Hit and Run
Quentin Jones By Hank Bronson What can I say about Quentin Jones that will do him justice? Shall I say that this songwriter/performer is under-rated? Shall I say that he is an artist who captures my imagination with his cogent but vulnerable style? Shall I say that his music has a "Neo-Classic" flavor to it; that it is an eclectic blend of Rock, Pop, Jazz, Folk, and Classical music. And that his music contains multiple melodic and lyrical "hooks?" Shall I say that this artist has originality that defies any pigeon hole? Yes. I shall say these things. I shall say them because they are true. What I like most about Quentin is his unique songwriting style. However, this is the very thing, or so they say, that makes him a "hard sell." So, I ask myself, where does that leave an artist who does not utilize "acceptable" songwriting forms? Where does that leave a man who writes songs with poetic yet streetwise aggressiveness; songs that tell strange but sensitive stories with bizarre characters? Where does that leave a man who chooses to be an outsider? I, as a journalist can not answer these questions. Perhaps I am being presumptuous in the very asking of these questions. After all, who the hell cares? Well...I care. I first heard about Quentin Jones's performances by word of mouth from his fans on the streets of Hollywood. They spoke about this charismatic entertainer who comes off crazy, desperate, and almost "apocalyptic." His fans believe that he has a "message" to convey. They seem to want to describe what this message is as they struggle for the words to explain the intrinsic value of his music and lyrics. They have a heart-felt need to define a certain 'truth' about Quentin Jones's art, and they become visibly frustrated when they get tongue-tied. But whatever their explanations may be, they believe that Quentin is more than "just entertainment." And, they say,...he's funny. Not in the sense of being a "comedian," but in terms of the sense of humor in his songs. They believe that Quentin doesn't necessarily mean to be funny, but many times he can't help it. They say songs like "Hot Little Number," and "Society Of Crying Relevance," are but two examples (at this point of the conversations, what comes to my mind is the notion of 'art that conceals art'). I enjoy "deep" discussions about artists and their music, however, I usually respond to such conversations like this: There is no way anyone can understand the true nature of an artist's "message," unless you can physically enter the artist's mind and watch what he thinks as it happens. To be sure, this is impossible. In the final analysis, the artist's message is merely a product of his own "fictional dream." As our discussions progress, my opinions about artists and their art seem to uncomfortably contradict his fans' beliefs about Quentin. It is then that our "street conversations" lose momentum. His fans' eyes glaze over, they politely smile at me and walk away. Despite all the conceptual whirligigs of these philosophical discussions about Quentin, I know what his fans are trying to get across: Just because Quentin's songs are based upon fiction, does not mean that they are not true. So, after hearing so much about Quentin Jones, I went to one of the clubs in Hollywood where he was performing, to see for myself. The stage was dark. Quentin and his Band sauntered on stage to adoring applause. He seemed oblivious to the crowd as the band casually plugged into their amplifiers and the drummer tested his kick drum, snare, and toms. I wasn't impressed. Here was Quentin dressed in black, scraggly long hair, and dark glasses. Not terribly original. I've seen guys like him, talking to themselves, while walking down Hollywood Boulevard. He reminded me of a psychiatric out-patient who might be living in a halfway house. The sound man, sitting at his multi-track console in the back of the club, adjusted the balance of the P.A. system. Bamm!! In a synchronized split second, Quentin's band started cranking and driving like a Mack truck. Quentin came alive! He belted the lyrics of his opening song, "Painted Thieves," with a vocal tone reminiscent of a Harley Davidson. He stood relatively still. He didn't have to move. His music moved! The whole building moved! There he was, singing/belting, and suddenly, in the middle of the song, he broke into a quasi-rap, talk-sing lyrical cadenza, rolling out line after line which further developed the story power of the song. The crowd thickened into shoulder to shoulder standing room only. After about an hour, Quentin and his band took their first intermission. I approached Quentin, introduced myself and I asked for an interview. He looked exhausted and ambivalent as he turned away and headed backstage. Not a very stimulating interview, I thought. But then, what did I expect? I walked to the back of the club and stood alone. I was a little miffed at Quentin