Posts Tagged ‘ron house’

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae Pt whatevah. Depression.

April 6, 2016

"JERRY WICK AND JIM WEBER" PHOTO JAY BROWN

Small, poorly lite buildings dotted the neighborhoods around campus and the Short North, places that served as extra homes where the lonesome and social anxious moored themselves to thick cut planks of polished wood, brown bottles and tall stools where one had to be careful if he sat on it too long, getting sloppy, wavering legs stuck in the small metal rings at the base of each stool. On the walls of some were posters of former gridiron dreams, moments of spectacular (for the winners, that is) athletic feats seized by the camera and now bronzed for ever more on the walls of these establishments. Reminders about the smoky din that, yes, there was winners along High Street at one time, for many of the inhabitants of these spots we went not be a winner or a loser, although most of us related to the semi-ironic motto of Sub-Pop records “Loser”, but because we wanted to be felt and to feel even if it was just the cold touch of a beer bottle or that small moment as the hushed regulars all erupted in unison to Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” I had my favorites, all on the convenient way home but more likely I chose my resting place to be near to my other homes, as I was wary of drunk driving and enjoyed the stumbly-walks or even, on occasion crawls home with jeans burnished from the tumbles and falls, hands bloodied by gravel and specs of green, brown and white glass scattered among the alleyways of North Campus.

Court Street was a smorgasbord of bars, from townie bars like the Crystal to the one-night-stand fanfare of the Nickelodeon, I had my first Chili-Dog at the Union Bar and Grill at the age of 11. At the time it was mostly a biker/hippie bar, this was 1979 or so, around the time that punk and new-wave were splitting the halcyon days of weed soaked turntables that had been spinning over-produced dreck like Yes, ELP and REO Speedwagon, into the speedy-blasts of two minutes of guitar and the savvy technical dance music of the Ramones, Talking Heads as well as the pronged attack of English bands such as Wire and David Bowie’s Berlin records. Colleges across the country were undergoing mini-revolutions in cramped dorm rooms and in the various nightclubs that co-eds bounced off one another in, in just ten years the Union would become a mainstay for traveling punk and indie artists traipsing through tiny college towns.

The drinking age in 1982 was 18, and shortly thereafter it changed to 19 where is stayed until the summer of 1986 when it was elevated to 21. I was fifteen, in Athens for Spring Break, where my best Athens friends, Eric Zudak and Rick Winland and I got a cabin at Lake Hope. The first day we managed to drink through the weeks’ worth of alcohol, several cases of beer and a bottle of Jack Daniels. It was a revelation for me, as I managed to go to bed with a girl who was year older, performing fellatio on me while a TDK cassette looped Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Smash Hits.” Outside, wind forced trees to bend in yoga poses, rain smacked against the wooden walls and thin windows, and in the other room a frantic game of quarters was being played, “..there’s a Starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us…..” Clumsy hands mimicked a slug trying to drive and the world unpeeled itself note-by-Bowie-note as the room turned itself inside out in those foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Later in the week we drove into Athens not only were we out of beer it became apparent that there were not too many teenage girls wandering the banks of Lake Hope during the early spring of 1984. There were two bars that were easy to get into, the Greenery which sat on the far end of Court Street, just small downhill walk from the rest of uptown, it had a wooden balcony the drooped over the side walk, a minor miracle every weekend that the balcony didn’t collapse into the pavement from one too many lusting, drunken co-eds. At the other end of town on Union Street, a few store fronts from the Union Bar was the Nickelodeon, otherwise known as The Nick. Its motto should have been “getting high school kids drunk for the past fifteen years” and sitting down near the door, Rick came back with a handful of beers. My face was a smooth as the bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon Rick handed me, I asked if I needed to go show the ID I didn’t have, “no, shut up. Don’t make them notice you.” Rick was already 18, getting ready to graduate and had purchased all the beers. The room was relatively empty, the smell of bleach and beer still permeated from the floors, shiny with the fresh glow of mopping, and on the walls were beer lights and a giant disco ball twirled tiredly in the middle of the empty dance floor. A Thursday night during spring break in a small college town meant the bar scene was propped up by townies. Drinking a few beers at the Nickelodeon planted a seed of confidence, one that sprouted the idea that with a few drinks, anything socially was possible. By the end of the evening, inside the more crowded Greenery, we found ourselves contorting our bodies to the sounds of Blondie and Adam Ant as bodies stretched and silently begged for the kind of attention none of them had ever encountered.

