NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART ONE:
MY TRIP BACK TO WARREN PENNSYLVANIA
I spent last week doing a mini tour of New York state to support my latest album “Now’s the Right Time To Feel Good.” The album has been a milestone for me—it was during the course of writing those songs that I was finally able to glue back the pieces of my life. I had visited my home state twice prior to this trip. But it was this trip that I would return looking at the world through cleaner eyes, from a healthy perspective. What was originally planned to be a quick five day jaunt through New York state turned out to be one of the most intense, rewarding, and wonderful experiences of my entire lifetime. I selfishly want to keep all my memories private. I want to carry them inside of my ribcage and lazily watch TV in my Tampa air conditioning, which I love. But I am not going to do that. I am going to take you on a day by day ride of the best trip of my entire life. In five days the jagged tear between my old life and my new life was mended and sewn, and never before have I felt so complete.
I have been accused by my lovers of being too emotionally intense. I will not apologize for this. My world and my work revolve around the processing and filtering of my thoughts and experiences. I have found life like this to be sometimes difficult, but ultimately healthy and rewarding. I am sure many artists feel the intense burn of emotion muliplied by three. I do not seek a simple life. I do not seek a life of easy choices, of low maintenance, of coasting. It is within the boundaries and emancipations of intense thought and learning that I have always operated. Always have. Do now. And always will. It is my hope to find someone to hunker down in the co-pilot seat with me…to navigate the wild blue seas of the intellect. We live in a time where the general population easily coasts down the information super highway…bombarded with vice, media, and quick fix. I too travel that road sometimes…but as more people coast down that smooth highway…many are forgetting the road less traveled. The scenic route. The road of great thinking and great minds. The road of intense self examination and expression. This is my road. Full of potholes, mud puddles, fallen tree brances, and gorgeous wilderness. And that was the emotional road I traveled during my 5 day tour.
My third time arriving at the Buffalo airport since moving to Tampa, I approached the ground with a new feeling. Peace. Calm. My first two trips returning home were riddled with the unfounded desire to “prove” to everyone how “different” I was now, and how much I have “changed.” That’s heavy baggage to carry up the coast. This time I glided along the runway with nothing to prove, no expectations, and nothing but the knowledge that the future would unfold as it would. And unlike my first two trips, I was traveling alone this time. A free agent with a loose itinerary, a few goals, and enough money in the bank to be secure in it all.
I got off the plane. I was immediately recognized by an old classmate that I didn’t recognize. Within moments my gear and my luggage were loaded into the rental car, and all that laid before me was the highway and 7 hours until I was due for my first performance.
Key in the ignition and Grace Jones “Bulletproof Heart” in the CD player. I ordered about 5 CDS to take on the trip with me. I mustered the self control to not listen to a note of the CDS until the trip…new music for a new life. And Grace Jones’ most recent album (from 1991 nonetheless) began the trip.
I missed the first turn, and I found myself aimlessly coasting the highway near Buffalo airport. But the compass of the body is reliable, and in my heart I knew exactly where I was going. Before long I found myself on a familiar road…a road I drove many many times as a teenager, 12 years ago. A road that led from Buffalo to my little hometown an hour away. As an adult who travels the country playing music, an hour drive is merely a sidestep. But I remember as a child…the trek to Buffalo..a full hour…seemed so significant…it was truly transportation into a different world and a different universe. And as I grew into a teen…I remember making that trip to Buffalo…the buy the import CDS we couldn’t get in our hometown. Before the internet, before everything was computerized…collecting music meant being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I remember back in 1985—when one of my favorite artists would release a new album—I knew nothing of it until out of the blue it appeared on the store shelf. Who would have thought years later we’d know the tracklist, the coverart, even the songs months before the product hits the shelf. There is something to be said for the art of anticipation. It’s becoming a lost art.
With 7 hours to kill, I was drawn to first drive to my hometown, Fredonia New York. My friend Val from highschool was in town, and one of the primary reasons I booked this trip was to visit with her. Val and I shared that unbreakable bond of teenage dreaming. In high school, we wrote these silly (but catchy as hell) pop songs. We dreamed of moving to Sayerville New Jersey…to be close to Bon Jovi and Skid Row. We had dreams of “making it” in the “business”. And we held on to our New Jersey rock star dreams for a good three years. That’s an eternity to the teenaged heart. Val’s stage name was Valuptuous and mine was JGEZ. The trip to New Jersey never happened, and eventually metal just died anyhow. But my friendship with Val has remained through the years, and I was thrilled to see her for the first time in nearly 10 years.
And there she was! I remember how she used to tease me as we walked home from school…just to be a jerk she’s run ahead of me on the sidewalk…taunting me to stay caught up. I never could…I always ended up winded. And as I got out of my rental car she ran towards me…two old friends…adults now…
After visiting with Val I was drawn to a place I hadn’t been in over ten years. A place that has remained haunted and unvisited in my heart. A place I knew I must one day return to, but had been unable to. And I didn’t plan on returning during this trip either. But the opportunity of a few spare hours finally opened the possibility of return. Warren Pennsylvania.
In the early 1990s things were much different than they are now. The process of realizing I am gay was a terrifying and long one. There was never a moment that I was in the closet…but Warren Pa was very integral in the evolution to the point where I realized “well shit, this is what I am”. Enter Anne Fearman. Tall. Bold. Scary. Matronly. In middle school Anne Fearman was the black haired “freak” that rode our bus. She didn’t talk to us. We didn’t talk to her. And in the context of time and place, let’s remember that dying your hair and looking “different” was much more shocking and daring prior to the days of grunge and Hot Topic. Frozen in time is an era when looking “different” nine times out of ten really signified a uniqueness of the soul.
I was reintroduced to Fearman at the age of 18. She had outgrown her Allison Moyet new wave looked, and morphed into this long blonde haired hippy chick. We immediately clicked, and Anne became my best friend and mentor during some of the most crucial stages of my psychological development.
When Anne came into my life I still had not come to terms with my queernesss. I said I was bisexual. There were many scandalous truth or dare games. And there was a lot of terror. Pre-Will and Grace. Pre-Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The thought of being an openly gay person in my backwards small town was suffocating and unthinkable. It just didn’t feel like an option. But Anne Fearman cracked open the door for me.
She told me about her friends. Her fabulous friends. Her gay friends. Her fabulous gay friends who lived in Warren Pennsylvania. A small town far far away from our own small town. References to her friends peppered the conversation for weeks, and I found myself in awe and consumed with curiosity. She told me they shared my obession with Madonna. She told me I was a lot like them. And I felt a nagging and guarded curiosity to meet these peope.
I remember our first drive to Warren. Coming from an economically depressed town/family I hadn’t done much travelling. The hour long drive crawled painstakingly slow…and I vividly remember the details. The brightness of the sun. Jesus Christ Superstar playing on the tape deck. The comfort and terror of the possibility of uniting with kindred spirits.
And ten years later…14 albums later…one college degree later…lots of therapy later…lots of personal growth later…at 31 years old…on August 2nd 2006 I made that drive again.
I made a few wrong turns. Unlike retuning to my hometown (Fredonia NY), my body wasn’t able to automatically navigate the drive to Warren. But every turn I made…whether it was a right turn or wrong turn…flooded me with memories of innocence and idealism I so sorely miss today. I passed through endless expanses of corn and wild weeds blowing in the soft Western New York wind. I passed through lonely one traffic light towns…where that little red light blinks blinks blinks eternally…witnessed primarily by the ones who are born and who die there too. I pass by old buildings eroded and beaten by inevitable winter. I live in a land without winter today. I live in a land where money is coming into the area…not out. But there is something to be said of the beauty of tried-and-true ramshackle farmhouses that fight with winter every year and win. I found myself feeling a warmth and acknowledgement in my heart that I hadn’t felt in years. I got out. I avoided the condemnation of working the counter of a convenience store in a one light town. I once feared that fate. And I had never allowed myself a pat on the back for realizing I beat that fate. I rolled down the window, gulped in the fresh clean farm air, and basked in the joy of being alive and well.
And eventually I found myself at the “T”. I remembered the “T” in my head, and couldn’t believe I once again stood at that junction. It was the turnoff onto to the highway that lead directly into Warren. One blinking light. One sign with an arrow pointing into oblivion. It was a turn I had negotiated countless times before…in a life so distant and fuzzy. I remember one late dark winter night…driving in Anne Fearman’s “bitch wagon” spinning out and thankfully avoiding a snow bank. But now it was years later. A different decade. A different century. My foot lowered on the brake. My right turn signal in operation. And I made the turn.
Every foot. Every mile. Every second flooded me with memory and time. I grew up in Fredonia New York, but it was in Warren that I had dreamt my wildest teenage dreams. It was in Warren I unlocked some of the scariest chambers of my own being. An old storefront. An old tree. The way the road curved. It all left me breathless. I found myself talking out loud. I found myself sighing out loud. I found myself with tears in my eyes for the respect and recognition of a lifetime passed.
The closer I got to the downtown, the more surreal my drive became. An old video store. An old Arby’s. An old parking spot. Each securely imprisoning old and lost experience. And I knew what my final destination on this journey was going to be. Each house I passed, each familiar street corner brough me closer to my final destination in Warren Pennsylvania. McDonalds.
I think of all the small towns in America, and the lifelong prison terms handed out to those born there. I have always said, and still say that the most magnificent people I have ever met came from tiny towns. Because left only with the bare wilderness and a wildly creative heart, one has nothing to do but develop their wild spirit. In the cities, the distractions of possibility and easily accessable trends provides opportunities. But in the confines of tiny village all one has is the soul.
While driving through Warren I found myself back in touch with part of my soul I had long forgotten/neglected. I now live in the comfort of a nice apartment in a city I don’t hate. I find myself openly gay and able to express my creativity safely and openly. But returning to Warren brought me back in touch with the times when I had to find comfort. And I did. I found comfort in weird things. I found comfort in this tree behind my house as a child. I would visit that tree almost daily. I found myself to have much more in common with that sickly tree than I did with the violent redneck peers in my neighborhood.
So why was it so important to get to McDonalds in Warren Pennsylvania? Because that’s where they worked. These fabulous people I met in a different life and a different place. Some of the most creative and wonderful thinkers I had ever encountered cooked burgers at McDonalds in Warren Pennsylvania. I remember waiting the parking lot with Anne for them to get off work. We were all 19 and full of dream. And after work, out of their McDonalds uniforms they stripped…re-emerging from their rooms as these beautiful freaks in the middle of nowhere. We were the people that got yelled at from the cars (“fucking freaks”) — we were the people that got our asses kicked in high school. And we were all fucking fabulous. Anne was right. The day I met them I did find kindred spirits. And for the next two years we all shared life and experience in a way I never did again. We’d camp. We’d gossip. We’d dream. Long before the iron wall of reality and adulthood came crashing down.
As I approached downtown Warren I found myself holding my breath. I found myself near tears and full of warmth at the same time. Boy this town didn’t look the way I remembered it. The buildings were worn and dilapitated. People were sitting on their porches with looks of resignation of hopelessness. And the thunderous crashing realization came crashing down on me—that that could have been me. I could have easily moved into one of those weathered buildings, cooked burgers, and never known anything else. As I drove through the depressed, poor, yet fabulously beautiful streets of Warren Pennsylvania I realized…I am one lucky lucky lucky motherfucker.
There were two things I needed to do before I left the town. The first was walk through the supermaket. I have this strong romanticism of grocery stores…I always have. Because no matter who you are, what you do, where you are, you have to shop for food. And some of my fondest memories are of mundane routine food runs with my friends. I felt it importantly profound to renegotiate the aisles of Warren’s Bi-Lo, like I once did when I was a hungry and poor nineteen year old. And each aisle seemed to hold a long lost secret. I know this is laughable, but I found myself most moved by the TV dinner aisle. I have always had an affinity for frozen food, and I spent many a day opening that freezer door and pulling out something by the Swanson company.
