Our friend who had Cancer.
Years ago when the Ghettobillies were in their infancy and we had just a few shows a month, we used to play any pub, birthday party, and bar mitzvah that would have us (that last one is a lie, as we didn’t have any jew friends at the time, but this is nit picking and completely irrelevant).
Being a band that wore silly latex hats shaped like condoms, sang songs about the lighter side of molestation, and didn’t have a drummer, tended to widdle down our options for venues that would take us seriously – or take us at all. However, there was one out-of-the-way shithole bar on the west side of Michigan that took us for a 3 set Thursday night, sight unseen. The bartender/booking agent there told us we could stay at his place for the night and gave us free drinks the whole night. “Now this is the life!”, we thought.
After a fairly successful first show there in front of about 15 people (and a few drunks who couldn’t figure out whether or not we were stupid, gay, or just plain weird, would look at us with disdain, as if to say “You think you’re so special! Get out of my shithole bar before I throw up on you!”), we drove back to this guys house to find the inside walls and ceiling covered in children’s paintings and drawings. The top bedroom walls were made to look like a pseudo yellow brick road from the wizard of oz.
Creepy? Yeah, a little, but then again, so were we. (that’s the funny thing about being creepy. It’s all a matter of perspective. Creepy people don’t really think of themselves as creepy, do they? No they do not.)
A few folks from the bar came back to the house for an after party and we spent the rest of the night and early morning drinking and carrying on like teenagers. That’s when the owner of the house came running through the crowd completely naked with his hands to either side of his head yelling, “STOP LOOKING AT MY EARS! STOP LOOKING AT MY EARS!”
It really was a moment of kinship. (I don’t think I need to mention that no one was looking at his ears at that moment…no I thought not.)
That bartender’s name is Reginald Harper. “Reggie” to everyone who knows him. He is one the few individuals on the face of the planet who really doesn’t care what you think of him. He has his own aesthetics, his own rules, and his own world that revolves around getting you to loosen up.
The next morning the bartender woke us up at the crack of noon to show us that he had made an incredible spread of breakfast for the whole band. Scrambled eggs, hash browns, english muffins, orange juice. Just what we all wanted, but didn’t have the stomach to get up and cook.
He sent us on our way to the next town and made us promise we would come back to his little shithole bar and play again for him…and that we did. For the next 10 years, the Ghettobillies slowly built up a very large following along the west coast of Michigan, mostly in part and thanks to our crazy friend Reggie.
Reggie would drive for hours to come to some of our shows that weren’t anywhere near him over the years. He would bring his crazy zany naked body to many of our afterparties at OTHER peoples houses. Sometimes there would be a problem. Most of the time, we would just leave one hell of an impression on the younger insecure college students who looked to us with that all too familiar face of uncertainty: “Are you guys cool or just complete idiots?”
To this day, we still leave the young ones with that internal question.
Reggie was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and went to a horrible 9 months of loosing his teeth and hair, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Halfway through he needed a feeding tube put into him and lost half of his body weight. Unable to work at the airlines (his newer job since leaving the bartender business), Reggie was laid off and thus his health insurance was cut off. His girlfriend/secret wife Karen, another close crazy friend of ours who is practically the female version of Reggie got his friends together and organized a cancer benefit for him to help raise money for the piling up medical bills that he could possibly be paying off for the rest of his life.
Once again, the Ghettobillies reunited to help a friend in need. It was their final performance. (as of this journal entry)
Soon after the enormous benefit, Reggie Harper was given a clean bill of health and we hope to have him around for at least another 12 years of rock and rollin’.