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Living with depression is akin to licking a flame, engulfing the senses it is as if the moroseness of breathing has slowly strangled every other part of the person other than the breath. While the lungs keep working the rest of the body and mind chokes on concrete blocks of sadness and apathy, in the end, for many the chunks of sadness overpower everything else. Jerry came by the store, shortly after Gaunt got dropped from Warner Brothers, he was still living above Larry’s getting ready to move into his new house. His mood vacillating from being optimistic about renewing his relationship with his father to utter despair at being dropped from Warner Brothers; his lifelong hope of being famous, in his eyes being shuttered during the Great Purge by major labels in the latter part of the 1990’s, it was obvious by the broken dreams of many musicians across the country that the “modern-rock” era of major labels was a ferocious bust. In Columbus, the finest bands of the 90’s had been guinea pigs in this experiment, Scrawl, The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, V-3, Watershed and of course, Gaunt had all been signed, and spit out after failing to make a dent in record sales. For some, like Ron House and the women of Scrawl, they had been through the experience of being on small independent labels and were used to little support as well as minimal paychecks. Jerry had wanted to be famous and on his own terms, for a kid growing up in Parma, Ohio, listening to Kiss records over and over before discovering the sheer beauty of the DIY scene through the near-by sounds of Death of Samantha, The Mice and Prisonshake the idea of affirmation and financial stability was made more real with the affirmation by being on a major label. It was analogous to having the blessing of a father who was never there, a nice idea maybe but totally unfounded by experience. Certainly the community at large felt that being on a larger label validated the music, the one independent “modern-rock” radio station, CD101 only played Gaunt, and the New Bomb Turks when they were on larger labels, ignoring their combustible earlier indie records and the station never played many of the other superb true independent bands such as Jenny Mae, Moviola or Greenhorn. One afternoon in 1998 I ventured into Discount Records, a store I used to run and sold a large amount of classical records. I went in to purchase the newest Spin which had a review of a new Jenny Mae single, they also sold Paper magazine and she was also in that edition. As I paid, the young man behind the counter, himself in a band, his attire was the “set-piece” of the current bands vying to be radio playlists. A soul-patch, a ring of bracelets, a chain of necklaces dangling from his neck and a primitive tattoo crisscrossing his well-manicured arms. “Wow, somehow you get your bands in all these magazines, you must have some secret cause we can’t even get the local paper to write about us.” Feeling peevish, I mumbled, “I don’t know, I just send them stuff. The bands work hard, and are good, so….” “They can’t work harder than my band does. I listened to her record, I don’t know what the big deal is.” “Thanks, have a great day” I mumbled as I walked out. This was the context of Jerry coming to me that one spring day in 1999, on one hand he was very successful and on the other there was a need for validation from his parents, and the community at large for his music and more so for himself. Many had this need.

Wearing a white polka-dotted, short sleeve buttoned up shirt with a collar stretching from Columbus to Bloomington, black jeans and Chuck Taylors, Jerry walked in the store, went to the dollar bin and flipped through the records, pausing he eyed me while he lit a cigarette. The spring sunshine danced through the cast-iron barred windows, making the job of eyeing vinyl more difficult as the sheen from the rays made every blemish on the wax more pronounced. A stack of crappy seventies and eighties rock records sat next to me, I was almost blindly putting the waxy stickers in the right corner of each record jacket and making them a dollar. “Hold on Jerry, let me get this stack out and we can go for a walk. You want a beer or something?” He shook his head, waving the offer away with some slight disgust from his eyebrows. It was mid-afternoon, I was in the midst of some poorly executed self-control with my own alcohol consumption. A large black coffee from Buckeye Donuts sat next to me. Bim was manning the turntable, at the time he was infatuated with the Cheater Slicks, “Forgive Thee” and the entire Unsane catalog the latter which could empty the store faster than a fire at a movie house. “I got this, go see your man”, Bim lit a cigarette. “cool, thanks. Let’s go Jerry.” Nodding at Bim on the way out as a way of appreciation, Jerry and I headed up the stairs onto the hot sidewalk that was drowning in sunlight, “what’s up man?” We headed south down High Street towards Bernie’s, “I don’t know man, I’m just kinda going crazy. I sleep half the day, I’m trying to stay out of Larry’s because when I go there, I just drink all night, I’m thinking of buying a house. Honestly, I need to get a fucking job. I wish I could have my job back at Used Kids.” I had mentioned this to Dan and Ron, Dan was against it as Jerry had become undependable as Gaunt had heavier commitments due to the signing to Warner Brothers as well as Jerry not having a phone for many years. He tended to use the store phone to do all his business, at times setting up recording time, European and National tours via the Used Kids phone. To focused on what he needed to do than realize our credit card machine went through said phone line, “O.k., Jerry get off the phone we have a credit card” Ron would say. Jerry tossing an incredulous look at Ron, “I’m fucking talking to our booking agent in France, hold on” He would turn his back, “sorry about that” Ron spoke to a bewildered customer. Thirty second pause……… “O.k., Jerry get off the phone we have a credit card” Ron repeated. Jerry huddled in the with his back to us, he turned down the volume of the stereo. “Jesus Christ Jerry, you aren’t even working today, get off the phone we need to do this credit card!” I yelled. Jerry hung up, glaring at both of us, “Well if our European tour falls through it’s your fucking fault!” Marching up the stairs, we could see Jerry lighting one of his ever present cigarettes. “I don’t think you’ll get your job back. Let’s go to Brennen’s and get a coffee, I don’t want a drink yet, besides it’s too nice to be in Bernie’s.”

