On an airplane from Alaska in September of 1993 I was with Guitar Jerry and Scary Gary. In Alaskan small towns everyone has a name like that. There’s “Big Nose Fred” and “Captain Jim,” I was “Little Michele.”
Plane trips have always marked most big transitions for me. There’s a perspective you get when your plane is about to land in your new home.
The past is behind you. It’s a chance for a whole different life.
This plane trip wasn’t going so auspiciously.
Jerry was a big, barrel-chested guitar player with long blonde rocker hair.
Since were both perpetually jolly, we’d had a musical crush on each other from day one. We both not only loved to play on stage, but cherished the moments in smaller groups with “real people” where everyone would sing along.
We had carried our guitars all over Alaska and played everywhere from festival to bar to campfire. It was a good life. Kind of like camp for grown-ups. Jerry and I hung in a group with my best friend “Dark-Haired Michelle” and her boyfriend “Fisherman Jim.”
Until now Jerry and I had been in different bands, but today we were moving to Seattle together to start a new group. He was so talented I was thrilled. We got along famously.
Gary was the Hunter S. Thompson of Seward, Alaska, the small town where we had lived. A bad influence if ever there was one, but funny and brilliant.
Gary was a bit rough on anyone in the service industry. As a bartender in Alaska the past 3 years, I was horrified at his demanding drunken attitude. We were probably too loud and intoxicated.
I don’t drink now because alcohol tends to lead me make bad decisions. My natural chemistry is really bouyant and cheery. Perfect for partying. I’ve learned not to mess with it.
This plane trip was one of those bad decisions. Gary demanded another round of drinks after the second one and mouthed off to the stewardess. She cut us off! He got so mad she threatened to land the plane.
When we got to the Emerald City it was dark and rainy and we took a cab straight to Leny’s bar in Wallingford. We stacked our huge duffel bags up against the wall and started on pool and beer. So far this looked a lot like Alaska.
Jerry had set up a place to stay with this “older Swedish guy” he knew who lived in North Seattle. This ended up being a two-bedroom part of a house where the older guy woke up in the mornings to chain smoke and watch us sleep on the couches and floor. Creepy.
I quickly worked out another place to stay. Jerry had something to tell me. He wasn’t staying to be in a band with me here in Seattle. He was going back to his small Alaskan hometown. The city wasn’t for him.
Jerry went back to Seward and performed in bands for the local bars. I got a regular night playing guitar and singing in a coffee shop on Capitol Hill every Thursday. Then joined a trip-hop band for 8 years, quit that and fronted a 7-piece soul group. Right now I just play at home and for friends at parties.
It is now two decades later. I saw on Facebook that Jerry passed away. He had an addiction that made him distant. We hadn’t spoken in years. A friend said he got sick like an old guy, his body taxed like someone twice his age. I’ve had grandparents and pets that have passed away, but this is the first person my age that I knew well.
Something about Jerry’s solid, optimistic nature made him feel he could risk anything. That’s what makes it so unbelievable that he’s gone.
So in memory of my friend. Here’s the best guitar solo I can think of.
Eddie Hazel improvised when George Clinton asked him to think of the saddest thing in the world to him.
Hazel says he let himself try on the possibility of losing his mother when he wrote this song “Maggot Brain.” Performed here in 1978 by Funkadelic.
Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP 90.3FM Seattle, kexp.org. Music historian and producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. She’s also written scripts, lesson plans and features forThe Smithsonian, Experience Music Project, the University of Washington and NPR.