Posts Tagged ‘Thinking Fellers Union Local 282’

Death and Almost Death

August 3, 2017

unedited because it just seems like a lot of work at this moment.

Death and Almost Death.

 

 

Ohio State University Hospital East, is an odd building for a hospital, it is 12 stories tall, with a round tower as the centerpiece, it has several buildings that have been attached to it over the years. Inside it is difficult to traverse, with connecting hallways between buildings, various mis-named floors and at the building furthest from the tower is Talbot Hall which is one of the busier detox units in Central Ohio. At one point, some years ago I would do a volunteer group amongst all the struggling addicts and alcoholics, and after that I did an internship there. OSU East is smack in the middle of the Near East Side, a high crime, extreme poverty and highly forgotten about area of Columbus. It’s an area, until recently, largely forgotten about by city planners, business outside the realm of convenient and check cashing stores. During the eighties and nineties, crack cocaine moved in like a cancer, decimating block after block, transferring many of the young African-American males from one corner or project into the various prisons that rose like wildflowers throughout rural Ohio. OSU East and Grant hospital just blocks away in the middle of downtown, are flashpoints for trauma and death in the city.

I walked the circular hallway, winding around, counting the numbers until I found hers, “Penn” was written in black sharpie on the small sign outside her door. Jenny’s mother came up and hugged me, I looked down at Jenny who was folded up in her bed, her unused legs jutting out from the bottom of crisp white sheets. She looked small, as if the past years of her life had not only sucked the life out of her but in doing so, made her limbs and torso shrivel. One arm was crossed over her chest and the other lay limp next to the remote control. It appeared as if she had tumbled down a canyon, as her head lay at the bottom of the raised part of the bed, her neck twisted downwards. The pillow lay mostly halfway up the slope and the rest under her face which was scrunched up as well. She was yellow, with a faint hint of green in her cheeks and neck, in her nose was a feeding tube, her eyes were closed. “Jenny, Jenny…..” I waited, “Jenny, it’s Bela.” Her eyes flickered, her mother spoke softly to her, “Jennifer…Nordy (her pet name from her mother), Bela’s here.” Leaning in, to her ear, “Jenny, hey, its me.” Her eyes opened and she peered sideways, too weak to lift her head towards me, she cast her look and made some grumbling noises. “mrrghmmbbghh”, her cracked lips creaked open like a rusted cellar door,  bits of dried blood were caked around the corner of her lips. “Do you hear me ok?” A soft nod and another stab at words, “urghhhe…berla..” She could hear us ok, but was unable to effectively communicate.

I walked over to the other side of the bed, “has she been like this all week?” Her mother stood next to me, “well, yeah mostly although the other day she was lucid and talking away, chattering about how she wants to move and how alone she is…but later she just sort of drifted into this.” Angling in again towards her ear, “Jenny I was just talking about some of the crazy stuff that we used to do, Bruno’s is really interested in all those stories.” A hint of a smile cracked her yellowed face, just a smidgen, her memory was still intact.

Years before, nearly ten miles down the street from this very hospital, my grandmother lay on her deathbed. One could say she took years to die, her body giving up in chunks over the years, a fall resulting in a broken hip, then breast cancer, then another fall resulting in another artificial hip, with the other one needing replaced as it had developed a crack. Another fall in the shower where she lay for fourteen hours on her 79th birthday. She always fought back, her appetite towards life was massive, it was a big as the sky swallowing up the clouds. Finally, after living in a nursing home for nearly a year, with a deep crack developing once again in one of the artificial hips, this time an operation was impossible, she was too old, too large and her heart too weak to sustain another operation. She lay in her bed for months as her body gasped away its core, small breaths counting down to the inevitable final exhale.