Brennen’s was on the corner of 15th and High, a well-spring of memories for thousands of Ohio State graduates, a spot marked by history from the giant Long’s Bookstore sign that hung over High Street like a beacon for the best and brightest of Ohio, to the grand entrance to the Oval just a half block away, it was a spot where Governor Rhoades called the National Guard against protesting students, who teargassed them to hell and back, at one time Jeffrey Dahmer probably tripped over the curb in a drunken haze, with one death behind him and many more to come and marker of future dreams that spread from Ohio State into the world. Brennen’s had a curious spot in my heart, walking in, I glanced around. The small table to the left upon entering bore into me as if it were a six-inch nail and I was a rotting board. A few years prior, I had been seeing a lovely young woman on the side, and one day over coffee she looked at me and said, “we can’t do this. Sorry, I think you are terrific but this isn’t right. Good luck.” And with that she left, leaving another pin-prick in a chest full of holes. She had already shaken Columbus out of her life when Jerry and I walked in, went to the counter and ordered two black coffees.

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Some people never learn to talk about their insides, all the while the insides bleed into the outside, via behavior, fashion and the interesting manners of interacting. Alcohol helped, it split the unease in half, buffing off inner anxiety into something round around the edges, a small filter from the rest of the world. Sensitive hounded Jerry, who could recoil at the smallest slight and push back with switchblade of words that could slice a hole into the nearest victim. Depression works in odd ways, and when married to mood swings, no matter how severe the upswing or downswing can make for haphazard interactions leaving all parties bewildered. Humor helps, defusing the inner tension as well as allowing someone to see a more human side of the inner battle of self-depreciating thoughts that move through the brain, a slow lava of despair that clogs all perception. Jerry, was at the least, hysterical as is Jenny.

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We crossed High Street, a bevy of cars with competing radios blasted the music of spring around us, competing heavy bass flavored songs, mimicking the thrust of passion bullied out the lesser sounds of top 40 hits as we caressed coffee cups trying not to spill them as we dodged the metal love-making machines. Finding a bench that provided a panoramic view of the Midwest’s largest campus in full seasonal bloom, young women with shorts hugging tight to polished thighs, skateboarders weaving through couples holding hands, a bountiful mix of frat-boy-baseball-hat-on-backwards crowding the sidewalks with broad shoulders that belied their already entitled attitudes. We were oblivious, focused on tying to connect with our splintered emotional systems, transformed and frayed from lonely childhoods, drinking and an inherent feeling unease around others. Jerry furrowed his brow, his pointy incisors sucked against his lips, and his hands shook. Small trembles that I was very familiar with after my own bouts of heavy drinking, at first when I encounter these tremors, I laughed it off as I joked I was turning into so many of the people I admired, the first tremors appeared in my early twenties after laborious successive nights of drinking. They came and went, infrequent as if they were your favorite song being played on the radio. Jerry spilled his coffee, is splattered onto his grimy jeans. He still never did his laundry. He rubbed the coffee into the black crusty cloth, maybe a Genie would appear and lift the black curtain of depression from him. “Jesus, look at me. I can’t quit shaking, every fucking morning.” His eyes gazed across the street, to Buckeye Donuts and farther afield, “I don’t know what is happening to me. I can’t leave my apartment, I think I want to be a cook, maybe go to culinary school.” Isolation already a problem had gripped him hard, his muse Anna had moved away, he was quiet about the loves of his life, maybe if they were made public he would be discovered. Jerry constantly chided me for falling in love as easy as a leaf falling from a tree, “love is for suckers” he would giggle at me, taking long pulls from his cigarette.

“I don’t know Jerry, you know I have my own history of depression and I’m not drinking as much as I used to.” Jerry had pulled me from the ledge of suicide some year’s prior, my shifting emotional state teetering with every moment. “Have you thought about not drinking?” “All the time, but I don’t really know how to stop, my band is done, I lost my job at the store. Ron had a kid, he never goes out, you never go out. Brett fucked my girlfriend. I don’t even want to play my guitar.” He wiped his pant leg again, a soft breeze filtered in, bringing goose bumps to my forearms, I watched the hair raise and felt Jerry’s depression. I could relate.

We were as sensitive as water, reacting to every outside stimulus as if we were made of liquid, a gaze sent us to heavenly heights of love or to the utter rejection of the cheese-stands-alone. We both loved based on the idea of romance, which was genetically implanted in both of us, whether it was Russian literature or the transporting sounds of a crackling record. There was no division between lust and love, a tangled yarn of emotions that dictated evenings, words and dreams. The list of lovers unrolled through my mind on a daily basis, four Jennifers, Sharon, Nora, Robin, Dawn, Sara, a couple of Beths, and the list went on and yet the feeling of total acceptance was something I never felt, a small piece kept behind somewhere in the bottom of my brain, hidden next to frayed Spider-Man comic books, Lincoln Logs, and the baby sitter who took my clothes off. In thoughts and words, I would sculpt my lover’s bodies with words, trying in vain to tack what I felt through the sluggish sounds of a clunky typewriter and cups of black coffee followed by the watery Maker’s Mark that was sipped ever so carefully.

“What about college, have you thought about that?” Jerry shook his head, “nah, I went to Kent for a while, it’s not for me, a bunch of phonies.” Somebody was carrying a large stack of records down the stairs into the record store, “I gotta go Jerry, Bim is there by himself. I’ll hang out later if you want, I just need to let Merijn know that I’m going out.” “Thanks, buddy, I think I’ll go look for a job.” There were no hugs, no handshakes, just a few sparse words between us, but we understood. Shortly thereafter, Jerry got a job as a line-cook at a Short North diner, he excelled at it his food was tasty and spicy, he bought a house with the help of his parents just across the highway from Clintonville.

