The death of
Jeffrey Lee Pierce a short story by Bill Mensema Rock Ink | 2012
ÂŠ 2012 All rights reserved Text: Bill Mensema (www.billmensema.com) This story was previously (july 2011) published in Dutch in the magazine hp/ De Tijd Design: Ebel Kuipers (www.ebelkuipers.nl) Typefaces: Puncho and Quadraat by Fred Smeijers
Just the other day I read a book by Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the lead singer of the legendary Gun Club. They were a band from the early 1980s. With the devil on their tail, they created their own demented shape of the classical themes of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. People called it swamp rock. Trash rock in overdrive. They toured the world over. Came to every city. Drank like fish. Snorted cocaine like rabbits. Played like crazy. In the few moments of rest in-between Jeffrey Lee Pierce wrote about what he called double exposure, or how you experience your real life and simultaneously the celluloid version of it, as it plays in your head. The filthy rat! He expressed this idea earlier than I did. And much better as well. Just because of this I hate the little bastard. And also because one night he made love to the same girl as I. Luckily, this didn’t happen at the same time. My grudge towards him is pointless these days. Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s been dead and buried for some years
now. He died in 1996, succumbed to cirrhosis at age 37. Far too young by any means. He slithered away in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the same night that I was watching a Japanese movie in a Motel 6 in Ogden, as the crow flies no more than six miles away from the hospital where he was dying. At the time Jeffrey Lee drew his last breath, a dog locked in a car in front of my motel room started to howl. The wailing didn’t stop. After cursing the animal for three long hours, I finally build up enough courage to ring up the motel manager, to request in no uncertain terms that something should be done about this inacceptable situation. On the basis of the license plate of the car, the manager determined the room number of the owner of the dog. It turned out that this guest was staying in the room next to mine. Surely he had heard nothing. I couldn’t believe it. Ultimately, the motel manager made an exception in this case. The dog could stay in the same room as its owner. To be fair, from that moment on the dog remained quiet as a mouse. Until the next morning when the stupid animal started barking once more, at 6a m. The night before – after dinner – I drove out to the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Not too far away from Ogden, it consists of flat meadow lands, orderly separated by locks in neat squares. There were many small farms and cottages, in which old folks lived after a tough life of farming. It might as well have been my home country of the Netherlands. On the banks of the lake were lots of yellow and white foam flakes. That was all life was showing over this totally salted water. There was nothing else. There were no sailing boats on the horizon during this beautiful early spring evening. There were no seagulls flying over. No children swimming. Nobody enjoying it. Nothing. Just foam and the fading sun, ready to set.
I turned around and saw the mighty Rockies Mountains rise up as granite giants from the earth. I gasped. At the same time an Asian nurse in the hospital in Salt Lake City grabbed the hand of Jeffrey Lee, who was slipping into a coma. –– I’m here, she whispered. –– Thank God, thought Jeffrey Lee. The Rocky Mountains I was looking at must be at least 400 meters high. But you could hardly call them mountains. They were more like a humongous wall, a wall of granite, a wall that closed off the state of Utah from the rest of civilization. Of course, the Mormons who founded this state had originally conceived it this way. They wanted nothing more to do with the Puritan America of the 19th century. In this wasteland, sandwiched between the Rockies and the Great Salt Lake, they found the space to elevate their insanity to reality. All their piety stemmed from lewdness. To put it bluntly: they were very horny old men who couldn’t control themselves no longer. They practiced polygamy in a fashion that all too often resulted in heavily pregnant girls of barely 14 years old. Some of them were their own grandchildren. From all that sinful black arose the pious white that exemplifies the Mormons nowadays. Like a bright shiny day doesn’t mean a thing if there first hasn’t been a deep dark and troubled night. Jeffrey Lee’s hair was also white. Albino white. It was already so in the late 1970s, when he was still President of the American Blondie fan club and had painted it in that color to honor the singer. When he found himself a couple years later
to be the celebrated leader of the maniacal Gun Club he left it that way. He didn’t change it. His soul was so black that this was the only way to compensate it. –– I’ve been looking for you for so long. Where have you been all this time? –– I was here, replied the nurse, I’ve never been anywhere else. –– I know, dreamed Jeffrey Lee. Meanwhile I still stood at the shores of the Great Salt Lake. I was looking back East, from where I had come. The colossal cobalt blue giants of the Rockies looked at me full of mercy. In their eternity I was nothing. Then they shook their enormous heads and gazed once more to the other side of the Great Salt Lake, which even they could not see. As if they were waiting for something that still had to come. –– I’m still here, the Asian nurse whispered. Nestling deep in the womb of the Rockies I could just see the white Tabernacle of Salt Lake City. If the mountains were so overwhelming, so small was this city, stashed away in a corner like chewing gum. –– Jeffrey Lee? Jeffrey Lee? He knew he would never reach the age of 40 because of his liver. It was already terribly damaged when he was still in his twenties. That’s why he lived his life so damned hard. What you can’t find in the length, you must get out of the width. It was no different with the love Jeffrey Lee sought in so many women, but eventually found in only three. All three were
Japanese, and they too in the end were just one. The last two – Kayoko and Katodo – were in fact no more than variations of his great love Romi, whom he could never forget. But Jeffrey Lee had barely time left. He couldn’t wait until Romi would finally come back to him. So instead he lived hard. He kept on boozing. He kept on taking lots of cocaine. He kept on touring. The world over. In each hole that would still have him, way past the heyday of the Gun Club and his first four amazing records. He could not do otherwise, because he would not grow old. The doctor had told him so. Until everything finally came to a standstill in Salt Lake City. And now it was really over. The nurse held his hand, but life in Jeffrey Lee could no longer stick and it was time to let go. The next day I stopped at a petrol station in Helena, Montana. While I was paying for my fuel, I heard on the radio that Jeffrey Lee Pierce had died the previous night in Salt Lake City, at the age of 37. Once again I looked at the mighty mountains of the Rockies. I saw hang gliders circling in front of them. Brave young men who took a leap of faith, who adjusted the glider on the back, who went running as fast as they can and then jumped from the top of the mountain. For a moment they were in free fall, until the wind picked them up under the wings of the glider and let them float. Back and forth. Back and forth. Like gulls against the heaven.
JLP Jeffrey Lee Pierce (June 27, 1958 – March 31, 1996) was an American singer, songwriter and guitarist. He was one of the founding members of the 1980s punk band The Gun Club. He was a founding member of The Red Lights before forming The Gun Club and released several solo albums.
The Gun Club was a Californian punk blues band from Los Angeles, California that existed from 1979 to 1996. Led by flamboyant singer and guitarist Jeffrey Lee Pierce, The Gun Club merged the contemporary genre of punk rock with the more traditional genres of blues, rockabilly and country music. Along with X, The Flesh Eaters and The Blasters, they helped set the tone of the Hollywood rock scene of the 1980s, and are cited as a ‘tribal psychobilly blues’ band. (Wikipedia)
Bill Mensema (*1960, Delfzijl, The Netherlands) has been travelling to the u s a and Australia regularly since 1980. There he has layed the foundation for his subsequent authorship. Music has always played an important role in his life. In the 1980s he was the lead singer of the band Crimes of Nature, that performed all over Europe and released one album: Buddha (1987). His fascination for America and popular music has culminated here in this short but shivering tale. So far Bill Mensema has published three novels in Dutch: – Doem Dada (Doom Dada – 2008), – Fietsen met Bob Dylan (Bicycling with Bob Dylan – 2009) and – Captain Liefie (Captain Sweety – 2011).