Her room was decorated in all the things she loved, pictures of her life, from her teenage years as a highly desired young woman, whom men nearly twice her age made their way to her father’s steps. Her wedding picture, surrounded by countless men and women, with a flowing white gown wrapped around her, a pool of silk. Next to her, my grandfather, with a handsome grin and a seriousness that his side of the family was known for. She could have been a princess in these photos, as the pageantry was that grand. Other photos of her and her three sons, black and white photos of the four of them on the streets of Caracas, others in Spain and Trinidad where she sent them to learn English which would be their path out of Venezuela. One could trace the progress of photography with these photos, later, faded color photos from the nine-teen sixties, with grandchildren wearing polyester striped pants, large collared shirts and bowl haircuts stood around her amidst a swamp of Christmas presents. And finally, newer photos of great-grandchildren taken with digital cameras and printed out at the local drug store.

On the dresser was a large television, sandwiched between stuffed animals and the ever-present vases of flowers, hundreds of dead flowers had passed through this room.

The final decline happened in spurts, and in the end, it was only her lungs that remained alive, it was as if they had not realized her mind had given up and took flight. Heavy breaths that gasped for air, her eye lids suddenly half opened. Her blue eyes, translucent and watery, the were like small blue pearls under the clearest water that has never existed, drifted towards her son and then to me, they closed softly as lungs strained against the force of nature. Finally, after nearly three minutes without a breath, we realized she was gone, she had wanted to see her parents and earlier that day she spoke quietly with a smile on her face. “I will see my daddy and my mommy soon,” proving that as we toddle towards quietus, we revert to childhood, she was almost ninety years old and pining to see her parents on the other side of whatever it is that is the other side.

Signs spring up everywhere, omens of the final doom everybody succumbs to, especially when people live skimming off the top of life as if it were the deepest most turbulent ocean that has ever existed. Some people can dance atop of life, barely touching it too deeply, not letting themselves sink but not yet being able to glide above the salty spray of existence. Others are pulled down by the ankles, they wade through life with their very essence held back by invisible cinder blocks holding them fast.

We were sleeping in a house I had never been in, a split level with green carpet and very little furniture, boxes placed against the walls, in the middle of the room and a small bed made of pillows and sleeping bags were made for my brother and myself. The house was somewhere in the middle of Newport News, a section I was unfamiliar that was not the house where I had lived in as recently as the beginning of the summer. It was Labor Day weekend, we were visiting our mother—spending the previous three months in Athens, Ohio with our father. Spending golden summer days, traipsing through barren fields, abandon houses and playing pickup football and baseball. It was a revelation after moving nearly every June since the age of five, Athens had provided an anchor that I had never experienced since living at the far end of Long Island where we lasted a year and half. Our father had driven us to Charleston, West Virginia where we boarded a smallish Piedmont Airlines prop plane. I always sat by the wing, marveling at the huge propellers that appeared to go backwards and forwards at the same time, a massive buzzing that shook the seat under me. We usually stopped in Roanoke, Virginia and then onto Richmond. Our mother picked us up, and instead of driving to the house I had called home the previous year we went to this other, strange Brady Bunch looking house. This was the home of her new boyfriend, a fellow named Bob Brushwood who looked uncannily like Andy Griffith.

Paneled wood walls, made to look like a forest cut in half, tree by tree with the innards sticking out, naked but, they were made of pressed wood, not one tree with its heartwood exposed but many crushed and pressed to make one facsimile of a real tree. Cheap, and an affront to all proud trees everywhere. In the 1970’s this was called fashionable. There was a dark green carpet in the living room and in what was the den, a few steps down from the living room and rough and thick multicolored shag carpet smelled of cat piss. My mother and Bob slept in the other room, nestled next to my brother, trying to understand the reasons why we were staying in this house that was a mystery to me, it was a foreign land on one I did not understand the language.

Shortly thereafter, as the shadows dipped and settled along the room, the trees outside providing a ballet against the walls, the sounds from the bedroom arose. Deep sounds, breathy sounds and unbeknownst to a child of nine they were the sounds of lovemaking. Leaning into my brother, whispering and asking questions, “shhh, just go to sleep” he advised but the sounds were relentless and frightening. My hair stood on end. Crying out, after a few minutes of unheeded bleating, my mother came into the room. She was followed by Bob, with broad shoulders, long sinewy arms, hairy chest and a cigarette dangling from his lips, he could have been summoned from a Marlboro ad. Patting my head she tried to explain what was happening but I was lost, submerged in my own mind, sinking like net into the sea, although this net was intended to release all my thoughts instead of gathering them like so many minnows.

