The way Judy and I started seeing each other would be how I would end up wanting so many of my future intimate relationships to happen, by “innocently” convenient accident. We had known each other in passing through Ms. Walker’s dance class for a couple of years, and started talking and hanging out after rehearsals for the spring musical my senior year in high school. Hanging out at my house, we were watching television as friends lying next to each other. My dad had come home from work and somehow the idea of playing a trick on him came across our minds. The trick was that when he would walk by my room in the hall, we thought we could make him feel awkward by finding us asleep cuddled next to each other. When my Dad came up and saw Judy curled up against my body as we pretended to be asleep with the television still on, instead of saying something, he tiptoed and turned off the television in my room, tiptoed out and shut the door. Judy and I laughed as we heard the footsteps go down the hall, but now we were also in a very “accidentally” convenient position to take our friendship to the next level. Laughing and face to face, we started kissing and there were fireworks. We sheepishly bid eachother good night that night, and said we’d talk about it tomorrow. Judy was upset the next day, because I had said previously to act tough, that I tend to turn cold after hooking up with someone. We dated the rest of the year.
The relationship was incredibly passionate and physical, a great affirming way to end my high school days. I was her slave for senior slave day and we continued dating into the summer. In the middle of the summer, things escalated to the point that we considered losing our respective virginities to each other. Since I told my parents everything, I told them our plans. My parents worried that since I was 18 and she was about to turn 17, that it would be considered statutory rape. But ever the supportive parents, they said that if we continued to be with each other until she turned eighteen the next year that they would pay for a hotel room for us. Judy couldn’t believe I told my parents and was a very embarrassed. Still we continued our affair through the summer with the understanding that we would break up by the time I went to my first semester of college.
I had jealousy issues with the relationship. I was worried that she would betray me and want to see other people like my last summer love, the violist. While playing in the Teaneck community band at the local band shell that summer, I got jealous when Ethan sat and lied with her blanket next to her during a summer concert. When I confronted him, he said that he was not interested in her and would never jeopardize our friendship, which I was relieved to hear.
I was so surprised how easy it was being with Judy, that she was beautiful, and legitimately seemed to be happy with me, all sides of me. And when I say all sides, I mean all sides. While we went out, one of the games we played was the idea that I had different personalities, kind of like Tracy Ulman characters. Each personality had a different name. There was the gay flamboyant personality, “Jon Jon”. There was the ultra masculine sexy personality “Big (or Big Brother) Jon”. There was also the shy workaholic innocent personality, “nerdy Jon”. I would break out into each voice over the phone and make her laugh.
“Jon Jon” seemed to be a particularly frequent character with whom I found I could confront and experiment exploring my homophobic and sexually inadequate fears. Jon Jon was also a defense mechanism. Because I got jealous previously the summer before when the violist seemed to admire men in front of me, I thought Jon Jon would be a good way to diffuse any potential male competition. Instead of not being bothered by the better looks of another guy that might pass us by, I figured I could recognize another guy’s attractive qualities while maintaining my value as a friend in her life that she could tell anything to. Jon Jon was my own personification of Prince’s song “If I Were Your Girlfriend”. I could brush Judy’s hair or what not. I just wanted a fall back when I was insecure about not being enough man. I could also be over the top silly like a Mel Brooks or Damon Wayans character. There were times when Judy would be sick of Jon Jon and then I would try to start a “Big Brother Jon” sexy thing, and then she would just say that she just wanted regular Jon. That was probably the nicest thing any girl ever told me. She made me feel like a man.