Hearts are sometimes made of Paper-Mache, tender yet with a ruffled shell, they are set above us on thin strings, emotional wind chimes that are tethered to memories, ideas and for some of us minds that are as jumpy as a cowering mouse. In the end, the one thing that has never failed is music. It’s as if there really is a strum of all existence that ticks from the bottom of a perfect melody, it mirrors our insides, speaking for words that don’t exist for the way we feel. For me, still, it is the one anti-depressant that still works, and it is the secret code that many of us use. In the end we have the sounds that keep us grounded, furtive bits of sound that we trade and experience together that pull some of us together if just for a two and half minutes of understanding. Then the song ends and we wait in awkwardness for the next song to begin. When the music doesn’t work anymore I don’t know what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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: Christmas 1991

December 24, 2014

Christmas Trees. 1989.

The bedroom was positioned over the backyard, supported by long planks of peeling wood with widows on all four walls. It was freezing in the winter and because it hung close in the tree branches, remained relatively cool in the summer. The room itself defied all building codes as it was obviously a balcony during its glory days and then one afternoon a greedy but innovative landlord secured walls and, adding windows, carpet and several coats of paint then-presto an instant extra bedroom. The landlord didn’t even bother to run electrical in the new bedroom, as we opened up the original window and fed an orange extension cord through the window and kept a small end table on the other side of the window that housed an aqua-green rotary phone that was rescued from my grandfather’s office. We picked through his belongings, as if we were excavating an anthropological site, carting off the phone, pictures, and for me a wide array of men’s nightgowns (just like Scrooge) shortly after he was shuttled to his final bedroom, the Whetstone Garden and Care Center which sounded more like a nursery than a center that sucked the shit and urine out of bedridden patients wobbling on their last breaths. Over the door hung a large poster of Morrissey, left over from previous tenants, it was a black and white photo of the singer’s face, he was looking forlornly over his shoulders and the photo itself could have been torn from the pages of Life magazine circa 1957 not from the bleached big hair, and torn jeans of the late 80’s. One night, in a burst of anger over infidelities, I smashed my drunken arms through the poster, withdrawing my left arm from the tattered poster and hunk of glass submerged deep into the back of my forearm, a cascade of blood pooling across the floor. Looking up, “well, that was stupid, Jenny get the car I gotta go to the hospital.” All scars have stories.

The July moon poked through the dark leaves, a soft wind blew through the open windows and a jazz record was playing, most likely Billie Holiday or Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as these were the favorites Jenny would play during the summer. The green phone rattled, “hello, oh hi grandma,” Jenny spoke into the receiver. “Now?” a pause and then, “But it’s July….no that sounds cool, we’ll be right over.” Tipping a can of Schaffer’s to my mouth, wiping my lip with my left hand, “what does grandma need?” Jenny was pulling on a yellow summer house dress that she seemed to wear daily, “oh, she wants us to come over and put up her Christmas tree.” At that time in our lives, nothing seemed out of sorts or to wild, “ok.”

Upon arrival my grandmother, with two canes and translucent blue eyes opened the door, “come in children, please. I am so happy to see you Geen-if-fer, Bela now go fix some drrrrinkss” her smiled widened, showing her perfect white teeth, her Hungarian accent was thick and she always had a knack of insulting me with every interaction. As I made my way to the kitchen feeling the comfort of her air conditioning as the summer heat in Ohio is as solid and sticky as tar-paper, I opened the refrigerator door. “Bela, you must wash your hands first, I know what you men do with your hands and its dis-gusting!” I hadn’t been in her house for three minutes and she was already making allusions to my propensity of masturbating.

Grandmother ordered a pizza from Pizzeria Uno, a large with everything and we had a few drinks and I went to pick it up, upon arriving back to her house both my grandmother and Jenny had made their way to the living room. There were several boxes of Christmas ornaments and upon entering the house and putting the pizza down I was instructed to go down to the basement and fetch the artificial Christmas tree. “Bela, it is under the stairs in de bazement, be careful, you are such a clumsy man and Pablo bought me that treeee, so be verrry careful. Don’t touch anything else vile you are down der.” A streak of paranoia has run through my family, the old woman was petrified that people were going through her belongings, taking note pads, pencils or even worse jewelry. She was a hoarder, with stacks of papers, egg cartons, small cut out pictures of animals, flowers and cartoon characters slipped between bills and letters, she coveted things as if she was in perpetual starvation for things. Anything. Her basement was stacked high with boxes, plastic laundry baskets bursting at the edges with more paper, photos and empty canisters of peanut jars, puffed cheese balls and fabric, unopened packages of sheets, tee-shirts and other clothing. To find anything was a chore and after three minutes the old woman would holler, “Bela, vat are you doing down der?!! Hurry up!” She was always thinking that I may be hiding things away for myself, while she never accused me of taking anything the thought that something may disappear was always present. It was not uncommon for her to call me after a maintenance man came to her house and have her think he took something from her, whether it be a bag of potato chips or a small elephant figurine. This paranoia was passed onto my father, whose bout with mental illness has left a chasm as wide as the expanding universe between himself and his children.