A few years later, after they married, we were transplanted to Catawba, whose small-town secrets burbled like a percolator while everyone mowed lawns, hung American flags outside of their white washed houses, and proudly sang the “Star Spangled Banner” before every Friday night football game. The rumors were startling, and rubbed like sandpaper to the ears of whomever they tumbled into, alcoholic father, homosexuality, incest, adultery and rape. These were passed around like verbal talismans, bringing suspicion into the houses that on one level appeared so picture perfect. Bob was the minister of two small Methodist churches, one right in the middle of town and the other a few miles away, set down between two cornfields and winding country roads. He worked hard, trying to infuse the word of God to people who yearned for it but were adherently suspicious of outsiders. That he was a divorced to a woman who had teenage children didn’t seem to help, and perhaps when two of the boy stated they were proudly Catholic it just made his job worse.

It could not have been easy helping to raise two opinionated teenage boys who had been moved around the east coast as if they were swallows, migrating from season to season, year to year. We were baggage, plunked down in different schools every year, unpacking ourselves only to have to toss everything back into our emotional suitcases after the school year and finally, for me, I said “fuck-it” and decided that to be accepted would be on my terms. Using wit and humor with a very liberal background I challenged the norms of my small-town school, speaking out when the football coach used the term nigger in my sophomore biology class-resulting in a trip to the office where the principal asked me point blank, “why do you have a problem with the word nigger?” At home, my mother encouraged us to speak out, at one point she made her way to the very same principal’s office to challenge him on referring to the wrestling team as a bunch of “pussies.” After my freshman year, I quit going to church, another stain I had inadvertently flung on Bob’s aspiring career. Openly defiant at times, both my brother and I were headstrong, well-read but not frightened to speak our minds, in one sense I was a punk but I had a cause which was to speak out to injustice when I saw it. The oppression was thick, lathered on my life like a paint it dripped from me and in turn I resented my parents for plopping me down in the middle of what seemed like the corner of nowhere. I would have yearned for nowhere, from where I felt I was which as a vacuum. Zoltan, had it easier, much more affable than myself, he was bigger and handsome with a talent to blend in with the jocks and rednecks, we had a few nerds maybe five of which I was probably one. He played football, wrestled and was homecoming king while I planted verbal spitballs on my perceived enemies and pined to escape.

 

Bob would drink Natural Light, not much in hindsight but maybe a few every night but he was prone to darkness and the darkness lay upon him like a coat some weeks. After a year, our mother left, moving to Columbus where she got a job at a treatment center, and for a brief period she headed a treatment center in London, Ohio just down the road from us but the marriage was doomed even before they took their vows. They were different people, pulled together by who knows what but we bared the brunt of their mistake and while Bob tried to step into the role of a father it was an arduous task. Compassionate he, laced his sermons with stories of compassion and acceptance, he tried to balance the need for the community to be accepting with their ingrained suspicion of anything that was different from themselves. In the end it was for naught, as his depression gripped him like vines and pulled him into his darkness. Art helped, he went back to his first love, ceramics and drawing, making countless small bowls and religious drawings that soon covered our tables, mantle and desks.

At seventeen, I was living alone, my mother had left him and Bob struggled with a house that contained a disinterested teenager who had found his own escape in punk rock and underground music, and books with the rest of the house filled with unrealized memories that had never had the chance to hatch, smothered by a marriage that had no air to breath. Bob went to the state hospital in the fall of 1985, he stayed there on and off through the spring. I quit the wrestling team where I was named captain after the first practice, in favor of after school blow jobs and Pabst Blue Ribbon every weekend. It appeared, at the time a better trade off, in hindsight it still might have been. Bob was attending AA meetings where he met another woman, he would bring her home or stay at her house, a small bird-like lady who did not have the education neither he nor my mother had, but she was nice and tried to make small talk with me and Jenny. It is obvious now that he was planning his own escape from the ministry, some of the congregation were complaining to the Methodist church and he had several meetings about his future in the church. He was disillusioned by their lack of support, while I thought to myself this was the true nature of many of these people, the hypocrisy was obvious to my seventeen-year-old eyes.