I remember when it came to all the “dry humping” we often did, during the various afterglows we would talk about what it would be like to have sex. Even though I knew intellectually how it was supposed to work, the actual mechanics still seemed like a mystery to me. I think because of the image I had of the vagina from that Playboy I saw years earlier in Ethan’s basement, I could not really imagine how me sticking part of myself inside of a girl could feel good to her. Rubbing I understood but penetrating with my penis seemed like a whole different level. I mean fingers and a tongue were one thing, but I think part of me that was worried about offending, being selfish, and self serving to stick my penis down there. How much of a guarantee would I have that it would feel that good once I got in anyway? There were no “American Pie” references back in 1994. I was happy with “everything but”. Besides being relatively satisfied, I knew I was good at “everything but”. I know it was supposed to be pleasurable, but the idea of being penetrated seemed violating to me. I think one conversation we had was comparing the vagina to a kangaroo’s pouch, how that was also an internal place where things were comfortably held. As an adolescent, I just couldn’t relate to the vagina outside of understanding my own butt with which I was afraid of having any sexual relations, or a deep gash of a wound in my skin. And I was not about to penetrate either one of those. The mechanics of rubbing or “dry humping” kind of took the pressure off the idea of actually penetrating, of having to take responsibility for penetrating and empathizing with a girl, with Judy about that form of intimacy
And yet still I knew that once I had penetration, I would feel like a total vindicated man, secure in my sexual identity. It was such a paradox to be attracted to women growing up, and yet not understanding the exact mechanics of sex. I just knew some rubbing was supposed to happen. And yet the fact that I was already 18 and had not had sex yet like so many characters seemed to do on television shows, and that this mysterious specter of selfish penetration lurked in the back of my head if I thought of it too much, fueled me beating my ego up that maybe just maybe I was gay, like the dancing and my musical identity seemed to potentially foreshadow. Cool kids had sex. I wanted to be a cool kid. I wanted to be invited to the normal cool kid party for once. Still all in all, Judy made me feel more confident in my heterosexuality and potential to find new cool status in college. Part of me felt guilty that we were breaking up, but I also could not help but think about the potential new adventures that were waiting for me in college, where I could reap the benefits of my newfound confidence, even if it did primarily revolve around my dancing and “dry humping” skills.
My first semester at Oberlin was an intense scramble to find what my identity was going to be. Having read a Duke Ellington biography, I went into freshman orientation week thinking that I would be the next big thing in the jazz program, bringing a confidence and regal attitude. I dominated the open mics at the concert coffee house the Cat in the Cream that week, playing standards, ballads like “In a Sentimental Mood” by myself, and later sitting in with the upperclassmen that arrived that week. It was the first time on my own. People talked about how students walked around naked, but that it happened less these years (the late 90’s) than it used to. There was also a very vocal LGBT groups and culture around campus. Oberlin, the former stop on the Underground Railroad, was both an exciting and intimidating place. Here was where I was going to spend the next five years doing jazz and some soon to be determined science degree.
I wanted to cultivate a popularly acceptable personality and yet was scared of catching so many people’s brains who seemed so much more open and experienced to experimenting with drugs and sex than me. As a result, I missed a lot of potential opportunities with some wild party girls. When some of them seemed flirtatious I gave the excuse that I had to do work. I kind of kicked myself because I figured these were opportunities to have sex at some point. But I did not want to have sex with just any floozy, especially if they smoked or seemed to have bad discipline. I did not want to catch those potentially negative traits that would get in the way of my academic or musical success. My alpha male hypercompetitive sensibility, and evolved fear of “catching someone’s brain” overrode any insecurity about affirming my sexuality. Nevertheless, by the time fall break came, I would alternately beat myself up that maybe I am gay because I should have taken those opportunities with some of those party girls.
When fall break came, I decided to stay at school to practice. But between beating myself up about my sexual identity, and spending so much time by myself practicing trombone and playing standards with random jazz guitarists who also seemed to stay over the break, I had a mini freak out. I called home and told my dad that I was really scared and depressed. I was scared that I might turn gay being at Oberlin, and how lonely I was. Again, to be clear, I know being gay is just fine. It’s just that for me BACK THEN, I associated being gay as anything sexual inadequate and submissive more than any type of attraction to men, or rather that I thought they went hand in hand, or at least that would have been the case if I were gay.
My dad was concerned about how much I was worrying and stressing out, being that it was my first time away from home for more than three weeks. (This wasn’t music camp.) He offered to come out to hang out with me if that would make me feel better. I said it would, so he flew out the next day it seemed. He came by my dorm and we went out to Olive Garden for dinner. At dinner, my dad had me talk through my fears with him, asking me the usual questions. “What do I masturbate to?” “What do I fantasize about?” “If I had a choice between a naked girl and guy which one would I choose to be with or which one would I want to look at more?” While it seemed logical that sure I look at pictures of girls in their lingerie when I’m alone, and fantasize about girls in class (even the naughty party ones). But what kept bothering me was the “what if”. What if I never lost my virginity? What if I was not ever going to be a regular guy? What if everything that I knew about myself changed with some new revelation about myself that would sneak up on me and tease me?
And while my dad had said various ways of saying the same thing before, hearing him say what he said that night in the flesh, something he flew out to tell me in person, ended up calming my fears about the unknown and my sexual insecurities and social identity. He said that he would love me whether I was gay or not. He said that no matter what I chose or did sexually he would always love me as his son. The rest of fall break after he dropped me off and flew back to Newark, I did not stress myself out anymore. At least for the rest of the semester, my dad made me feel like I had a net below me no matter what would make me fall inside my own head. And funny enough, I did not accuse myself of being gay for a while because the fear of its consequences did not bother me. My brain only seemed to like to accuse me of things that would make me feel bad. And knowing my dad would still love, the thought of being gay didn’t make me feel bad, so I stopped thinking about it for a while.
