Jetsam, the latest work by Mike Hudson

February 28th, 2011  |  Published in TCS Reviews

Chances are many Clevelanders won’t remember Mike Hudson unless they were born before LBJ took office.  Folks in Niagara Falls and certain Podunk Pennsylvania might recognize his byline.  For while Hudson fronted the gritty but short-lived Pagans on Ohio’s North Coast in the seventies, he’s been a journalist for the last quarter-century.  His newest book, Jetsam, is an anthology drawing on both his past and current lives.

The first half consists of short stories dating back to Hudson’s halcyon days with the band, whereas his more recent nonfiction (essays and letters-to-editors) comprises a reality-centric second act.

Hudson’s tales are populated primarily by miscreants, outcasts, and losers.  Like the lower caste citizens portrayed in Flannery O’Connor’s dark fiction, they usually want for more out of existence but are powerless to change their station.  Life’s not a radio, after all—and if it were then we are all stuck at the same frequency on the dial.  A photojournalist is haunted by his first “fatal” after a car knocks a 7-year old boy out of his sneakers and into the afterlife.  Two brothers confront the towering gypsy who looted their farmhouse in “Haying Time.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses visit lethargic potheads in “East Side Story” and “Death Warmed Over.”  A dumped but hopelessly codependent girlfriend bemoans her fate in a letter to a perceived confidante in “Girl Talk.”  A crazy Jewish landlady is convinced it’s the end of days when she notices the Rocky Mountains have lost their snowcaps in “The End of the World.”  A down-on-his-luck angler uses his burns an undesirable catfish off his line with a cigarette in “A Couple of Suckers.”

Hudson’s early days with Pagans are brought to the fore in entries like “Street Where Nobody Lives” and “All the Wrong People Are Dying.”  Where the former piece reads like the travelogue of a typical night out in 1977 for Hudson and his cohorts (names changed to protect the guilty), the latter laments the premature passing of some of beloved family and friends.  Punk singer Stiv Bators died after being struck by a car in Paris.  Johnny Thunders’ excessive lifestyle was his undoing.  “Joey” is clearly a pseudonym assigned Hudson’s brother, Brian, who died in car accident.

Most of Hudson’s nonfiction draws on either his past life in Northeast Ohio or his current digs in Niagara Falls.  “Youthful Bliss Ruined by Infielder” recounts the hope shared by Cleveland Indians fans when the club recruited Gus Gil in 1966.  The second baseman failed to live up to expectations—but the disastrous baseball season steeled Tribe fans for future disappointment.  Hudson’s first Browns game is eclipsed by news of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in “Football Memories” (our opponents that day were the fledgling Cowboys expansion team).

Other essays might well have been added to or (in the case of several paragraphs) culled from) Hudson’s Diary of a Punk memoirs.  In “God Bless the Damned and Demonic Dead Boys,” he examines the chain of events that landed the Pagans a serendipitous opening slot with Dead Boys.  A similar anecdote, “Liner Notes,” was included in the sleeve of the Pagan’s reissued Pink Album in 2001.

Hudson also reveals himself to be something of an outdoorsman.  “Salmon Fishing in Southern Alaska” describes a fishing trip thwarted by orcas on the high seas.  “A Death in the North Woods of Maine” finds the author-hunter bagging his first bear, but unsure how to feel about it.  Originally a letter to a Field and Stream type rag, “Small Bores for Big Game” is Hudson’s tech-savvy argument for why baby bullets aren’t a hunter’s best choice for bringing down large game.  In “What Price, Freedom?” the author literally checks the going rates for discarded service medals on Ebay.

Like Hudson’s biography, Jetsam is an easy read (Diary of a Punk can be digested in matter of hours).  That each selection comprises only 2-10 pages makes Jetsam even more accessible for the casual reader; its bite-sized doses can be taken individually or several in a sitting.  Naysayers would have newbies believe Hudson is a recluse who emerges from behind the bylines of his self-published Niagara Falls Reporter newspaper only to stir debate in online forums.  His writing evinces otherwise; the Pagan possesses a keen mind and unnervingly sharp pen for someone who traded high school classrooms for the CBGBs stage 35 years ago.

Hudson will appear at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 11, 2011 as part of the “Cleveland Confidential” book tour.  Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys, Batusis), Bob Pfiefer (Human Switchboard), and David Thomas (Pere Ubu) will also be on hand, reading from their own tomes and fielding questions (and autograph requests) from the crowd.

Pete Roche

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