In those between years, Bob was there, making dinner for my brother and I, driving us to wrestling practice, sitting through long tournaments and overlooking the drinking that went on over the weekend. He was encouraging to us, and with our passion for literature and finally over the summer of 1986, right after my high school graduation Bob left the church moving in with my maternal grandmother as he returned to school to get his Ohio teaching certificate. Separation made things easier although a resentment had made a stone in the middle of me, attending Otterbein College which at the time, mid-Ronald Reagan’s tenure was a fiercely conservative liberal art’s school. Not a good fit. I left after one quarter with my first real bout of depression, where I left school mid quarter and slept in Jenny Mae’s dorm room for two solid weeks, peeling a layer of parking tickets off the roof of my car and returning to school. My professors had thought I had left, my English professor pulled me aside telling me I had a future as a writer and suggesting counseling, she saw the signs. I dropped out in December and wanted to move in with my grandmother but Bob was living there, faced with the choice of living with my mother, going to a shelter or moving in with Jenny in her dorm room, I took everything I owned, records, tapes and clothing and moved into her dorm room for two months before I could get my own apartment.

Bob went and worked from Columbus public schools until he reached retirement, we stayed in periodic contact. The weight of adolescence was a lodestone on my relationship with him, I distanced myself from much of my family for several years and finally after many years he reached out to me via email. He had moved to North Carolina where he built a house with his own hands in the woods and made art, we spoke over the phone once, discussing his depression and he offered apologies for those years we were together. It was all ok, I was happy with who I was, and then there was nothing. At one point, I reached out to one of his sons, who wrote a curt email back and I never responded. Bob had suffered many losses in his life, two of his children passed, one from a drug overdose and another from cancer, while his own childhood was difficult as he had years of abuse by his grandparents, brutal abuse he told me about over coffee one day.

Recently while visiting my brother, he informed me that Bob passed away last year. His daughter had called my brother, he was 80. The last couple of years I had assumed he had died, but there was no way of finding out if he had. A google search revealed nothing. What does a person do when a past they have little connection to dies? In the end there is a space, like the space between two words on paper, that space is waiting for a meaning, an explanation that never comes. Wedged between black ink, it waits patiently forever.

 

 

Jerry and Jenny: The Goners 1989-2014

September 6, 2014

The Goners. 1989–2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Michael Galinsky & Suki Hawley

January 4, 2014

(not edited)

I first met Mike Galinsky in 1991 or 92, I had stumbled across his band, Sleepyhead, via a Shimmy-Disc compilation titled “Chinny Chin Chin” which consisted of four NYC bands. Perhaps the best known was Kicking Giant. I gravitated towards Sleepyhead, that sounded like a fast Superchunk, if something like that was even possible. Somewhere along the line I got a hold of Michael, and his two band mates, Chris O’Rourke and his then girlfriend (now wife?) Rachel. I have a vague recollection of maybe Bettina Richards or her Pier Platters cohort, Otis Ball giving me Michael’s phone number.

Anyway, soon enough, I had booked Sleepyhead to play a weeknight show at Staches with Gaunt. Nobody came to the show but they didn’t care, they were happy to be playing with a decent rock band, and besides, they were impressed that Gaunt was going to be on Bettina’s fledgling Thrill Jockey Record. Michael was tall, and very thin with one of those skinny man Adam’s apple that made his neck and face even more pronounced. I, on the other hand had a triple chin to look forward too as I grew older (not yet though) thanks to the fat Hungarians in my family. Michael wore red cut off jean-shorts and talked a mile a minute, I was intrigued by Rachel as she drummed and I only knew of few female drummers at that time, Georgia from Yo La Tengo, and Janet from 11th Dream Day both of who also shared singing duties along with their significant others.