for actively ignoring me, and normally I would have left the club, gone home, gotten drunk and gone to bed. But I didn't. I stayed. Besides, I wanted to see his next set, so I decided that I would hang out and try to get my interview after the gig. Just then the waitress approached me and I ordered another double scotch on the rocks. After Quentin's last song, a bit of schmoozing and autograph signing, I went up to Quentin again and asked for an interview. Sweating and exhausted, he politely agreed. He took me to a quiet place in the dressing room, and we both sat down at a small table. I was on my fifth scotch, and Quentin was drinking coffee. I placed my cassette tape recorder on the tabletop between us and pressed "record." Quentin Jones was born in Palo Alto, California. His father unexpectedly ran off when Quentin was two years old. His father was later found murdered in Portland, Oregon under mysterious circumstances. According to the Multnomah County police department, Quentin's father was staying in a fifth story hotel room when a stranger broke down his door, beat him, and threw him out of the hotel window to the street below. The Multnomah County Coroner's autopsy read, "Severe traumatic injuries: Skull fracture and lacerated brain: Fractured ribs: Lacerations of liver and lungs: Posterior mediastinal hemorrhages." The police never found his father's killer, and since his father was not robbed, the police could not determine a motive for the murder. To this day his father remains a "cold case." His mother, a mediocre singer/actress in musical theatre, met and ran away with an alcoholic actor with the stage name, Brent Woodward. They both abandoned Quentin and his older brother when Quentin was three years old. Both Quentin and his brother were split up and placed in separate foster home families. Quentin was never to see his mother or his brother again. Through his long and arduous foster care life, Quentin was constantly shuffled from foster home to foster home; kicked out of this one, kicked out of that one. He was treated as a misfit and eventually declared incorrigible. Through his school years at El Carmelo Elementary in Palo Alto, he was constantly in trouble for "acting out" in class. Although he got the attention he craved from his classmates (they would laugh hysterically at his outbursts), he would get kicked out of class and sent to the principal's office virtually every day. He remembers the analogy that the principal, Mr. Ungerbach, would offer in order to make Quentin understand the futility of his disruptive behavior. The principal would explain that when people go to the zoo to see the monkeys, the people laugh at the monkeys' behavior. Quentin, with his head lowered would respond, "Yes, everybody laughs at the monkeys." Mr. Ungerbach would then add, with a self-righteous expression, "but the people don't respect the monkeys do they?" "No, they don't respect the monkeys," Quentin would reply. Leaning back in his swivel chair, hands clasped behind his head and belly sticking out, Ungerbach, face turning red, would scoldingly lean forward, "Then why do you have no self-control! Why do you continue to act like a monkey! Of course the classroom students will laugh at your behavior. But do they really respect you!" "I guess not," Quentin would say, avoiding eye contact. The outcome of these "Ungerbach rituals" was the same: Three-day suspension pending possible expulsion. This scenario did not change when Quentin finally "graduated" from El Carmelo Elementary and moved on to Wilbur school, also in Palo Alto. Quentin had become chronically depressed and it was suggested by his teachers and school counselors that he see a psychiatrist. He did. He would travel every Saturday to San Francisco to see Dr. Holomon. During the therapy sessions, Dr. Holoman would sit quietly and jot down notes on his pad as Quentin would talk about what happened during the previous week. Quentin would explain that he was constantly in trouble, constantly weary, always tired, and couldn't finish his school work. Dr. Holoman would respond with one-liners like, "You can't work because you are 'blue', and you are 'blue' because you can't work." Quentin's talk therapy sessions sometimes helped him feel better, but soon Quentin perceived his psychiatrist as a "straw man;" lights on...nobody home. Besides, talk therapy sessions could not alter Quentin's reality. They did not ease the pain that he felt inside; that relentless gnashing of desperation and panic that he could not understand, let alone articulate. Especially to a dead-pan doctor whose eyes would dart back and forth at the clock on the wall during the hour-long sessions ("Our time is up. See you next week. Same time; same place'). Because Quentin had no real family and no real past, he created a fantasy world; a world where nothing and no one was true, and nothing and no one was dependable. He was living his own fictional dream; a cacophony of characters and places that followed him like a shadow. Quentin strived to be included and accepted in the so-called social "in-crowd" at Wilbur, but he was rejected and ridiculed by both the "in-crowd" boys and girls. They didn't like him and they would tell him that he was too weird because he had no real family. "Where the hell did you come from," they would say. His longing to be accepted turned into an obsession. He started a peculiar after-school practice where he would go home, get a knife or any other carving implement, and carve the names of the Wilbur "popular group" girls into his wooden backyard fence. His current foster parents were puzzled by this daily "project." But they also knew that he needed to express himself. So, despite his defacing their fence, they allowed him to continue. Quentin meticulously carved each name of each girl he wanted to get to know. He had the notion that simply "engraving" the names of these girls into his backyard fence would be enough for them to notice him and perhaps talk to him. Never worked. Still, he continued day after day, carving and carving until every inch of fence had a girl's name. It was his work of art. It was also the first time Quentin expressed concentrated creativity, vulnerability, and love. Quentin became more withdrawn and alone. Then finally one day, while listening to the radio, he discovered rock and roll. This "awakening" was to become the beginning of the rest of his life. While still young, he had made a decision to become a poet musician. He began writing poetry/lyrics which he kept stashed in his dresser drawers. He would blast the radio, lip-sync and "perform" in front of his bedroom mirror. He even spent time practicing "signing his autograph." Although he was rejected by the in-crowd at Wilbur, Quentin created his own group of friends, all of whom became known for smoking and shoplifting. Quentin and his new group of friends were not only outsiders, they were deemed "juvenile delinquents." The Palo Alto Police Department knew who they were and kept a close watch on them. Like Quentin, all of the group were incorrigible disruptive, disrespecting of authority and spent more time in the principal's office than in class. They gained a well-deserved notorious reputation around school and in time they adopted a "group name." They called themselves "The Mojo Men." Although they never laid claim to being anything more than a group of best friends out to have a good time, they attracted some of the most adventuresome and great looking babes on campus; non of whom were in the so-called "in-crowd." This was a happy time for Quentin. Then he got kicked out of Wilbur and kicked out of his umpteenth foster home in the Palo Alto area. He had to split California. He had no more options; nowhere to go; no more "cards to play." Quentin was now aimless, homeless and a truant. He headed up to San Francisco, and hooked up with a runaway Asian chick by the name of Chang Lee who soon became his girlfriend. Four years prior, Chang Lee had left her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin because of a drug-addicted stepfather, named Chuck. One day, Chuck, naked and stoned out of his mind, tried to get into Chang Lee's pants. No one was home at the time, and during the struggle, Chang Lee was able to get her hands on a kitchen knife and stab her stepfather in the groin. She left Chuck lying on the livingroom floor in a pool of blood. It was clearly a case of self-defense, and although Chuck never got close enough to touch her, she was still freaked out because she thought she had killed him. She immediately hit the road, bag and baggage, without a word. She wound up in San Francisco. She later found out that her stepfather died; but not by her. Instead he was subsequently killed by a biker in a Milwaukee "dive" bar. It seems that the biker had been ripped off by Chuck on a crystal meth deal, and the pissed off biker just put a bullet through Chuck's head. That was that. The biker was never identified or busted, and the Milwaukee Police were content to abandon the case under the heading of "death by misadventure." Eventually, Chang Lee had made amends with her mother, and so Chang decided to go back home from San Francisco to join her mother in Milwaukee. This was around the time Quentin met Chang Lee at a party in San Francisco, hooked up with her, and became her lover. Since they both had to leave California, for different reasons, they hit the road with their thumbs extended at the101 freeway entrance. Next stop, Milwaukee. About a week later, they arrived in Milwaukee. Although they loved each other, they both knew that they had to split up and go their separate ways; Chang Lee on her way to her mother, and Quentin on his way to....wherever (to this day, Quentin has a special admiration for and attraction to Asian women. He