A couple of years ago, I was living in Akron, going through some hard times. My dog, Buddha, had just died, I was struggling with depression, and to top it all off I was seeing someone at the time who kept making my life miserable. There were few bright spots for awhile. I used to go up to a little dive-bar punk club where a friend worked as a bouncer and bartender, where I usually found a little solace. And that’s where I met Kevin Junior.
He was playing there one night, old Beatles songs as I recall. He stood out in that little place, with his spiky hair and his goth black clothes hugging his rail-thin form. He looked, for all the world, like he’d missed the bus to the punk scene of 1979. And he was so utterly sweet. I couldn’t help but like him immediately.
I would see him around a lot after that, usually playing music. He’d always come to sit and talk.
One night, I wound up with him at my place. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. (Maybe it might have been, but at the time, I was in a relationship, however horrific, and although I knew for a fact that my “lover” was an unfaithful hack, I just never have been a cheater.) No, he came home with me one night from Annabel’s, not for some cheap fling, but because he was lonely, and so was I. We crunched through the snow together, and when we got to the place I was living, we went upstairs to my room, and he sat on my bed, and we talked away most of the night. I showed him my paintings and he sang me his songs, and he told me about his life.
He’d been living in Chicago, playing in punk bands, and I guess touring all around the world. He’d shared stages with the White Stripes, and with Elliott Smith, and a lot of other musicians I liked and admired. He said he’d come home to Akron because he was sick, and might be dying. He showed me a huge scar across his chest, where he’d recently had open heart surgery.
There was something so vulnerable and sweet and lost about him. He didn’t have that egotistical attitude and mouthful of pickup lines so common among dudes who play music in bars. He was open and curious, quiet and respectful, and facing the challenge of his life. He’d come back to Akron to be with family, not wanting to face the next step alone.
My own love life was in the toilet at the time, and I remember thinking that I might have dated him, but for the revelation that he was not well. Take that how you will, but as I had just lost my lover a year or two before to cancer, I just didn’t have it in me to become emotionally involved with someone who was dying. So, to my discredit I suppose, I kept some psychic distance after that, though I did always love to see him at Annabel’s.
I left for New York a few months after that night that we talked and laughed away, and I never saw him again. I guess he was in Spain recently, to record some music, and I understand he’d only just returned home. His Facebook page from last week is filled with posts about David Bowie. “I am still that weird kid, and my chest is hurting,” he said of Bowie’s death.
Me too. A few days ago, Kevin Junior was found dead and alone. I think this article does a better job than most that I’ve seen, of covering his tumultuous and tragic life. He turns out to have been even more interesting than he’d let on. It’s a strange feeling, this sad confusion, where I’m not sure whether to be relieved that I had kept my distance to protect myself from feeling this loss too deeply, or whether to be sad that I did not know him better.
Good night, Kevin Junior.