Let me tell you something about Jed. When Jed was seventeen. He walked into the house and went up to my mother, who was cutting tomatoes for some spaghetti, and said, “Hey, Mom, look” and he squirted some of that shit into his vein and turned and walked out the door. Pretty ballsy. I was there, about seven years old. My mama didn’t miss a beat, just kept cutting tomatoes and throwing them in the pot. I remember that day well. He ripped out of there in his gray, never to be painted GTO. That’s pretty heavy shit, stuff that shouldn’t be done, but I don’t hate Jed for it. You don’t hate someone who might be dead. You just don’t.
My mama turned on me and screamed “Get out!” So I did. I went outside and sat on a rock by our gate. Our dog, Snoopy, came up to me and I petted him as the sun burned on bright and loud, but cold-like, since there was such hatred in the air. The next time that I saw Jed was on a late night rock show three years later. It was the first time The Priestess had made TV, Rock Train or some shit like that, I think it was. There was Jed. Skinnier than before wearing what would later become his signature white cowboy hat with his brown bangs falling down over his eyes, a cigarette dangling from his lips, his arms skinny like a fem from all the dope. He was just rocking. Like I said, Jed could rock.
Before he left he’d play his guitar in his room for hours, just smoking weed and blowing it out the window. He ran the sound through his little pignose amp. Sometimes he’d let me come in and once he even gave me a puff, and I got really stoned and a little scared, and didn’t want to do it again. But mostly it was really cool. I’d just listen and my mind would start wandering from the music. I’d wonder what it was exactly that I was listening to, what the meaning was to all the noise he made, why one sound mattered over any other, and even though I wondered, the way that Jed did it made the answers apparent. It was music. I have no doubt to this day that my brother was a musical genius. Who cares that he bought his first Strat from selling plastic bags of Jamaican weed to high school kids.
Jed kept the class of ’78 properly stoned at Millsville High. After he left school there was a marked decline in drug use and the principal received a plaque of recognition by the Millsville County Sheriff’s Department in its ongoing efforts to curb drug use among the young. Principal Preuss had even been interviewed on television on the ways he had found to get young people to just say no. Nobody ever interviewed Jed about the myriad methods he had used for getting kids to just say yes.
Jed dated a lot of girls in high school. He was a charmer. Every girl he dated, it didn’t matter who she was, a cheerleader, a girl with glasses in the Chess Club, that tall girl on exchange from Sweden, they all fell for Jed, and in so doing each acquired some degree of drug habit from the experience. He got his GTO through a cocaine deal. That car is long gone. It’s the only clue we’ve got about what happened to Jed. You want to know what happened to it? They found it stuck to the bottom of the Hudson River, about eighty miles up from New York City. See, I’m not crazy. I know where Jed is. There’s method to my madness.
There are some people who say he died in that crash. I don’t think so. There would be a body. If you don’t have a body you don’t have a death do you? I choose to believe that we don’t have a death here. Jed, for all his craziness, didn’t want to die, but you never know about the kinds of places that heroin takes you. Maybe it changes your mind on the subject of dying so that it sounds good to you. I guess it made Kurt Cobain want to die, but then again, he probably just wanted to die anyway. I’ve wanted to die before, but I never took heroin so I’m still alive. Christ, I’m too young to have to think about this shit, but I can’t help it. That’s why I write musicals. Jed’s going to perform one of my rock operas some day. After just knowing he’s okay, and that’s the main reason I’m going to go find him, he’s going to perform my rock tribute to Princess Diana: Petals.
Everybody in Millsville knows I had or have a famous brother. He’s the only one from Millsville to ever make it big besides our state legislator and that doesn’t mean shit. His name is ingrained in the town like a bittersweet history, a remembrance of a man with no statues forthcoming. People don’t hold it against me that Jed fucked his life up, but they do sometimes ask me if anybody’s heard from him. I tell them that if I do it will probably be on CNN entertainment report first so they should just go the hell home and turn on the tube and wait. I get sick of the way they don’t really mean it, like they really believe he’s dead, but they’re humoring me or something, because I’m the only one in the world who believes he’s alive. Sometimes I just tell them that, yeah, he’s alive in Chicago or New York or he’s doing recording work in L.A. and he’s changed his name to Skipper Lee. I don’t know why I chose Skipper Lee, it just sounds really stupid, and that’s how I want people to feel who ask stupid questions that infer that my brother Jed is dead. I don’t need it, you see. Jed’s in New York somewhere. He crawled out of that car and started walking. That’s what Jed would do.
