How I Met Jerry
In 2015, I read with one of my biggest literary heroes/influences, Jerry Stahl. The event at The Last Bookstore in L.A. is only a few blocks from the Mission Shelter where I used to sleep when I was a homeless junkie.
The reading was to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Jerry’s Permanent Midnight, a recovery masterpiece. People frequently say this or that book changes their life, but we understand that is generally hyperbole. (Changing a life is much harder to do.)
Permanent Midnight changed my life.
I first read it during the aforementioned hobo years. (Junkies tend to be very well read. We have a lot of time on our hands.)
I still had a band back then. Or pretended I did. (It’s kinda hard to play guitar when your guitar is at the pawn shop.) I found Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight (literally) lying in the gutter (i.e., the junkie library). It was like gold in my hands. I remember reading that book, thinking, I can do this. If I can somehow survive this mess I’ve gotten myself into, I too can write a book. Maybe my book won’t be as good, but I can do it. This was my chance.
Fast forward to the 2015 reading. As you know from these newsletters, I managed to get straight (took 18 trips to rehab and several arrests, but we did it). And along the way, I managed to earn a couple degrees, start a family, and even publish a few books.
The event was great. House was packed. I saw many familiar faces in the crowd. Although one stood out more than the rest: Gina, a drummer from my old band the Creeping Charlies. Only I knew from social media and the occasional text that Gina was living three thousand miles away on the East Coast. I hadn’t told her about the reading, and even if I had, no one is flying three-thousand miles for a book reading!
So when the event was over, that’s the first thing I asked. I thanked Gina for coming, said it was great seeing her (which it was), but I had to know: why would you fly three-thousand miles across the country for a literary event?
She said, “You might not remember this, Joe—(she was right, I didn’t)—but the last time I saw you in San Francisco, I thought you were gonna die. You were skeleton-thin, covered in scabs and sores, and so strung out you could barely stand. But you were clutching that book, Permanent Midnight, to your chest, and you said to me, ‘Someday I’m going to read on stage with this man.’ And when I saw that was happening, I wasn’t going to miss this for the world.”