Towards the end of my first semester, I had a casual makeout relationship with an Asian-American violinist. During the beginning of winter break right before New Years, she asked if she could stay over my house in Teaneck for a night since she had an audition to transfer to Juilliard. I kind of thought this might be the chance to finally lose my virginity. I liked this girl, liked her discipline, liked her sexiness, and liked the comfortable even casualness of our relationship. It seemed like the perfect “accidental convenient” setup. Despite having grabbed a condom from my dad’s stash underneath the tissue box behind my parents’ bed, our making out was interrupted by my mother coming down to the basement to get some laundry. She was reluctant to go all the way after that but that was fine because we still enjoyed ourselves. I felt confident though that I was indeed getting closer.
The next week was my 19th birthday and Judy and I were hanging out again even though we were not officially together. We did not even make out so much. We were trying to figure out what to do. A couple of days later, my bass player friend from Interlochen and Manhattan School of Music Prep, David Grossman, started playing bass with Marcus Roberts and the Wynton Marsalis click. He told me he could get me into hanging out at Wynton’s group’s recording session of “Blood on the Fields” in NYC. I was a huge fan of Wycliffe Gordon at that time. I had seen him play at John Harms Theater in Englewood before I went to Oberlin, and fell in love with his playing. Unashamedly, I used to say his plunger playing was so exciting it gave me a hard on. He had so much power. I really envied it and tried to emulate the power of his blues playing. David got me into the session and I got to meet Wycliffe, who gave me a short free impromptu lesson of trombone techniques to work on.
The whole day was kind of a dream for me because it was the first time I took the bus into NYC on my own. Before that, my dad used to always drive me to the city anytime I had to go. Using the subway by myself and finding the bus back home to Teaneck at the George Washington Port Authority terminal, I ended up on the wrong bus but was left off at Queen Anne Road where I conveniently only had to walk a couple of blocks back home. I saved the bus ticket. It was the most thrilling musical day of my life meeting my trombone and jazz heroes at that time.
When I got back home, I had half forgotten about that Judy and I made plans to hang out that same night. I was still on cloud 9 having met musical idols. With my parents out of town that night, Judy and I were going to watch Star Wars trilogy together (this was ’95 mind you before Lucas redid everything) and then she was going to sleep over. I remember walking to 7-11 with her wondering if and how physical we were going to get when we would get back to watch movies with our snacks. She still seemed resistant to make out for most of winter break so I was somewhat resigned to being in the friend zone with her. Nevertheless, with the prospect of having the house to ourselves (also because my sister slept over her boyfriend’s a lot) I thought there might be a chance something might “conveniently accidentally” happen. I did not want to set myself up to be disappointed like I was a week earlier so I made myself expect very little.
Half way into Episode V, we were making out and decided to get ready for bed in my room. She wore some pretty frilly underwear to bed. I was pretty happy that we were being this intimate without being officially together. After a break in our “going to sleep” make out session, she gave me the shock of my life when she said that she wanted to go all of the way, that she had made the conscious decision that this night would be the night. In one way I thought I hit the jackpot because there were no strings attached, and that she wanted to be with me even with us not being official. I almost could not believe that finally here is my opportunity. I suddenly became nervous. I remembered where my dad kept his condoms (which I discovered by accident when blowing my nose in their room by the way), and grabbed one. Mind you I had never put a condom on before. We made out a little more before tore the wrapper open to take it out. I put the condom on, the way I had seen done on bananas so many times in sex education, etc. But suddenly I felt like I couldn’t feel anything. It felt weird to have a tight plastic sheath around my penis when the only fabrics it was familiar with before were from clothes and mattresses.
Needless to say, I started losing my erection. I was devastated. I was so confident just a week before with my violinist make out partner. And there I was with a real opportunity with a girl who loved me and I trusted and I was no longer excited. I took off the condom and Judy tried to arouse me but I could not be aroused. I was too ashamed and angry. It felt like Winter Wonderland at my mom’s recital all over again. People were complimenting me even though I messed up and forgot the lyrics then. I did not want their pity compliments for my screw up then, and now I did not want a pity blowjob for failing to keep my erection. I was horrified and frustrated. How could this happen? What was wrong with me? The more Judy tried to get me to relax and enjoy, the angrier I got for having to be told all of this. Why couldn’t it just happen naturally? We just agreed to leave it alone for now, and maybe we’d feel differently. I slept very gingerly as we slept back to back in my bed. I did not feel man enough to snuggle or spoon after such a fail.
The next morning I got up while Judy still slept and decided I would go for a run just to get outside of my head, and do something to recharge my body, at least make it stronger and more efficient in some way, since obviously it was not efficient the night before. When I got back we went for lunch and I put on a face. We toasted our sodas to “almost having sex”. After Judy went home, I just stewed, and stewed the rest of the week. I told my sister that day and she told me not to worry, that the same thing happens to her boyfriend every now and then. I thought he was a loser, so it was not exactly comforting. That weekend, Judy, her best friend, and me went to see “Higher Learning”. And when the scene where the main girl character has sex with the guy character, Judy giggled with her friend. After the movie when Judy and her friend dropped me off at my house, I told her I thought she was making fun of me. She denied it and just said that they thought the guy was cute and that was all. I was angry and paranoid. I went inside and told my parents everything.
My mom and dad felt so bad that they offered to get me a sexual surrogate to help me get over my virginity to give me peace of mind. Ever a perfectionist I refused. I wanted it to happen naturally and was not going to pay someone to have sex with me. Only guys who can’t get girls or gay guys who try to prove they are not gay pay for female prostitutes I thought. I stewed and went back to Oberlin for my second semester. Judy and I awkwardly grew apart for a while.
The next two years at Oberlin I was scared to try having sex again. I was scared of failure. I had put so much pressure on the significance of sex that it would liberate me from my nerdy by the book social weirdo outside identity, that it just seemed to be this obstacle in the air that hung over my head. What was so funny for me was that so many people thought by the way that I danced that I must be a very experienced lover. I remember a mentally slow black guy who both worked with the football team and one of the cafeterias would be extra friendly and congratulatory with me saying he knew that I got all the girls because of the way I danced. I still continued the pattern of humping the bed every day imagining the act in the abstract, continued to imagine the ecstacy on girls’ faces the sounds, the softness. I would get as far as making out, and petting but would always stop short. I had a chance to lose my virginity at the end of sophomore year with a 23 year old when I was 20. She too had been a fan of my dancing and wanted to seduce me. I was scared when she proposed to help me get over my fear of my virginity. I was a bit intimidated and despite having orgasms in my pants or in her hand with her I was scared of failing by trying to go all the way. Judy and I continued to see eachother a little bit here and there off and on when I was home from college.
Junior year at Oberlin, there was a wild girl trombonist freshman who had a crush on me. I tried to keep it platonic with her, thinking of her more as a sister, but she kept pressing the issue to want more. We would make out in my dorm room and one night she spent the night because her roommate needed the room to herself. We did the usual “outer-course” (as my dad described it) I was used to. The next morning while I was half asleep and aroused she got on top of me without a condom. Realizing what was happening and turned on immensely, within 15 seconds of her on top of me I thought “Holy shit I’m having sex! Holy shit I don’t have a condom on! Holy shit I’m about to cum”, at which point I threw her off of me and came all over my stomach. In one way I did not want her to know she was the first girl I was actually ever inside. In another way, I was secretly appreciative. In yet another way, I did not feel like it really counted because I was not fully conscious or participatory, and I thought she was a little crazy. I kept my distance from her for the rest of the semester. She was a bit too much of a party girl for my somewhat type A goal driven conservative taste. I did contemplate though that maybe I was ready to try again with someone else of my picking.
It was getting towards the end of junior year, I decided to stay at Oberlin that summer to practice and hopefully try to get more gigs playing around Cleveland. As a result I was going to stay for Commencement week when the seniors graduated. There was this very attractive brown haired busty Jewish gymnast girl, with whom I had taken some of my science classes, and with whom I often danced with at various parties. She was about to graduate. After years of us flirting she put out signals that she wanted to see what I was made of before she graduated. She had a long distance boyfriend. And she also had a voluptuous Korean friend who I thought was very sexy. While making out, and confessing about her boyfriend coming for Commencement week and graduation, she said that she’d hook me up with her friend.
The gymnast might have been my real first time but we stopped during that one make out session when I had told her that I only had sex without condoms before and therefore was kind of unfamiliar with them. (Sure I lied. I barely had sex once, but that was enough to at least try to sell myself to her as being experienced. Besides I knew I was a good kisser and “outer-course” guy, so I figured I could pull it off.) Nevertheless, I was thrilled she invited me to a party off campus during Commencement week. I was thrilled even more while I was dance grinding with the gymnast, that her Korean friend cut in and we started to bump and grind. I left with her and we went back to the house she lived in off campus. When we got back to her place, we started making out, and it seemed like we were headed towards having sex. I was nervous. All I could think about was the pressure and everything leading up to it, the two years of fear since I last tried. I went down on her to delay having to put a condom on. I thought that by giving her pleasure her arousal could arouse me beyond my fear. She gave me a condom but noticed that I was nervous. Sensing that this might not work out, she said told me to stop and then said some of the wisest words I ever heard from a lover. She said, “I am not here to judge you. We don’t have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. I just like you.”
I felt comforted but still embarrassed. We called it a night and went back to my dorm. At breakfast I felt like such a loser. Another opportunity lost. Another reason to beat myself up for maybe being gay. I remember eating breakfast with all these doubts in my head as a girl I had fantasized about previously through the years sat next to me. I started to doubt that maybe I was ever even attracted to her. My brain said that maybe I was fooling myself this whole time. Maybe all this time I’ve only fantasized about women because I thought it was the right thing to do, because it was fashionable. Or maybe I just was not worthy. The friend called me and asked if I wanted to see a movie. I was honored and couldn’t believe she was still interested. We went to see Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar at the theater and went back to her off campus house again. It was a very big house that looked like an old lady furnished it with big mattresses and extravagant cushy couches. The friend’s bed was so cushy.
We started making out again and she said off the bat “We are not having sex. We’re just going to have fun.” We dry humped until we both came. Then we just lied together in the afterglow talking. She put on some music, the Best of Sade, and we just talked while “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” softly played. The window was open a little bit, and the soft sound of early summer raindrops could be heard outside in the late night air. It was magical. Intermittently kissing and cuddling I fell asleep in bliss.
The next morning, I felt so relaxed and comfortable waking up next to her in her bed. I rolled over to hold and kiss her the way new lovers do in the morning. I also was aroused with morning wood. Sensing that I felt so confident and comfortable, she asked if I wanted to try and I said why not. She gave me a tuxedo condom, which funny enough, was black but I didn’t care. This was not going way any time soon. I was thrilled that I was still turned on. I got on top of her and she guided me in. I lasted about 30 seconds before I came inside the condom. I apologized but also high fived her that we did it. She asked me if I wanted to wait and try again in a bit. My head was spinning with my accomplishment. I had sex! On purpose! I told her I would like to but I needed to go. Inside my head, I really just wanted to quit while I was ahead. I told her I’d call her later, got dressed, and left her house. I ran back to my dorm, picked up the phone, and called home. When I asked my mom to put dad on the phone, I cried “Dad! Dad! I had sex!” He was very happy for me. I had never felt happier or more confident or positive about the sun shining that day. I spent the next couple of days moving everything from my dorm into the off campus house I was going to live in that summer and the next year.
A couple of weeks later my sister was murdered.
My sister’s death happening so soon after losing my virginity re-awakened an irrational fear I had as kid. Even though I was well aware that the world did not (nor does not) revolve around me, I still couldn’t help but process how such a traumatic event of my sister’s death could happen so close to what was one of the biggest personal victories of my life in losing my virginity. The irrational fear was that for every good thing that happens in the world, or specifically my life, something bad had to happen. This was the same philosophy I had as the picked on kid in elementary school, that every good day had to be followed by a bad day. It was foolish to believe that a good day could actually be the start of a trend of many good days back then. It was my way of protecting myself from being disappointed, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I just never thought that the shoe could drop on such a cosmic level – losing virginity for sibling death.
Nevertheless, after returning to Oberlin for the summer from my sister’s funeral, I was surprisingly pretty well adjusted and continued gigging and practicing with the other students that stayed that summer. I had recently decided to dedicate myself to music that past junior year and wanted to be extra ready for my fourth year. I was on track to finish my biochemistry degree, but at that point I was doing the minimum amount of work to do well enough to get decent or passing grades. Because of my sister’s death and my Dad having issues with his job, I was thinking of finishing my biochemistry degree my fourth year and not my jazz degree.
But besides that, I was somewhat disenchanted with my jazz education experience at Oberlin. Overall I had felt neglected by most of the music teachers. I did not feel especially close to any of them until they hired Eubanks towards the end of my senior year. I had learned a lot, and played with some great students, many who are making successful livings and working musicians today. However most of what I learned musically at Oberlin, I learned either second hand from other musicians, or by the default tough love of the teachers. Overall I would say as far as my jazz education experience went, Oberlin taught me to teach myself. This was eventually a good life lesson, though especially my first few years I very much longed for someone to take interest in me and put me under their wing.
