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number fifty-three

5/29/04. 6:14pm CDT. Home.

We never did figure out why we recognized each other.

Fall 1998, I'm in Ohio for a wedding, and Mike Watt is on tour again. I'm already planning to go with a friend to see him in Fayetteville, Arkansas after I get back to the midwest, but I've got a free night in Ohio and he's in Cleveland. I talk Mark into coming with me.

The opening band starts late. I've heard the name before -- Gaunt -- and know they're from Columbus, but I've never heard them. They seem really out of sorts, like they've just gotten there, they break a lot of strings but put on a killer set. After the brief set (less than half an hour) I approach the singer to ask about buying a CD. He says yeah, we're on the way out to the van to get them if you want to come along.

I figure what the heck, as long as I can get back in, so I tag along with them. The singer introduces himself as Jerry, the guitarist alongside is Jovan (pronounced with the European J-sounds-like-Y sound). As we walk they explain that they'd been running late because of a funeral in Columbus, and upon arriving at the show were told they had to go on immediately AND be done on time. No soundcheck, no nothing.

I've been playing gigs for a few years at this point, and can completely identify with the situation, not to mention the broken strings.

I buy a couple CDs from them, taking their recommendations as to which two to get (the new one, and the one they say everyone seems to think is the best one).

As we're heading back to the club, Jerry looks back at me and says, do I know you from somewhere? I say I'm not sure, but that I'd been thinking the same thing. We talk hometowns -- both in Ohio, that's about it -- age -- about 4 years difference -- and finally realize that we were both students at Kent State in the 1988-1989 school year. We talk classes, and the closest we get is that we both spent a fair amount of time in the art building that year.

A week later, I get to talk to Jerry & Jovan again in Fayetteville. They're surprised to see me. I pick up the other two records they've got with them, both on vinyl, and their merch guy gives me some free stickers.

I end up talking to Jovan a lot at the show, and talk about dropping by their message board online. The site's not around much longer -- the day of the Fayetteville show, Gaunt's A & R rep at Warner Brothers was fired, and the band is dropped from the label soon after. They've been together in some form for about a decade, putting out half a dozen albums and countless singles on half a dozen labels, but somehow that's the end, and Gaunt goes out with more of a whimper than a bang.

I'm hooked on this band by this point, and spend a lot of time (and money) in dusty record bins and on eBay tracking down old Gaunt releases. As of 2004 there are only a few singles I haven't dug up yet.

One night in January 2001, Jerry's riding his bicycle home from a club in Columbus. The speeding driver doesn't see him. My friend Jason, who had gone to the Fayetteville show with me, sees the obituary in an indie rock magazine and tells me about it.

At the time I'm working on an acoustic cover of Gaunt's "97th Tear," Jerry's sort-of-sequel to ? & the Mysterians' psychedelic classic "96 Tears." I add a verse of my own for Jerry. I haven't played it at a show yet, but one of these days I will. It's the least I can do.

    Break away from all these sleepless nights
    Get away from all these tears
    Take away all these little things
    And ignite this 97th tear

    Pull me back, tell me to go away
    It's hard enough to give that much away
    It's obvious she's trying to run away
    With this 97th tear

    And these days, these days, they go on and on
    These days, these days, they go on and on

    Julia, what do you want from me
    I'm all cried out from graveyards to sunny days
    Time is up
    I know that you're dying to ignite this 97th tear
    Take me now or I may never run away
    Ignite this 97th tear

    Now you're gone and death wears a big hat
    But not for long, you left too much behind
    Never found out where I knew you from
    But I found this 97th tear

The last verse is mine, the rest is © 1997 Death Wears A Big Hat / BMI.

Editor's note: You deserve better, and so does Jerry. There's a much better article about him, written by someone who actually knew him, deep in the archives at McSweeney's. Go here, and scroll down past the "CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS" header.

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