He was a determined guy, quiet actually. If he hadn’t gotten so screwed up on drugs I think he would probably be an engineer or something today, plotting city streets or designing computer highways or something. He could sit for hours just concentrating on one thing. That’s why he was such a great guitarist. He was kind, too. He always took care of me, was never mean or ashamed of being seen with me in public. Sometimes we’d go to the roller skating rink, and as he stood over in the corner smoking and talking to girls and his other stoner friends, I’d notice him keeping an eye out for me as I stumbled around the blue roller rink with my little buddy Steven whose mom, amazingly, didn’t have a problem letting him ride in Jed’s car. I never worried that he would get stoned and leave me behind. He always went outside and disappeared with his friends for awhile, but I knew he’d come back.
He was tough too, Jed. He once beat the shit out of a guy about a foot taller than himself for pushing me over on purpose. He’d been standing over there with some skinny little girl when he saw. I didn’t even know what happened to me. This guy was skating really fast and instead of going around me he just ploughed over me, pushing me down with his arms. I could feel his hands on my back first and then just a surreal acceleration as my head met the blue floor and I went dark for a minute and then woke up to stars and then just plain dizziness with a pretty teenage girl with her hand on my shoulder. I could smell her perfume. She smelled sweet and when I looked up at her she was looking away across the rink at something and I thought she was beautiful, but what she was looking at was Jed, about to beat the shit out of the guy who did it to me.
The guy didn’t know who Jed was, but I knew, and saw very clearly, like an animal knows the smell of impending violence in the air. Jed had skated over and stopped within the guy’s personal space. They talked a little bit. Jed was fucked up. He lit a cigarette like only Jed could and then offered one to the guy who simply said no. When Jed took that first deep puff his eyes squinted and his left shoulder lowered down like a cobra about to strike. His right eye was whole and wide open, but the left squinted as if to tell the guy that everything was cool, that it was cool to push his little brother down, and everything was going to be alright, because everything was cool.
Jed flicked the cigarette and the cherry, literally, got stuck on the guy’s lash. When he bent backwards, trying to get away from the heat and surprise of the lit cigarette there dangling a centimeter from his eyeball, Jed, as if finally shucking the world off of his shoulder, swooped down like a Mr. Universe in a winning pose and then said fuck it, and came up with all his might, an uppercut that sent the other kid to the floor, out like a light, the winner, of course, my brother Jedediah Jones.
Jed came over to me, but he didn’t see me that much. He had that far away look in his eyes that I’d seen, I’d noticed before. That look couldn’t touch me, but only himself. It was the kind of look that Richard Ramirez, that famous serial killer had, the one who tattooed a satanic symbol on his palm and smiled when he showed it to the cameras in the courtroom in, I think it was, L.A. He touched me on the chest and then looked away. He knew he’d be in trouble if he stayed, so we had to go. I followed him out. Steven was right there beside me all scared-like. Jed’s eyes. The crazy look. The look that I even saw a little bit when Jed played his guitar in his room. A look that told the world that Jed had a little bit more pain inside of himself than anybody would ever be able to find out about, a pain that distilled downward into every cell of his body, making his arms even more stringy later, his hair thinner, his face tighter and whiter. Some would say that my brother was a little bit evil, but what I always thought inside myself, but never wanted to admit, was that I secretly believed Jed’s problem was that his heart was dying slowly.