The next time Sleepyhead came to town they had just signed with Slumber land Records and came with an opening band. The art-slop damaged Dung Beetle who made a racket of a noise at Bernie’s, fronted by the novelist and writer Sam Lipsyte, Dung Beetle was more of an beer fueled art experiment than the fast-paced guitar sounds of Sleepyhead. Again, no one came to the show but we all got smashed, my alcoholism at this time was only a murmur, blanketed by my outsized humor and a yearning to please. Every time that Sleepyhead came to town, I had a different woman and the carousel of sweethearts would be as constant as the Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Budweiser that I clutched tightly to. Michael and the band grew very fond of my two small dogs, Richard and Istvan. Richard was incredibly lovable and Istvan was a dick, he ate everybody’s food was prone to biting if someone tried to say, get a loaf of bread from him or just as easy piss of the floor after eating the “g” section out of my record collection (all my Giant Sand and Gibson Brothers have Istvan scars.)

 

 

 

The third time Sleepyhead came to down was in support of Half Japanese (and maybe Moe Tucker?), there is a very nice photo the Mike took of Jad Fair and Istvan having a stare-down near my grill that appeared in Option Magazine. Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, loved Richard so much they had her photographed taped above their van’s rear-view mirror next to the Queen of England and thanked her on one of their records, for “inspiration.” Mike took more photos this trip and my favorite picture of the dogs is one he took of them, side by side after they devoured an entire bag of Sleepyhead’s cough drops. On this trip, their van was in a crazy accident, as Chris opened the driver’s side door and car drove by and tore it off. Kept on driving, as is the Columbus tradition for night-time drivers (i.e. see the death of Jerry Wick). There was a mad scramble the next day to get the door back on.

 

There were several more trips to Columbus by Sleepyhead, on one Mike filmed the only known Gaunt video. Soon, as the nineties came to a lurching and (for me) wasted in, Mike had married Suki Hawley who I believe had played or toured with Ruby Falls another NYC band I had booked at Bernie’s. They had made a mad-dash of a film, called Half Cocked which involved members and cast-abouts of the Louisville and Memphis music scenes, it was a burst of black and white along with improvised dialogue and a nugget from that era of indie-rock. Mike brought the film to Columbus and we showed in on a screen while Tim from Two-Dollar Guitar and Sleepyhead opened it up.

A few years later, I was in NYC with my soon to be wife staying in Brooklyn and Mike had just gotten married, and he invited us over for the celebration. I remember sitting on the phone and wanting to go but my wife had a big art opening and I knew I could not trust myself to go to a party and maintain my wits for my wife. I would get too loaded so I quietly demurred.

Mike and I remained in contact, and when I lived in Gainesville he sent me a package of his films on DVD, “Half Cocked” and “Horns and Halos” a documentary involving President George W. Bush, and a man, JH Hatfield who wrote a biography on President Bush that claimed that Bush was arrested for cocaine. Hatfield later committed suicide, in 2001. I terms of what Mike was doing in NYC, I felt left behind, as I picked up the shards of my life that I had not just figuratively but also quite literally smashed upon the hard wood floors in one sad epic afternoon, the anger, frustration and stupidity of my life was slammed into the walls and floor, splintering into a million cracked, pointy specs of things I held dear. I felt adrift, or perhaps I was adrift and had come crashing into the rocky beach? Mike and Suki had taken the ideals of the indie/underground movement, the true ethos of DIY that had given me and so many others the propulsion to exit our tired, and at times, a hopeless grey future and gave us permission to carve and whittle our own lives through our art. We had taken whatever talent we had musically, artistically, and romantically and fed it into the festering creative engine that burbled inside of us and forged an identity. Burnishing ourselves with the confines of notes, paint and typewriters and effervescence conversations, that spilled out of our collective mouths like coffee percolating we forged ourselves with the parameters of nothing except ourselves. As I galloped into my early thirties, so many of my friends, dead, or left for dead as addiction and mental illness chewed not only their talent but also their souls alive, I knew I had lost my way.

