My band KIND BEAST released a 12″ EP. Full-length album soon.
ORDER HERE: https://downpeninsulaaudio.com/10.08.20
My band KIND BEAST released a 12″ EP. Full-length album soon.
ORDER HERE: https://downpeninsulaaudio.com/10.08.20
A little while ago, it occurred to me that the reason I write, or do just about anything, is not because I have something to say but because I’m trying to understand. And sometimes through that process of trying to understand, a few interesting feelings or micro-revelations occur… and maybe, when it’s at its very best, someone somewhere might find some use in observing that process. I mention this because I know, full well, that I was not the closest dude to Jay. I’m not taking proprietorship over his story or suggesting my perspective is anywhere near comprehensive. There are people—his wife and sons and mother and sisters and very closest friends—who can tell the truest stories about what an awesome person he was. I’m just a guy who woke up this morning and realized I’m short one really, really good friend in a time when really, really good people can on bad days seem like an endangered species. I’m thinking about Jay. And when I think, I usually write.
I think Jay would like to know that I got this disclaimer out of the way: he could be one cranky bastard.
I came to love him for it, and watched over the years as he integrated that crankiness into an endearing way of being and seeing the world. Because, much larger than his cynicism and grumpiness was the fact hat he was a big, bloody-hearted lover. A real softie. A totally sentimental sap lurking inside that six-foot-whatever tower of man-vibes. I liked watching him manage these energies because, in so many ways, I struggle with similar phenomenon. We once had a conversation about that song “Feel The Pain” by one of his favorite bands, Dinosaur Jr. There’s that lyric, “I feel the pain of everything/Then I feel nothing.” Very simple, yet it says so much. Jay got that; so did I. The more I knew Jay, the more he seemed to be feeling everything rather than nothing. It made me aspire to be more like him.
It’s hard to know which memories to share when trying to characterize a good friend. I usually just start with the first thing that comes to mind, hoping the memory is arising for good reason. Jay came to see me in New York a few years back. I’d broken up with my fiancé and was living in a roach-infested box in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a forty-five minute subway ride from just about anyone I knew. It wasn’t the best of times. Jay was on the upswing after a rough patch, with a new tattoo on his forearm, and by the time I picked him up at LaGuardia, I was so sick I could barely swallow. When I smiled, my facial muscles felt like shattering glass. Everything ached. But here was Jay, in town for two days, and I intended to show him a good time without letting on just how horrible I felt. How do you complain about illness to Jay, after everything he’d already come through?
It was just the two of us, checking out the city, the record stores, a couple museums, mostly just walking and talking. He was raving all the while about the Detroit band Protomartyr and, as it sometimes happens in New York, when we checked out the evening’s entertainments we learned that they were, in eerie synchronicity, playing in a matter of hours. We got there just in time. It had been a while since I’d watched a band standing beside Jay. He did that tall-guy, white-dude head-bob-to-the-beat thing; he raised his beer when the songs really got going. Always a loudmouth on the verge of heckling, he hooted and yelled encouragements at the band. They were great; for the duration of their set I could swallow without wincing. They may have seemed even greater (I may have temporarily felt better) because Jay was enjoying it so much. “The crowds here get into it more than Detroit,” he said; which was weird, because New York crowds are stereotyped for their disaffection. Maybe everyone was feeling Jay’s excitement. He loved music in a special way and got obsessed with things. Anyone who knew him will tell you about it. It was impossible not to think about his health when I was around him. That night he was strong, energized. We went back to my box and listened to more records.
I measured his health by the strength of his bone-crushing handshake. As we said goodbye at the end of the weekend, he gave me the old Jay knuckle-crush. Once he was home, he sent an odd email telling me that my erratic city driving needed to stop; that I was going to give myself an aneurysm. It was true. I’d been driving a beaten-up Ford Focus to New Jersey every day for work, negotiating what must be the worst rush hour traffic in North America. As an operator of moving vehicles, I’d lost any sense of control. I have many stories about my rages of the road—Jay must have intuited how far gone I was. It touched me that he’d notice, and send a note. He was the last person to be worried about, of all things, a buddy’s driving. I was nearly befuddled. But if Jay was telling me to chill, I supposed I should. I moved to the country shortly after, a decision made partly as result of that email. It was my time to leave the city.