When Princess Diana died, I wrote a rock opera. I sent Henri Paul, the drunk who killed her, whisking away on a flying saucer. I figured Jed could do the music to that pretty well. I don’t play any music myself. Don’t know how. I tried to be a singer with some friends for awhile, but they all thought I was a wimp because I like melodic singing, and not just shit like Metallica I appreciate stuff like Barry Manilow does and opera singers and Eddie Vedder, people who can follow the most elemental note, keeping it fresh like a flower, caring for it in the same way you would a flower, not chopping it up in the name of variation or cool. That’s what those asshole guitar players around here do, those guys who couldn’t hold a candle to Jed, the ones who play the pizza parlors in town on Saturday nights and I’m sure would call Mozart an asshole to his face if they could, because Amadeus had never jammed an Allman brother’s song.
These old fucks ought to go the way they came. They don’t remember Jed. If they did, they’d be able to do magic with their fingers instead of just make noise. As you can tell, besides having a low paying job and not giving a shit about corporate demands, I have little patience with idiots as well. You see, all the shit inside of Jed came out of his desire for someone to play for him the music that I heard sitting there listening to him as a kid. It was like he couldn’t hear it as well as I could because he was the one playing. It was like Jed was always on the outside trying to get a glimpse of the inside, and there I was looking inside like a freeloader who doesn’t have to pay for anything and never will.
Jed paid. Even though Jed rocked like he did, he paid, because he truly attempted to hear the music in his head. It was his hunger, but it was so far down there that it strained him too hard. Because he had to reach so far down it came out too loud for the world. The world thought he was a madman, but then it heard him and knew he was doing something real, and all he was really doing was listening to a tiny brook lost somewhere deep inside. But it was there, provable to doubters, which I guess included himself, if only he could reconstruct it. I think the doubters included himself because he was trying to hear the very voice of God Himself. I do believe that. I do believe that was where Jed was going to.
Because of this, I believe my brother Jed was a musical genius. He could have easily made it solo. He had a smooth voice that he didn’t show off, and didn’t really need, because of the power in his guitar, but he got to taking heroin, and that’s all she wrote. His ballads were beautiful and unnoticed by those who claim they know music, people with such long sticks up their asses Mozart probably wouldn’t have even spoke to them. A couple of times I played them for my mom when she got depressed over him. Back then, when Jed was making it bigtime, I was just teeny-bopper, I’d say to her, look, Jed is really cool now. I’d say that he’s really peaceful. Just listen to this, Mom, I’d say. He’s not all strung out and lost in the rock and roll scene. He’s taking time to get to know who he is. These songs can’t be written by a drug addict, mama.
It was all bullshit. My mama listened to me though. I’d tell her these big old stories about what Jed was doing, acting as though I knew, simply because I was of the age of rock and roll and she wasn’t, not really. She was into fifties stuff and that’s not real rock and roll. I’d tell her that when Jed was on the road they stayed in nice hotels and Jed writes these ballads and gets interviewed by magazines. And I’d tell her that when you’re a rock star everybody is watching you so you can’t show up in public all stoned and shit, and that Jed had to fall in line and be clean cause Nancy Reagan had already been spouting off to just say no. I’d tell her that even Jed cared about what people thought of him. I’d tell her how Jed had always looked out for me and how he didn’t want me to do dope, although he let me smoke pot once. Even my mom smokes pot sometimes.
So I’d do what I could to make my mom feel at ease. Sometimes I’d tape videos of Jed when he played on TV and play them for her and she would watch him and say things like “he’s skinny” or “I hope he’s not still doing that stuff.” Just Mom hopes, worries, prayers and despairs. They were little prickly things that punctured our lives every day after Jed left. You’ve got to give it to my mom, though. She put up with a lot of shit from Jed, especially that last bit with the needle. She’s always tried to do what she can.
I don’t blame her for what happened to Jed. It’s Jed’s own fault, or maybe my dad’s, who was murdered when we were kids. But I do wonder why Jed did what he did. I wonder where he got that look, that killer look that he apparently put to full use on himself. Everybody knows that Jed very well may be dead. I don’t believe it at all, but most everybody else does. Once again, I say, where’s the body? Nobody knows. He’s alive somewhere. New York.