says that not only are they physically beautiful, but they also have a tenderness, sensitivity, and elegance that is incomparable with any other type of woman). After living on the streets of Milwaukee, and being arrested several times for vagrancy, the welfare organizations of Milwaukee put Quentin into another foster home. However, this new foster home was not in Milwaukee. This new home was about sixty miles north in a small town on the shore of Lake Michigan. It was a town called Sheboygan. He was taken in by an affluent family of six; father, mother, two foster sisters, and two foster brothers. The house itself was large, and it was located in an exclusive area just outside of the City of Sheboygan. And, to Quentin's surprise, the "backyard" of this new home was Lake Michigan. Quentin was living in a home which had a private beach! It all seemed too good to be true. It was. Quentin was soon to be "squeezed" by the buckle in the Bible Belt. His new foster father, named Jack Mitchell, was a doctor. He was also a conservative, anal-retentive, passive-aggressive rage-ahloic. Jack Mitchell was the kind of man who, without any facial expression, or body language, would communicate an overwhelming feeling of resentment and hostility toward others and the world. He was the kind of man who was always "right;" even if he was wrong, he was "right." The kind of guy...he walks into a room and the plants die. Quentin's foster mother, Betty, was a feather-brained woman who had no identity or insight of her own. Her only function in life was to be Jack's "good" wife. She behaved more like a well trained dog than a wife. Her personality consisted of conditioned responses, with no ability to perceive any genuine emotions or motives within herself or anyone else. Although she went to the same college as Jack, where they met, Betty had no talent or gift for anything. She came from a rich family who desperately wanted her to marry into affluence. One day she spotted Jack sitting alone in the college lunch room, and she maneuvered her way, lunch tray and books, to Jack's table. She sat down without saying a word. She knew who Jack was. She had found out from her roommate about how brilliant and popular he was, and that he was a pre-med student. He was sure to be a successful doctor after he graduated with his medical degree. Because of her family's expectations, Betty made up her mind to marry Jack. Soon, she and Jack started dating. Betty didn't love Jack, but that didn't matter. What mattered to both Betty and her family was that she would be taken care of and have a comfortable future. She craved money and social position, and she knew that Jack could provide it for her. She became what she knew Jack wanted from a wife. She never argued with Jack. She always agreed with his opinion and his decisions, and she became the epitome of acquiesence. Betty got her man. And, ironically, Jack got his woman. Quentin found out later that the soul purpose for Jack marrying Betty was because she was so agreeable and non-confrontational. To Jack, Betty was the perfect mate; someone over whom he had complete control. A woman who would do exactly what she was told to do. Many of Jack's friends and family wondered why he, an intelligent and successful doctor, chose to marry a woman with such "intellectual limitations." Especially since she was not very attractive either. Besides being short and a little overweight, she had a big, slightly bent nose with a left nostril that quietly whistled when she breathed. Because she was embarrassed by this, she would breathe through her mouth which was always open, making her look that much more ignorant. She was a neurotic "people-pleaser." She wanted everything to be nicey-nice all the time and so she became annoyingly manipulative. In truth, she had a compulsive need to make sure that her husband Jack was never dis-pleased. But Jack was always dis-pleased with everyone and everything; especially Quentin. Quentin was not Jack's blood son. Jack agreed to take Quentin in only because Betty wanted another family member. Betty kept henpecking, and Jack finally gave in. Jack did not want to adopt because of the long, red-tape process and the commitment involved in doing so. So Jack decided to take in another family member through the foster care program. It was less involved and faster. Among most "Sheboyganites," Jack was greatly admired and was perceived as a hero, because the town folk thought that Jack was making a contribution to society at large by taking in someone less fortunate than most; he was offering a wonderful home for a homeless young boy. Jack and Betty signed the foster papers in Milwaukee one Wednesday afternoon, and then drove home to Sheboygan. Neither Betty nor Jack had yet met Quentin. A week later, Quentin arrived at Jack's doorstep in Sheboygan. Jack regretted his decision the moment he was introduced to Quentin