There were a number of factors that I’m sure contributed to my feelings as an outsider when it came to the program and perhaps not especially close. Ironically, I was one of the few jazz trombonists (the only one for three years) so I was in demand. Halloran was a great teacher but he was not there often, which I understood because he was also establishing his career in NYC. I did not hang out very much socially with musicians outside of playing. I did not party, outside of the parties I performed and danced at. I did not smoke. I did not drink. The most communal and musical outlets I had while there were a funk band, and a jazz band, both student driven and outside the official ensembles of the jazz degree program.
I did like most of my teachers. One of the reasons why I chose Oberlin was because when I visited some of the mannerisms of the jazz sax teacher, Don Walden, reminded me of my karate teacher, Sensei Lou, as a kid. However, Walden, especially then, was very tough. His comments after my freshman music jury made me cry, and for 4 out of 5 years there the only comment he said about my playing was that I “cracked too many notes. You should try a different mouthpiece maybe.” Great a sax teacher telling a trombone player about what mouthpiece to use. However I did learn his Barry Harris method he taught from one of his best students, Burny, which gave me the foundation for my fairly solid jazz improvisation skills throughout my career. I never took Walden’s improv class, but learned his material from Burny’s Xerox practice sheets of “bebop scales”, etc.
Dr. Wendell Logan was the director of the jazz department since the 70’s. To be candid, one of the greatest things about Oberlin’s jazz program was that it was taught primarily by black teachers. As politically incorrect as it sounds, that Dr. Logan was an “old school” black musician and academically and musically accomplished World Music composer originally from down home country Georgia, gave a realness about the issues of jazz, its history, its relevance (both current and historical). He was deep, philosophical, and had hilarious mannerisms and phrases that revealed his unique experience and upbringing. I was fortunate enough to get his blessing about writing this book a few months before he passed away in 2010. It was the most affirmation I had ever gotten form him because before that, we had a very distant relationship, one that I resented. I resented that he seemed to always take the black students under his wing, inviting them to hang out at his house or going out for lunch or a few white students who kissed his ass. I however wasn’t going to kiss anybody’s ass.
It was hard for me to verbalize outwardly and even inside my own head, within the institutional bubble of a jazz program, even one in which a hip wise black man was a director. However, the vibe, the unified attitude of some of the black jazz students who lived together in the African Heritage House, seemed to challenge my what I perceived to be an equal right to be as powerful and recognizable a voice as any black musician. (The African Heritage House was one of a number of program houses that students would apply to for exploring and uniting under certain cultures. There was also German House, Third World, the Jewish one I forget the name of, and the hippy one I forget the name of.) It was never outward, but between the focus on black issues in the jazz program, and the unity of many of the best musicians, many of whom also happened to be black, part of me resented feeling like I was yet again somehow an outsider in an institution, one that my parents and I were paying thousands of dollars with loans. It was very difficult for my first few years to figure out as Dennis Reynolds, the freelance trumpet player, said at the time what my role in jazz was as a “white man”.
I was so angry because I felt like my insecurities about sexuality, nerdy status, and being a generally philosophically square outsider were claims enough to express myself passionately and urgently in any medium. And yet it seemed there was this big wall of silence of how does one really approach one’s right and confidence to play while being TOTALLY racially conscious during the creative moment of “jazz” with these qualities. What teacher could I share this with honestly, and who would take me seriously? I never found that teacher. Don’t get me wrong. .My playing spoke for itself. But during those moments of subtle racial tensions between jazz students of different races, did my playing seemed to not speak for itself strongly enough to form real lasting emotional and friendship bonds, beyond the novelty of being the only jazz trombonist, and one that danced (and getting a biochem degree) on top of that. This was a tough question for me to answer then, so I decided to push on through with my instinct, to finish a degree that did not rely on my questionable jazz identity – my biochemistry – and just keep doing my thing. The best thing, besides his teaching of history and his personal philosophies (which I wouldn’t appreciate until years later) Wendell hiring Eubanks was the best thing he did for me and a freshman jazz trombone player that entered the program my senior year.
Wendell and I just did not see eye to eye. I got the impression for most of my jazz education that he just did not get me. He did not understand, and rather laughed along with the rest of the jazz students, when I missed a big band practice for a ballet studio class I had to perform in. An amazing upper classman drummer named Neil, who I looked up to, seemed to no longer took an interest in me as a musician when my dancing at parties got a reputation. Instead, he started calling me, “peaches”. With the dancing and the double degree program (the one I was pursuing biochemistry in addition to jazz) I must have seemed all over the map for Logan to take too much of an interest. Logan did seem to appreciate my trombone talent though. Aside from that using me in the top ensembles as one of the few trombone players available, he did little to reach out and foster my musical talent.
