Jess Begans

I met Jeff Breeze when I was just 20 years old, in 2005. I was starstruck. We all were. My boyfriend and I were living in a house with his bandmates in the Mad River Valley in Vermont for the summer. It was a gross pseudo punk house – the fleas were so bad my boyfriend had 70 bites on his skin. The band was called Little Wooden Men. They were famous for rolling their CD sleeves around in literal horseshit (literal horseshit!!! From a horse. At a farm!!!) before sending them to reviewers.
And by famous, I mean, they were not famous at all and got almost no airplay or coverage because their music was abrasive and their CD sleeve was covered in, let me repeat, literal horseshit.
The only person to give them a chance? Jeff Breeze.

Jeff was an editor of Northeast Performer magazine at the time (I think). He contacted the band leader, Forrest, said he liked their stuff, wanted to review the record. The band was really happy.
That summer, Jeff was performing in Most Bitter. He came to stay with us, in the fetid flophouse covered in fleas.
Forrest basically told us, “ACT COOL…Jeff is a big deal.” I was in such awe of Jeff, who had opened for a band that had Thurston Moore (OH MY GOOOODDDDD) that year, that I could barely look him in the eye. Still, he was a gentleman, very congenial, fun to be around, despite the surroundings. He jammed with the band on stage in a show in Montpelier.
When we moved to Boston in 2008, Jeff let us crash on his floor in Watertown. We also slept on his bandmate Joe’s Brookline floor. Later, we’d see them both play some sick sets with Concord Ballet Orchestra. Jeff would tell us about all the palindromes that he was working out for the song titles. I was amazed at how smart he was.
Jeff took Tom and I under his wing. No questions, he was just our friend and distinguished tour guide. Naturally, we never visited any tourist attraction, but he took us to the best ice cream shops in Marlborough, Wayland, or Salem. Jeff was the one who introduced me to the love of my life: Market Basket. With food and with most things, he was both practical and whimsical. His car was always filled with the best snacks (astronaut ice cream? dehydrated berries?), but he’d give us advice about where to buy the cheapest cereal. Target was better than Market Basket in this one crucial regard.
Jeff would talk to us about his girl troubles and insult our stereo equipment. He often teased us both, as a knowledgeable older brother might. There were a few years (maybe 2010ish?) where Jeff seemed angry and could be actually mean in his jokes. Later, for reasons undisclosed to me, he softened up and became a perma-teddy bear. Jeff told me I was gay before I was out to myself, which caused some drama at the time, but he was right so no hard feelings.
In some ways, I felt I did not know Jeff. I wasn’t sure who his other friends were – the softball team, the WMBR crowd, all the incredible musicians he’d meet doing Pipeline. In other ways, we were very close – he introduced us to his sweet, charming, fun brother Tim, and we went on some outings together. He told us all about how much he loved his niece and nephew, the funny things they said, the gifts he made them or places he took them. He told us long stories about the kids he was nannying for. When he nursed Tamby as he died, we got to hear about Jeff’s efforts and heartache, working with a man he obviously cared for and respected deeply.
I got to see Jeff sing Bobby Darrin on his birthday at Zuzu’s in 2013: he was sweating and in a tux. When I asked him if he’d noticed the cute girl watching him in the audience, he said, “When I’m performing all I think about is the music.” It was the ONLY time I heard Jeff NOT notice a cute girl in a venue. I watched him play a Most Bitter set in a dark MIT auditorium on an empty stage, commanding the attention of the undergrads with his deep voice and ominous pop songs. I get “It Isn’t Me” stuck in my head all the time.
I always wondered when Jeff was going to figure out that I was not a musician and stop hanging out with me. That never happened. We were great single pals together. At the time, I rigidly divided all things, people and activities into Good or Bad. (Indie rock good, pop music bad, expensive wine good, cheap beer bad, on and on.)
You may have heard that curiosity and trauma cannot be running your brain at the same time. Jeff helped me get into a more curious, playful space and move past my fearful judgements. Sometimes I help other people loosen up now and it is Jeff’s power moving through me.