In the basement, there was luck to be found as the artificial tree was sitting right underneath the stairs, there was nothing else placed on top of it. My grandmother had a very difficult time going down the stairs at this point in her life, and while her memory was sharp, she could recall the precise location of her father’s cookbooks in the basement she would get anxious when she couldn’t see where a person was. Pablo had bought the tree in the year before, a thrifty man he would peruse catalogs and discount stores for the best deals and then purchase things in bulk. He had bought four of these trees the previous spring, two for him, one for my grandmother and another for a friend in Miami. We set the tree up, pushing her warped dining room table, that she bought at a fraction of the cost at Lazarus because well, you know, it was warped.

With boxes upon boxes of Christmas ornaments, many of them carried within the confines of a bruised and dented leather crate that help everything my grandparents owned. Traveling by foot, truck and train from Budapest, to Lake Balaton, into the mountains of Austria, then lugged onto a freighter chugging across the Atlantic to Caracas. Later, they would be packed again in boxes, carefully wrapped and folded into pink and white tissue paper, to be transported by bus, train and finally the trunk of my father’s car from Caracas to Columbus. These were the precious ones, the ones my grandmother would hold in her hand as if they were made of baby skin, softly eyeing them, her wide blue eyes sparkling as the candles and lights of the room shifted and shimmied off the golds, reds and silver of the ancient ornaments. She would hold them up to the light and smile to herself, they were treasures for her and as I eyed her removing them from these dimpled boxes, I understood why she wanted her Christmas tree hung up in July. The putting up of the tree took several weeks, all of the decorating done on a Thursday night after I got off of work, she would buy the pizza, I would wash my hands, make the rum and cokes and we would commence to decorating. Grandmother would sit in her plush E-Z-Boy recliner and bark out orders to me on where to place specific ornaments, she had what appeared to be thousands. Almost all of them laced and tied with green or brown thread that she had tied, so they all hung at the same length. Some branches would be holding up to ten ornaments, all stacked in a row: a drummer boy, a plastic cat, a snowman, a wooden cross, a plastic candy-cane, a fabric Santa, a miniature race car, a tiny hippopotamus and a toy soldier. These Christmas trinkets were ready for battle. In her perch, the old woman was in total control, and Jenny sat next to her talking about plants, food and gossiping all the while pointing her finger at a branch of the tree and having me hang one of these billions of tiny plastic ornaments, which, let’s face for the most part WERE NOT ornaments but tied junk that she called an ornament in certain places and when I failed to do so her dis-satisfaction would hurdle down upon me. “Beeeelaa, how can you be soo stooopid?! Look, my finger, put that little green Santa on dat branch, NOOO!!!! Not dat one, DAT one!!” Her chubby finger wagging in the air and turning to Jenny, “Genn-i-fer, how could you love such a stoopid man? Ok, yes that is ver you put it, very good Bela. You know in Hungary, we celebrated Christmas in the right way, it was none of the dumb tings you have here.”

Flashing back, I remembered sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, we were playing Monopoly. Well, my sister, my brother and my grandmother were, little Bela was too young, placing all the hotels in a row on the table, driving the silver car to each of them, “brrurrriggrrrrrr, brrrecggghh, hey we are here for Christmas” my little voice would go to each hotel. “Stop it Bela! God, you are annoying!”my sister would stammer, “Mom, Bela doesn’t know how to play and he thinks he does!” On the television, a Sonny and Cher Christmas was flickering in black and white, the red bird feeder outside the kitchen window glowed with an several inches of snow piled high and the backyard was windswept with snow, tiny lines carved by the wind mimicked the waves of the sea. Above her red shed almost collapsing from the mountain of snow, a lone lamp bathed the backyard in yellow light that could have been a beacon from heaven showering this Christmas Eve night for the birth of the baby Jesus. “I do too know how to play” I would whisper, puttering the car all over the table. There was eggnog, pastries, the smell of chicken paprikash, duck and onions filling the air and a curtain separated the kitchen from the living room, where the adults along with the help of the boy Jesus and a host of angels would be decorating the tree.

On the other side of the curtain, the booming sounds of Spanish, Hungarian and English split through the curtain like miniature bombs, popping into our ears and we heard the laughter that followed. Latin music was blaring and my uncles would periodically shuffle in, yelling over their shoulder, eyes laughing, cheeks red and bobbing their head to the sounds of Angel Cusodio Loyola and Oscar D’Leon whose clopping and shifting beats and melodies would make even the most stubborn hips sway to the pitter-patter of the percussion. “When is Jesus coming?” I would ask, “oh, soon, the angels are already here but children can’t look or they will leave and Jesus won’t come” Uncle Pablo would answer slyly as if the decorating of the Christmas tree was an x-rated adult burden. There were in fact many woman who helped set the tree up as both uncles were charming men who loved to have the company of pretty women by their sides. The idea that Jesus Christ would be in the next room terrified me, I wanted to see the angels but Jesus was scary, more so than Santa Claus and soon, as the anticipation of the next morning grew too great, I collapsed in my mother’s arms. She carried me through the curtain and into the guest room, where our stuffed animals were piled high on the floor and around the bed, protection from the ghosts that danced through the hallways of my grandparents house. I stole a peek over her shoulder, and saw my Aunt Bellin twirling her short white pleated skirt and caught a glimpse of her pink panties, I thought I saw an angel but dropped my head on my mother’s shoulder. The next morning, the tree appeared to be miles away as presents stacked high and far from the tree, they almost reached all four corners of the room. They did indeed come and it seemed like we opened presents for hours, and all the toys we opened had to stay at my grandmothers, we were not allowed to take any home. Which was a relief to our mother, who was certain we had no room for all the toys we were given.

