July 9, 2015

How I became a bohemian hooligan in Asheville, NC

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This story spans 15ish years and because that’s how long I’ve lived in this fine city of Asheville, NC.

My creative fire is burning to take another chance and strip down again and evolve into a new kind of artist. Before I go down that road again, I thought I should tell the story of my will and endurance for staying in Asheville and being a designer for music and a musician who is self-employed. I did make my dreams come true here and discovered the essence of bohemian hooliganism. When I moved  here from Atlanta my mom forbid me to come here (I was 25). She did not want me to turn into one of those “bohemian hooligans.”

Happily, that is just what happened… and here’s how.

When I started Jen and the Juice, I had a full time job with a great agency in town, that I fought hard for 2 years to get. I still longed to make cool band posters and join the music scene full time. I booked our first band tour up the east coast and my bosses (dead heads) supported by time off and my journey. Eventually I was laid off and I dove into the arms of the Asheville music community. With supportive friends like Justin Bauman, Clint Weninegar, Stephanie Morgan, Sharon Lamotte, Valorie Miller, Bill & Mary Cardine, Larry and Jenny Keel and so many more. I started to lift myself up out of my own nagchampa ashes. It was a rough and cold winter, Katrina happened that year, and it felt like the world was standing still. I sharpened my double-edged sword of music and designing for music. I really love the bluegrass scene and designed a 24 page publication on it with a bunch of friends that included ads, called “Mama Says.” This was when many bluegrass bands were getting started like Steep Canyon Rangers and Town Mountain. I made album covers, posters and jazz composers forum brochures, hosted “chic picks” (all the jams were mostly dudes only) and made a record at UNCA, which was a huge collaboration.

My first record “Meet the Hooligans of Bohemia” came out almost a year to the day of being a sole proprietor. I took a high paying design job, after my grandmother Tanice passed away. Being really broke began to get old and I wondered if there would be an end to the kindness I was receiving. It was at that moment, I began doubling my design prices and to my shock – the clients were paying. I also had been offered a space rental downtown on Lexington Ave at a web firm called Top Floor Studios. I quit the high paying design job after 3 days, much to my families concern. And I sent by newly recorded cd to be printed, in a glorious f’ you! to more credit card debt (I think it was just over $2000). My thought was this debt won’t matter if I’m dead. I know that sounds morbid, but we are all gonna die and our creative works will be the things people will look to when we are in the grave. I had to get it out at that moment and I was right.

We had a cd release party at an unknown, but centrally located place in west Asheville called  (ironically) the Fortune Building. All of my dear friends pitched in with catering, kegs, fire dancers, decorations, bouncers and the music community that played on the record and supported our music were there in full force. I know I planned and tried to do things and get things done back then, but looking back on it it feels effortless because of all my friends. How did we do all that with no money? The backroom of the old building with its super high ceilings and hodge podge of weird antiques, including a teal blue grand piano and some odd ball art deco stuff. You entered in a creepy non-door on the side of the big brick wall. Inside was a table with food, a faux bar (beer for donation) and a big dance floor. The space was alive. Mel and Shane hung Christmas lights and covered everything with wrapping paper. I built a pink house out of cardboard and put a metal fold out chair in it with a cd walkman with our new cd release in it as a mobile listening room. (The cardboard house listening room represented the American dream and what a sham it was and how you can make life whatever you want without a steady paycheck. Who needs a house anyway.) There was a tiny image of it on the cover. Margaret Lauzan (RIP) filmed the whole day.

After the night was over, I went to the door man to collect the money, because not only did I have to orchestrate the whole thing and play my heart out, I had to deal with the stupid money. I paid all the musicians, fire performers, beer and other expenses and gulped for air when there was no money left for me. I just gulped, because I was broke and I needed money. But not to worry. A few seconds later, I was glad we broke even and…look what we did together. Isn’t that what matters? Yes, is the answer. This to me is the essence of bohemian hooliganism.

I continued my journey as the lead singer of Jen and the Juice for 10 years. The original Juice (OJ) was Clint Weninegar bass, Michael Libramento guitar, and Joe Buzzelli drums stuck with me for 5 years. But amazing left handed upside down guitar playing Michael was not on much of Meet the Hooligans of Bohemia. Most of the guitar was performed on the record by my sweet talented jazz guitar playing best friend Billy Libby.

Jen and the Juice kept on playing… (lots more happened) Now fast forward 7 years…

Two of Billy Libby’s guitars are being stored in my house right now. I drove with his x-wife to go pick them up, with all of his guitar gear on a very long drive to Greensboro, NC. His big yellow lab Birdy came out to greet us. The dog was mostly concerned with the tennis ball bouncing down the very long concrete driveway. His mom seemed like her normal self and she led the two of us to his bedroom. The divorce and the drinking led him back to his old bedroom to live out his final days at home. Billy committed suicide in the backyard a few months earlier.

This still brings me down and I’m sorry to leave this hooligan story on a sad note. I consider this a wake up call. Some people don’t pursue their art because of money and some don’t pursue it because they think they are not good enough. These both apply to me.

I’m trying to tell you why it has become important for me to be a wild and free bohemian artist. After all the years of Jen and the Juice, if there are no financial rewards, what proof is there really of what I’ve done, but what lies in my own consciousness and a nearly empty box of cds. If I’m not willing to take ownership of the artistic work I’ve done, then I am no different than Billy. One thing I read to cope with all this Billy stuff was the phrase “modesty is a noose.” I think Billy would want us to learn this lesson. Sure, no one wants to hear another self-entitled artist bragging about their own work, but according to the life of Billy, who never acknowledged how seriously talented he was, we should bask in the sun of our amazing work from time to time. Do the Saturday Night Live church-lady and say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough.” in the mirror as much as possible to stay afloat.

Now fast forward some more…

Yes mom, Asheville is a great place live and it’s full of thriving bohemian hooligans. I’ve only encountered a few pagans, but they are awesome.  It is a wonderful place to start a band, start an art business, buy a big wig and stick lights in it, dance on top of a bus as it drives through town, and hula hoop until your flip flops fall off. I’m so thankful for all Asheville has taught me about love, life and community.

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