Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jammin Johnny B.

Jammin Johnny B. was a guy I knew in high school. He was a couple of years behind me, but he was part of the same social scene, and we hung out quite a bit.

The biggest reason was music. He was by far the most talented/advanced musician in our crew. He always played the guitar leads while the rest of us tried to keep it together on the most rudimentary, repetitive backing parts - 12 bar blues, Down By The River, Hey Joe, Tales of Brave Ulysses, I'm Waiting For My Man - songs with no changes that you could learn by watching someone's hands and could be "stretched out" to 10 or 15 minute epics.

He also had the best gear of any of us: a black and white American Strat and some kind of silverface Fender amp. He also played piano, but when he played piano there wasn't anyone who could manage the lead parts, so he usually played guitar.

The other pull to hanging out with Johnny B. was that his mom was pretty cool. We could get high, smoke cigarettes, play music as loud and as late as we wanted to, and if someone wound up crashing on the couch she would feed us breakfast and send us back to school in the morning without an undue amount of threats or lecturing.

Their house was pretty nice - way better than his single mom should have been able to afford on a town librarian's salary. I knew that his dad had died several years earlier and that we didn't talk about that, so I assumed that there was some kind of life insurance money that they were tapping for living expenses.

The endless jams eventually ended - the rest of us got good enough so we didn't need to watch John's hands to learn the songs, and John got into more advanced stuff - he would want us to back him on "My Funny Valentine" and the rest of us would be like "no, let's play I Wanna Be Sedated". Another reason was that John really didn't enjoy drugs and the rest of us really did enjoy drugs - he wasn't a dick about it but there were different sets of motivations in play.

College didn't go as smoothly for Johnny B. as it did for most of the rest of the crew. I think he started out at one of the hippy/granola private schools - Hampshire? That didn't work out, so he came home. Then I think he went to Berklee for a while, but after a few years he was home again, and by then I had moved away and didn't see him that often.

Almost entirely second hand after this point, but depression became a severe, unrelenting problem. He was in and out of institutions and the occasional status reports of "oh yeah, he doing great, he moved out to X and he's doing Y" became a steady drip of "yeah, he's still .../aw man, that sucks".

I guess they had exhausted the avenues on medications and were trying more radical treatments to get Johnny B back. Last weekend they were running electro-convulsive treatments on him, but then his heart stopped and they couldn't get it to beat again.

The funeral is tomorrow but I'm 8 hours away and have a couple of trips to airport(s) to pick up the family as they return from spring break so I probably won't go.

Not asking for mojo now - he's dead, nothing to be done about that. And honestly I don't think there was ever a point where mojo would have made a difference - there was something wrong with his brain chemistry and we don't know how to fix that.

But I miss him, and I wish we could go back up to his attic and play those endless jams just one more time.


No comments: