He Ain’t Heavy(He’s My Older Brother)

We have titles growing up in a household. There’s mom, dad, brother, sister, son, daughter, and even pet. I was a son and a brother in our home of four. Not only was I the brother but I was the younger brother. Yes, I have an older brother. We’re six years apart. I was born December 2nd, 1973, while he was born December 20, 1967.

My brother Chris with my mom, long before me.
My brother Chris with my mom, long before me.

Chris(as I liked to call him…and what he was named by our parents) and I, despite there being a six year difference between us got along really well. I think there was enough of an age difference that it wasn’t like I was always getting in his business or vying for the same friends or anything. I was a little tyke when he was nearing middle school, so I think that protective older brother thing kicked in. I was also sick a lot as a kid, so he saw me laying around quite a bit taking meds and generally feeling lousy. He just felt bad for me. I do remember being a runt and always knocking on his bedroom door and him letting me in. We’d sit in there and I’d watch him categorize and sift through his many collectible sports cards. When he was younger he collected stamps, but later moved onto sports cards. He had all kinds; baseball, basketball, and football. I loved going in his room and sitting on the floor and watching him go through them. I think my inclination for collecting and categorizing may have stemmed from those early days and watching Chris scrutinize over his cards(to this day he still has the cards in an extra bedroom in his home.) His true love back in his pre-teens and early teens was baseball. He played in Little League and him and my dad went to quite a few Cincinnati Reds games. I can still remember the Pete Rose poster on his wall and the “supposed” Johnny Bench autograph our Grandpa Dale got him.

Chris and I, summer of 1979.
Chris and I, summer of 1979.

While Chris honed his pitching skills on a homemade pitching contraption out in the backyard(it was a trash can hung up sideways with the opening facing out between two trees that my dad put up for him to pitch the ball into), I was indoors wheezing and sneezing, creating massive battles between the Rebel Forces and the Imperial troops on a makeshift Hoth or Death Star, usually located on the stairs that led down to the basement or under the kitchen table. I wasn’t the sporting type. I loved riding my bike, playing war in the pine forest where our house was located, or just sneaking around the woods and letting my overactive imagination get the better of me. But playing baseball wasn’t my thing. Chris and I would play miniature golf in the backyard on a makeshift single hole putt we made by raking up some pine needles, smoothing out the ground and digging a hole. My Grandpa “Hub” gave us a putter of his he no longer used and we’d share it( I still have the putter in my garage in case of some weird occasion I’ll need it.) We also enjoyed a good game of paper football on my brother’s desk in his bedroom, usually soundtracked by Judas Priest or Black Sabbath.

chris and john, '79 001
Chris and I, fall of 1979.

Chris played baseball up till he was a sophomore in high school. Once he’d gotten to his junior year he said the hell with it and quit the team and got a part-time job. It’s funny, but at this point was when Chris and I began to really bond over the one constant in both of our lives: music. He told me recently that he remembered going somewhere in the family car with mom and dad when he was around 16-years old and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” came on the radio. Hearing that song triggered all these memories of being a little kid and hearing that album spinning in the basement while my parents had people over playing pool, drinking, and partying. From that point on he seeked out Zeppelin, The Doors, Black Sabbath, and anything else that was old and loud. This was around the same time that as a 10-year old I’d discovered music myself. Ratt, Twisted Sister, Van Halen, Quiet Riot, and the like were finding their way into my ears. Besides the classics, my brother was also getting into heavy metal. He’d gotten into W.A.S.P., Dio, and Iron Maiden along with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Through him I was getting a musical lesson that involved the present and the past. I was still at that odd moment in growing up where I was really getting into music but still very much loving the thing my imagination allowed me to do with music and toys. Fantasy toys were replaced with more ultra-realistic GI Joe toys. Battles between GI Joe and Cobra were scored by Van Halen’s Women and Children First and Twisted Sister’s You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N Roll. I was in the fifth grade and still felt comfortable with playing with toys. It was this hyper-realized kind of playing. It was complicated, thought-out playing. I think my brother understood that and he kind of dug some of those toys I had. They weren’t kiddie toys. They were battleships and jets armed to the gills with machine guns and missles. What’s not to like about that?

