork together for my state hearing tomorrow to get my Medicaid turned back on. Thank God I did it last night.” In the travesty that is the American safety net, populated by regulations that are constructed by (mostly) men who have never seen poverty up close, Jenny had managed to lose her Medical insurance because she missed an appointment. She had missed the appointment because she was in the same nursing home that had initiated her Medicaid application and despite having  had spent nearly three weeks in intensive care and then transferred to the nursing home, she was denied for the sole reason of making an appointment she was physically unable to attend.

Dale Chandler Jr. was in his late forties or early fifties. He grew up in West Virginia and walked with a gait that smacked of a life breathing intoxicants in and out, as if the trees themselves were pushing them through the veins in their leaves. Even when sober, he looked drunk. Dale was a light-skinned African American with glow-in-the-dark blue eyes that watered at the wisp of the wind. When he smiled his white teeth sparkled like the tips of a wave in sunshine.

Some people dip their toes into eternity while others dive into it as if it were a baptismal pool, shunting the cares of the world to swim with the ghosts of the past. With a life fraught with reckless behavior, Dale slowly lost the use of his mind, his organs, and later his extremities. Tall, with a thin frame that must have, at one point, many years ago, supported the adulation of cheering crowds on the athletic battlefields of his youth, he was gentle, to a point. When drinking, he could grow coarse, his mood like sandpaper rubbing against burnt skin, and woe to those who crossed his path.

Jenny had fled the confines of Weigel Hall, which she had called home for a few weeks in the summer and fall of 2005. The faculty of the Ohio State University did not take kindly to a former student living in one of the practice rooms of the building, though, and so she soon hit the street. First she found refugee with one of the daytime barflies of Bernie’s, but soon he became aware that this sad singing woman would not be leaving soon nor did she have the money to pay for the vast amounts of alcohol she needed to get through the day. He chucked her out as if she were a bucket of water. She weaved her way up north, sleeping in our back yard a few times and then running into an old friend who, like her, had found himself living through unfortunate times. They slept near the river, in a small tent, but soon she discovered that he had an insatiable taste for crack cocaine, which turned kindness into spastic paranoia, and she found safety with Dale.

Dale protected her like a lioness over her cubs, and soon they moved into a homeless camp just north of the Ohio State University. Being homeless is a difficult existence, harder if you are a woman, albeit a woman who is well educated, sassy and the wits of a coyote, but with severe alcoholism and, at times, debilitating mental illness. Dale had done time in prison during the 1990s. He explained to Jenny that it was for manslaughter for a man who had molested him, although on the streets it is sometimes better to take any criminal history and blow it through the special effects of imagination. Jenny had also connected with a man named Brian—a very tall, thin man with eyes that breathed like the devil’s breath and whose tongue danced the dance of cons perfected during long years of thieving and consumption. He was a dangerous man who was prone to jealously and had truthfully taken a man’s life. He had blackened and bruised Jenny in an eruption of envy and emotional desperation. He would lurk around the camp like stench on spoiled milk, and the seven or eight men and woman there felt terrorized by this man, who in down times looked like a subdued Snoop Dogg, albeit one who would make a better spokesman for the ravages of smoking cocaine than the fun times smoking five blunts a day. Dale eventually used a splintered, cracked two-by-four to pummel Brian and soon thereafter Brian’s frightening tactics disappeared.

When the homeless outreach workers of Columbus put their resources towards housing those in the camp, Jenny and Dale had already fallen in love. Their love was built around mutual safety, but Dale idolized Jenny. Unlike most of her previous paramours, Dale did not challenge Jenny in any creative capacity, and his worship at times prevented her from moving forward in her life. It was as if they were submerged in a quicksand that only went up to their waists, but as long as they would not smother in the iciness of the dredge then everything was okay. Both insisted on being housed together, and soon they were given a small, one-bedroom apartment, nearly eight miles from the campus area and one mile from the nearest bus stop. They had no food stamps, income, or phone. They would get up every morning and walk the three miles to the freeway, where they would fly signs. That is, they would stand by the off ramp holding a sign that stated that they were homeless and ask for money. While technically not homeless, they had no income and no way of garnering an income. Both, with severe alcohol and mental health issues, were unemployable. Their clothes were ruined by months of homelessness and they lived off the charity of church groups and the discarded wares of neighbors. Jenny had perfected the art of dumpster diving.