for the first time. A palpable tension like an electro-shock synapse happened the instant their eyes met. This was the beginning of a long and toxic relationship. Betty, too, immediately felt the negative vibe between Jack and Quentin. The whole family felt it, but nothing was ever said. As time passed, Betty, being the compulsive appeaser that she was, tried to smooth the tensions between Jack and Quentin. She would constantly try to impress Jack with any and all "accomplishments" by Quentin. After perceiving Quentin's "good behavior," she would approach Quentin and say, "Tell Jack;" "show Jack." In other words, Betty would manipulate Quentin into the repugnant and impossible task of "impressing" Jack, and it never worked. Of course Jack was never impressed, no matter what Quentin said or did. It would be years before Quentin realized that his foster mother was repeatedly setting him up to fail by purposely humiliating him in front of Jack. Time and Time again; this situation, that situation. In her own way, Betty was every bit as hostile, cold, and evil as Jack. Quentin didn't do so well in the Sheboygan high school. He was uninspired by his teachers, most of whom were fat and slovenly from drinking too much beer and eating too much bratwurst (a special type of sausage that made Sheboygan famous). Put it this way: The principal's nickname was 'Triple-chin.' Quentin was also pissed off at most of his classmates who would give him trouble and ridicule him for being a foster kid. "What happened to your parents, you bastard," they would say. The commitment to music and poetry that Quentin had made earlier in his life came to fruition around this time as he immersed himself in rock and roll music. It was his only sanctuary; his only oasis in this death valley desert of a town. Alone in his bedroom, he listened to the radio and bought every new release by every band and artist that he liked. He played song after song, band after band, artist after artist, over and over. He learned something from every artist he listened to. He knew he had music in his blood and he felt compelled to find other like-minded people in the small town of Sheboygan who wanted to play rock and roll music. It wasn't easy, but eventually Quentin found the group of friends he was looking for; working-class friends who were also into rock and roll, and who were as dedicated to the music as he was. They turned out to be more than best friends. They were like brothers. While he lived under the same roof with his foster family, Quentin's real family; his real shelter, was his newly formed band. They called themselves "The Royals." The Royals became popular in Sheboygan and the surrounding areas. They toured Wisconsin for about five years before they disbanded, and after the band had broken up, Quentin moved back to California. The other band members went off to college. Quentin bummed around in California for about six months until he realized that he, too, wanted to expand his knowledge. He went back to Wisconsin and enrolled in the university at Stevens Point, Wisconsin. During these Stevens Point years, Quentin experienced mounting emotional struggles, exacerbated by unrequited love, and too much drinking. To calm himself, he started playing guitar more and more. As he learned more about the guitar, he decided to major in English literature with an emphasis on poetry, and writing. During this period, he wrote song lyrics as well as poetry; songs and poetry about death and loneliness. He read and performed his material at small gatherings with other poets, musicians, and artists. He craved attention. He imagined himself as a famous poet/musician but he only came off as arrogant and conceited. Since he didn't get the attention and adulation that he thought he deserved, he withdrew further into alcohol and the unreal world that he created within himself; a world which revolved around him and only him. When anyone, especially a woman, wanted to get to know him, or get closer to him, he would retreat further into himself, becoming more and more distant and obnoxious. He became the revolver of his own vicious circle that kept turning in the same direction: Down. Despite his inner confusion, or perhaps because of it, his English professors loved his work and recommended that he transfer to the University of Iowa in Iowa City and enroll in the "Writer's Workshop" to further develop his writing profession. He felt the change would do him good, and after two years at Stevens Point, Quentin transferred to the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. He thought that the geographical change from Wisconsin to Iowa would change his life and make things magically better. However, he soon became trapped in his own illusion. He became increasingly lonely and desperate, as if being trapped in an elevator between floors. He didn't qualify for the university's Writer's Workshop, and