Goodbye, Jon Cook

You can’t revisit your childhood, because it no longer exists, I told myself.

Thomas Bernhard, Extinction

Jon Cook from Crain and Rodan, two of my favorite homegrown bands, was finally taken off life support tonight, ending two days of tortuous rumors and speculation. He was a bright spot in Louisville’s underground in the ’90s, which makes his senseless death sadder still. I guess he had been going through a long decay for most of the last decade, maybe longer: drugs, alcohol, dereliction.

Crain’s music was huge; sometimes angry, sometimes delicate, not unlike the people who made it. But more than the music, Jon was a rallying point, someone who repeatedly left our little provincial burg to travel the country in a van, bringing treasure and glory (well, not much treasure — it was rock ‘n’ roll, after all) back to us.

I remember running into him at an all-ages club one cold night in fall 1992. He and Crain had just gotten back from Albini’s studio in Chicago, where they’d recorded songs for a new EP. He was energetic; manic, almost, but who wouldn’t be? Steve Albini was a legend to anyone who played non-commercial pop music in the ’90s; the fact that a kid in a band could just drive up to his studio and record was special, particularly from a teenager’s viewpoint. People like Jon fulfilled that basic need to feel part of something bigger, important to a frustrated adolescent.

Jon was a friendly and kind man. Bands wanted to come to Louisville because in the ’90s he brought every touring act on the indie circuit — from Fugazi to the Jesus Lizard, from the Riot Grrl! bands to the Rollins Band, from Sleepyhead to Hammerhead — to Louisville and let them stay in his mom’s house, where she’d make them hearty spaghetti dinners.

Later, the old Victorian mansion he owned called the Rocket House became a sort of creative crash pad. There was always a band playing there, or maybe staying there while on tour, and the walls were festooned with the numbers and names of virtually everyone in the ’90s underground — Ian McKaye, Kathleen Hanna, Jenny Toomey, Corey Rusk — written in magic marker. If you stopped in, you might see Jeff Mueller making a sculpture out of junk, or you could hand Bob Weston your joke band’s demo, or you might end up as the extra in an indie movie, or you could hang out with older, perhaps not-always-wiser people.

But what I didn’t think of as a teenager was that Jon Cook had a Victorian mansion at age 21 because his own dad had passed away, I think, in a house fire started by a cigarette. I met his mom, Peggy, on several occasions. She was nice, too, and I thought it was funny that a woman my mother’s age would pour me such stiff gin and tonics. Maybe there’s something to be learned there that I still don’t know.

Back in the ’90s, I heard he was supposed to take meds but didn’t. I heard a lot of stuff.  I heard he wrote a novel. He definitely drew cartoons. He kept making music. Once, I walked into a bar and saw him play on guitar, unaccompanied, a song written by a friend of mine that I didn’t think anyone else knew very well. He played it beautifully, and then indie legend Lou Barlow got on stage and played. And then Jon was nowhere to be seen. The last time I saw Jon was in summer 2010 and he seemed friendly — too-friendly; unbalanced. I got spooked, and I took off.

We have an idea that someday, we can go home and things will be a little bit like they were when we left. But the people that defined my home keep leaving for good. Tony Bailey, Jason Noble, now Jon Cook — these people who were larger than life once keep leaving life behind. What they leave behind is a gaping void.

Goodbye, Jon. Rest in the peace that seemed so hard for you to find, and rest knowing that for the brief period you were on this planet, it was a better place.


9 thoughts on “Goodbye, Jon Cook”

  1. A fitting tribute to a quixotic man. In my brief encounters, he was always affable. Speed and Heater are two great rock albums.

  2. Very nice words indeed, I knew Jon only from his sporadic visits to Columbus. And later I booked Crain at Bernie’s a subterranean club with the shitty rest rooms this side of CBGBS. Anyway, he was always full of energy and he told me once he was Bi-Polar which was shocking for someone to disclose that at such a young age, I hope he found some peace before he passed.

  3. I met Jon briefly working at Wick’s with Joey Mudd and Michael McMahon back in 1995; I was only 19 then. 1998 rolled around, and we became Old Louisville neighbors, which quickly, characteristically, blossomed into a warrior-comrade- brother- style friendship. I once, even, stopped by the Rocket House on Christmas night and played various musical instruments with him, as he played a typewriter, while recording it on a reel-to-reel, never relinquishing to me that it was, indeed, his birthday. I vividly remember thinking that I had not met anyone as avant-garde as Jon since meeting Matt Davis, another local legend, who, himself, was a long time fan of Jon’s. While I spent hundreds of hours with Jon through the following years, most of it was one-on-one, driving around the city, exchanging stories, opinions, anecdotes, etc. The last time we had one of our classic, yet, timeless adventures was about a week or two before his passing away. He was sharp, funny, good spirited, and he made sure to tell me he loved me. He certainly was a diamond in the rough, to say the least. Thank you Jon and Peggy for the that certain breed of pure, pure love that is a rare treat and treasure for which I will forever be grateful.

  4. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. Jon was a beautiful bright burning light that like an unstable gas was constantly on the verge of explosion. The flip side was that he was often the fuel that powered what so many of us fondly remember about the Louisville music scene. He made it difficult to love him much of the time, but was a great friend who you could always count on to stop by for free beer, food, loud music and a good time. He always called to “check on me” which says a lot about who he was if you knew what his life was like these past few years. We spoke daily for a long time and had a regular lunch date on Friday’s for the last three years. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that he is gone, but the outpouring of love and kind words from folks like yourself sure do help. Thanks again.

  5. thanks for writing this- its basically the same thing I have been trying to write over the last few days. Quixotic- and important. Without Jon Cook, and the vibrant characters that revolved in and around the rocket house it is clear that the world would be a less creative space.

    Ken Katkin gave me jon’s number when we tried to book our first tour. We ended up at the rocket house with versus and boondoggle in tow. I miss vivacious Jon and hope that the darker Jon has found some peace.

  6. Jon cook was a total bad ass. I was fortunate enough to get out of Louisville just in time to miss the explosion of Jon’s “coming out”. I often find myself describing Jon as someone that should’ve experimented with drugs (with or without me) during high school instead of waiting til college life at Antioch… better to get it out of the way while someone is paying your rent…
    I first met Jon when he was a straight edge skate punk behind pro-quality skates on Bardstown Rd. He went by Wally and I went by Betty (that name stuck for a couple of weeks until I wised up) . Self righteous always (I’m talking about both of us), I loved competing/fighting with him over whose family was more destructive and whose teeth were more fucked up. We had this brother/sister thing… that was our connection. We created a family among ourselves along with an incredible group of individuals that I will always be so thankful for and that I continue to acknowledge as my saving grace. We started to do something without the fear of being told we could not. Jon was relentless… He gave me courage and confidence.
    I always thought Jon would find the strength to come around, settle his shit and recognize the love and support his community for had for him. I am so grateful for Jon. He turned me on to so much and made me feel a little less weird… he was so fucking weird! Here’s to keeping Louisville weird! R.I.P. baby.

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