And I drove to McDonalds, wondering if anyone I once knew still worked there. They didn’t, but other kids did. Kids with the same look of desperation of hope that we once had. Kids faced with the same entrapment and wanderlust I still see in old photos of myself. I ordered two cheeseburgers and some McNuggets. Tucked away in the back corner were the two freaky kids in the town. Black hair. Star belts. The times have changed, but I fear small towns still haven’t. I am sure those two kids get picked on. I could see them looking at me…and I felt like a traitor in my expensive jeans with the key to my rental car in my pocket. I too was once the freaky kid tucked away in the back booth of that McDonalds. I found it so touching when one of the freaky kids went up to the counter and ordered a caramal sundae, for him and his friend to share. And I once again was brought back to a time in my life…when sharing a sundae was about all there was to do. I found myself tearing up in the booth of that McDonalds. I wish now I’d have sat down with those kids. Heard about their lives. Heard about their dreams. Heard about their hopes. Because I wonder if anyone is really listening. I would have listened.
I pulled out of the McDonalds knowing I’d probably never be there again. I left with a big smile on my face–I never would have imagined I’d be there person I am today. Sure, at 19 years old I had this grandiose dreams of being this huge rock star. But this was coupled with the terror of the possibility that I’d work at the local Arby’s for the rest of my life. I may only wait tables now here in Tampa…but it’s a job that has afforded me the opportunity to finance some expensive trips, some expensive records, and a quality of life I never thought imaginable when I was a wild young buck wandering the streets of Warren.
I drove away with my back to the town. Its lazy river. Its rusty bridges. Its ancient cemetary. Its treasure trove of memories. And as I left I thought about all the wonderful kids trapped in small towns today. And I think about the wonderful kids we all were. I have lost touch basically all my friends from the Warren days. As far as I know, most of them did get out of that town, and are doing okay for themselves. Anne Fearman and I did not stay in touch either. So I am left to hold the memories of that time of my life alone. In going back, I reconnected with an important part of my life. All this intensity, in the first five hours of my trip.
And I drove back out of Pennsylvania and into New York again.
NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART 2:
BUFFALO, BUFFALO, BUFFALO
As I drove out of the mountains of Warren Pennsylvania and towards Buffalo New York, I listened to Jody Watley’s 2003 MIDNIGHT LOUNGE album for the first time. And as Jody sang out of the stereo “I’m thinking about the good times…I’m thinking about…” once again in my life a moment, a feeling, a memory, and song were married. Jody’s song “Photographs” is about remembering the good times…while accepting that those good times are forever gone. And as I drove towards Buffalo to play the first show on my “Now’s The Right Time” Summer tour I felt the past roll behind me.
The drive from Warren to Buffalo was enchanting. I had a little time to play with so I took a route I had never taken before. I knew road signs and /or my body compass would eventually lead me to the streets of Buffalo in time to get on stage. I smiled with anticipation knowing old friends and good laughs were in my near future…such a warm feeling.
And I had an opportunity, during this hour and a half car ride to see the sun set on the wild open fields of Western New York. I had the opportunity to see endless rows of golden rod and pussy willow dance with the wind. I felt humbled by the stoic majesty of the hills. I drove through the middle of nowhere…and tears came to my eyes as I saw old men sitting on lawn chairs in their driveways. Watching the sun…just as I was. Watching the one car that went by every fifteen minutes. I slowed my car enough to see the age on their faces. Years of rough but simple living. I passed farm house after farm house—each beaten and bruised by the Winter…but still standing. And I wondered what kind of lives were led within those dilapitated walls. Perhaps in those ramshakle houses were families stronger than I’d ever know. A contentment with life I’d never understand. The magic of simplicity that may always baffle me. And the highway continued on…
My boyfriend and I had broken up shortly before my tour. My luggage was heavy…I had to lighten my load to get my bag on the plane. But if the airline had any idea just how heavy my heart felt…the weight limit absolutely would have been exeeded and I’d not have been allowed on board. And as I drove through the country…in the New York dusk…I thought about the heart a lot. I wondered if the colors of the fields would have been enchanced had I been sharing them with the man I thought I loved. I listened to Sade’s “By Your Side” over and over. And I cried. Part of me longed for a simple life within the walls of one of those weather-beaten Chautauqua County farm houses. Away from my agendas. Away from my modern aspirations. Away from my unrealistic expectations. Just me and the golden rod and the sunset.
I arrived in Buffalo early. My friends had not yet arrived at the venue so I had the opportunity to rest my head for a few. There’s a certain dank whimsical magic hidden in the walls of Northern Bars. All the bars in my southern city are newer. Their walls have fewer stories to tell. Their bathroom sinks have seen less vomit. As I sat alone in Merlin’s on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo…I could almost hear the building talking to me. I spent the early part of my 20s kicking around the bars and clubs of Buffalo…I knew what kind of secrets were hidden in the walls and the filthy carpets. And I wondered…on this very night of August 2006…if another gay boy was running around Buffalo with the unbridled exhuberance I no longer know.
And eventually…my old friends came. We all sat in a circle…these people I knew from such a different time—echoes so faint I can barely hear them sometimes. It was one of those priceless nights when it felt like both a lifetime had passed, and at the same time not a second had passed. No matter how many years seperate me from the friends I had in my youth…we are forever part of eachother. We laughed so hard about the old days my stomach hurt. To hear Christine’s laugh. To see GregGreg’s smile. To feel the warmth of Joshua’s spirit. To be in the midst of Will’s genuine friendliness. To know that Erica hasn’t lost any of her glow in ten years. To confirm that Shauna was just as beautiful. I had a great time getting up on stage and showing my old friends my new songs. But I had an even better time hearing them talk. Laugh. Live. And I can’t wait until we all meet again… And the walls of Merlin’s have another story to tell.
I woke the next day with six hours to kill before I was due for my next show in Dunkirk, New York. The people I was staying with were still asleep. The people I’d planned to hang out with were not available. My ex boyfriend and I were sending eachother dirty text messages….temporarily aleviating my sadness. I looked out the window and the sun was shining on Buffalo. I left my friends a note…thanked them…and set out for another Jeremy Gloff adventure.
I didn’t plan on spending the entire afternoon in Buffalo…but that’s exactly what I ended up doing. And it ended up being perhaps one of the most significant days of 2006.
My mind and my heart have always romantisized my “Buffalo Glory Days” of 1995/1996…those days when I roamed the streets with a sassy attitutude and a hope that only a 21 year old can understand. Life never again seemed as bright. My dancesteps never again felt as fun. And I never felt as beautiful as I once did bathed in the nightclub light of Club Marcella’s circa ’96. But here I was. 31 years old. A decade had passed. The empty warehouses we all once raved in…they were still standing. But raving itself…is extinct. At least as we once knew it.
My first goal of the day was to try to find my ex boyfriend Mark. He was the first person I went “all the way” with. During the time that we dated…I was so far out of touch with my emotions it would have been impossible for me to be a good partner. But part of me always have and always will love him. He was the first boy to ask for my number in the big city once I moved there. He was the first boy I fell asleep next to in that city once I moved there. And even after our stormy breakup….we remained friends. Held together by a love of music and a love of words and a love for life. Mark always believed in me…and as I listen back to my old albums…and realize just how rough they were…it makes it all the most special how encouraging he was…
But Mark was not to be found. He wasn’t at work. It was then I realized exactly how I needed to spend my afternoon. And the next three hours I spent will change the way I think…forever.
I drove back to my old Buffalo apartment. I parked my car in front of it. I got out of my car and walked up to the front door. I smelled the wooden door…just as I remembered it. I peeked through those old dusty windows. I remember what it felt like to carry my acoustic guitar up the stairs after a night of Buffalo adventure and dreams. I remember being trapped alone during a blizzard with Teena Marie and popcorn as my savior. I remember the wild truth or dare games. I stood face to face with the doorway the bore witness to my wildest dreams and heartbreaks. It was then I knew exactly what I needed to do. And I did it. For the next two hours I recreated my life exactly as I lived it in 1996. I knew it was the only way I’d ever…move on.
I drove to Record Theatre…a store that seemed so big to me when I was young. A store that didn’t seem so big anymore. I bought two books and left. I know I’ll never shop there again. I walked through the grocery store where I once shopped. I went to the meat section where this boy Jamie I once crushed on worked. Jamie was gone….and the store looked old and dusty. I drove far far up the street to the Arby’s where I used to work. It wasn’t Arby’s anymore…but that didn’t stop me from getting out of my car and walking around the building. Remembering how I used to sweep up trash at seven in the morning…new songs going through my 21 year old head. And the memories that flooded back…overwhelming. It was a sensation I’d not known before…and may never know again. I walked into the bathroom of the Arby’s where I used to work and looked in the mirror. I looked at my 31 year old eyes in place of where my 21 year old eyes used to look bloodshot and naive. (Jesus, now I’m crying while I write this…this is intense stuff for me…) Sometimes I think I’d give almost anything…to feel as important as I felt back then. It is inevitable that we all grow up and realize how significant we really are in the scope of the universe. Or the world. Or even our own cities. But at 21…shit…don’t we all feel that we own it? Even if it is false ownership..it’s one hell of a good time.
I left Arby’s and drove to Ziggy’s tacos. I sat in the booth me and Colleen used to sit in. The booth where we used to gossip about people I’d long forgotten…and people I will never see again. I remembered the gusto and excitement that surrounded my music back then…even though I was only releasing crappy albums on cheap crappy cassettes…goddamn it felt huge. I ate my meat and cheese taco very slowly…I wanted to savor every single chew. If only to remember…. If only to remember…
And as the late afternoon began to set in…I knew it was time to leave. And time…to truly leave. I rememeber one night in late 1995 sitting on my bedroom floor…and this exact thought passed through my head: “How am I going to keep writing songs…life feels so perfect right now…what am I going to write about!?” If only I had known, in that one naive fleeting moment…that the hardest battles were far ahead. And may still be ahead…I don’t know. But what I do know is…in retracing the steps that I took as a 21 year old…I had the valuable opportunity to appreciate the person I have become as a 31 year old. I am happy to be living in a city where there is more construction than decomposition. And I mean no disrespect to anyone who lives in Buffalo…that city certainly has its magic…only it is no longer mine.
And so I left. Back on to the highway. The steel mills loomed empty as the teenage dreams I’ve been forced to finally put to rest. It was a life I had a fabulous time living. It was a life I’d never be able to live again.
And here’s to the dreams and magic of youth….and to the magical afternoon I spent in Buffalo this summer doing it all….one….last…..time.
NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART 3: DESPERATION IN
DUNKIRK/FREDONIA NY…AND THIKNING ABOUT MY DAD
With my afternoon in Buffalo behind me and Tiffany’s “Color Of Silence” in the CD player I drove towards my hometown. It was the second night of my New York summer tour and I felt a little bit on edge about performing in the town where I grew up.
Fredonia is a little village set on the shore of Lake Erie. In 1998 I moved to Florida with nearly everyone confident that I would return. But in 1999 I did not return. And in 2000 I didn’t return either. And despite the solid roots I have planted in the deep south, to this day I find myself disturbingly haunted by the town I grew up in. Memories like flashes that send chills through my being. I remember being six years old and staring out my bedroom window at night. In small towns everything is dark but for the glow of the old street lamps. I used to sit at my bedroom window in my blue fraggle rock pajamas and watch the illuminated snow. My hands were chilled from our house’s old drafty and rattling windows. And the snow was endless. The nights were endless. The winters were endless. And although my body shivered…my heart relished in the warmth of our home. Although my family was typically dysfunctional…my mom and step dad truly did the best they could to provide a loving atmosphere. Gorgeous Christmas trees. Polish sausage every December. Lobster on New Years. Home movies that have long disappeared. And I can feel that six year old living in me right now. The isolated young boy who settled comfortably into the constraints of the small town straightjacket. I never imagined there would be life for me outside that bedroom window. Outside that one streetlamp I used to watch every night.