I soon confessed to Jay that I’d been sicker that weekend than I let on, that my flu had required antibiotics, and I apologized for my lack of mojo. He said that he’d not been feeling well, either. A few weeks later, he told me his cancer was back. We’d talked about a lot that weekend, but very little about his illness. He seemed to aspire—at least around me—to keep life in the moment when it came to all that. And he seemed good at it. Laughing, bullshitting. Bopping his head to Protomartyr. I’d been so in-my-head at that time, he inspired me to do what I had to do to bring things back to the present tense. That, by the way, was another tune he liked: “Present Tense.” (Although he told me he’d disowned Pearl Jam once they got in bed with The Target Corporation.)
Jay and I made some music together. Many who’ve played with him knows he could be a “band-breaker.” He’d come in hot and lay down a whole lot of sweet bass and then get bored and quit, but never before a trip to the recording studio. He loved recording, and reading about bands recording. Like anybody who loves recording, I don’t think he was ever satisfied. You go in with dreams of big, fuzzy analog tones and come out with whatever happened once the tape rolled. Actually, I think he may have been happy with the Whiskey Tenor EP he made with some of his best friends and fellow residents of 5525, a flat in Dearborn. Also his last recordings, Watershed Council, which finally documented his own music, are wonderful and hard for some of us to listen to. Who’d known he had such a good voice? It’s good stuff because it’s honest, just like the guy himself.
In my mind, Jay was kind of the good-ole’-boy among our clique of friends. Grew up downriver; always had a dog (even when he lived with two other dudes in a smoke-hazed flat); drove trucks; worked with his hands; loved his flannel; had little tolerance for the fancy-pants, artsy-fartsy stuff (even though I think he secretly liked some of it). In 2003 our band was rehearsing in a stone, cabinlike house he was renting on Whitmore Lake. The music we made in the basement is some of the best I’ve done. There also were nights after gigs when things got smeary and I’d wind up sleeping on the couch. One morning I awoke in considerable hangover pain to a full-spread breakfast Jay had prepared. He’d already walked the dog and gone to the store. The eggs were fried. The coffee was going. “Get up, boy,” he was saying.
I am admitting here that I despise three foods above all others, and those entries are, in no particular order: pork, eggs, and mushrooms.
Jay’s entrée featured at least two of these, pork and runny eggs, and possibly also the mushrooms. I also tended to avoid breakfast altogether, especially after a night of drink. But was I—by comparison a fussy city-boy type—going to turn down this man’s hospitality? I suspected he’d hold it against me eternally; worse, I feared I’d hurt his feelings. I scarfed that slimy plate of eggs-and-ham as fast as I could, washing it down with sips of water when he wasn’t looking. Only those with strong aversions to certain foods will believe me when I admit to gagging, focusing my mental energy on keeping down these masticated proteins on this most hungover of mornings.
Sometime later, my revulsion for pork-and-eggs became known to him.
“What about that morning I made you breakfast?” he said.
I explained my reasons for suffering through his cuisine and he said, “Ah, shit. You should’ve thrown it to the dog.”
But years later he wrote me about something or other and while doing so recalled that time I gagged down his eggs. “That’s the kind of man you are, Hoen.”
I’m not sure this ranks among the highest of high compliments—a man willing to gag down some eggs out of politeness—but it brightened my day to know that this somehow touched Jay. Maybe he saw something decent in me that morning as I sat shivering-with-hangover at his table, while he seemed strong as a horse and ready for the day. Anyway, it was a tiny anecdote we shared, and I’m sharing it now because it says something about Jay, or what he means to me. It’s one of a hundred or so I could tell.