Jeff and I played dress up, we took goofy pictures, we encouraged each other to make bad decisions in dating. We cooked for one another, sometimes very badly. But that was OK. We ate our mistakes with straight faces in his dim kitchen. The important thing was that you tried a spice combination no one had ever dreamt up before (perhaps with good reason). The important thing was hanging out and enjoying the evening. Why be lonely, just because you weren’t the best cook? Why be lonely when you could be a friend?
Something that makes me sad is that I never felt cool enough to be Jeff’s friend, which meant I was in perpetual disbelief that we really were friends, even when he did things like show up to help me move in the August heat for hours with no pay other than a few tacos and a limeade.
Jeff noticed little things. I threw an Under the Sea Punk party. Jeff showed up with store-bought hummus because I’d told him I was going to make THE BEST lemon hummus BY HAND and he knew that I would be way too busy with my mermaid costume to actually do this. He was right! He dressed as a merperson. And then he led the party in a jam session.
Jeff prioritized TIME and MUSIC over making money, and he inspired my love for degrowth economics.
The only time Jeff got ripshit angry at me was when I implied that Dolly doesn’t really love Carl and that their marriage is a cover story for her more salacious private life. “IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN DOLLY AND CARL THEN YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN TRUE LOVE.” You get the sense Jeff believed in true love.
Jeff trusted me enough to tell me about parts of his life he didn’t share with almost anybody else. I’d like to think that I was a good listener for him, as well. But I can never ask him that because he is dead in a horrifying way and this leaves me with rage and regret.
Jeff loved women’s curling. Sometimes he texted with the Russian women’s national team members on Instagram. When I met my wife, I did that classic soft-jerk move of becoming obsessed with the relationship and not seeing my friends as much. Still, Aimee loved Jeff, not least because they both love curling. It was amazing to watch Jeff charm another person through this weird mutual hobby. He brought over a curling board game and played it with my cats.
Jeff called me on the phone a lot. He was a radio DJ. Conversations with him were fun, entertaining, mildly philosophical, educational. He could talk and he could also really listen. He knew my stories and got what motivated me. He ended almost every conversation with, “Be good.”
The last time I talked to Jeff was on September 11, 2020. I was driving down from Greenfield, MA to Richmond, VA. We talked for an hour, about the usual fare. Music, the typewriter orchestra, Kelly Clarkson, dating in pandemic, etc. I implored Jeff to come visit. I felt so sad about a lot of things. Sad that Jeff was not getting the writing gigs that he deserved in a decimated media economy, sad that he didn’t have a girlfriend even though he would be a great boyfriend, sad that I hadn’t kept in great touch when I moved from Boston, and very very sad to be moving so far away from my friend.
I am stunned, shocked, saddened to know that I will not have another chance to have another incredible conversation with my friend. Jeff Breeze, you were one of the greats. You will be missed by every single one of my friends who had the honor of meeting you. Be good, Jeff, be happy, be free.

I leave you with a Slut Mix Jeff made in 2014:

Amerie, What I Want, 2014
Ariana Grande, Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea), 2014
Betty Who, Somebody Loves You, 2014
Brianna Perry, I’m That B.I.T.C.H., 2014
Charli XCX, Boom Clap (Club Killers Remix), 2014
FKA Twigs, Two Weeks, 2014
Iggy Azalea, Fancy (feat. Charli XCX), 2014
Jessie J feat. Nicki Minaj & Ariana Grande, Bang Bang, 2014
Meghan Trainor, All About That Bass, 2014
Miranda Lambert, Somethin’ Bad [duet with Carrie Underwood], 2014
PHOX, Slow Motion, 2014
Sunny Sweeney, Bad Girl Phase, 2014

 

One Reply to “Jess Begans”

  1. thank you so much for this, Jess. I really enjoyed reading it, and seeing Jeff through your eyes. i’m sad to say that i didn’t get a chance to hang out with him in person for several years, having moved away, and i hate that that chance is now gone. you said it best, he really was one of the greats.

    be well,
    tim

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