Twenty five years later and here I was. 31 years old on tour and promoting my newest album. Driving towards that very town. Back to those very people that I grew up with and eventually grew apart from. Driving closer and closer to my brother. Driving closer and closer to my Grandma Gloff. Driving closer and closer to my dad.
I was nervous about facing my father on this trip. My relationship with my dad has always been polite and extremely distant. Mom and Dad divorced when I was four years old. My closets friends all know the story—one of my earliest memories is a summer afternoon on the porch of the very first house I lived in. Dad stood to my right. Mom stood to my left. And they were both so tall. Four years old. And Mommy and Daddy asked me which parent I liked more. They said they were leaving eachother and it was up to me to pick who I went with. And they looked so tall…
I ended up with mom alone in an apartment on Central Avenue. I could hear the argueing with dad’s family on the phone from the other room. I knew when the phone used to ring and hang up and mom sighed that things weren’t good. But I loved my new big bedroom.
I don’t remember ever seeing dad when I lived in that apartment with the big bedroom.
When I was five my mom met a biker named Donny. They married quicky and had my baby brother. We moved into a ramshakle house near the edge of town. The heat didn’t work. The floors creaked. We had so many spiders! And very seldom did we talk about Dad.
In fact, as a young child instead of remembering the times I hung out with my Dad, I more distinctly remember the times I was supposed to hang out with him and he never showed up. My young nose pressed against the glass. Drawing little designs in the steam on the window that I made from my breath. Then erasing the designs. Breathing more. And drawing again. And an hour later and dad still didn’t show up.
As I grew older, Dad moved to Florida. He would pop in and out of my life here and there. I usually found that he was most present when he had a girlfriend that encouraged him to stay in better contact. Or more accurately, his girlfriends wrote all the letters. All the cards. Once the girlfriends were gone…so were the Christmas presents and the phone calls…
Before my tour this summer, I’d seen my father twice since I moved to Florida. The first time we booked a show together at a local dive bar. My dad is a brilliant blues guitar player. And when he sings he sounds just like Neil Young. I remember playing that show with my dad in 2002—I sat there and cried in front of my entire family. I cried in front of all my friends. Who was this mysterious man with the long hair and the beautiful music coming from his guitar? Yes, he is my father. But I didn’t really know him. And he didn’t really know me either. But through the songs we sang together and the tears we cried together that night in 2002…we were for just a few moments…truly father and son.
My second trip back to New York was on my ROMANTICO tour in 2003. I had my close friend Jimmy in tow…and I’d set aside an afternoon to stop at my Grandma’s house and visit Dad. We spent the first ten minutes catching up with Grandma. Her health is deteriorating and it is hard for me to see this. Five minutes go by. Where’s Dad? More conversation. Ten minutes go by. Where’s Dad? Finally fiftenn minutes into my visit my father staggers down the stairs. I can smell the alcohol and Dad’s speech is uncomfortably slurring. I look at my friend Jimmy and shrug. Here’s my family.
Despite my Dad’s drunken state I figured at least we could sing a couple songs together. Perhaps recapture the magic of that night in 2001—when everything we couldn’t say to eachother in words we said in songs. This was not to be. My father was so drunk he was unable to tune his guitar. I started to get really uncomfortable. Matters only got worse when our touring guitar fell out of its case and the bridge was cracked. This afternoon in 2003 was absolutely doomed. After spending 30 of the most uncomfortable moments of my life at my Grandma’s house that afternoon—I told Jimmy we better head out. We had a show in Buffalo that night. And in 2003 I left my Grandma and my Dad behind. I didn’t know if I ever wanted to go back.
But fast forward to 2006 again. It’s the second night of my summer tour and I’m driving back to that very living room. The room where I sat with my sick grandma and my drunk dad only three years before.
I’d made an effort to build some bridges with my dad. I went ahead and booked another show for us together at the same dive bar. I had sent him an extensive letter from the heart. And for the first time in my life…I began to tap into that sizzling kettle of anger and hurt that’s always brewed somewhere deep inside of me. In this letter I told my dad that I believed he loved me the most he was capable of loving me. In this letter I told my dad that even though we never discussed it…that he knew I was gay and I was glad he accepted it. In this letter I told my dad that no matter how distant he ever was…that I loved him. That I was proud to have him as my father.
While setting up my tour this summer I talked to my dad on the phone a few times. We never mentioned the letter. He didn’t bring it up. I didn’t bring it up. But it was hanging in the air. Like smog. Like pollution.
As the 2006 summer tour grew closer I called to check on my dad about four times. I wanted to make sure he booked the venue. I wanted to let him know that I made sure we were getting press coverage. I wanted to let him know I had every intention of making this show a very special one for the both of us. As I drove to Buffalo the night before I called dad to confirm that everything was on. The show was on. It was going to be a fun night.
I arrived at Grandma Gloff’s around 6pm. We were scheduled to perform at 8. And everything in the next five minutes is slow motion in my memory. I remember parking my rental car. I remember walking up those winter-beaten wooden steps. The same steps I used to climb as a child. The same steps I remember my uncle vommiting on when I was eight. Grandma opened the door. She looked older. But the same familiar scent greeted me. A little dog. A little antique must. And there’s nothing like the phantoms that still hover in old small town New York family houses. As I enter the vast entry way in my Grandma’s house it feels like a time machine. Old music on staticy radios. Polish polka and Sunday church gossip. It’s a world whose last breaths are choking away right now. As one by one the old generation leaves us. And I wonder if my grandma is leaving soon too…
I walk into the living room. Grandma hugs me but it’s an uncomfortable hug. Neither side of my family has ever been good at physical communication. Hugs are quick and loose. My hug with Grandma was no exception.
We settle into the couches. The very couch where granmda has read TV guide for years. The very couch where my grandma has watched the weather on TV and her soap operas unfold. And the very couch where I first saw Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” video in 1989. I remember my family furious that Madonna was kissing a “ni–er”. It’s where I grew up…
Three lines into our conversation that early evening grandma informed me that “my job had been cancelled that night”.
And my heart sank.
Where was dad?
Why was our show cancelled?
I asked Grandma where dad was. She had no idea. He left about a half hour ago.
And grandma’s phone kept ringing and ringing. Because the local small newspaper had run a big article about Jimmy Gloff and his son Jeremy playing a show together.
But Dad was gone. Something about a sore throat…
And every person that called…grandma nonchalantly said…the show was a no go.
And thus I spent another uncomfortable twently minutes in grandma’s living room again. My heart was pounding. My blood raced through my veins. I had friends driving from hours away to see this show. I had friends I hadn’t seen in years coming to this show. I had the whole town reading the article about me. Watching me.
And dad was missing.
After enduring 20 minutes of racial slurs and typical grandma gossip (and I do love her…despite all this) I had to leave. And I gave my grandma one last loose quick hug. And as I write this…I cry…because this may be the last time I ever touch her alive….
I love you grandma. I hope you love me. Even though I don’t think anyone in our family knows how to say “I love you…”
And all of a sudden…the early evening shifts gears from slow motion to warp speed. Next thing I know I’m walking into the seedy dive bar where my dad and I were supposed to perform that night. I approach the owner. “Oh, I haven’t heard from your dad in a long time. I had no idea there was a show tonight until I read it in the paper….”
But, bless his heart…if I can find sound equipment…the show will go on.
And I scramble around one last time. Picking up the pieces after my father one last time. I drive to my brother’s house. And my brother loves me. Within seconds we have a back up plan. The show will go on. Just Jeremy Gloff.
As I raced back to the venue my uncle was there. My uncle (my dad’s brother) is a burly bass player with the heartiest laugh in America. One look at Uncle Cork and you may fear for your life. But upon closer inspection…you will find a man with one of the kindest hearts I have ever known.
That night….Uncle Corky saved the day. We ended up not needing my brother’s small broken up amp. Because Uncle Corky set up the a big sound system for me. Uncle Corky carried the heavy speakers up the stairs. Uncle Corky did the sound check. And one by one…I watched people from my distant past enter the building. One surprise after another. Old friends. Family. Friends I love. Family I love. Friends I’ll never forget. Baby pictures. Wedding rings.
And I sang to them. And they sang along with me. And they danced along with me. And somewhere in the middle of the set….my dad shows up.
I invited dad to sing a couple songs with me. And I can still see my body frozen in time that night…my dad and I sharing a microphone. And although we were singing the same words…our hearts and lives were in utter dischord.
After the show I was greeted with such warm hugs from everyone. I sold a lot of CDs. For one of the first times in my life…I really felt embraced and loved by the town I grew up in. Fredonia/Dunkirk was proud of Jeremy Gloff…and goddammit I was proud of Dunkirk Fredonia too.
After the show my father offered me a drink. I don’t drink. Dad then asked if I wanted to go outside and “burn one”. I laughed. No thanks Dad.
And as I packed up my equipment. As I loaded up the car and said goodbye to my old friends…I watched my dad walk away. Down that cracked sidewalk in that cracked town in the middle of nowhere. The rusty train underpass to my right and nighttime waves of Lake Erie crashing to my left. There’s nothing like the smell of Summertime in Dunkirk. There’s still traces of the old steel mills and ghosts in the air. The dank death of the seaweed in Lake Erie. The smell of dog food from the Parina Plant on the edge of town. The smell of ketchup from the Red Wing factory in the middle of town. The smell of the endless grape belts that dot the entire area. And most importantly…the smell of isolation and desperation.
I stood on that sidewalk and watched my dad walk away from me. And once again in my life…he fucking let me down.
I stood on that busted cracked sidewalk and took in a huge gulp of that air. I left the desperation and isloation of the town surge through my bloodsteam. I held my breath. I let it own me for but a moment.
And then I exhaled as dad got into a car and drove away.
The desperation and isolation were no longer mine.
I got into my rental car and went to eat pizza with the friends and family who truly did love me. And I fell asleep crying and smiling at the same time.
Dad…I don’t understand you. I have no idea how troubled and heartbroken your life must be. But somewhere out there…whereever you are…whatever you are doing.
I love you. The most *I* know how.
NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART 4:
HANGING WITH BROTHER, MEETING MY SISTER
I stood avoiding the pouring rain by standing in the enterance way of Pizza Wings and Things. I was with my old friend Shauna, my brother (Little Don), his wife (Melissa), and my (former) step father Big Donny. And all I can think about right now is the Brady Bunch Reunion movie that came out in the 1980s. No matter how many years went by…Eve Plumb was still that damn old Jan Brady. And I realize that life is much like that. No matter where we go…and no matter how far we go…we still easily slip into roles that we played decades earlier. It was as if the time that elapsed between then and now meant nothing. It was as if I never left that doorway of Pizza Wings and Things since I was a bratty 21 year old. Eating chicken finger subs and wondering where my place in the world was…and certainly knowing where it wasn’t.
We all braved the rain and ran for Big Donny’s pickup truck. All five of us piled inside along with Spunky…the dog that came into the picture shortly after I left it. And as we drove through the hammering rain it was as if time was frozen. It could have easily been 1981. Or 1991. Old haunted streets.
And for the rest of the early evening the five of us drove around with the dog. We went to the favorite local bar. We went back to my brother’s and played board games. And although it had been years since we all really saw eachother, it was as if two seconds hadn’t gone by. Such is the magic of reunions…
After everyone had left my brother and I decided to take a drive and catch up and get in depth. It’s a strange sensation…revisiting the dark empty streets of where you grow up in conjunction with visiting the dark empty hallways of memory. And as Don and I talked I made circles through the town…driving by little places that held small secret significance to me. A birthday party I remember from 1992. A hotel I stayed in back in ’94. A birthday party in 1982. Vague scenes from movies that haven’t rerun in a long long time. During that drive I got to brush shoulders with old phantoms while getting to know my brother as the adult he’s become. A night I’ll remember for a long time.
I fell asleep with a lot to think about. It had been a full day. I revisted my old haunts in Buffalo. I was let down by my dad again. I got to have my chicken finger sub at Pizza Wings and Things while hanging out with people I love but am far away from. And I got to hear my brother talk and think as an adult. Sometimes it feels like nothing happens in six months. Sometimes it feels like everything happens in six minutes.