I’ve lost some people very close to me. It took me years to realize that most friends, even the best of friends, don’t necessarily know what to do around death. There’s sometimes not much to say, so people say “anything you need,” and because so many people say it, you think it’s just a line. Just words.
When my dad died shortly after my sister had passed, I fell apart a bit. I wasn’t answering the phone for a few weeks. But Jay, that bastard, kept calling every day and leaving messages on the answering machine (I’d been protesting cell phones). “I’m not going to stop until you pick up,” he’d say. He began to sound annoyed. I was even getting annoyed back at him. But as years wore on those nattering messages came to mean so much. A lot of people say, “Whatever you need.” Jay wouldn’t give up until I’d dragged my ass out of the house and made some music with him.
He also once told me that he thought of me every time he passed that wretched funeral home on Michigan Avenue where both my sister and father were once displayed. No one had ever said that, or really even mentioned their passing once the memorials were over. Now, when I pass that terrible place, I think of Jay thinking of me, and I feel a little better. I can’t describe how much it means to me.
He was like that, I guess.
A sometimes-crank who’d shock you with his compassion. He had the nerve and the heart to breach uncomfortable lines, to say those important things many of us intend to say but never do. At one point, he was in a rough spot—as we all are at some point—and called me most nights for a week or two. I was not the closest guy to him, but for some reason I was someone whom he felt could hear him about a few difficult matters. I was taking these calls in back of that roach-box apartment, standing on a concrete slab surrounded by razor wire. It was weirdly peaceful; for both of us, I think. If any good has come out of some of the unpleasant things I’ve gone through in life, it’s that sometimes good friends can sense that I’ll be able to comprehend the depth of their feeling. I was never going to give a guy like Jay advice—it’s never about advice. I was just able to listen, and I’m pretty sure that meant something to him. For all he gave me, I am so glad I could give him a little bit back, however small it was. I can still hear the sound of his voice those nights.
I’m probably leaning into the heavy feelings on a heavy morning, but what people will probably remember most about Jay are the good vibes and the smiles and jokes and what a warm, sincere human he was. He always had a way of tripping me out of my moodiness, sometimes by way of pissing me off. He liked to get under my skin just enough to get us laughing. He took it well when you gave it back to him. He was a funny motherfucker, and I doubt he’d want anyone crying for him too long, though I’m sure there are many who will.
I wish I knew his kids better. Based on my few observations and the gleam in his eyed when he’d talk about them, he was the kind of dad I wished I’d had. Rock solid and fun and devoted and also tough in a way that I’m not sure young people are getting so much anymore. He could never stop talking about playing music with those boys. I never knew Jay to want to “make it” or get his music heard, really. I think it was all about being in a room with people he loved, chasing sounds, having a moment. I’m glad I got a few with him.
One last thing:
Not too long ago he sent me audio of the isolated vocals for “Under Pressure” (the Queen/Bowie collaboration) and said it brought him to tears. He was, as often happened, astounded by the beauty of music. I confess that I couldn’t listen to it all the way through; I didn’t really want to come to tears that day. Today, I’m going to play that track and think of Jay, his love of music and family and friends. I’m going to think of his wife, Shannon, and his boys, Levi and Truman, and his best friend, Drew, and his mother and sisters, and all his other friends. I’m sure a lot of people are playing songs and thinking of Jay today. I’m not one who thinks we humans are equipped with the hardware to comprehend what happens when our bodies and neurology cease to function, but I know that, in one way or another, the energy we generate here resonates on-and-on, in ways we can’t understand. When it comes to Jay, I feel nothing but goodness and I hope to pass it on—some of that sweet, cranky love—whenever I can…09.04.20
A year ago, some friends and I got together and improvised about ten hours of music. Here’s a ten-minute piece taken from that session. Derek Grant on drums, Josh Machniak on bass, Erik Maluchnik on guitar, Mike Teager on saxophone.03.23.20
New essay “The Sixteenth Tape” published in Creative Nonfiction Magazine’s TRUE STORY series. Careful, it’s a wild one.