Eventually I put the toys away and traded them in for a hefty cassette collection and a guitar. Chris bought a guitar as well and we began taking lessons together. Chris also had traded in sports for a job and partying. I can remember him telling me him and his other buddy Chris would get out of school during their senior year and they’d head to Chris’ house. They’d head to the basement, drop acid, and turn on Sesame Street with the volume down all the way and play Black Sabbath’s Paranoid as loud as they could play it. He also got busted for underage drinking with the same buddy at a local teen hangout called The Fun Center. It was an arcade where local guys and gals would get together and play the latest arcade games, get drunk, high, and get in fights. I can also remember one time when my brother was brought home by his best friend Brian and Brian’s girlfriend from a party. My mom met them in the driveway as Chris began vomiting in the front yard. Mom stood out there casually talking to Brian and his girlfriend, waiting for Chris to get it together enough to make it into the house(he was 21 by then, btw.)

The drug experimentation and underage drinking was never a problem. Just the usual stupid stuff people do. I never went through that experimentation. I did drink well before I was 21, but I never got trashed. And as far as getting high or taking acid it never happened for me. I was an uptight kid that played with his toys in his bedroom, and I was an uptight teenager that played his guitar in his bedroom. Getting stoned was never in my DNA. Have I gotten high? Yeah, a few times over the years. But it was never really my thing. I prefer the comforts of a hearty beer.

But enough of that. Back to my brother.

He found speed metal and shared it with me. I found grunge and shared it with him. Chris took me to my first concert. It was Joe Satriani in 1990 at the Embassy Theater in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He also took me to my second concert, which was AC/DC with Love/Hate at the Fort Wayne War Memorial Coliseum in November of 1991. We saw the Clash of the Titans tour in the summer of 1991, which consisted of Alice in Chains, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer. It was the scariest concert I’d ever been to. The first time I saw Jabberwocky, Eraserhead, Life of Brian, and The Evil Dead was with my older brother. I was the best man at his wedding(his best friend was on a US carrier somewhere in the South Pacific at the time of his wedding.)

In the late 90s my brother and his wife began building a house in the same neighborhood my wife and I lived(which was the same woods we grew up in and where my parents still live.) They were living with his in-laws during that time and Chris would come over on Friday nights, bring beer, and we’d play Need For Speed on the Playstation till 1am. He’d crash on the couch and leave early the next morning. We’d get together at his place or mine in the summer and drink lots of beer, listen to Bill Hicks albums, and talk about whatever came to mind.

Once my niece got older my brother and sister-in-law were usually taking her to soccer games, then volleyball games. My wife and I had kids of our own and those beer times were few and far between for my bro and me. I gotta admit that I miss those times, but I get it. He became the dad on the go and I was not. We’re homebodies. We like to be home, not driving all over the place. I think that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

This past Friday I get a call from Chris. My sister-in-law was at some sort of jewelry party and so my brother was home alone with the dog(my niece is now 20 and in college.) We talked about them going to see Primus in April, Metallica, Ronnie James Dio, and all the shitty hair metal bands he wasted his money on in the 80s. It was great. We talked for almost an hour. It made me realize just how much I miss those ridiculous conversations we used to have amid several beers on humid summer nights and frigid winter eves.

There was the discussion of us getting together some Friday evening for a beer. With my niece in college his weekends are a little more open. Whether it happens or not that remains to be seen. It’s just good to know we can jump back into our quasi stream-of-consciousness bizarro conversations, regardless of how long it’s been since we’ve spoke. That brotherly bond is one that isn’t easily broken.

At least between us it’s not.

Dad, Chris, and Honz, 1979.
Dad, Chris, and Honz, 1979.
Mom, Chris, and I mid-70s.
Mom, Chris, and I mid-70s.

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