The one time he said he would, he let me down, like another tease. Towards the end of my junior year before summer my sister passed, Wendell said the director for the Aspen jazz summer program had asked about trombonists he could use. Wendell made it seem like it was a done deal as long as gave him an audition tape playing some songs. I made an audition tape and handed it to him, and he said he’d take care of it. I didn’t mention it again for the last months figuring he would follow up and tell me the details. After shopping for clothes for what I thought was an impending trip (and after losing my virginity), I hadn’t heard anything a couple of weeks of the summer. When I saw him on campus and asked him when I should expect hearing from Aspen, he sheepishly said that it was not happening like he had forgotten about it. Between that attitude and my sister’s death I was ready to get out with just a biochem degree and say fuck it to the rest. The other jazz teachers just smiled at me and made small talk, but overall after five years at Oberlin, I felt my science teachers were more supportive of my music than my music teachers. The number of science faculty that showed up at my junior and senior recitals outnumbered the jazz faculty usually at least 5 to 1.
I ended up staying the 5th year to finish my music degree. I felt vindicated my senior year having put on a great recital, even incorporating some of my versatile dancing, and flare for the dramatic, finishing a diverse program with a salsa arrangement for 4 trombone plus salsa rhythm section doing “Mambo Inn”. I taught all the trombonists in that group how to do a basic salsa horn step, which I learned from working with that Cleveland salsa band, and we wowed the packed audience at the Cat. My senior recital my 5th year I went a step further. I kept the trombone playing portion intensely stylistically diverse and musical, incorporating blues, contemporary modal, originals, and even an Earth Wind and Fire song at the end.
But what really proclaimed my liberated expressive identity was a dance piece I performed at intermission between sets. I choreographed a modern dance piece, using all the moves I learned in Ms. Walker’s class in high school, to the Coltrane song “Tunji”. After my first set, I took off my suit and stripped to these jungle print boxers. Went back out at intermission on stage in my underwear. The house sound guy, dimmed the lights, pressed play, and I went into this male-Josephine Baker-styled/Alvin Ailey-esque interpretive dance to the whole song, with different moves for McCoy Tyner’s, Coltrane’s, and Jimmy Garrison’s solos. In my head it was the ultimate “fuck you” to anybody that doubted how serious I took my dancing and my own way of expressing myself. I didn’t give a fuck. I didn’t walk during graduation. Instead I left after my exams and jumped on a cruise ship to save up money to move to New York.
Like most of my life, I’m sure the attitude about always “expecting the other shoe to drop” played into a self-fulfilling prophecy of developing an alienating lack of trust and paranoid suspicion of being betrayed. Not having high expectations is usually a good move for not being disappointed but to go further and expect bad things, “expecting the other shoe to drop” was definitely not as constructive. Bad things seem to happen more easily when you expect them. Perhaps I would have had even more of a fun college experience, been closer to teachers and peers if I let myself go a little more, and was less competitive about trying to be better, or worried that any of their bad habits would become mine just by sharing (or proactively reaching out to share) in some relatively harmless social rituals, but more on that in Chapter 18.
All in all it was hard to like anything or anyone that everyone else liked. This was one of the factors that contributed to my dislike for any white rock or alternative band that others often liked, even jazz musicians. In this way I was a true contrarian. Sure Oberlin tends to have a lot of independent minded self labeled freaks and geeks. But like hearing a pop star on the radio, it is hard to believe anybody talking about the frustrations of being an outsider who ends up an “insider” of another group, geek or otherwise. It was hard for me to believe anybody part of a group or group of friends for really being as dedicated to the cause of the outsider as me. I often doubted their strength of character to maintain their loneliness like I could because of the support they found in belonging to a group. I did not want to be too constrained to the labels of geek, “jazzer”, “white”, or gay-friendly.
Making too close of ties with friends of any self professed group made me worry that I would contract any of what I perceived as their weaknesses, whether that was lack of discipline in some respect, habits that would get in the way of accomplishing my goals as a performer, or any myopic sense of how the “outsider” experience was defined. In my mind, nobody knew more about being an outsider than me. Who was to tell me differently if I was not willing to really listen or absorb what somebody else had to say? Still I made many kind and nice peripheral relationships among musicians and other college students. And thankfully, most students seemed to like and accept me despite my inconsolable loner-ness, and workaholism at times. Besides, outwardly, I would describe myself as an openly nice though at times a socially weird individual who just happened to keep a certain emotional distance from most people after a gig, performance, or group get together was done. The closest friend I made in college was Chris, a theater and college student who was my roommate for two years and seemed to have similar hyper-competitive and overly sensitive issues like mine, and yet also had one of the most pure hearts I have ever come into contact with. We shared a mutual admiration and love for Rocky movies. He was WAY into Bruce Springsteen, however, while I obviously was not. (This paragraph really belongs in the next chapter.)