Mike and Suki were an inspiration, casting aside the music that had propelled him in his early twenties he rediscovered or more appropriately turned his attention to the visual world. The making of “Half Cocked” must have been liberating and soon they were making award winning documentaries, and as of this past fall releasing several books of photography. Mike’s first book of photography, titled “Scraps” is a black and white time capsule of east coast indie rock, mostly concentrating on New York and the Simple Machine crowd, the book is cover to cover with young kids piecemealing a life on the road, living in conversion bands while banging out three chord stutters of love and longing to a roomful of twenty people at best most nights. Bands such as Versus, The Grifters (who I have written extensively about), and 1/2 Japanese, who would all in some way touch my life as well as my couch stare and smile slyly as Mike borrows a small piece of their essence to be stained onto a white page.

Mike and I connected on Facebook, an avenue of connection that I make no apologies for, it is exciting to be able to touch someone whom I always held an affinity for whether it was only through a shared passion for Paul K., Joel Phelps, Daniel Clowes or the passion of helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Mike updated me on his life, he had just finished a documentary called, “Battle for Brooklyn” which was made over an eight year period documents the struggle over the Atlantic Yards and the Barclay Center where the New Jersey Nets now stake as their home. It was a revelation in terms of rank unrestricted capitalism and how in even a liberal bastion like Brooklyn, politicians and those with money can snuff out the small guy. The same issues are being repeated across the country, most notably in Atlanta where the baseball Braves will shrug off a publically built stadium less than seventeen years after the public paid for it, in Columbus during the 1990’s the citizens voted several times stating collectively and unequivocally that the public would not pay for a hockey arena on the spot of the historic Ohio Penitentiary (that once housed O. Henry, David Allen Coe and Johnny Paycheck). The city and the powerful Wolfe family teamed with Nationwide Insurance and just last year the city gave the arena to the Columbus Blue Jackets (owned by the…….Wolfe Family and Nationwide.) It should be noted that the Wolfe’s are archly conservative, and the editor of their newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch, has almost tea-party beliefs, have been against most public services such as affordable health care, higher funding for financing um, wars but are quite alright for the taxpayers to pay and then give them an shiny new revenue generating arena.

“Battle for Brooklyn” won a litany of awards and ended up on Roger Ebert’s best of 2011 and was shortlisted for an Oscar. Mike’s films have been screened all over the world, on various network stations (Showtime, PBS, Sundance Channel and more) and his audience has found him, not vice-versa. Several years ago, Mike started a Kickstarter campaign for a book he was assembling. It was a book of photographs he took as he drove across the country in the late eighties and early nineties, all the photographs were taken in various shopping malls across the country, each one not surprisingly no different than any of the other ones. The book, titled “Malls Across America” (the title makes me think of Hands Across America, the charity driven failure that imploded when people realized not that many people live in rural America) was soon picked up by the Steidl publishing house after some of the photo’s Mike posted went viral. Mike had asked several writers, including myself to contribute essays to the book and I readily agreed. Mike has been a huge supporter of my writing and we have discussed another book of photography to accompany essays on some of the clients I have meet over the years.  A few of these essays are in rough form within this blog, “Ron the Surfer” and “Pearl Williams”. “Malls Across America” came out in the fall of 2013, and quickly sold out, it has garnered positive press in USA Today, The Week, and New York Times as well as being named one of the books of the year by Time magazine. And in the back there are two essays by contributing writers, and yes, one of them is mine.

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

Mike has a new film out soon, “Who Took Johnny” about the 1982 abduction of Johnny Gosch, a twelve year old paper boy from Des Moines, Iowa. My wife and I watched it last week and she was in tears throughout, it is a gripping and unsettling movie that closely observes the fears of any parent. And yes, many of those fears, sadly come true in some instances. Mike is launching another Kickstarter to help with distribution of the film, whose subject matter is not one film companies flock to. Please follow the link for more information, and to Mike and Suki, you have made a brilliant film. Thanks.

http://rumur.com/johnny

 

Jenny Mae & Jerry Wick part 38: First Death

September 23, 2010

First Death.