My grandmother’s Christmas tree stood in her living room for nearly five years, until she finally decided to take it down as she worried she would fall into it as she got older, and after seven years she was carried out of her house by five paramedics and spent the last few years of her life in various homes. She always had a several ornaments up in her room.

 

a longer version of this story will be broadcast on Jon Solomon’s 24-hour Christmas show on WPRB: http://wprb.com/

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTjPEreVrmsIMG_5689 IMG_5688

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Part 52–The Ramones past II

February 19, 2013

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.

Part three sometime in the future.

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.

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

January 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have a copy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

no Jenny Mae on youtube:

go.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 45: Gay

November 13, 2011

Gay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny Mae & Jerry Wick part 40: The Ocean

November 29, 2010

The Ocean

The North Sea is not to be confused with the Atlantic Ocean, especially if you are Dutch. The Dutch can get a bit testy if you refer to the Noordzee as the ocean. Not only will you get stern look, but you may even get a chuckle. When I was a young child, my family spent a few years living in Springs, New York, which is located at the far tip of Long Island—just a stone’s throw from Montauk. We could cut through the forest that backed up against our yard and be at a small harbor, smelling the salty air of the Atlantic, in just a few minutes. Some weekend mornings we would drive to the lighthouse and pick from what appeared to be acres of mussels. They were so plentiful on the beach that their shells would crack and snap under our rubber boots. Gazing into the grayness of the Atlantic, I would try to see all the way to England, although my step-father would gently remind me that if I could see that far I would most likely see Spain, France, or Holland. The damned curvature of the ocean always prevented my owl-like vision from seeing the other side of the world.

Holland is below sea level, but the Dutch have used their centuries of expertise and ingenious determination to carve a complex series of dikes and canals into the ocean. Water is ever present in the minds of the Dutch. The ocean can be threatening in terms of rising water, storms, and global warming, but it also provides life and income. The Dutch made their mark in trading—Holland has been a hub of international trading since the 1300s—and they are surgical in terms of practicality and efficiency; they do not tolerate fools lightly. I met my wife Merijn at Used Kids. She was a young Dutch woman with the characteristics of most Dutch women; that is, she was staggeringly beautiful. She was tall and mysterious, with close-cropped blonde hair and a hushed voice that was a cross between Marilyn Monroe breathily singing “Happy Birthday” and IngridBergman. She was prone to blushing whenever I cracked a joked, gently pushing whatever compact disc she bought. She came into the shop roughly three days a week, always when I was there. Soon I was openly flirting with her. I was recently divorced and trying out one-night stands as if they were cups of coffee, floundering is too kind of a word. . Some of my co-workers shook their heads at me when she was in, never failing to mention that she was out of my league. In fact, she was out of everybody’s league in Columbus, Ohio. Luckily, talking to women was never an issue for me because I realized that a way to a woman’s secrets is through her laughter. It also helped that I have never known when to shut up. I made Merijn laugh every time I saw her.

One afternoon she came in with a tall curly-haired man with stark blue eyes that were reminiscent of hers. They laughed and spoke a strange hockery-guttural language. They had an intimacy that suggested that they were a couple. But when they got to the counter, she eyed me and him and then me again, as if pointing me out with her eyes. I smiled at her and she blushed like a school girl caught with a note in her hands. Within a few weeks, determination set in. Talking to my friend Candace, I mentioned, “I think I’m in love with this foreign woman.”

Candace smiled. “Is she kinda tall and blonde?”

Feeling my heart quicken, I said, “Yes, she is.”

“She likes you. I’m in class with her. She said there is this guy at the record store who is very handsome and funny and she keeps going back.”

Eyeing her, I asked, “Are you sure that’s me?”

Laughing, Candace said, “Of course.”  A few nights later, Candace pointed her out to me at a crowded Larry’s. By the next week, I had her phone number and was invited into her window of the Dutch world.

After getting through the initial trepidation of new lovers—when one explores each other’s past history of lovers, matching up against the past, measuring the ability to hold onto brand new love as if it were shiny pearl to be polished and cared for—I found out that the tall curly-haired gentleman was Merijn’s Dutch friend Edo Visser, who was also going to graduate school at Ohio State. He was a gentle man who was full of pensive yet easy laughter and an almost childlike amazement about the world. He would gently laugh at the baffling ways of Americans, who could be so quick to do the absurd, choosing illogical avenues that were so contrary to the Dutch philosophy.