When they would fly a sign, they ran the risk of getting arrested or being issued a ticket that they would never be able to pay and soon a warrant would be issued for their arrest. On average they would collectively make about $25 a day for five hours of work. This money was spent on food and, more importantly, alcohol, which prevented them from going into alcohol withdrawal. Several times during this period, Jenny had severe seizures when she did not have access to alcohol and the neighbors were called. Dale would do the dirty work when they needed alcohol. Because of his own mental illness he would sometimes get lost for several days, usually when they would travel to the OSU campus so Jenny could watch the OSU Marching Band before football games. They would end up drinking all day and usually slept outdoors with friends they had once been homeless with. Dale would sometimes not make it home, either lost or arrested.

The first apartment was a sub-basement dwelling, with a large piece of plywood covering one of the windows where one of the local dope boys kicked it in, mistaking their apartment for the one in back of them. “Open up you chicken shit motherfucker! Gimme my fuckin’ money, bitch! We gonna pop you one, motherfucker! You can’t hide from us, we know you in there!” Dale hid in the closet. Jenny was getting forty-ouncers at the carry-out and the young men dispersed as she walked up, staring at the broken window while she crossed the street.

“What the fuck?” she said to herself.

“You gotta problem with somethin’ bitch?!” she heard behind her.

“Nope.” They never bothered them again, but Jenny said they beat the shit out of the guy who lived behind them, and soon there was an eviction notice on his door. And Jenny and Dale soon got an eviction notice for the broken window, I helped them pay for a new one so they would not be back on the street.

Sprawled across several frayed couches and a coffee table piled high with uncurled, spent cigarette butts was a collage of spent vodka, malt liquor, and carry-out wine bottles, shuffled together as if they were chess pieces ready to be played in a sick game of chess. In one corner of the room was a bent coat hanger tied to the curtain rod, a delicate balance that was one drunken slip to a splendid crash. A stray cat came and went with the same mannerisms as the “tramps” who frequented the apartment.  With a heart almost as big as her liver, Jenny felt compelled to help anyone and everyone, even to the detriment of her health. The tramps, who she grew to know on the streets, would find their way to Jenny and Dale’s, crashing when the weather turned sour or the cops cracked down. Dale did his best to match wits with Jenny, although it was apparent that something was cognitively amiss with him. Although Jenny later found that he did indeed graduate college, there was little evidence in his slow, mannered speech. His search for words would end in a trail of mumbles and then, finally, a gasp of a smile.

After several years, they moved with the help of their housing case manager, a Nigerian with the compassion of Jimmy Carter, into a larger two bedroom apartment smack dead in the middle of urban violence that kept most neighbors entrenched in their apartments while gun shots and gangs roamed the streets with aplomb. “Fuck Bela, this place is better than the other one cause there’s a Dollar Store just a block away, but I swear to God, they are killing people over here. If it wasn’t for Dale, I’d be dead. I’m the only white person in the whole complex.” Jenny, who grew up in the midst of rural Ohio racism, in the worst underbelly of the American Midwest, where the sagging pride of a once-proud work ethic had ebbed into a fear of the unknown, was safe in the arms of the only man who would protect her, a tall African-American man with a debilitating mental illness and an addiction to alcohol that would take his mind and body to the sea of death.