I found a knife today, the blade of which is engraved on each side. One side has the words “ONE IN MY HEART” and the other “ONE IN EACH SIDE.” This would be a terrifying gift to receive from an ex-lover, yet it was a gift from my dear friend and musical compatriot Kevin Brace——mailed to me at my apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn a couple years back. It arrived without note.
The engraved words are lyrics to a song I wrote years ago, 2002, for a band called Leaving Rouge. Back when we believed music could heal everything, that it held the answers. The spell. I thought I’d share that oldie here, the work of a twenty-three year old dreamer and some good friends: You Could Be The Knife.01.22.18
I still make music on occasion and it usually sounds like the Midwest. Although I wrote this song last year while I had pneumonia, shut inside my Flatbush, BK cage, it was about Ypsilanti. Neon-night driving, windows down. Midnight cowboy dreams.
<iframe style=”border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;” src=”https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2162742642/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/track=2316781631/transparent=true/” seamless><a href=”http://seanmadiganhoen.bandcamp.com/album/ocean-avenue-part1″>OCEAN AVENUE part1 by Sean Madigan Hoen</a></iframe>06.14.16
An indirect endorsement, but an essential (as always) perspective on right now.03.14.16
New Jersey drives Highway 1 like a drag strip. Highway is a facetious term for this stretch, a 50mph boulevard split in two by a three-foot high concrete partition. Lots of computer phone usage, rear end smash-ups, hasty lane changes—surprisingly little road rage, as far as I can tell. I’ve been caught dazing, gazing, usually at a succession of dire old corporate parks lining the way. The lawn of one multi-plex has been overtaken by Canada Geese. Another seems to be the site of a Delillo novel that may or may not have been published. When I pulled onto the gravel shoulder the other day and walked a few hundreds yards towards a structure guarded by signage reading SRI International, the sun lowered behind the branches, threw down a lightshow. I saw a very small black-haired woman there, crouched in the thickets, collecting dead leaves in plastic bags, never once looking up as I crunched right past her. It was her space and place, but as for her plans… I’m curious…
September 23: sister Caitlin’s birthday. It’s fair to say it creeps up slowly each year, the winds a little cooler than the week before, sometimes an early morning fog and brittle grasses that are warm again by noon. One year—I can’t remember which—I gave her this frame, having snatched the enclosed picture from an old photo album. For thirteen years now, it has perched on my desks and dressers, the thing I’d be sure to grab in the event of a fire.
Strange that it was only last year that I realized John Coltrane—whose records account for a good 15% of my non-collector’s collection—shared the same birthday as Caitlin. Having no finite ideas about things astrological, it’s nevertheless a nice coincidence to ponder, in this case. As much as any writer or thinker, he’s my hero in the realm of art; yet he spoke so few words. He didn’t need to, of course. I suppose Caitlin didn’t need to, either. It’s not language I think of when remembering her, but an essence that’s always changing and full of wide-open feelings I’ve only begun to understand.
Honor to lives lived, the good ones.
The desk at which 98% Songs was written and revised: now in pieces at the curb.
It was an ineffective bit of cheap furniture; even worse was its accompanying chair (chiropractors would do well to keep these items on the market). For the last two years the desk’s legs were held in place by continuous applications of something called Gorilla Glue. On two occasions it collapsed mid-sentence; one one occasion it was kicked apart and reassembled. After beginning its life as a collection of particle board components packaged in and shipped from China, it was assembled by hex key in Brooklyn, NY and then lived in four different apartments over a span of eight years. Five years of cigarettes were smoked at its edge; later, three years of nicotine gum was gnawed here. This desk will not be missed, yet hard-earned money was “gotten out” of it.07.29.14
Tore through Kevin Barry’s short story collection Dark Lies the Island (Graywolf), many gems within, humor that hurts and the employment an Irish-centric tongue that gives the whole thing its own special brand of scintillating brood. Great stuff.