Every time I visit my memories I bump into the dead, who curl around my thoughts like wisps of smoke rising up and disintegrating into the air, silent but ever present in spite of my busy life filled with middle-aged responsibilities. As my two fair-haired children dance for me, arms extended as if only I can temper the giddiness that shoots like downed power lines from their frantic arms, I think of moments of true escape from the closed dread of an ordinary life that I once both at times strived for and repelled with all of my might. Sleep comes harder but is more restful as I wade into my forties, with the experiences someone who has seen breathtaking beauty and horror in the same moment but with the fear of a mortality that has yet to enter my children’s life. There is a story that the Buddha’s father tried in vain to protect his son from the destruction of life, but it wasn’t until Shakyamuni Buddha witnessed the true revulsion of life that he became determined to vanquish his attachment to the material world and the causes of suffering. At times, as I gaze down at the blond jewels of my life, the sparkling of life emanating out of their big blue eyes, setting each moment on fire, I gaze into their future, trying in vain to protect them from the tragedies of survival. I am nothing but a bystander as the moments tick past, and the floor of life rises faster than anything my eyes has ever held It is pointless to try to protect them. As a father, I can only try to help them navigate tragedies as they appear in their lives, for in surviving one is the constant spectator of both the elegance and ugliness of life.

After my breakup with Jenny, I couch surfed in Columbus for a few months and rented a small apartment in Athens. I would make my getaway to Athens on the weekends, spending time at The Union Bar on West State Street. As a boy, I spent my afternoons in uptown Athens at the Side-One Record store that stood almost exactly across the street from the Union. This was in the late 70s and early 80s, when I was in middle-school. Both the store and the town provided a purpose to me, as I searched for a family that had disintegrated in the hushed tones of secrets and mental illness that, sadly, have remained unchecked for thirty years.

Side-One was a sliver of a store wedged between the underground comic book/used record store/tee-shirt shop known as Hoffa’s and The Underwear. It sold mostly cut-out LPs with a few new releases. The two men who ran it, were kind to me. Taking a gawky, nerdy kid of eleven under their wings, they let me play records and howled as I mimicked the bass lines of late 70s funk and “Another One Bites The Dust.” They seemed to live the easy life, sipping beers behind the counter and playing Herman Brood and His Wild Romance at top volume. Across the street, stood the Union, a townie biker bar that sold hot dogs for a dollar and let me in to order for the gentlemen from the record shop. I knew at that early age what I wanted from life—an opportunity to escape into the safe confines of laughter and music. Sadly, Side-One closed up shop the summer of my seventh grade year, forced out by the larger and more in-depth School Kids Records, a semi-loose brand of indie-stores that catered to the punk and college rock of university campuses in Big Ten country.

Every college town had one. In Columbus we had two: Bernie’s & Staches. In Champaign it was the Blind Pig, Cleveland had the Euclid Tavern, and Chapel Hill had the Cat’s Cradle. While I never visited Champaign or Chapel Hill, those night clubs were known country-wide as safe havens for the near dropouts, rockers, and bookish music nerds of the American underground scene. The Blind Pig was made famous by the long forgotten Honcho Overload, who described the best method of romantic revenge as getting wasted. The Cat’s Cradle was the clubhouse of all things North Carolina, namely Superchunk, who provided the soundtrack of our lives and deaths.

Athens had a pretty health music scene that was a bit more ragged, freakish, and organic than the hardened punkish and ironic sounds of Columbus. Folks in Athens were more prone to dance, even to the bizarre hardness of some of the Amphetamine Reptile bands, such as The Cows and Surgery, who played there often. The most popular bands in Athens were the majestic Appalachian Death Ride and Torque, who managed to get the gritty, metallic hate of the Amrep bands down to a science. I was more inclined to ADR, whose sounds came from the same organic roots as such like-minded bands of the time as Mudhoney, early Soul Asylum, and Eleventh Dream Day, bands whose high school record collections contained not only Neil Young, but also The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and early hardcore.