(the next morning: the start of day three of my trip)
When I woke up it was as if the sun was already at my side…ready to hold my hand and lead me into one of the most meaningful mornings of my life. By nature I am not a morning person…and even more so I’m not a sunny morning person. But this day it was okay. I packed my car and waved goodbye to Don and Melissa. I watched my brother and sister in law get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. You always wonder when you leave people when you will see them again. How it will feel. What event will bring you together again. As I watched their dreadlockes and mohaws get further and further away from me. Sometimes you wish you could stay forever…in a million different places at once.
My first item of business my third day in New York was to meet my sister in person. My father had a child I never got to know. I’d seen her only a couple times as a baby…and even then only in quick passing. For years I thought about my sister. I always knew she was out there. And I always wondered and wanted us to be close… I will always be very hesitant to lampoon Myspace…because it was on that site that my sister found me. And family reunions are nothing to fuck with.
It was early in the morning and it was an hour drive to get to Tanya (my sister). And I think of people’s favorite pleasures of life. Sex. Getting drunk. Drugs. And in my opinion none of those hold a candle to the sheer joy of driving fast on the highway with the best song playing as the afternoon sun shines. I felt a little bit nervous. My sister and I are very much alike. Shy. Quiet when uncomfortable.
Tanya’s mom used to date my dad. I remember Kim from when I was young. The piano in her house. Her watching a video tape of my dad’s band playing “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac and singing along. My dad always seemed to find beautiful and intelligent women with warm hearts. And I see the trail of disappointment he’s left behind him. People who don’t know him well love him to pieces. And people who tried to get close to him and truly love him always leave once they realize he will never know how to be an adult.
Kim made a nice breakfast of pancakes for Tanya and I. Tanya is in her teens and I could smell the same nearly frantic desperation in Kim that I saw in my own mother when I was young. Go to school. Don’t end up like your dad. And Tanya won’t end up like dad. Just like I didn’t. Tanya and I really didn’t a chance to get in depth and talk much. But we formed that unspoken bond. Communicating like only siblings can…and do.
It was so nice to hug my sister goodbye. I always wondered if I’d ever truly know her. And I’m beginning to. Once we get older…we can take trips together. She will be in my life forever now. And so I drove off into the sun again. Watching more faces fade in the mirror. Waving goodbye and wondering when I’ll be back. Bye Kim…bye Tanya.
NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART 5: THE BEST DAY OF 2006
As the sun shone brightly through my windows I sped 65 miles an hour back to my hometown, one last time. Meeting my sister in the flesh and face to face was exhilarating, and it wasn’ t yet noon even.
I was due back in Fredonia at 12:30 to do an on-the-air promotional interview for my “Now’s The Right Time To Feel Good” CD. But I cherished every second of the forty five minute drive from Hamburg to Fredonia. I’d spent my entire youth cruising up and down this highway. But I never loved it. I never took time to breathe it in. And I never really sat down on any of these New York roads and told them just how much I loved them. But looking back…it was this very afternoon that I realized just how much I was in love with the place I grew up.
Western New York has the second largest grape belt in the United States next to California. And this glorious afternoon I sped over the concrete with the windows down and the wind awash over my face. And I could smell the grapes. I could see the sun slamming down on the grapes. And the small canyons with the creeks hidden deep inside of them. And the ramshackle barns throwing up hay. And dirty little kids running through the endless fields of corn. I had spent eight years of my life trying my damnedest to exorcise any fleeting positive thought about the place I grew up. And speeding through the endless rolling hills of Western New York I couldn’t deny it to myself anymore…these very grape vineyards and corn fields were as much a part of me as my DNA. And no matter how far south I go…or west…I’ll never again be able to deny that momentarily the sweet smell of corn will always put me at peace…
And this forty five minute drive plays back in my memory in slow motion. If I think back hard enough I can remember each and every sign. I can remember the overpasses that I drove underneath. The twists and turns of the road are nearly as familiar as my ABCs. I had a dream the other night, right before I woke up. And the dream was merely me driving down Center Road…the barren country road where my Grandma Hall lived. But the dream shook me up. I was in a haunted eerie mood all day. Because there was nothing more in life I wanted that day last week than to be able to speed over those country hills one more time. In the luminescent summertime. There’s nothing like a northern summertime in the country. The powdery-white of dandelion seeds covering the earth. The sweetly nauseating smell of cow manure. And endless safe places to run. That’s how I grew up. And I almost made myself forget it.
I left the expressway and rolled into the toll booth that stood between my hometown and I. I swear, one advantage of being a New York state toll booth worker is the ease of finding a fucking Halloween costume. These toll booth workers are usually ugly. And they are usually mean. And as I dropped my filthy quarters into the grubby hands of some miserable looking bastard I couldn’t help but bust out in one of my toothy grins. They are stuck there. I am not. And my wheels rolled through to that traffic light that stopped me for so many years. Drive front and you go to the grocery store. Turn left and you end up downtown or near the fast food. Or turn right and in about four minutes you are in front of Lake Erie. And those are about your only options in a place like Fredonia New York. Forward, right, or left. There’s never any way up. And rarely a way out.
I chose forward. Towards the college. Past the empty building where Tops supermarket used to be the only thing open 24 hours. Past the old miniature golf place. Overgrown with weeds. Closed down since I left. I remember buying pop (soda) out of a vending machine there when it was still sold from the bottle. I remember being drawn particularly to obstacle number 8–a fireplace with the flames rotating. As a child I was drawn towards fire. And I tried my damnedest to always get my miniature golf ball past those wooden flames. Next I drove past the old theater. The place I watched Star Wars as a child. Also closed down. Also overgrown with weeds. And I drove past the building that used to hold Sidey’s–the “fancy” store where my grandma used to shop for her church clothes. And past “The Plaza” — the largest collection of stores in the whole town. Many of the storefronts empty. Many remain unchanged since the 1980s. And after blinking my eyes I’d already passed the plaza and was in front of the next traffic light. I chose to turn left….onto Central Avenue.
Central Avenue Fredonia New York. Ancient trees branches reach out over the pavement and cast eerie shadows onto the 30mph traffic. Towering old houses sit back far enough from the street to ensure there’s enough room for the kids to frolic summertime grass. Yet these antique houses are close enough to the street that if you drive slow enough…you can see through the windows. Where heirloom grandfather clocks stand dignified…watching the years pass…the kids grow up…the autumn leaves get tracked in…the snow get tracked in…the mud get tracked in…chime chime another year gone.
Another traffic light. Into the college. State University of New York at Fredonia. A music school. The school where I performed some of my earliest songs. The school with the ancient concert hall where my high school chorus did their Christmas concert. And during that chilly December day all of our parents wore their fanciest clothes. And my mom wore a perfume I have never smelled since. She doesn’t wear it anymore. But I remember it. “Deck the halls with bows of holly…”
I zig zag through the college towards a parking spot. It’s been years since I’ve been in the Fredonia State radio station. But I remember it so clearly. The clutter. The late late nights when my friends had radio shows. Maybe only a few people were listening…but at the time it felt so fucking BIG. It was the age of grunge. Indie rock. Everything felt so fresh and exciting. And I’d almost give anything. ANYTHING. To recapture that feeling of excitement and relevance. As my friend Joshua spun the latest quirky CD that we found back in 1993 there was a feeling to true electricity. Here we were…these dirty little punk kids suffocated by the merciless grip of an obscure northern town. And stupid us. We had no idea at the time that we were breathing the most exciting and clean air we’d probably ever breathe in our lives. Stupid stupid us.
I found my way to the radio station with little effort. Past that big old library. I remember being super excited about the library back when I was a teenager. So many books. I spent hours and hours looking for Joni Mitchell articles on microfilm. Until I had this huge orange Joni Mitchell scrap book that I took with me everywhere I went. A scrap book long buried somewhere beneath the earth. Like memories. And feelings.
To get to the radio station I first had to walk through the large high-ceilinged echoey lobby of the library. I could hear the ghost of the clunk clunk of the black combat boots that we all wore “back in the day”. And it’s true. We were our own little small town army of naive intellectuals. Bursting with sexuality and creativity and idealism. Before the burning of the years would slowly evaporate it all…
The halls of Fredonia State feel a bit toasty and claustrophobic…but familiar in the warmest and most comforting way. And as I walk to toward the radio station to do on live-on-the-air interview…the strangest wave of elation surges through my bloodstream. Ten years ago I walked down these halls feeling a bit dejected. Maybe it was because my music did kind of suck in 1994. Maybe it’s because the upper-middle-class music snob students didn’t take a very kind ear to the music of Mr. Jeremy Gloff. But I remember feeling miffed at the lack of support I got from my hometown in 1994. It was a personal triumph to be able to come back to this school twelve years later promoting the most successful album of my career thus far. And to have it embraced. And supported. And loved. I smiled inside, and I smiled outside too.
I was warmly greeted at the station by Tom, the gentleman who would be interviewing me on air. He was an older man. In the short time I spent with him I could sense he had a lot of stories to tell. A lot of education. A lot going on upstairs. I’ve always found it easy to do interviews. I like to talk a lot. And I like to listen a lot too. This was no exception. The time spent on air flew by too fast. Although I was a bit travel worn…my body tingled with elation as I sunk into the comfortable couch in the radio station. I’ve felt a lot of discouragement over the last few years. I don’t talk about it much. And when I do talk about it I don’t think I really show just how deeply things have affected me. And to hear my songs broadcast over the airwaves in the very town I fled from in 1998…the healing this brought me is indescribable. I’ll never forget hearing “Dancing In Your Blue” come out of those speakers in that radio station that day. Never in a thousand years did I imagine my life would turn out as it had…
I waved goodbye to Tom. I waved goodbye to the two college students that were helping operate the radio station. I saw a lot of my younger self in these boys. Raggedy looking. Unkempt. Giddy goofy grins that hid mischief and naively. I bet these two boys knew as much about today’s music and my friends I knew about our music…back then. I could feel passion and electricity in this small station in this small town hidden away near Lake Erie… After hiding in my apartment in Tampa for years and years now…I could feel my body come alive again. And all I wanted to do was spin in circles and jump and run.
And I did…just that.
I couldn’t stop my feel from running. I ran through the beautiful courtyard where my friends and I used to picnic. I ran up and down the concrete steps that lined the library. I remembered my younger self running up these steps. I ran up and down sidewalks that I used to ride my bike on. And my crazy feet just kept running and running. And I kept smiling and smiling. And the fresh summertime air charged through my lungs and up my nose and in my mouth. In 1988 I was a kid with huge dreams who rode his little red bike over these sidewalks. In 2006 I was an extremely disillusioned 31 year old with very few dreams left…but it’s like I was running trying to catch back up with the person I used to be. What happened to the dreamer? When did he stop believing in himself? The dreamer became a tree. He grew roots. He stood in one place. And as he stood there he let the axes chip chip chip away at him. Some trees grow. They become wildly grandiose and beautiful. I haven’t let myself be that kind of tree. I want the old me back. I want the fucking old me back.
The campus center. The central building in the college where bands would play. Where clubs held their meetings. Where I saw many a grunge band “back in the day.” I played some of my earliest shows there too. I dressed up as Frankenfurter during Rocky Horror. I got in front of that whole building in drag and sang my heart out. Some things never change. I ran through that campus center like wild fire. I ran up and down the stairs. I ran past every room that held a memory. I ran through the downstairs to the cafeteria and I remember my friends helping me survive with their meal plan cards. I remember sitting in that very cafeteria with some of the first gay men I’d ever met. Before I even knew. And we talked Madonna “Erotica”. We talked Annie Lennox “Diva”. Me in my long olive green trench coat. My little peace sign necklaces. I long for my naive idealism because jaded reality sucks. And before I left the building I took a drink from a fountain to taste the water again…and take one last look at the ticket office. The ticket office where I’d spent all the money I saved up on a ticket to Florida. And the rest is history…
Next I ran to the music building. I ran through those musty halls with wild abandon. I opened an empty rehearsal room and played a piano. I peeked into the room where I took drum lessons back in 1988. And my memory is jolted by one of my fondest memories. I was leaving my drum lesson. It was in early April and winter was starting to leave. There was still a chill in the air…but it was the kind of chill that felt like the beginning of life and not the end of it. And that night back in 1988…I felt this sense of hugeness. I ran up to my bedroom and opened the window wide and let this cold electric air into my room. I played Joni Mitchell’s “Night In The City” at top volume and danced around my room in the cool night time air. That night I felt like I was going to be huge. Like the future was going to be huge. In my old bedroom full of patchouli and sage I danced like the teenaged banshee I was. And in 2006…as I ran in and out of the buildings in Fredonia State for the first time in years I once again felt a surge of that juice.
And all those years I spent hating the place I grew up a realization crashed on me like a grand piano. I grew up in a music town. Near a music school. Around people who valued art and education. Sure I grew up in a closed minded country town. But within this town were people who valued the finer things! Classical music. Antiques. A good old fashioned Christmas. And I never thought these words would ever cross my brain. But they did. Thank God I grew up in a small town. Thank God I grew up in this fucking small town.
I ran towards my rental car. I still had a lot of things I wanted to do before I left Fredonia for the next stop on my tour. But I realized as I was driving out of the college…there was still one more thing I had to do. The hill. Tucked away on the side of the college is this big hill. At night you can lay atop the hill and see millions of stars. And in the day you can lay there and study and dream and just be. There’s these huge abstract tin men statues perched atop that hill. And as I child I rolled down that hill. And as a teen I rolled down that hill. And as a motherfucking jaded 31 year old with little fire left in life…I was gonna roll down that fucking hill one more time.
I was out of breath by the time I got to the top of the hill. Of course. Jesus. I took my keys out of my pocket. I looked around to see if anyone was looking at me. No one was looking. I took a look at the sky. I took a look at the trees. I took a look across the soccer field off in the distance. And I closed my eyes and let myself roll.
With abandon. With motherfucking abandon I rolled down that hill so fast. And I rolled. And rolled and rolled. And as I spun and spun a piece of my heart longed so badly for the times when I was the person who would just normally let loose and roll down the hills. Now I step too cautiously. Or I avoid the hills all together. Horray for the days when we took chances!! But this day back in August I took the chance. And as I slowed to a stop at the bottom of the hill I felt like I seriously needed to vomit. And even as I write about this and put myself back to that day…my stomach is starting to churn. I laid still at the bottom of the hill but the world was askew. I stood up and clumsily staggered towards my car. I do not regret rolling down the hill…but my body was sure tore up for the next few hours! I am not exaggerating when I say I felt slightly nauseous for the next six hours. I’m getting old(er).
I drove out of Fredonia State knowing that I’d just spent some valuable time with myself. But there was still a lot to do before I left Fredonia. And one by one, I checked the things off that I needed to do.
I walked through Quality Market in The Plaza. This store is the only place I’ve ever shop lifted in my life. Back when I was a poor teenager I used to rip out the Ed Furlong pinups out of the Teen mags and sneak them out in the coupon flyers. It was such an adrenaline rush! And that’s about the most illegal thing I’ve done in my life. Steal Ed Furlong pinups.
I walked down to The Book Nook. Growing up I’ve always loved books…and long before Amazon.com the only place to find books was in the store. As I walked into the Book Nook I realized just how small everything was. Compared to the places like Borders where I shop these days…this rinky dink little bookstore barely measures up. But it was in this store that I collected all the Nancy Drew books I own today. It was in this store that I eagerly anticipated the next Berenstain Bears volume. It was in this store I learned to love escaping into worlds that only exist on inked paper. I knew I needed to purchase something at the Book Nook to bring back with me. As I walked up and down the aisles nothing really caught my eye…until I stopped in front of the Little Critter books. I loved Little Critter as a child…and lately I’ve been slowly rebuilding my collection. But in front of me stood one of the books I hadn’t rebought. And it seemed wildly appropriate that I buy this book…at The Book Nook…in light of the past day’s events. “Just Me And My Dad.” I bought the book and I ran to my car and almost cried. In the book Little Critter cherishes the time he spends with his father. And at the very moment that I read this book my own father was merely minutes away from me geographically. But mentally we were light years apart. I will always have this book now to remember the day I accepted in full my failed relationship with my dad. Just me…and my dad.
My next stop was at Arby’s. My first real job. The foundation for everything I am now was built by that money I made sweeping that fucking parking lot. Working that fucking drivethrough. Mopping that fucking floor. And having some of the best times of my life while fucking doing it. I parked my rental. I walked in. Deja vous. And Dar was working. Fucking Dar. Ten years later. Her pants were still tight. Her laugh was still loud. And most importantly her eyes still sparkled. I couldn’t leave Fredonia without saying hi to Dar. I only stayed five minutes…but in that five minutes I was caught up on ten years of gossip. Somehow, someway, Dar is satisfied existing within those walls. She’s made Arby’s her life…and bless her heart for it. Some of the wildest laughs I’ve had in my life rang out within those walls. Back when me and my boss used to steal cherry turnovers and call them “hot boxes”. Or an apple turnover…aka H.B.B….aka “hot boxes’ brother.” Goddamn those were fun times. As I left Arby’s I took an application with me. Upon my return to Tampa I filled out that application and sent it to Dar. In the application I stated I was trying to steal her job. Dar knew I’d never come back…but I bet she had one fuck of a laugh when she got that application in the mail.
I had only a couple more stops before I concluded my visit back to Fredonia. I crossed my fingers and I crossed my toes. Please let Fran be working! Please let Fran be working!
As a child I collected vinyl. While the average kid in my class brought toys for show and tell, I had the entire Blondie discography by the time I was six. And that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for The Record Giant. As you walked into Record Giant the strong scent of incense immediately attacked you. The black light posters hung to the right. The 45s (singles) were to your immediate right. And the records were straight ahead. My mom brought me to Record Giant weekly. And I began collecting at a young age. Blondie. Fleetwood Mac. Pat Benetar. The Pretenders. And I’m still collecting today.
And as you went to cash out there was always that tiny little white lady with the 1980s afroperm behind the counter. Tight jeans and blue eyeshadow. Her name was Fran, and she was the manager of Record Giant.
Fran watched me graduate to Madonna. Fran watched me graduate to Prince. Fran watched me graduate to Joni Mitchell. Fran watched me graduate from vinyl to compact disc. And eventually Fran watched me graduate from buying music to writing my own songs. At the age of thirteen Fran played my very first demo tape over the speakers in Record Giant. I felt like a celebrity. I felt like I fucking MADE IT MAN! There’s a Sade song that says it’s never as good as the first time. I agree. No matter how successful anything I do today is, it never felt quite as big or as special as the first time Fran played my music in Record Giant.
These days, the record store as we once knew it is obsolete. I miss the warm thrill of flipping through vinyl. Looking at the cover art. Walking out of the store with that big plastic bag tucked beneath my arm. I always wondered what happened to Fran over the years. I found out when my friend Valuptuous informed me Fran was now a manager at the local donut shop–Tim Hortons! I had to see Fran before I left Fredonia. I had no idea if she’d remember me. But I had to see her. I had to hand her my new CD.
I walked into Tim Hortons. Everyone was young except for one older lady. I barely recognized her. The blue eyeshadow was gone. The afro was gone. And saddest of all I realized…the fucking 1980s were gone. But upon a closer look I recognized the voice. And the smile. Fran approached the counter.
“Can I help you?”
“Actually Fran I’m here to see you”
“Ok what can I do for you?”
“Fran, I’m that kid that came into Record Giant all those years ago. I used to buy all the Blondie records. You used to play my music.”
And Fran’s jaw dropped. And I cry as I write this because Fran got tears in her eyes as she looked at me.
“It’s you! It’s you!! I always wondered what happened to you!!! You were so talented! Oh my god Oh my god!”
And I almost started crying too. Because behind the counter at this donut shop was a woman who believed in me before anyone else did then, and maybe even more than anyone else does now. I gave Fran my CD and I gave her the biggest fucking hug of my life. She said “I love you! Thank you so much for coming in!”
I was speechless. “I love you too Fran!” And walking on air is too generic to describe the elation I felt at that moment.
My final stop in Fredonia was getting my favorite roast beef sub from Mary’s Deli. As they made my sub I ran up and down West Hill…past the football field where I used to play tri-toms in band. Past Pucci’s carpets where I saw my first ever Xerox machine…my friends and I used to make a little neighborhood magazine and copy it there.
Across from Mary’s Deli is the apartment I stayed in when I got kicked out my house. We were just a bunch of dirty punk kids who talked a lot of shit and slept on the floor. I walked up the rotted stairs to the door of that old apartment. It still smelled like beer. It still smelled like vomit. Some things never change. Except I didn’t realize back then just how shabby that building was. Back then it was home.
I drove the long way out of Fredonia. I said bye to my step dad. I drove out via Webster road so I could say goodbye to my favorite barn. My favorite hill. My favorite corner store. My favorite waterfall. My favorite run down baseball field. And I waited to eat that delicious roast beef sub. I knew I couldn’t eat it in Fredonia. I had to stop at one more special place.
About twenty minutes up route 60 when you drive north towards Jamestown there is a little rest area. I remember being homeless and having a little battery operated keyboard in my car. I wrote my song “Still Feel It” late at night in 1994 at that rest area. Since I was passing by, I had to stop there and eat my sub.
In the quiet windy afternoon I stood atop a weathered picnic table and ate the best roast beef sub made anywhere in the world. The bread is just flaky enough. Just the right texture. Just the right amount of mayo. And I sat there in silence and ate. I watched the corn sway in the wind. I watched the semis drive by. I watched the farm equipment drive by. And as I ate that meal I wished that time could stop and I could sit and watch that corn sway forever. I never feel that kind of peace at home. I never hear that kind of silence when I’m in Florida. My silences here are insecure and scary….but the breezy summer country silence of Western New York took me in her arms and gave me momentary peace. If only I could have held on to it. If only I could have held on to it…
I got in my car…put in Stevie Nicks’ song “Not Make Believe”…and headed towards my next adventure…
“Then there are the things…that cast the doubt away…
The things that made me stay for too long…
I’m not make believe then…I’m not make believe now…”
NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART 6: THE RAMSHACKLE BLUE HOUSE
Let’s take a drive up Route 60 from Fredonia NY to Jamestown NY. Long green fields blanket the earth. Wisps of weeds and wheat grow up through the gravel on the shoulders of the road. The wheat dances slowly in the 3pm wind every day. A slow sway. And it’s probably dancing right now without me. In my memory the sun always shined on those endless green fields. Even when they were covered in snow. And in my memory there were always shadows tucked away in the hills and glens. Eerie shadows that fought the noon sun away from conservative farm houses on a lemonade summer afternoons.
This is a road I’ve driven many times before in a different life. Ghosts. My old friends and I often drove it late at night. Speeding through one small town to the next in the paralyzed night. Midnight country wind bouncing off of our soft youthful faces. We always got home just in time to get a couple hours of sleep before work. Enthralled we were by the possibility of life beyond these small towns connected by Route 60.
And now ten years later it was August 2006 and once again I was driving this road. I was driving with my back toward the town I grew up in. The afternoon was as sunny as I remembered it to be. And the air was pure and clean. There were moments I stopped the music in my CD player if only to enjoy the sound of pebbles being spit from under my tires. I was driving towards the third show on my tour. Olean New York.
I’d only briefly passed through Olean on an ancient adventure that I will not share here. That adventure involved a funeral home, an engine blowing up, and me throwing someone’s bag down my stairs. Oh the drama and angst of youth.
I had a phantom to visit in Jamestown before I could get to Olean. Jamestown is a dirty little city almost half way between Fredonia and Olean. I forgot about this phantom until I saw the on ramp for the old U.S 17. Then I remembered. I remembered the house that was only five minutes away. And I felt a ravenous need to satisfy my hunger to fully understand the past. Sometimes by looking at old houses, or street corners, or park benches, or road signs I am returned to times and spaces my mind is reluctant to visit.