Dale went into a nursing home this past year, a fading cloud of his former self, his essence obscured by a declining liver and a brain riddled with the holes of dementia. He would struggle to name the year and the name of the President while his body was just a vehicle, torn asunder by decades of poverty and suffering. Jenny called me one day and asked, “Hey, do you know anyone who needs Depends? They just dropped off  Dale’s supply and they must have fucked up, because they brought so many they are literally stacked to the ceiling. They kept bringing them in. I was like, hold on, he can’t even shit this much for the rest of his life.” His life would not last much longer.

Dale went into a nursing home in the spring of 2012, unable to stand on his own and feed himself. After several hospitalizations it was determined that a nursing home would be best. I discussed possible placements with Jenny and Dale’s social worker at the hospital and recommended a very caring nursing home that they decided to send him to. A few months later, after her own issues with failing extremities, Jenny was also taken to the same nursing home after being in intensive care for two weeks. Their rooms were around the corner from one another. Jenny’s mood brightened. She made the staff adore her as well as the sad-sack residents, who she would wheel by and devastate with her quick wit. Off of alcohol for nearly three months her mind was quick, and although she never really regained use of her legs, she appeared more hopeful. Meanwhile, Dale sunk deeper into a swamp of death. Most days he was unable to feed himself, but when Jenny wheeled in he would flash a crooked smile and his cloudy eyes would  flicker with a spark of recognition.

Dale passed away, silently and alone, in September, without even with Jenny by his side. She was unable to get to his bedside—yet another cumbersome aspect of abject poverty. I had phoned her the weekend before he passed, when he was in hospice. Jenny said, “I saw him yesterday. He didn’t know nothin’, he has no fuckin’ idea where he is. I don’t know if I can go back, it breaks my heart.” She spoke under the slurred words of pain, paralyzed by alcoholism. I offered to take her to see him the coming week, but she demurred. “We’ll see, I can’t take another death. What the fuck will I do?”

“Survive, Jenny. That’s what you’ll do. You’ll be fine.”

A deep breath, followed by an exhale, “I know that’s what ole Jenny does. At least I got a lot of Depends if I need them.”

There was no service for Dale. His family, from whom he had been estranged since he went to prison in the early 1990s, did not want to have a service, let alone drive from West Virginia to see his body interned in an indigent’s grave. Jenny had no money so there was no obituary. His death was only spoken of—a few whispered words from social workers to psychiatrists and, finally, to other caring professionals. He had no friends. And when he left the world as we know it, a sigh may have escaped his parched lips or a spike of fear may have been in those cloudy eyes, but in the end he was alone.

At the other end of town, a small gathering converged in huddled grief as a mother, wife, daughter, and friend lay before them, encased in a $9,000 box to be covered in dirt. For five days, relatives, co-workers, and friends cried and laughed, desperately trying to unfold time from something that was unbelievable into something believable. In the contours of pain, the loss of those we hold deep, the ones we tell our biggest fears and our tallest dreams, seem to fall away—a reminder that we all stop, that reality is unreal. I put on my dark shirt, slid a razor over the white whiskers growing under my chin, mussed my hair as I have done for the past twenty-five years and drove to see one of my oldest friends, Mark, in all the dark glory of grieving. His mother had changed as I had grown older. I hadn’t seen her in over thirty years, her body smaller as I stood taller. I hugged her as a full grown, middle-aged man and  she recognized me immediately, the goofy unsure grin that I had as a fifth grader unchanged by fifteen thousand experiences. His father, who recently turned eighty, looked spry, with the body of someone years younger. Finally I hugged his two brothers. The older one, still fit after all these years, looked like a track coach, his body aging as a fine athlete’s is supposed to. His other brother  gave me a hug and asked me to help look after his baby brother, now a widower with two young sons.