Torque branded itself as hate rock. They were led by a large, good-looking singer-guitarist named Pat Brown, whose girth was offset by his glinting blue eyes and goodnatured laugh. He never wanted for a woman. The drummer, Ted O’Neal, was a friendly, handsome man who had long dark locks of curly hair that no doubt played a part in him securing a breathtakingly beautiful woman named Marissa. Ted manned several bars in Athens, including the Union and Tony’s. Tony’s was the underground version of a sports bar, where you could go to watch the Browns on a Sunday afternoon while My Bloody Valentine, Prisonshake, or Gram Parsons provided the play-by-play. Ted was the best kind of bartender. He freely provided me with a two-for-one special every time I ordered. This was manna for a happy drunkard.

The Union was a long bar, with small booths crammed against the wall just a body-width from the long bar that ran 2/3 the length of the building. There was a small area in which those delicious hot dogs were made and a back area that held a pool table and one shitty Simpson’s video game. The club portion was upstairs—a shoe box of a concert setting containing a large stage with sightlines that were hindered by support columns and the use of too many intoxicants. This was nothing to complain about, as the crowds in Athens always moved to the music, whether it was Tar, The Cynics, or a local art-school experiment. The walls were covered with Pabst Blue Ribbon signs and the shoddy, amateurish paintings of patrons who aspired to be more than the sum of their talents (as we all do).

I used some of my contacts to help book several shows at the Union, as I was, by this time, getting my feet wet and wallet soaked promoting shows in Columbus at Bernie’s and Staches. But for every money-making show with Love Battery, Sebadoh, or Pavement, there were money-gulping shows like Moonshake, the aforementioned Eleventh Dream Day, the Grifters, and the incredible Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. I had helped arrange some show in the fall of 1994 at the Union. I have no idea what it was, but I was in the midst of developing my talent as a baffling, hysterical, frenzied, alcoholic being. Prone to an elevated state of being fueled by Jim Beam, long-neck beers, and copious amounts of coffee, I could somehow channel the energy of my future children. This usually brought about tears of laughter to my eyes, as I was a stand-up comic in my own head. Many of the onlookers got my joke (i.e., the joke was me), but others were embarrassed. I had no impulse control.

Ted lived with Eric Gunn, whose love for all things hateful was only surpassed by an obsessive record- collecting gene. He had boxes of records spread out in his damp, semi-crooked house that smelled of perpetual marijuana smoke, stale alcohol, damp carpet, and the mustiness that only a large wolf-like dog can provide. I spent several nights on the uneven couch in that house. The afterhours would be cramped with people huddled around the worn coffee table. As the bong was passed, I would demur—I had no use for anything that would impede the racing buzz that flowed through my body. I stood at full drunken power, rapidly describing the different life choices of me and my Green Beret brother, who lived in Athens and knew many of the Union regulars but had a life of college classrooms, rugby, and bars.

Although much of that time is faded, fuzzy, and forgotten, I do remember a comical discussion my brother and I had about him wanting to give me gun. I had tried to describe to him how I was unhinged, and that putting a gun in my hands was akin to giving an anvil to a drowning man. I remember Ted and Marissa laughing as the verbal bolts of lightning shot out of my mouth and into the room. A week later, Ted lay in a hospital bed in Columbus, clutching to life as a shot of heroin proved too much for his battered body. Ted hung on for two weeks, during which time visiting friends met and shared memories at my house. I slowly fell in love with my first wife during this time, even though I was seeing another woman from Athens. As Ted struggled to regain consciousness, I became enamored with Robin, who had dark black hair and a wickedly fast sense of humor. We would gather in my obtuse living room, drinking beer and trading stories as each of us thought of death, lust and friendship in our own separate manner.

Ted was buried in Dayton. We gathered at Pat Brown’s  parents house. His parents exuded Republican, Midwestern values—his mother made Velveeta Mexican dip with Triscuits and we were all on our best behavior. As I pulled out of the cemetery and drove back to Athens with a woman I would break up within a matter of days as I tried to seduce my first wife, I popped in an advance copy of Bee Thousand and listened to “Ester’s Day” over and over. Ted was the first friend who died in my life.