I looked for the ramshackle blue house on the street near the cemetery. I almost moved to Jamestown New York when I was 19 years old. In truth, it’s always been my opinion that Jamestown is an awful city. But when I was 19 and my family was falling apart, this house was an option. There was a white/ghetto girl name Ellen. A drag queen who looked like Jody Watley named Destiny. There were hedonistic parties where everyone ended up naked and drunk. I never drank. I just ended up naked.
My plan was to move into the basement of this house. And for about two weeks I befriended a crowbar and tore apart Ellen’s entire basement. Walls came down. Plaster flew. I ripped out cupboards and shelves and moldy musty lime-green boards that someone once loved. I remember beneath all the musty lime-green boards were these beautiful red bricks. I had 19 year old visions of where I’d put my bed. How I’d light the room. Where I could play my music. And how I’d deal with the drag queen chaos that would be constant above my head.
Late one Spring night at the ramshackle blue house in Jamestown things got particularly wild. I remember there being about six gay guys, three straight girls, two drag queens, and a lesbian. And a game of truth or dare. And of course, the cockroaches. Somewhere along the way the blue house became infested. I have a phobia against cockroaches.
As ths spring night in 1994 wore on eventually everyone left. But for me. And the lesbian. And this guy that was supposedly straight. And then he got naked. And the lesbian got naked. And I got naked. And I will leave out the next part. After all was said and done, the supposedly straight guy put one arm around me and one arm around the lesbian. He let out a sigh. And he said “life is great, now I have a boyfriend and I have a girlfriend.” He left the room with a big smile. He put on his underwear. He looked at both of us, the lesbian and I, and went into the shower. I heard the shower running. A cockroach skirted across the bed and I ran. I ran out of the bed and put on my clothes. I ran out of the door and into my car. I sped my car down the road and onto the late night highway. And I drove fast. Far away from the blue house. Far away from Jamestown NY. Far away from the boy in the showers whose smell I could not get out of my nose for two days. I never went back to the blue house. I left the walls in the basement torn apart. I left cupboard doors on hinges. I left my crowbar somewhere beneath the rubble. And I left a boy in the shower thinking he was going to hold me when he got out.
I needed to go back to that blue house and see it one more time. And wonder what if. What if I had stayed. What if I hadn’t ran… And twelve years later here I sat in front of the house one last time. Still badly in need of a paint job. Still overgrown with weeds. I heard somewhere along the way Ellen lost the house. I wonder what ever became of her, and the drag queens, and the straight boy I left in the shower. I wonder if they remember me. I know what happened to the lesbian. She is still my friend.
And I leave Jamestown NY for perhaps the last time ever thinking…what if?
NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART 7: THE OLEAN ART SPACE,
LIFE WITH SADIE, AND THE DIY SPIRIT
I arrived in Olean around 5 pm. I am always nervous entering new venues and foreign towns for the first time. I took a few wrong turns in Olean and remember crossing some railroad tracks. I remember passing a school. I remember that a cloud was passing over the sun, and everything looked shadowed for a minute.
My friend Sadie invited me to Olean. Sadie is an old friend of mine. Colorful. Beautifully simple and very complex too. Sadie is a lesbian in her mid to late 30s. In a different lifetime in the early 90s we both lived in Buffalo. We wrote songs together and made plans together and learned together. We cried together and yelled at each other too. As life would have it I ended up in Florida somehow, and Sadie embarked on a sometimes euphoric and sometimes torturous journey of her own. That’s her story. I hope you all get to meet her sometime so she can tell it to you.
Eventually Sadie had a daughter and decided to plant her roots in the small town where she grew up. When I see Sadie I take comfort in knowing that she has retained some of the magic left over from growing up in the wonderful late 80s early 90s DIY movement. Right now, as I write this I am sure there are punk kids sleeping on her couch. I am sure there is good music on her stereo. I am sure in the last few months she has provided a broke dreamer with a good meal and a place to bathe. I once was that broke dreamer.
Sadie had hooked me up with a show at some punk rock art space that the Olean kids were running. I remember Sadie telling me a couple years back about some exciting shows that she was putting on in the basement of her house. And then the art space was rented and cultivated to provide a bigger venue.
I was due at the Olean Art Space around 5pm, and I pulled up almost exactly on time. I try to be very diligent regarding my punctuality. I have never been fond of my fellow musicians who foolishly conduct themselves in a disrespectful and tardy manner. Downtown Olean was cute. Little shops and two story buildings lined the streets. The steady and slow flow of the 5pm traffic hummed like the lazy and comfortable flow of small town life. The art space itself was a small storefront with little fanfare. I knew I was in the right place when I saw the punk kids milling around out front. Shaggy hair and dirty jeans. I saw myself in those kids.
I felt kind of stupid walking into the venue. Everyone knew each other and I was a stranger. Sadie was still at work. So I sat there and I watched. A lot of dreaming went into this empty store. I could feel it. The vibrant energy and hope of punk rock youth was everywhere. The dust on the windowsill. The fingerprints on the door way. The home-made signs and way everyone was walking fast and getting things prepared for the night’s show. But I still felt pretty dumb sitting and watching it all. I was a stranger from far away. No one really talked to me.
Everything felt much better when Sadie arrived with her little baby Wila. Mother and daughter. My old friend and her daughter my new friend and future friend. There was still plenty of time before the show so we left in Sadie’s car. And we caught up on each other’s lives. I remember sitting in the bank parking lot with Sadie and Wila. Good memories.
We ended up at a cute coffee shop in downtown Olean. I remember a hippie-esque girl working the counter. I remember a gay boy from New York city. I remember a tasty drink and a tastier conversation. And an afternoon with Sadie has always been predictable in that it is unpredictable. No sooner had we finished our drinks were we zigzagging down narrow country roads singing songs at the top of our lungs. And there is no ecstasy like that of seeing a good friend grown up and happy singing songs to her baby girl a capella. And this New York country road wound unpredictably and beautifully much like all the years Sadie and I have known each other. Somewhere along the way the sun began to set golden on the majestic hills. Somewhere along the way we stopped at a simple genuine old fashioned country store. I had a Diet Coke and a Hershey’s bar. I love junk food as much as I love my friends. I love my friends a lot.
As we wound further into the woods the roads became dustier and the sun set lower. And a certain calm and serenity descended into my heart if only for a moment. Sadie drove deep into the hills and to a religious retreat tucked deep into the nowhere. A special enchanted sanctuary that maybe only the locals know. You had to know someone to know. There was this huge maze-like circle of rocks that wound round and round and round. And Sadie and I walked. Round and round. And as we rotated down the path we created another memory. Then another. Then another. Sadie led me to the main structure on the retreat hidden far in the hills. The back porch overlooked a valley. And all there was was silence. Gorgeous glorious silence. And all the noises in my head and tragedies in my heart took a nap, if only for a moment. There were three or four strangers enjoying this moment with us. I chuckled inside when one man came up to Sadie and said “we are going to start praying in five minutes if you would like to join.” And a large bell tolled. And Sadie said “actually we were just leaving…” Yes Sadie and I have shared men, music, and meals. We have yet to share a prayer!
And back to Olean. More singing. More joy. And even more joy. The sun was set as we arrived back at the Olean Art Space. It’s always exciting to see the spirit of rock and roll alive in small towns, even more so than in big cities. It’s easy to be rock and roll in a city. But in small towns you have to work for it. You have to own it. These kids owned it. I chuckled to myself as I watched the door guy struggle to get money from the people trying to get into the show. I do not miss living in a small town. I do not miss not being able to afford five dollars to get into a show.
The first band had lots of guitars and lots of thrash. The second band had lots of guitars and lots of thrash. Oh yea, the third band had lots of guitars and lots of thrash. And then it was the gay guy from Tampa’s turn to do his dance music set. Yea, this was a tough one. Made even more tough when the kid running the show was apprehensive about me using the other band’s sound equipment. And yet even more tough when I started playing all the kids glued themselves to the back wall and stared at me like I was an alien from planet gay. They weren’t a mean crowd. They weren’t even a disinterested crowd. They were a “what the fuck is happening in front of us” crowd. Ah, the show must go on.
And it was one hell of a bizarre show. Somewhere during the third song I decided I wanted to try to host an Olean dance-off. I challenged the frightened punk kids to a dance off—if I could get five people to enter I’d award $20 to whoever was the hottest dancer. And the eyes nervously looked at each other. And if I was trying to entertain the Olean Art Space, they were entertaining me just as much if not more. Only one kid entered my dance off. I never met this kid, but I knew him. He a bit more artistic, a bit more eccentric, a bit more misunderstood than the rest. I could feel it. And as my drum machine chugged along he danced-off with Gloff as the punk kids’ jaws hit the floor. In truth I felt like a big moronic asshole playing my music and dancing like that in front of those kids. But what else was I to do but try my best? I wanted so badly to stop the kids from watching me and to get them to join in my spirit. To be with me onstage. To feel what I was doing. But they just stared. Just like they started at the gay boy who danced-off with me. I was the lucky one. I got to leave the next day and never come back unless I wanted to.
The post-show was fun. A couple of the kids came up and talked to me. I distinctly remember one girl saying “Jeremy Gloff, you have a lot of guts.” I smiled but I was disillusioned. I remember when the punk DIY spirit wasn’t just trash guitar. It was individualism. It was eclectic. It was unpredictable. It was all-embracing. Yes Jeremy Gloff, the 1990s are over.
Post show Sadie, Wila, Tyler and I all went to the late night pizza joint. And once again, nothing beats a northern sub. Or a northern late night slice of pizza. And the streets were dead. Two lonely punk looking girls walked up and down the street twice. I wondered if they were looking for something, or someone…in the cracks of the sidewalks…in the empty alleyways…on the empty park benches. And I wonder if those girls are still walking up and down that empty street as I write this.
We retired to Sadie’s home. The house that Sadie purchased to raise Wila. And there were punk kids. And books everywhere. And life everywhere. Sadie’s life. And we talked for hours and I played her my new songs. It was like old times, except that these were new times. There was a baby sleeping next to Sadie, and I was no longer a dirty 21 year old living in Buffalo.
I woke early the next day. I woke Sadie and said an early morning goodbye. I will see her again soon. And I left Olean with an old Christmas decoration church Sadie gave to me. It’s the same church my grandma Supkoski used to have under her tree. And I left with an Encyclopedia Brown book. And I left without my keyboard stand. It would be almost half a year until we were reunited. The Olean air was clean and beautiful as I packed the trunk of my car. I remember the sound of the morning. The gorgeous hum of an old small neighborhood. I know I will sleep in that house again. And then again years later. And again years later. And yet another chapter of the tour comes to a close.
Before I left Olean I stopped at McDonalds for breakfast. I sat in a gravel parking lot facing the misty hills and pine trees. And as I woofed down my bacon-egg-cheese bagel those punk kids in Olean were on my mind. I am so proud of them. I am so proud of them for trying in this day and age when quite often people don’t try anymore. I still keep track of their myspace page from time to time. And I wonder, if dotted throughout this United States there are kids everywhere putting their hearts and souls into abandoned store fronts. To share their art. To share their music. To share their souls. I finished my McDonalds, threw out my trash, and said goodbye to the pine trees in front of me.
I was leaving Olean behind me, with only New York city in front of me. May the spirit of DIY stay alive forever…in the cities and in the small towns too…
NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART 8:
MEETING MICHAEL ALIG AND THE ENCHANTED DRIVE
I was running behind schedule. I always seem to start off things just a little bit late but I almost always end up where I need to be on time. It was 10 am and I was in Olean New York. I needed to be across the state and in New York City by six. I was told it was eight hours. Six hours. Four hours. Nobody really knew. The only thing I knew is that I needed to be on the highway. More than ever. More than anytime on this tour so far.