Not surprisingly, this “the other dropping shoe” philosophy also played into my sexual relationships after losing my virginity. The last couple of years of college I seemed to oscillate between great affirming sexual performances immediately followed by practically impotent ones. I expected myself to be able to perform well with any girl I flirted with. I felt the only responsibility a girl had for a mutually good time was to look pretty and it was on me to take care of the rest. I mean I was known for great dancing skills. I automatically assumed that since those skills were natural, that I should have no problem transferring those skills to sex regardless with whatever girl I happened to be flirting with or was momentarily attracted to. I so wanted to be a stud. I hoped each notch of a different girl would get me closer to being the superman I imagined myself eventually turning into and being regarded as. My fourth year each one time hookup with successful “orgasm” (at least on my part) would then be followed with an awkward fail of either losing an erection or psyching myself out of having one. Most of the successful sexual experiences resulted from random spontaneous turn of events that were so hot because they were unexpected. I would take the affirmed heterosexuality and confidence from those unexpected flings and try to apply them to more purposeful hookups that involved dates that when they progressed far enough for actual sex, I seemed unable to perform.
The breakthrough moment of finding my sexual mojo was right before my fifth year when I got back from working on my first cruise ship. Judy and I would still occasionally hook up when I was home if she wasn’t dating someone else. In many ways, we were each other’s best friends. It was a great, at least for me, friend with benefits situation. The night before I had to leave to go back to school, Judy and I just happened to be in a comfort zone and we thought we’d try sex again. I was kind of surprised that we still liked to hang out and make out despite our awkward attempts at sex over the years. I trusted her and felt even more comfortable because she still seemed to like me despite my obvious intimacy issues of the past. So this one night while we were making out, the energy grew to a point where it seemed to say that we were ready to try again. It was the first time I felt like I could feel everything with a condom, and could take my time and had control of my body and could feel hers. Despite our familiarity, there was this spontaneous unexpectedness about it all because I had to leave the next day, so that made it even hotter. Still we blew eachother’s mind that night. But I left to drive to college the next day and we went our separate ways yet again with the possibility, and comforting knowledge that that could happen again in the future if we were around eachother long enough for it to happen.
I took the confidence from that night, and went a little crazy my last year at college. While there was a continued pattern of alternating orgasmic successes and failures, at least I let myself experience both with the same girls. So instead of alternating experiences with a string of one-time flings, I experienced the alternations within a string of two or three-time flings. I often would cluelessly sabotage these potential relationships somehow or get scared of the inconsistencies in my performances or of feeling trapped into committing to someone I wasn’t sure I really liked enough to commit to.
The inconsistency of my sexual performance got to the point where I would play an “opposite game” with myself. Anytime I would not expect anything to happen or consciously say in my head not to expect anything, I would usually be pleasantly surprised, turned on, and sexually successful the next intimate encounter. The problem with that philosophy is that I was less likely to protect myself because I would not bring a condom. If I did bring one, in the back of my head I would always have some frightful expectation of putting on a show. It was easier just to rely on the girl to have protection. If not, then it would be an excuse just to have “outercourse” or give each other head and the pressure would be more off, though then the temptation of unprotected sex arose. And it was that temptation that I would often choose between attaining another notch to affirm my manly heterosexuality and potency, or possibly leaving myself open to catch an STD.
I had already found myself playing this opposite game in music, or any other competition. I often noticed the pattern of when I did not expect to perform well in music, when I wasn’t thinking about how well I sounded, or just enjoyed the game itself, I would perform impressively. Then the next day, rehearsal, or gig, I noticed that how much pressure I felt to duplicate the brilliance I demonstrated on the last gig, rehearsal, or day. I would be so frustrated. One day the unexpected creative messiah, the next day an impotently creative eunuch. Because it was so hard to get outside of my head, and communicate any of this with anyone outside my parents, good performances during these years seemed to be an almost superstitious gift from God that was given or taken away, whether they were in music, pick-up games of basketball, or sex. I was not worried about my academic status in attaining my biochemistry degree. I found most students in that realm to be too nerdy and out of touch with their own feelings, and took pride in my superior ability to be artistic and physically expressive in dance and music, and yet still study enough to adequately pass my classes and eventually get that degree.