Some are supposed to die young, with the itching of immortality pinning us against the well of our breath fueling the gallop to the end of their lives. Some live each moment as if it were a child’s game. Tag and you’re dead. The world spills into another moment and the past plays a fruitless game of catch up while memories get trampled underfoot. Jerry died on a bike, a fact that my children ask about almost daily when we speed past the spot where his body, in the end, was no match for a hurtling mass of metal and glass just a block from our house. Others have also died young, where the wish to seduce death was done with an easy grace that only the flamboyant can pull off. Chris Wilson, Richie Violet, Jim Shepard, Dale Chandler, Ted from Torque, and others whose addictions kept the fear of abandonment away but in the end chewed them up like a paper in the gears of an engine. Bone, blood, and snot laying on the pavement, some die more gracefully than others. But in the end, thoughts of them keep ricocheting in my skull.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 30: Funerals and Winter

April 18, 2010

Funerals and Winter

Winters in Ohio are made of the emotional dregs of depression, the ashen polluted air of decrepit steel mills and coal mines and a landscape populated with battered hopes and forlorn thoughts. These somehow congeal together to make a gray morass of dingy desperate grey that rises with the fallen hopes of fall football fans stretching from Cincinnati (the Bungles), through Columbus (the Luckeyes) and settling into Cleveland (the Mistake on the Lake. This gray wraps around the skyline from November, just in time for most of the football Gods to have squelched any hope for a January championship, into the late blasting winds of March. It is unrelenting and oppressive, with an ability to cause statewide cursing on a daily basis by almost broken saddened masses who wrap themselves as snuggly as they can in winter coats, multi-colored scarves and wet boots that get their monies worth in the ever ending slush of winter.

There is a certain physical hardness that comes from living in Ohio, where brutal winter after brutal winter can shape a face into a soft enamel of skin. This is more from the neurotic impact of the never-ending gray than the wind and snow. Ohio lacks any semblance of a mountains and the haphazardness of the weather disallows such outdoor winter fare as pond skating, skiing or hockey so we naturally hold things in, wearing brave faces, drink beer and hone a cynicism that only a veteran bar-fly would appreciate. For many Ohioans, they go underground, hibernating in basement dens with large televisions, pizza and sports television thus resulting in bodies transfigured by lack of exercise and shitty food, bloated and immense as the depression that festers inside the girth. For others of us, we pined for escape through art, music, treadmills and alcohol we found our relief in stumbling through the slop of icy mud while we looked for our cars that we only parked a few hours earlier. I am not certain if there are any studies on the rise of alcohol sales and the use of anti-depressants in the winter months but I am quite certain that in Ohio these tend to skyrocket.

Jerry passed away in January, it was fitting that his death arrived amid snow drifts and the general crappiness of Ohio weather. Where the general mood is “what the fuck else can go wrong”, where many people tend to take the weather personally as another gray filled day is an act from God, exacting one more piece of a bruised soul. Anyway, this was how I felt when Jerry died, I had suffered from depression for many years and the old ways of dealing with it were drying up as much as I was trying to keep them wet. The music scene was changing for me, and much of my hopes in bands and artists were being vanquished by the personal choices the musicians were making. Jenny was living in Florida, having given up her music career as she stood on the brink of minor-celebrity in the indie-rock world, Moviola had shrunk from the favors of major-label overtures in favor of children and home buying, Appalachian Death Ride had basically ceased to exist as members battled their own demons, only the New Bomb Turks were still making music. Jerry was dead and I felt my life was now being defined by lose.

The world was getting suffocating, the choices fewer and while not yet thirty-three I couldn’t see myself at forty yet alone at thirty-five. Instead of being an active participant, as I once was I struggled to find a place within my shifting existence. I was certainly becoming someone whom I swore I would never become, a cynical bitter shadow who ducked from participation to search for meager pockets of laughter and sex brought by the ingestion of alcohol. Even these once fantastical pursuits were shriveling up and unsatisfying. Jim Shepard had hung himself, his life defined by his rejected death, swinging by a belt fastened to a doorway whose sole purpose was to hold the weight of the walls above the passerby’s was now betrayed by the ultimate act of sadness. For myself, the suicide of Jim was an event that reached deep with my own psyche bringing a long thought act into fruition, it was as destabilizing an event as any as I had ever encountered. Until the death of Jerry.