I left Olean and the kids who didn’t quite get me. And I drove. Drove. Drove. Drove. It was a sunny afternoon. The temperature was probably perfect as I drove along the southern border of New York state towards the city that a lot of dreamers talk about. The city that they think will save them. The city that sometimes kills them.
And I drove drove drove. And on this enchanted drive through the rural hills and wilderness I found myself haunted. I found I was no alone in my car. I found myself fiercely visited by the rubble of a relationship that had fallen apart in my life nearly a month before this tour started.
And I was okay for most of that month. I held my head high. I called on friends to prop me up and I walked around zombie-like doing my best to ward off the staining and the scarring of life-size disappointment. But I did okay. And then I left on this tour to promote this album I believed in so fiercely at one time. I wanted to believe in this relationship so badly, and I wanted to believe in this album so badly. But the relationship turned out to be too heavy and complicated for all parties involved. And the album turned out to be too heavy and too long as well. So I drove across New York state. One more show to play on this tour. One more time to perform these deeply personal songs I wrote about the cracks in my life. Laid bare. All my insecurities laid bare. The evolution of my psychology laid bare. I drove drove drove long this long green highway to sing these songs one last time, in New York city.
And I felt the hands of the phantoms curling around my throat. And I found myself starting to cry. For the first time truly, crying about this lost beautiful love that just couldn’t be. And for the millionth time in my life it was just me, the road, and Stevie Nicks.
“Love Is” is the closing track on Trouble in Shangri-La. And we know those moments…when songs hit us. Sometimes we don’t get the songs at first…but they hit us later. And I found myself hit square in the gut but this song and by this car ride and by this moment.
“She awakens things
That he said he thought were dead
He says, are you happy now
Oh yes, I am
But when it’s over
How then will you feel
Will you miss those arms that used to go
So she stood there in the hallway frozen
In the dark
And her heart broke down
She fell to the floor”
And I was that girl. Falling to the floor. Standing frozen in time. In the darkness of a sunny afternoon. I wanted him back so badly. And maybe more than actually wanting him back, I wanted back the belief that I could connect with someone. That someone understood me. That I had a partner in crime. It was all gone. And it happens to everyone. People lose things they believe in all the time. But this car ride was my moment to grieve what I had lost. And so began my desperation to reach back to him and hope the connection could be mended. I didn’t call him, but everything about him was in the passenger seat of my car. The softness and the hardness of him. His wonderful mysteriousness and his terrible tyranny. We all have it in us. I do and he did and you do too.
And on I drove. Across New York. And only one stop would interrupt this journey between here and there. Somewhere in between Olean and New York and exit called my name and I got off the highway. My gas tank was empty and my stomach was empty and my heart was empty and it was 2 o’clock on a sunny New York state afternoon.
And I missed a turn and ended up on a desolate stretch of highway leading me out into the middle of nothing and more nothing and more nothing. I knew I had made a mistake. I turned around. Time lost.
And I found the street I needed to turn on. And I did not stop for gas. I had a place to be. I had a person to talk to. And finally I saw the barbed wire. I saw the huge building. I saw the blue sunny sky above the huge building. Maybe that blue sunny sky was just there to tease everyone inside. Let everyone know how tragically beautiful things can be when they are out of reach. When you have no freedom. I was a free man with no freedom that day. I allowed myself to be in the shackles of failed romance/love/sex/interpersonal relations. And a huge scary old old building loomed in front of me. I didn’t understand how to quite get in that building. But I knew I had to be inside.
So I entered this dilapidated little building that was the welcome building for guests. But there was nothing welcoming about it. It had an air of sadness. Hopelessness. It was frightening. I registered myself. I stated my purpose. And I left that sad hopeless little white building and climbed up the long long flight of cement stairs. Stairs that I am sure have been there since the 1950s. They were weather beaten. And I know in my heart that a lot of sad and disappointed people have climbed those very same stairs. With no hope in their hearts. Dread. Dread. Dread.
I had to go up and down those steps three more times. Forgot my wallet. Had too many papers on me. Mistakes. And I bet the men in uniform inside the building had a good chuckle when this strange looking boy named Jeremy Gloff run up and down and up and down and up and down the stairs. And then up one last time. I was sweaty. The sun beat down upon me. The air was stagnant. Dead. Hopeless. Ominous.
And I filled out more paper work. And I was searched. And I was lead through a huge metal door. Strange buzzing sounds. Gates that opened very slowly. And another door closed behind me while another door opened in front of me.
I found myself in the lobby of the big building. I had to follow arrows. Up stairs. Up stairs. Up musty old old stairs. Faded tile. Musk and must and the smell of despair. And up more stairs. Narrow stair case. It reminded me of my elementary school. Ancient. Built in the 1950s. Dreams of architecture that are now faded and dated and disappointing. It looked like a prison. It smelled like a prison. It was a prison.
And I was led through more doors. And more buzzing. And large metal doors like metal doors I had never seen before. Scary metal doors that separated me from the murders and the sociopaths of the world. And there was absolutely no place in the world I’d rather have been at that very moment.
And I was buzzed through one final door. Opening slowly. Slowly. And before me was the visiting room. Desks lined up. Almost like an old high school cafeteria. And quietly people talked at these desks. I was shown where to sit and wait. And there sat the person I’d come to see. Two rows from where I sat. The guard watching to room called me up and told me to go ahead and join the two people sitting at the very far end of the room.
“Hi Michael Alig, I am Jeremy Gloff.”
And we talked about the things we needed to talk about for that half hour. Face to face. Alig and Gloff. I knew Michael was someone I would be friends with, and someone I would meet. And I will think fondly of the things we talked about that afternoon, behind thick metal doors and barbed wire and up flights of musty stairs. And Michael had another visitor, a charming girl whose name escapes me as I wrote this. I remember what she wore. She was one of my people. I remember she loved My Chemical Romance. I am terrible with names… And although we all met at that very moment it was like we’d known each other for years. Just like I knew it would be. If you don’t know who Michael Alig is…the made a movie about him once…
And after a half hour I left. Hugs goodbye. To be continued. A few different people commented on my way out about how I went through a lot of effort to visit for a half hour. That is how Jeremy does things. It’s all about moments. And conversations. And memories.< P>
I walked down those stairs and looked at the towering looming scary old building one last time. I had a friend in that building. I hope he’s out soon.
I got gas and left Elmira New York. Michael laughed when I told him the timetable in which I hoped to get to New York. Well Jeremy if you drive really fast maybe…
And drive I did. Past hills that maybe were mountains. I don’t remember. I just remember emptiness and fatigue.
And somewhere along the way I stopped and rested. I pulled off into a beautiful rest area. Tall pine trees. A family picnic. There were photos, large photos, propped up and everyone was looking at them. I looked at their photos. I wondered what their lives were like. Everyone was smiling. Full of future and full of life.
My quarters clanked into the vending machine. Grandma’s cookies and a diet coke. And I sat at a picnic table and silently watched the cars speed down the highway. I wondered about the lives of the people in those cars. What they were running to. What they were running from. And I thought about what I was running to and running from.
I ate my cookie slowly. I read once more the newspaper article written about me in my hometown. I didn’t want this moment in this park to end. So peaceful to be surrounded by smiling strangers. Chewing my peanut butter cookie. I usually get chocolate chip.
And I drove again. Towards the huge city I knew very little about. I’d only been in New York City for a very very brief two hours. But I’d never driven in it. I was going to drive into New York City alone with my music and my ghosts. I was excited. And scared. And lonely as fuck.
And finally I was getting closer. And Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Will” album turned out to be the true album for this part of the trip. An older Fleetwood Mac. But I understood their ancient languages and tales of the heart. I was living them on my highway.
And then the hills got steeper and suddenly I rounded a curve. And this is a moment that sticks in my head with a crystal clearness that gives me chills. And this is a moment that makes me cry when I think about it just right. I saw a sign, The Delaware Water Gap. And before me stood natural beauty. Unfettered. Grandiose. Beyond my comprehension. And but for a moment I either forgot my ghosts, or was so overcome by them I found myself inert. One of my least favorite songs on the Fleetwood Mac album was playing when I rounded that curve, but I knew this was a MOMENT. So I put on the song that will forever capture this MOMENT in time for me. “Destiny Rules”. And I still can’t hear this song without crying. Without remembering this very beautiful moment that was all mine. And all those days I wait tables were made worthwhile. These….are the moments that I live for.
“When I see you again…as I always do
It appears to me that destiny rules
And the spirits are ruthless in the paths they chose
It’s not being together it’s just following the rules
No ones’s a fool…”
The guitar notes that Lindsey Buckingham plays will forever solidify that moment. I will hang onto it…forever. I wish I could put into words the impact of this moment. The importance of this moment to me. There are no words. There is no camera or video that could capture this. I am frustrated that I am unable to even closely capture this moment into words. I feel I am cheapening it all. Beacsue only my heart and my spirit could ever truly understand this. Destiny rules…yes destiny rules. And the love I had lost weighed heavy on my mind and heart.
I stopped for gas. On a steep hill. The man behind the counter said twenty minutes to New York and I celebrated inside. I made it! I made it through a night in Buffalo, a night in my hometown Fredonia, and a night in Olean. I was close to infiltrating this city on my own, in my rental car.
As I drove on I wondered how the biggest city in the US could only be twenty minutes away from this wilderness.
And then came chimneys and smoke stacks and bigger highways and everything happened so fast. And my intuition told me NY was very close.
And I put in the Cd. I knew this was it! I knew it. I fucking knew it.
And I rounded a curve. There she was. The Manhattan skyline. And I did the very only thing a Jeremy Gloff could do in the moment he saw the Manhattan skyline for the first time in his life. “New York New York” by Nina Hagan at top volume.
My trip. My success. My journey. Demons and all. Ghosts and all. And my car rolled along and I was about to take my ghosts and my Nina Hagen straight into the heart of the city that never sleeps. The final stop before I went home. It was six o’clock. I made it almost on time, as usual.
NY SUMMER TOUR STORIES PART 9: THE NIGHTMARE THAT IS NEW YORK CITY
I began to get a little bit nervous at the Manhattan skyline got closer and closer. This was my second time in this city. The first time I got off of a train and wandered around for about three hours then left. On a train. This was my first time in New York alone. This was my first time in New York for more than three hours. This was my first time in New York driving.
And somehow I didn’t make any wrong turns. Miraculously. Because on this crazy highway everything seemed to come and go so fast. And a zip to the right or a zip to the left. But all that stood between me and a city that millions of people dream about was a tunnel. The Holland tunnel. And I had a lot of time to contemplate my life and my trip as I waited to drive through this tunnel alone. Traffic moved slow. Fucking slow. And the seconds were tick tick ticking. I was due at my next venue at eight o’clock. I had an hour and forty five minutes and a hope to someone make it through the maze that awaited me.
And I crawled crawled crawled towards the tunnel. And I watched people race through the express lane. I wondered about their lives. I wondered how much money their express lane pass costs them, and what kind of job they were leaving or what kind of house they were driving to. I’ve struggled a lot with New York in my mind. It’s where people like me are supposed to want to go. And every kid with a weird haircut is going to New York. And every art student is going to New York. And every motherfucking bohemian free-minded spirit with an ounce of creativity is running to New York. And I have been all of the above in my life. Why aren’t I running. I sometimes would ask myself, what is wrong with me? What am I missing?
And I thought about all these things as I watched people zip in and out of the Holland Tunnel as I inched, maybe half-inched towards it. And after a long time, and I mean a long time, I finally paid my expensive toll and let her rip. And onward ho. I had no idea what waited for me on the other side of this tunnel. All I saw for the next five or ten minutes was black and all I felt was fast. And inside my head I checked off another thing I had done in my life. I had driven through the Holland Tunnel alone. Check.