Old friend and Kalamazoo denizen DJ Kray Liotta makes great summertime mixes, feel free to steal them HERE. Themes vary per mix, but it’s always good with Kray.
Thirty-six stories above Sixth Avenue the place was all chrome and glass, windows staring flat-out at another scraper, which from that view looked like a vertical runway shooting heaven-ward to obscure every last smear of sky. I suppose people with thirty-six story window offices get used to this kind of stimuli, but to me the whole world seemed to shift step-by-step as I walked the windowside hallway—a megacity optical illusion. These windows gave a new perspective. The screen in the lobby flashed a video loop over the scene, reflecting in the windows and glass and gleaming surfaces. I sat in the lobby watching multi-mirrored images of Paul Stanley in full starchild black-and-white face paint, the hirsute chest and pouting—oh, baby, do me—lips. Ah, yes, we are in Rock Land, 2014-style. And, I do not lie, within a minute a new face was reflected from the giant lobby screen and it was the face of none other than Jon Bon Jovi. Of course, I know these faces. Everyone does. But do we enjoy them? Get your face out of my face. Building security had escorted me on the elevator ride up, as was procedure when dealing with visitors who aren’t in possession of a photo ID.
Dave Marsh, it turns out, is every bit the veteran rock and roll lover you’d imagine a glory-day’s Creem and Rolling Stone journalist would be, just riffing on Detroit and Iggy and Mitch Ryder within twenty seconds of making my acquaintance. He sat down beside me on the lobby couch and shot right into a conversation, whatever the hell he and I felt like talking about then and there: Detroit Unions, civil rights heroes who’d mentored him out of a hicksville upbringing on the outskirts of Pontiac. As a twenty-year old he’d lived in a house with Lester Bangs, their wild man energies banging around the premises and on one occasion combusting during a living room wrestling match incited by their disagreeing views on the merits of the first Black Sabbath record.
This stuff pours out of Dave. He tells a great yarn.
He talked on our way into the studio, and as the engineer was getting the levels, and as his intro music was playing, and when he got the cue—1, 2, 3, you’re on—he talked right into the first sentence of the radio show, and it was all interesting. It went like that, talking about the book and mostly about whatever crossed Dave’s mind, because the guy just rolls with it and it’s uniquely fun to be around. Much gratitude that Dave liked the book and invited me into his radio zone. Tuesday night, NYC.
A ticket came my way tonight and I took it. My affection for the true-blue screamers, an old-timer like Keith Morris, is all about vitality, the antic Zen-prankster style he has going, his rust and sparks voice, fifty-eight years old, down for life with punk rock ceremony. OFF!’s sardonic bite is pure pissed-off fun, sans pain. The band has too much rock and roll in their groove to settle entirely for old-school rhythms, so everything swings in a trashy fashion [Mario R. is a heck of rock drummer]. Irony seems the self-defense mechanism of the digital age, but OFF!’s videos do a nice job of wagging a forked tongue at punk rock, whatever that is. They’re making fun of the thing even as they’re doing it better than anyone else around.05.18.14
Wednesday, early evening, I came aground to the digital flash and corporate shockwaves of Times Square. Stood there at the foot of the subway entrance blinking at a billboard picturing Anderson Cooper in dimensions ten-times that of the average New York living space—house-sized earnest newsman face—adorned with the all-caps caption: Go There! Just how I like my journalism: boasting god-sized before my eyes, throwing down exclamation points. I was there!—and how easily I forget that I live three miles from this phenomenon, a spiritually obliterated acre or two casting forth our nightmare of a techno-bank future overseen by cheap-thrills stimuli and sub-literate commerce-consciousness. More screens, more noise. No cynicism here, just mystification—who has brainspace for this horror anymore? Who needs more gigantic M&Ms, because Hershey’s is here to rot your jaws and funnel chocolatey pennies to the GOP; it’s all true, check the sources. While all in the visible distance is neon panties and fructose and has much to do with big dollars and expendables assembled in China. Without knowing why, I found myself standing beside a family taking pictures of a grown fellow who’d stuffed himself into a rubber Batman costume, an outfit not at all custom-fit, especially about his hindquarters and nether regions. While I was trying to get a look at his eyes, hoping to perceive what kind of human lived behind the mask, an aspiring rapper came at me fast with the best come-on I’d heard in years, possibly ever: “Hey man, you like black people?” A true American, more so than myself. He stuck one of his home-burned CDs into my hand and said, “Ten bucks, it’s the shit.” Taxis honking, a man screaming laughter at his phone, and way off someone smacking out rudiments on a tuned-too-high snare drum, or a plastic bucket, or whatever they had. Avenue of the Americas.