Jerry’s funeral was planned by his family, who were sweeter than I would have thought, as for many years Jerry shied away from his upbringing as so many of us were prone to do. Our insular world was filled with familial outcasts who not only scattered far from our physical upbringing but tended to push the memories of broken childhoods away to be replaced by the swagger and commotion of searing guitars, cigarettes and laughter. These latter three ingredients were the saviors we always searched for, and for me they were being replaced by urns and pine boxes. Jerry was buried in Parma, Ohio and large working class suburb of Cleveland, filled with tiny shoe-box houses constructed after the Second World War to house the returning G.I.’s and their lustful spouses. I met his father, mother and younger brother, trying in vain to let them know the joy their son had brought to our confined world. How Jerry’s music had touched people overseas and most importantly been able to grant those who knew and love him a starting point for merriment and copious amounts of late night cackling. I don’t know if I ever came close to succeeding. Jerry, flinched with the sound of religion especially fundamentalist Christianity, he would badger me for my weekly attendance to mass and try in vain to poke holes in my belief in Catholicism. His funeral was rigid, with a large gathering of his friends from Columbus, Cleveland and Chicago crowded into the hard wooden pews that were symbiotic of the service. The pastor didn’t try to capture Jerry’s audacious sense of humor and was much more focused on the afterlife, with little semblance of hope for those gathered around his coffin that we could emerge from foolish lifestyles.

I had driven up with Brett Lewis and our friend Jim, my girlfriend was going to meet us up there for the funeral. They picked me up at my house, I brought along a bottle of vodka I had started to become friendly with and a twelve pack of beer. We landed in at the motel and caught up with Bettina Richards and Elliot Dix, a Columbus native who had become a fixture in the Chicago music scene. We went out to the small neighbor dive bars that Jerry no doubt would have inhabited if he chose to stay in Parma and laughed as we told ridiculous Jerry story after ridiculous story. When I walked into the funeral home the next day and saw Jerry laying in the casket I quickly turned heel and found a dive-bar just a muddle away from the funeral home. I had two doubles of Maker’s Mark and returned, emboldened by the alcohol I could now face my friend. I knew at that moment I had a very serious issue with alcohol.

Cleveland was gray with a callous skyline that heaved masses of smoke into the air, as if the smoke stacks that pocketed the area were upturned water faucets, gushing grayer into an already overflowing bathtub of sky. We huddled around his grave as tears fell to the ground and the shattered expressions blossomed around the cemetery, I felt guilty as I did not answer his father’s call for pall bearers. I wanted to hide somewhere but stood there with my back against a tree, muttering to our friends about the Jerry’s foolishness. Jerry’s parents made a beautiful gravestone for him, complete with a guitar carved into the granite surface. For them, the loss must have been greater as they never had the opportunity to know the sheer pleasure of their adult boy, only unanswered questions. I was too chickenshit to help them clean his house out, I begged off every opportunity I could as they made the trip from Cleveland; they were left alone to piece together his life over the past twelve years. Later, his father contacted me, asking for video of his son. I still haven’t gathered these together.

I quit drinking roughly over a year later; I had a very difficult year after Jerry died. A year filled with trepidation, loss, and eventually new awakenings. As, I traversed early sobriety, Jerry would flash across my mind and leave tiny bits of encouragement as I fought feelings of escape and angst. I was one of the only persons I had known to give up the drink at that time, a singular figure in my life held up by the unsettling events of my near past and the promise of strangers I had no idea existed. When my daughter was born nearly four years later, I would cradle her in my arms and think of Jerry. How much he loved kids, he loved to be silly and how much he would have loved my darling little daughter.  For once, I think Jerry would have been brave enough to tell me he was proud of me. For a moment even the gray of an Ohio winter, cast rays of light throughout my life.

photo by Jay Bown

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 29: Ohio

April 3, 2010


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.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part nine w/ photos

September 3, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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