And the cacophony that awaited on the other side of the tunnel does not come back clearly to me like most things do. I remember repeated phone calls to the friend that was hosting me in New York. I remember driving down Broadway and of course the volumes of people. And of course the insane traffic. And I tried, while hoping to hold onto my life, to take in the city. I wanted (and still want) so desperately to understand why a person like me is supposed to want to go there. And the sidewalks were packed with people selling things. And people running into each other. And old decrepit buildings with faded-paint signs. And sirens and noise and honey, this is the American dream.
And forward I drove. Through the maze. Lanes don’t exist. And the kind of order that exists is disorder. And I was due in Brooklyn in one hour. Fuck. More phone calls for directions and somehow I ended up on a bridge that took me over water and into Brooklyn. I’d heard a lot about Brooklyn. I am a naïve boy from a small town. In my head I visualized New York to be all tall buildings, but at first glance Brooklyn wasn’t tall buildings. It was grey and brown. It was potholes and bumpy brick streets. People love this kind of thing a lot. This was my first time there. I didn’t love it a lot.
I found my friend without getting lost. I love my friend. She did the New York thing and she still loves it. I found her in a bar. I parked my car on the narrow brick street and looked around me. Old apartment buildings that reminded me of Sesame Street. And I wanted so badly to walk into this bar and hear people talking about amazing things, and to somehow enter a vortex where the bullshit and simple-mindedness of the world didn’t exist. I opened the door and was greeted with the familiar stench of booze and smoke. And dim light. And rotting walls. And I knew that people loved and lost in this bar. And fucked and drank and laughed and cried. And so far I saw a lot of people who maybe dressed better and talked better and looked better. But I just wanted to find someone who thinks better.
And a quick transfer of my music equipment into my friend’s car and another drive to Manhattan. Had to drop off my rental car. Had to get back to my show on train. Anxiety and excitement. And again somehow I didn’t get lost. And somehow I made it on time to drop off the car. The car that became my friend over the last three days.
Everything was running like clockwork. Although Manhattan was a zoo, I easily found the car rental place. I easily found the train I was supposed to ride. Subways have always interested me. I enjoyed the subways when I lived in Atlanta. Great people watching. And on this New York subway no one smiled. No one talked. There was no joy. Heads down, hustle bustle and life goes on.
I was due at the venue at 8 pm, and I walked up at exactly ten minutes to eight. And I smiled to myself. I started off in Olean at ten PM, met Michael Alig, conquered the Holland Tunnel, drove in both Manhattan and Brooklyn for the first time in my life, and I was still on time. I don’t give a fuck, punctuality rocks.
My friend was waiting for me inside the venue. Cute coffee shop. A few people. A jazz combo was playing. There was no air conditioning. And as I asked to borrow my friend’s lap top, I found myself suffocated and invaded by the phantoms again. And all I could think about was my ex boyfriend. In this unfamiliar city of millions of people I wanted just him with me again. And the itch became uncontrollable. And the desire became intoxicating. And I itched at the memories and my heart thudded and my forehead dripped in this sweaty Brooklyn coffee shop. I could feel him with me even though he was long gone. And a visit to his webpage further tightened the grip around my throat. And there were other boys and it was none of my business. I shouldn’t have looked. What he was doing was none of my business. It was none of my concern. And so set the mood for my first night in Brooklyn New York. Instead of chiseling out my future I instead chose to mourn my past.
And so began the text messages back and forth. In the steaming shit-pile that is lost love there are no winners. There are only scars and defenses. My stomach was grumbling and I snuck away by myself across the street. I have to shake my head at my life sometimes. I flew thousands of miles into New York City to eat a Big Mac alone. Big Macs don’t taste any different in Brooklyn.
I sat alone with my Big Mac in my left hand and my cell phone in my right. I am not sure which one was killing me more. The million calorie Big Mac undoubtedly was clogging the veins to my heart, but the destructive text message battle with my ex was certainly killing it faster. And I watched McDonald’s Brooklyn unfold in front of me. I don’t remember seeing any smiles. Everything seemed blurry and robotic.
And so the show began. My friend and I sat on the back patio of the venue and I started crying. I rarely cry, but that night I did. I believed in this one so strongly. It just didn’t work out. Or maybe I was crying because the first person singing was just awful. Completely awful. And I watched her few friends and her parents clapping like mad and making her feel like a million bucks. I wonder if that horrible girl singing thinks she’s going to be famous like I used to when I was her age.
The next three acts that played were my friends. I enjoyed watching my friends play. And I’m hoping the twelve other people in the venue did too. And by the time it was my turn to play it was very late. And the venue was very empty. And the tour was almost over and I was at the end of my rope. And as I set up my equipment I wanted my ex boyfriend there so badly, and I wanted my keyboard stand so badly too. It was gone. Lost somewhere along the way…
I kept watching the door. One of my childhood idols wrote and said there was a chance she’d stop in the show. But she didn’t come. And looking back, I’m glad she wasn’t there to watch me play in a sweltering room to five people. What a horrible first impression.
And I played five songs from my “Now’s The Right Time To Feel Good” album. It was the last time I would ever played those songs live. In front of a crowd or even by myself. Something had changed. The world wasn’t the same. And what started in my bedroom when I was 18 years old ended that night in New York City in front of five people. That dream had to leave to make room for others.
As the night wound down I found myself in the biggest city of the United States. And I just wanted to be home. I wanted the safety and warmth of my bed. I wanted to feel the soft fur of my cats brush my cheek. I wanted the monotonous hum of my air conditioner singing me to sleep.
Our first stop after the show was at the apartment of a friend of a friend. And there were tattoos. And there was cocaine. And there was no air conditioning. And there were cupboards hanging crookedly on the walls. And pastels on the wall that had probably survived the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. Somehow the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack ended up on the stereo and one of the tattooed girls started to disco dance. And someday these hot summer nights in Brooklyn will mean something to these girls. This was New York baby. And I just wanted to be in my simple southern city with my southern friends who weren’t on cocaine and who talked about psychology and music and things also the things that make me laugh.
As the night wore on drug deals began to get involved and I felt the strong urge to run. I am a simple small town boy who moved to a small city. I don’t drink. I hate drugs. And being around drugs freaks me out. And I felt terrible for it. This was my friends world. I was her guest. And I was being a complete imposition on her world. I didn’t feel like I was being fair. I felt like I should shut up and let this world unfold in front of me. But I got too far out of my comfort zone to take it anymore. I asked if I could please please go to the airport. I’d wait for the next plane. I’d sit for the 36 hours if I had to. I just wanted home. I wanted away from the white powder and shaggy hair cuts and dirty brown-hued streets. I wanted home.
My friend was super understanding. And I love her for it. She didn’t get mad I didn’t want to be around the drugs. She didn’t get mad that I freaked out. And we left. She didn’t get mad.
We drove around for awhile and we went to my friend’s apartment. It was a strange art space kind deal. We had to take a scary freight elevator up to her floor. Creak creak creak went the elevator.
And as super-freaked out as I was by this point, I was enjoying seeing these Brooklyn apartments. I wanted to see how people in New York live. People like me. People who work hard and probably struggle a little bit. If I lived in New York I would absolutely work hard and struggle a little bit. I always wondered how people did it. I have known so many people flee to New York with little money and they make it. And on this trip I finally realized exactly how they do it. They live in small places. They live in little boxes with no privacy and with no air. And here I stood in my friend’s little box with no privacy and no air conditioning and I wanted to desperately to understand what it was about this city that made it worth it.
My best memory of that night was sitting on my friend’s rooftop. We had a wonderful talk and I got to see the city around me. And everything looked like it was decaying. I saw the erosion and the weather of hundreds of years and millions of people.
I had trouble sleeping that night. I also had trouble sleeping in the morning when the weird father of one of the roomates took a dump with the bathroom door open.
But the afternoon was nice. We ate lunch. We walked Central Park. I took a picture of Mariah Carey’s condo and sent it to my friends who would appreciate that. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and sent to Williamsburg. And my mind camera recalls the next two hours in snippets. Lots of black hair. Tight jeans. A coffee shop. And I remember sitting in the coffee shop listening to what people were talking about. And I wanted so badly to hear something amazing. I wanted to hear something genuine and vulnerable. I wanted to hear people talking about something that would make it worthwhile for me to live in a box with no air and no privacy. And all I heard was gossip and some ugly guys talking about 1980s heavy metal. And there were no smiles. There were no laughs.
We made a quick stop at some barbeque and then went to a free concert that was being held in an abandoned pool. By this point my social anxiety was at a fever pitch. And in this abandoned pool were hundreds of hip and trendy kids. Sitting on the edge of the pool. Being seen. Being scene. Sunglasses and black shaggy hair. Tight jeans and cool shoes. And I realized that I never and be and never will be a fan of any kind of situation where everyone is an affectation of each other. No matter how trendy. No matter how supposedly cool.
And the band played. The Detroit Cobras. And the lead singer had fatty thighs and she smoked a lot. There were Ramones shirts in the crowd and a Ramones vibe in the air. And I couldn’t help but feel that a moment had passed years before I was standing in this empty pool. Feeling empty. And the band probably played fifteen songs but it felt like a hundred. And all around me there were scene kids and skyscrapers in the distance and dogs and people walking endlessly. The Detroit Cobras. And I could feel it in the back of my head that at one time something magical had happened in this city. At one time the moment was just right, and something amazing happened. But that moment was long gone. That moment is dead. Very dead. And the people standing in that empty pool with me weren’t creating new moments. And I didn’t feel like they came to that city to create a new movement or a new moment. I felt like they were there to capture the very very last strands of magic from a time when things really were magic. But the magic is gone. I wanted to understand. I wanted to know the draw. I wanted to get it. But I just couldn’t. I just didn’t.
We left the show and I was catatonic. It was six PM and my plane was due to leave at 2pm the following afternoon. But I couldn’t do New York any more. I didn’t want to see one more tattoo. I didn’t want to walk one more dirty sidewalk. I didn’t want to inhale the nauseating heat of the subway one more time. I just wanted my bed. I was ready to resume my strange normal.
I arrive at the airport at seven. I hugged my friend goodbye. I love her. I love her for accepting me, and my internal chaos. I love her for giving me a bed to sleep in and a show that ended a big chunk of my early life. I love her for dropping me off at the airport and for accepting that I don’t love the city she loves the same way that she loves it.
And then I was alone at LaGuardia airport. Just me. And my music equipment. And seventeen hours to kill. My friend would have let me stay that extra night but I didn’t want to interfere anymore. I was too mentally exhausted to be a good sport or a chameleon. I didn’t want to give anyone the displeasure of having to experience Jeremy Gloff super raw and neurotic.
There was no flight that night. And so the journey began. The journey through the dead-silent LaGuardia night. And scattered throughout the empty airport four people slept. An old lady. Two business men. And Me. But I didn’t really sleep. I thought. I tried to make sense of everything that I’d experience over the last few days. But it was too much. More than anything I craved the safety of my bed. I just wanted silence. Silence from the city and most of all, silence from myself…
The hours crawled by. I remember “Life In a Northern Town” on the radio. I always hated that song, but that night it made sense. I remember “By Your Side” by Sade…a song I’d enjoyed a couple days earlier driving through the country of western New York. And here I sat alone in an airport in the biggest city in the U.S. I had no answers. I had a lot of questions. And nothing made sense.
By five AM the monotony was unbearable. I’d already been in this lobby for ten hours and it was fucking time to go home. I found a flight that was 20 dollars more and at 8AM. And I just wanted to thank anything for getting me home sooner.
At six AM Burger King opened. And there I sat. With this old plastic church that Sadie gave to me. With my Encyclopedia Brown book and with listless and exhausted eyes. I ate my big omelet sandwich and French toast sticks. I don’t remember if I had a smile or a frown. All I remember was feeling catatonic.
The bell rang. I took out my I.D. I staggered towards an airplane with a plastic church in my hands and exhaustion in my gut. I don’t remember what the airport looked like that morning. I don’t remember getting on the plane. I don’t remember where I sat. I just remember feeling dirty. And spent. Fucking spent. But somehow that plane left the runway. Somehow that plane ended up in the sky. Somehow that plane landed. And somehow that plane brought me back home.