Edo was student of Paul Nini’s, the leader of the band Log, whose Kiwi sounds I adored and whose members all looked as if they owned homes, made regular car payments and knew their way around a New York Times crossword puzzle.  Paul taught design at Ohio State, and Edo was blown away when I showed him Log’s CD that had come out on Anyway. In a sense, this helped Edo understand that everything in the world is local, everything is small and interconnected. Soon he was accompanying me and Merijn to shows, where he was exposed to the world of underground music.

Edo was fascinated by the life I lived, including the bands and the art I was submerged in. He was interested in the fact that, like so many of my acquaintances, I had dropped out of college but was well read. We wrote and tried in our own ways to live lives of creation and evolution.  He was taken aback by the amount of alcohol we consumed—he had never had a drink of alcohol in his life, nor did he eat meat or talk derisively about others. It was as if we were bugs in a glass jar for him, and his eyes would grow large as he ventured into our world. He came into the store at least once a week, usually spending about an hour combing through the $3 CD bin. He could only afford cheap CDs on his meager grad-student salary. He would pick music based on the artwork, hoping that would be reflected by the music inside.

He was soon a participant in our world a bystander in a world filled with music and hilarity, where every night was a chance at making a mark on world. He was a witness to the fragility and emotional ineptitude of a small swath of artists and musicians in Columbus at that time. He became friendly with our all of our friends, attending the wild parties of Jenny Mae and sometimes sitting in the corner booth of BW-3 with Ron House, Jerry Wick, and myself as five-o’clock rolled around. As we tempered the day with vases of alcohol, Edo would sip his coke and then shuffle off to his house.

One evening I decided to make Edo dinner. I was living with Ted Hattemer and our pack of dogs. Edo sat in the kitchen as I made vegetarian chili, and as I prepared to cut up the green peppers, he offered to show a secret method to slice them. I called him off, wanting to do the work myself. I was insistent. He made some flaky, stuffed hors d’oeuvres with filo dough and cheese. Later that night, he talked to Merijn as I swayed in front of a stage while Two Dollar Guitar sang about a dead friend. What is so odd about that mundane experience in the kitchen is that every time I handle a green pepper, I think of Edo. And in some way I yearn for him to show me the secret of slicing a pepper. It is the small reminders of friendship that bound into my thoughts, in the same way, every time I’m on the corner of Summit and Hudson Streets in Columbus, I think of Jerry Wick.

The Dutch are emotionally reserved. Plunging into a relationship can seem like a violation of ethical concerns to them. While this can be frustrating, upon deeper reflection it makes sense. One must keep one’s sense when living under the ocean and being dependent on the trading of goods for survival. Edo never spoke of his family with the exception of his sister, who he appeared to adore. There seemed to be an extra layer of emotional veneer about him as he said, “I don’t drink. People in my family did and that was enough for me.” But he never judged me about my own intake of alcohol, and when my voice would rise in a burst of emotional turmoil towards some dissatisfaction with Merijn, Edo would turn heel and leave.

Edo adored Jenny Mae. He was amazed that someone whose life was in such chaos could make such touching and delicate music. He was respectful, hesitant, and curious about her outspoken, ramshackle mannerisms. She could easily crack a joke about blowjobs and stinky balls and, in the next breath, play a song as heart wrenching as “Ho’ Bitch.”

One night we traveled over to Jenny’s, whose tiny green house sat directly behind two bars in the middle of a gravel parking lot. Her house was hidden from the neighborhood—as if it had been erected only for outsiders—parked in an alley with only tiny stones and broken glass for a yard.  She had decided to have a party. In her own way, every night was a party. There were times when she would invite Merijn and me over, saying she was having a party, and it would be only us and her husband. “Where’s the party Jenny?” I would ask, annoyed that we had dropped our plans for her “party.” After about ten times of this, Merijn would say, “I’m not going to any more of Jenny’s parties unless it is a real party. This is madness.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell anyone,” she would say nonchalantly, taking a pull from a wine bottle. When she did have a party, she invited her friends—usually only a handful of people she identified with, including other musician types who stood on the outskirts of the mainstream, never wanting to put a toe into the flowing river of conformity.

That night, we arrived to a half-full house. The Shannon brothers, Tom and Dave, who made up 2/3 of the Cheater Slicks, were there, along with Jerry Wick, Ted Hattemer and his future wife Julie, and some of Jenny’s band mates. Later, Ron House showed up with Mark Eitzel of American Music Club. Jenny was dressed in a thrift store evening gown with long, fake diamond pearls hanging deep into her formidable cleavage and her husband, Dave, was wearing a black suit. There was a small waterfall in her living room that she had dragged from a dumpster and her walls were adorned with black-and-white photos that she had ripped from old Life magazines and her own paintings of odd looking women with large heads and thin bodies. Edo was impressed. He turned to me and said, “Wow, she is really some artist-type person. I always got the impression she was just a drunkard.” Later, as she turned on her fog machine, smoke rolled from her basement practice space and the cocaine she snorted in the bedroom lit a fire in her belly. The drunken absurdist Jenny took over, with her new record blaring from the speakers all the while. I asked Edo that night if he would do the artwork for the record.