although he did fairly well in his academic studies, he spent most of his time drinking, writing songs, and playing solo acoustic gigs in the bars and cafes in and around Iowa City. If he went out socially, he went out alone. But he had to have a slight drunk on to silence the negative voices whispering within his head. The ritual was the same: He would leave his room, walk the streets to downtown Iowa City and into the bars for more drink. If he was smashed enough, he would bring home a one-night stand. Quentin became a notorious drunk, whom many people knew about, but no one actually knew personally. Not even the women he bedded. People knew that he was a singer/songwriter and that he drew a decent audience when he performed, but again, they considered him to be aloof, arrogant, ambivalent, and so they ignored him. About two years later, Quentin completed his B.A. degree in English Literature. But because of his mounting fear, his continuous, solitary drinking, and problems stemming from his childhood, he became emotionally "paralyzed." He was a young man who did not know who his parents were. He did not know where he came from, where he was going, or where he belonged. He trusted no one. But most of all, he did not know how to love. He had never been taught how to love. He had never felt love. He knew lust. He knew the pleasures of the flesh, but he was somehow empty inside. His inner world collided with the outside world like two freeway cars, head on at eighty miles an hour. He had a nervous breakdown. After his recovery, Quentin was faced with the prospect of getting on with his life. For years, he felt as if he had been sitting in a dark theater, watching a character on the screen acting in a movie about himself; hypnotically walking from scene to scene through time and space with no direction, no connection, and a script that had no plot. This movie was a story with no beginning, no middle, no end. And now the movie was over. The theater was empty, and although he knew he had to exit the building and face the daylight, he couldn't get up from his seat. He couldn't move. He was stuck. Until now, he had lead a neurotic, self-centered, and hedonistic life. He never thought about tomorrow because he never expected to live beyond today. He was hollow; like a ghost. He left for California. As the years passed slowly by, Quentin continued to tour as a solo singer/songwriter up and down the west coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back. He hit bottom (he would not go into detail about this, and I didn't push). In time, he arrived at a point where he knew he needed to know more about music and musicianship (music, he stated, is where he felt love). With help from friends in the bay area, he "cleaned up," and started college again. This time he studied music. A few years later he completed his M.A. degree in music composition/theory from San Jose State University. It was a long road with no turning. Next stop, L.A. Our interview began about 2:00 a.m. and it was now about 6:00 a.m. After everyone had gone home, Quentin and I continued our conversation in the alley in back of the club. It seemed as if we had been talking forever. It seemed as though I had known this man all my life. The funny thing is, we had only scratched the surface of his life story. I wanted to know more about the Royals. I wanted to know more about his solo touring of the west coast. I wanted to know more about how he pulled himself out of his alcohol tailspin, etc... He promised he would tell me another time. That was good enough for me. As the sun came up, a cop from the Hollywood division spotted us in the alley and drove his squad car right next to us and stopped. He looked pissed off, but then he smiled. The officer recognized Quentin and asked for an autograph for his daughter who was a fan. Quentin, relieved, happily obliged. The cop thanked Quentin and before he drove away, he politely warned both of us to get out of this alley. He said that the Hollywood division loves to make early morning busts in this particular place. Easy pickin's. Enough said. Quentin and I shook hands and parted company. Before Quentin walked away, he told me that music was his first and only love, and that music saved his life. Then he said something that I've never forgotten. He said: "People always ask me how long it takes to become a musician. I simply say, 'Not long....Just a lifetime.'" That morning I decided to become Quentin's personal manager. And now, years later, I'm glad I did. It has been my privilege to have a great personal rapport with Quentin, and working with him has made business a pleasure. I could go on and on with superlatives concerning his achievements. However, I would rather come straight to the point: Quentin Jones is a great artist. Visit his website at http://cdbaby.com/CD/quentinjones, and listen to his CD, "Hit And Run." Then you'll know.