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Me And The Jailbird

I first met Ryan sometime around the Summer of 2005.  We are from the same hometown and have a bunch of mutual acquaintances, but had never formally met.  That isn't to say I did not know who he was.  The first time that I remember seeing him was probably during the Spring of 1997, the end of my freshman year of high school.

During the time that I was in high school, the late nineties, our hometown had a thriving music scene.  Well, it was about as thriving a scene as a town of 10,000 could support.  Young people took it upon themselves to rent halls, book, and promote concerts featuring local bands and acts from around the state.  This still happens there to a certain extent, but with the same recklessness that it did 15 years ago.  It was at one of these shows that I first saw Ryan.  Back then he was Kemo.

My friend put on an outdoor concert in his backyard which happened to be on the same street that ended with that terrible trailer park that Ryan described earlier.  This was about ten years before the place was bulldozed.  Some of my older acquaintances were playing in a band called Deaf Child Area and their 'singer' was this guy that everybody called Kemo.  My band had already played so I was free to watch the spectacle.  Kemo was shirtless and quite drunk with long hair that was reminiscent of Chris Cornell from Soundgarden.  He looked dirty as fuck.  I'd heard about this guy many times, mostly stuff like, "Kemo beat up my dad," or,"I was just skateboarding along when all of a sudden Kemo. . ." but this was the first time that I'd ever seen him in person. He was screaming and ranting and taunting the crowd.  I'm pretty sure he roughed up this tiny mohawked kid named Mark that everyone used to call "Hair Boy" because he was like five feet tall but had a massive 14-inch liberty spiked mohawk.  I stayed away from him.  It was probably a good choice.  At that point I was a pretty soft kid.  I don't think that I had it in me to try to not get trampled in the stampede that Kemo seemed to be.

Some short time after I graduated from high school I went with my friend Marc to a music venue in Ypsilanti, Michigan to see a bad local band.  A few of my friends from school and past jobs were there and Kemo was there, too.  Only I think that by this time he was probably 'Ryan.'  He ran up to my buddy, Scott, and picked him up in a big bear hug.  He was wearing a driver cap, had short hair, and I noticed a spider tattoo on his neck.  He kinda gave off a Mike Ness vibe.  I didn't talk to him.. Still intimidated, although less so at this point.  By then I was getting drunk and picking fights with people who wouldn't fight back out of boredom.  It would be a couple more years until I actually met Ryan and figured out that under that rough exterior is some more roughness but plenty of thoughtfulness, genuine curiosity, and fierce loyalty.

Eron, baby Joseph, Ryan, and Me, shirtless for some reason.  2007
I met Ryan at a party at a place that we call, "The Ranch."  The Ranch is our good friends' parents' house on the outskirts of our home town.  Jan and Steve are really great people who gave their daughters' friends a safe place where kids could be kids.  I'm sure they still do it, even though the kids are approaching thirty and have kids of their own.  Ryan was camped out in an rv on their lawn, for some reason, and had started hanging out with one of my best friends and the singer in my band, Eron.  I guess they would get really drunk  and possibly otherwise intoxicated and write song lyrics, which is what they did for most of the night when our bad played at the Ranch.  In the morning when we went to say goodbye to Ryan, there was a pair of cowboy boots and a quarter of a bottle of whiskey sitting on the step to the rv, getting hotter in the early morning Summer sun.  He wasn't really happy to be woke up only to say goodbye.

In early 2005 we all started listening to a band called The Hold Steady.  I won't really get into the band itself because I could write on for pages about them.  We all got tickets to the show when they came to Hamtramck that year and we were all crazy excited to see them.  Around this time, Ryan was having a hard time with drugs.  At the last minute before the show, Eron managed to wrangle Ryan a bed at this free detox in Ann Arbor that was notoriously hard to get into.  It meant that Ryan wouldn't be able to go see The Hold Steady, but we knew that his health was more important.  Eron picked him up and drove him to the detox place himself because he knew that if he left it up to Ryan, he would skip out and go get high.  You can't trust an addict.  Ryan went in to the building but came out shortly and told Eron that they said that since he was already starting to have withdrawal symptoms, he would need to go get high and come back and that Eron should drive him to where he could get one last fix.  This didn't sound right to Eron so he said that he would go in so they could tell him what they told Ryan and then he would do it.  Ryan was like, "Goddamnit, fine.  I'll go."  And he went back in.  He was getting clean while we were watching the Hold Steady for the first time.  The crowd for that show was really small, but the most obvious void was created by Ryan's absence.
Me and Ryan at The Hold Steady concert in Pontiac, MI.  2008

He has been clean since then.

I'll only speak to things that I know.  I'll leave the rest up to Ryan.


  1. It was November 1st 2005 that Eron and I got Ryan to go to that place. He has been clean since then.
    The baby in the picture is Joseph.

  2. Thanks Al. I just updated it.

  3. Thanks for writing this John, I suspected that Ryan grew up near me and he looked very familiar. It turns out he lived in the same trailer park as a friend of mine.

  4. Nice third party insight, he's got some major talent, stay true. Thanks.