Edo took his design work seriously; he was smart and deliberate in his work. He was careful and respectful of Jenny’s idea for the cover of Don’t Wait up For Me. I told him that I had never liked her idea for the cover of There’s A Bar Around the Corner…Assholes. This time, I wanted something that displayed the emotion of the music. He did a fine job. I then asked him to do the artwork for a record I had been trying to assemble for nearly eight years. I Stayed up All Night Listening to Records was intended to capture songwriters in their own element, without any assistance from others. The guidelines were that the song, the instruments, and the recording had to be done by each performer solo. For the most part this ended up being true, with the exception of a few recordings that people did in a studio. I asked a lot of musicians I greatly admired. Most were from Columbus, but I also asked several who I had come into contact with and respected. I asked too many musicians, and when I got to the studio to assemble the record I had to keep several artists who had submitted stuff off the final record. Two of the most notable deletions were Tim Easton and Paul K., who contributed a live band recording.

I wanted the artwork for I Stayed up All Night Listening to Records to pay homage to the Folkways records I had grown up with as a child. This would be hard to do, as it was only going to come out on compact disc—Revolver was not going to splurge for a double LP of mostly Midwestern songwriters. I gave Edo a copy of Dust Bowl Ballads by Woody Guthrie along with Music Time with Charity Bailey and Songs to Grow On. He came back a few weeks later with beautiful cover for the record that was humble and simple, but, most importantly, that was descriptive of the mostly simple four-track recordings.

Some of us must have a gathering around us, or just a hesitant phone call away, to bind the grimness of being together with laughter and companionship to create the joy of an unfettered existence. Others choose the solitary life, for it is more emotionally economical to sit on the sidelines of life, observing as the world lurches by. Still others settle in between the two, letting music, books, and movies be their companions when the world is too tight. Gaiety has always come easy for me. My well-worn sense of humor has cost me at times, but humor goes a long way when the core of a person is unsettled. Edo traversed a lonely path, most likely by choice. At the end of graduate school we sat in my kitchen, Edo, Merijn, and I, discussing the future as we ruffled the heads of itchy dogs and drank coffee.

My wife decided to stay in America for another year, taking a gamble on a charming man with ruffled hair, a winsome smile, and blood diluted with copious amounts of alcohol and the hopes of a job. Edo planned a trip down the west coast by locomotive, just him and the rails in pursuit of an all-American sense of adventure that could only be found in the imagination of a European boy. Taking a sip out of my “Proud to be a Democrat” cup—a defiant token against the impending impeachment of the President—I asked, “Are you are going by yourself?”

Edo, sipping his herbal tea, said, “Of course.” He continued, pulling a map from his a worn leather bag, “See, I will fly to Chicago and take a train to Seattle and then travel down to San Francisco and then I will fly home, and then fly home again.” He smiled at the double life he lived, one in Columbus and one in Holland.

Surprised, impressed, and curious, I asked, “Really, you will go across America by yourself?” The idea that one would choose to be alone without so much as a reassuring touch available was beyond my grasp. In view of his choice to travel alone, I was left with the fact that I had not spent more than a few weeks of my adult life alone. I always searched for companionship, and I was fortunate (or unfortunate) to always have it available to me.

Perhaps Edo had no one to travel with. He had mentioned that he had a lady friend in Holland for a while—an older woman in her late thirties who was married—but in the States he had no romantic partner that I was aware of. I last saw Edo two years ago, at my in-laws. He traveled down from Amsterdam and took a long walk with us in the gray flatlands of Southern Holland, past Dutch cows and miniature horses who breathed mists of air as we walked by. Edo held our daughter’s hand and pointed out the animals and spoke to her in English and Dutch. His English was blunted with age, withered by the years now spent in the Netherlands. His features had hardened a bit, his brown hair retreating and flecked with gray, but his eyes sparkled with playfulness as he charmed our three-year-old daughter. He had a gift for me, a wonderful book by Hazrat Inayat Khan, titled The Art of Being and Becoming, written in the early 20th Century, it’s Sufi philosophy jibbed well with my ever growing interest in Buddhist literature.

In a sense, he was more isolated than he was some eight years prior, living alone, as if his years in the Midwest had transformed him into a man without a land to call home. His exposure to American ways of life had transformed him, mutating his sense of society. He experienced how rigid the Dutch could be, as contrasted with Americans, but realized that there was a fine line between knowing too much and not enough. Edo went home a visitor and stayed that way.

Last year Edo moved to a small island just off the coast of the Netherlands. He was working as a designer for a boating magazine, seeking solace in the sea as waves of turmoil crashed in his head. Early in the year, I had to travel to Holland as part of a research class and contacted Edo. We made arrangements to meet up in Amsterdam, but upon my arrival he never responded to my emails. By June, his email account was closed. Sometime in August, Edo cleaned up his small apartment, making sure that his belongings were in place, and headed towards the seashore. Thinking of his family, his recently lost job, and the sensitivity that comes from being too vulnerable in one’s own skin, he walked into the ocean. What does a person think as the water swallows him whole? Did Edo fight the current or let him take him away? His sister emailed my wife earlier this month to tell us that his body had washed ashore in September.

Jenny Mae & Jerry Wick part 39: Matador at 21

October 16, 2010

Matador at 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 29: Ohio

April 3, 2010

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.