And two streets West: Broadway between 45th and 50th is a strip I don’t think about until I’m walking it, always with the purpose of finding something I can’t find anywhere else, but never something as spookily lucid as Dream of the Red Chamber, a flickering, dreamland drama in which time cycles through various impressions of round-the-psyche linearity, a live-art specter churning in the basement of Midtown, New York, while the audience—who come and go as they like; who sleep or wake as they like—lie on small beds, in various stages of immersion, so distantly other from the civilization above. I’d walked in off Broadway, following a red carpet lined with static-channel tube televisions, leading you to the stairs, down into the thing, the chamber, the performance. Oblique white curtains partition various sections, forming cloudlike quarters throughout the room but you can see through everything. You move through it, into it, in search of a bed, and there’s more than enough, all dressed in red linen. Some are just crimson hazes, lying feet away but somewhere else entirely, and others are right out in the open. Your bed chooses you, really, based on several incidentals you can’t make sense of. Maybe you lie right down and look outward: Beautiful, sad, vacant, scared women stare out from screens glowing, rippling with light cast by a golden orb machine propelled by a phonograph record player, at which two audience members might sit meditating, glaring into the twirling mind machine as its strobes turn their thoughts into shapes they’ve never taken before—a totally new experience. Sense those around you as dreamily as you ever will; their nearness feels instantly like shadows. Sense some drifting off on the red beds, some curling up fetal, gone completely into their dream. A few others sit perfectly erect and swallowing the whole atmosphere with their face, telling themselves stories about what all these illusions mean. Lulling every inch of space is a nicely amplified tide of melodic bass drones, rich with subsonic properties that radiate underneath the beds; and, listening upward, you hear soaring above an opera-turned-soundscape singing down so many wonderful sorrows.
The beds are there with good purpose, essential to the dark comfort. You lean back, rest your head. Faces and flickers and melodies begin connecting; the actresses seem to be activating some pattern in one another’s responses, their gestures cycling amongst them; each inhabiting the others’ emotional states, they click in and out of expressions on a twilight schedule, but it all happens with elongated, smeary force that makes you wonder if you’re transcribing your own story, dreaming what you want to dream. But it seems so evident that the women, the actresses, are dreaming out a process that has to do with creation and destruction and possession, or is this my process? Am I acting out my own cycle here, dream-style. You have weird ideas on the red bed, good ones. And then you realize the audience members sitting at the phonograph and staring into the light cylinder are also being filmed, projected onto the great rippling sheets of translucent white. And now they’ve become the chimera, they’re real and illusory, same as all of this.
I’d been tipped off about this occasion by Jeff Jackson, author of the very fine, very brilliant meta-mindmelter Mira Corpora, a book of rare aesthetic ambition—a work of art. Jeff was co-writer and conceiver of Dream of the Red Chamber, along with its director, Jim Findlay. The work is based on Cao Xueqin’s 18th century Chinese novel. The hour I spent within was the best of my week, yet I only glimpsed a fragment of this multi-day, multi-dream, multi-sequence experience. This Saturday, one may enter into an overnight performance: [May 17. 5p to 6a]. A slumber like no other.05.16.14