Remembering Joey and Jenn, the Girl Who Liked to Swim
What I remember about seeing the Ramones at a tight little club in downtown Kitchener, Ontario, in the summer of 1992, is that Jenn was there.
Bless the internet. I know now it was June 4, 1992, at Stages.
I had finished the final classes for my undergraduate degree that Spring, and in September I would move to Saskatoon. (That’s another story.)
1992 was 30 years ago, and also only 15 years from 1977, but still I never expected to see the Ramones, especially in Kitchener.
In 1992, the punk bands of the ‘70s had seemed to burn out, while the ‘60s rockers were still fading away. The Clash, gone. The Sex Pistols, gone. The Ramones were on tour? In a tiny club?
I’d once caught their movie, Rock and Roll High School (1979), some random Saturday afternoon, spliced up on TV. But being a teenager in the 1980s, I thought I had missed all of that.
But whatever all of that was, it wasn’t all gone.
Yes, they played with the sound up to 11. I followed my friends’ advice and bought industrial ear plugs for the show. Still, I left with my head ringing.
Squeezing between the crowd, I saw Jenn leaning up against a raised barrier. It was the last time I saw her, I’m pretty sure.
I saw her frequently at the Bombshelter, the University of Waterloo pub. She would sit by the DJ booth, sheltering a book. I usually sat on the other side of the dance floor, against the wall.
She wore black. She had a bob. I was in a writing group on campus, and she attended a couple of times. We would read our poetry and offer commentary. She didn’t participate, instead sat quiet in the circle. Enigmatic.
Later, I asked her if she wrote, and she said she did, and I encouraged her to bring some of her work, but she said she wouldn’t. She didn’t feel comfortable sharing it.
I learned she was a friend of a friend when he said she had given him her phone number to give to me.
Oh, I said. I know her. I called her.
The next time I saw her, she apologized for the awkwardness of the conversation.
“I was sitting beside my boyfriend,” she said.
“Oh,” I said.
Maybe the Ramones show wasn’t the last time I saw her, but I think it was. I remember telling her that my days in Kitchener-Waterloo were coming to an end. I planned to move to Saskatoon, explore a new phase of my life. She wasn’t done her degree. She would be staying around town.
She was from Sault Ste. Marie, and one time I asked her what that was like.
She said the town had different types of people. There were artsy bohemians, which is what we were pretending to be, and others who had no time for artsy bohemians.
There were cool people there, just not as many of them.
I still have a clear sense of her, even though I didn’t know her. We connected, ever so delicately.
Like trains in the night, I’m tempted to say, but we weren’t trains. More like hummingbirds shooting past each other in a garden.
Today, I still see the friend who gave me her number. After I moved to Saskatoon, he moved to Vancouver. We corresponded, and one of the things I wrote to him was to ask about Jenn. I think I thought maybe I could write to her.
I got a quick response, dashing that thought. Around the time I was writing my letter to Vancouver, he said, Jenn was in hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, where she’d been taken for a drug overdose.
Then she slipped out of the hospital, unattended, did it again, and died.
He said he had a folder with some poems by Jenn and asked if I wanted a copy. I did, and somewhere in my papers, I still have it, a little collection called: “The Girl Who Likes to Swim.”
There was a poem of the same name, and now when I think of Jenn, I think, “the girl who liked to swim,” though I never knew that about her, when I knew her.
I didn’t know her.
In 1996, I went through Sault Ste. Marie on a Greyhound bus. I took a series of Greyhounds all the way from Toronto to Vancouver and then back again. We had a layover of a couple of hours in the Sault, and I looked up the hospital, not too far from the bus station, and walked over there.
I sat in the park outside the hospital and thought of Jenn, the girl who likes to swim.
Hey, Jenn. Hey.
Gabba Gabba Hey.
The other thing I remember about seeing the Ramones is, of course, Joey, an original for sure. And when I think of Joey Ramone, I think of Bruce Macdonald’s Roadkill (1989): “Hey, Joey! Whadaya doin in Sudbury?”
Classic Canadian cinema!
One final note. On August 25, 2003, I caught another seminal punk band, The Sex Pistols, at the Molson Amphitheatre. The band had toured in 1996 and reports of the concerts had been (surprisingly, I thought) good, but still I wasn’t going to go.
Then the day of the concert, they were advertising tickets for the show for $13. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I mean, what else was I doing? So, I sat on the lawn above the pavilion and watched Johnny Rotten walk off stage in disgust after the fifth song because he was being pelted with gobs, horks and spit from the audience. There was a long pause, but he came back.
It wasn’t 1976.
Thank the internet for this quote: "I survived your SARS," he said, referring to his spring appearance at a music conference in Toronto. "I don't want your AIDS."
For the entire show, Steve Jones played with his back to the audience. They were terrible, really, really terrible, but it was punk. I’d seen Jones at Barrymore’s in Ottawa in the fall of 1989, playing songs of a metal-influenced solo album as the audience screamed for “Bodies” and “Holidays in the Sun.” He didn’t play any of them, and by 2003 he seemed defeated, sad.
And Lydon is selling butter. They did say it was a swindle.