Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Jeff Herles December 27, 1959 - May 7, 2006

So, my friend died May 7. I haven't written anything here yet, because I have been a bit numb, but gradually I have opened up enough. One major issue has been that his death was too reminiscent of my father's, a bright talented individual who also drank himself to death. My sister has a blog in which she has written much more eloquently about him than I ever could (even though I look like him, am his same height, weight and have the terrible singing voice). Like him, Jeff was the type you would never suspect of having a deep self-loathing, because outwardly they projected incredible confidence. I rarely ever saw Jeff be down - he was pretty cynical, but hey in New York that's almost in the drinking water.

I first met Jeff in summer 1984 when I moved back to New York (coincidentally when my father died hmmm). He was the upstairs neighbor of my sister and her boyfriend in an utterly unromantic section of Long Island City that was incredibly cheap but made up for up by having the tiniest rooms I saw in New York, which is really saying something. Although prepossessing, the neighborhood was far from uninteresting. There was a revival church across the street, a motel/whorehouse down the street, a mafia hangout around the block, Greek restaurants a trundle away, and down by the river were the Isamo Noguchi museum, Socrates sculpture park and Steinway piano factory. And that apartment provided me with the closest proximity to musical success I've ever had: Nicky Skopelitis, a guitarist who played among things, with the Talking Heads, livied downstairs.

Jeff was an incredibly ingratiating guy, very funny, very interested in all things political cultural musical sexual, full of himself, but generous and loyal. Jeff and I used to hang out a lot, drink a lot, go out to clubs, and invariably he would sleep with all the women I wanted to. At one point I stop talking to him for months because he slept with a friend of the family who was staying in my apartment for a while. I should point out that not everyone liked Jeff, and there were numerous people he rubbed the wrong way, but his circle of friends dwarfed that group.
Jeff was one of the few people I knew who managed to straddle a bohemian lifestyle with being a successful corporate finance officer. He was the "Chapter 11" guy that corporations were never happy to see because he would audit their possessions and say what needed to be sold off. Because of his work he went to Costa Rica (for Maidenform Bra), Hackensack and other exotic places. Along the way he had a series of wonderful. attractive caring girlfriends (one or two psychos in the bunch, but that's to be expected).

One of the few times I saw was really lay beneath his confidence and braggadacio was one year when I was back in NY around Xmas time and a bunch of us were supposed to get together to celebrate his birthday. I was the only one that showed up, and Jeff was in kind of a bad way. In fact, he was crying and saying things like "I'm so scared" and regretting breaking up with past grilfriends. I found myself in the unusual position of comforting and reassuring someone I had been insanely jealous of for a number of years.

All along I knew Jeff was a big drinker but like most of them he hid it well (in fact at one point we both quite drinking for two months - it shocked everyone). After I moved from NY I would see him onc a year or so, but we still managed top do things like a trip to Mexico for New Years 2000, where heavy drinking would scarcely have been noticed. I first started to get some hints that things were going wrong was in ?1999? when after a particularly wild weekend involving a wedding and a trip to Provincetown he ended up in the hospital, supposedly because of dehydration.

Around that time his brother Chris, with whom he had always had a close but conpetitive relationship, stopped talking to him, because of his drinking. Despite this, everytime I saw him he was the same old Jeff. He met and moved in with a very normal woman, Stephanie, who I thought would be good for him. One of the few pictures I have of him is from this period. He moved out to New Mexico with Stephanie, for various, none of which involved drying out as far as I know. The last time I saw him was on a visit there. Here is a picture of him on a hike I went on with Beth, my doctor friend from there, and her Labs (my Lab is somewhere out of the frame). Beth would at the end of his life be incredibly caring and attentive towards him.

So I couldn't decide if this blog was going to be a tribute to Jeff or my feelings at his passing. It has kind of ended up being neither. To be a tribute to Jeff I would have to include some of his musical work, which ranged between the brilliant and the unlistenable. I will say that Jeff was kind, warm, arrogant, self-centered, generous, creative, fun,aggravating and goddamn you, why did you have to kill yourself off.


Drew Olewnick said...


I hope you get this. I only heard the news last night from my Mom. She's friends with Jeff's Mom and heard about it through a third party.

I'm devestated. Jeff and I had drifted apart, but we had spoken and emailed earlier this year and discussed meeting up in New Mexico. My wife and I have property in New Mexico and I was excited to learn that Jeff was in Sante Fe. I thought that, over time, we might be able to rekindle our friendship out in the Southwest.

Jeff seemed fine when we spoke, talking about plans and new music he was creating. I did, however, sense in his emails that he was not entirely happy, and looking for more. I just received some more information from Kevin Bents about the details of his death.

Jeff and I had our little spats as roommates, but we were very close, like brothers - the kind who would fight occasionaly. But nothing that ever lasted. There's so many things we did together when were roommates, that it's overwhelming to think about now.

I really feel for Chris and his parents. And all the other folks here and in Poughkeepsie and elsewhere who met Jeff along the way.

Thanks for your blog entry. It says a lot about the kind of person Jeff was. I hope there is some kind of public gathering to celebrate his life, but that's up to his family. They have yet to announce anything and I can understand the difficulty of it all.

I hope you are well.



drew said...


Your bgygi@indiana.edu address bounces back.

kissyface said...

phew... so sorry. i can honestly say i understand your frustration with people around you self-immolating. it's really hard to be left behind. it's really hard to watch people around you destruct and die when they can be helped. i feel this is a cultural crisis, really. people need to find new ways of festing and intimate relating. why do we center our celebratory moments around wasting ourselves? seems contradictory to me. not that their isn't room for Dionysian impulses part of the time. anyway, i'm sorry you lost your friend.