Jesse Geller Sep 80-Oct-18

Oct 15 2018

I did my best on this. Much is just from remembered conversations we had. I believe it’s accurate.
It would be impossible to include every person he touched-so I stuck to the main players. If I missed you sorry.

Jesse was born in the Kensington section of Philadelphia September of 1980. Both of his parents were heroin addicts. They bounced around Philly for a couple of years and landed in the direct western suburbs of Delaware County. By the time Jesse was 9 he was hanging out at a local half pipe where he met nope and speed. He began writing graffiti at that time.

He showed me a small picture book he made for a school assignment when he was 11. It was called “The Vandle.” The title was written in an elementary Philly handstyle. In the book a stick figure busts a tag on a wall, a cop car pulls up and the “vandle” is arrested.

At some point before that his dad was slinging dope and was befriended/entrapped by an undercover cop. The officer acted as a family friend. He went in so deep he brought Jesse to the zoo to build the bond of trust he needed to get to his dad. Jesse’s father was arrested and sent to prison after a couple months of infiltration.

In the early 90’s he began to take the El to center city from 69th street and his obsession with the west Philadelphia el roofs began. He’d hang out at the park and skate a little and then bum money from whoever would give it to him to get home. He shoplifted snacks from 7-11 and would hang out all day and later into the night. He shoplifted a lot more later.

Besides the top echelon of Love skaters there were crews of kids from all over the city that hung out there. Most of them came from along the el line-Frankford, Port Richmond, West Philly, Upper Darby.

(It’s here I met Jesse, who immediately asked if he could hold a dollar to get home. I don’t think I gave him one.)

By the mid 90’s Jesse was climbing up on roofs and writing nemel wherever he could fit it. His main partner was SZ. They were best friends and would hang out at Love in the day and hit roofs over the night. He walked around listening to Slick Rick and BDP on a Walkman. He sometimes spoke mimicking Rick’s british/brooklyn accent.

“knock em out the box”

He called his mom B-Mom for Bombing Mom because she loved his graffiti so much. He made her a denim jacket with a B-Mom backpiece.

He had a name for himself already and was down with the North Philly crew KMD.

Most of the band Ink and Dagger lived in a house on 20th and Ionic. Dasar lived there as well. I met him at NJ punk club City Gardens during the early 90’s. We were introduced by a skinhead girl we both knew. I don’t know what year this was but I think he had a Skate Rags t-shirt on to date it.

Later Dasar would teach me about graff when I chilled at Ionic. All the elements of hardcore, graffiti, and skating came together in this house. Jesse was often there, sometimes to the annoyance of some people who actually paid rent.

There wasn’t really a Philadelphia messenger culture then. Just some weirdo musicians riding road and mountain bikes doing there thing and being cool and old Philadelphia. The Rittenhouse Wall was tough and def had a No Locals, No Rookies vibe to it. You had to roll up a few times and be cool with someone before you were allowed to sit there. That never really changed for a few years.

When it really started Esher and Nope were the leaders of it. They got good bikes and connected Philly to other cities. Jesse was through with school at this point. I don’t know if he had discipline issues or just never went, he finally stopped going altogether at 15.

He decided he’d be a bike messenger. I’d been working for about a year and ended up at One Hour.
I told Jesse I could get him a job. We convinced the dispatcher Megan to hire him underage without working papers. He began working, first on a beater mountain bike, then Nope got him a steel, lugged, Specialized Allez track bike.

We were rolling together a lot at this point. There were so many empty buildings and factories in center city, south west, gray’s ferry all over. Philadelphia’s industry was in a state of decay and the crumbling remains became the dangerous playgrounds and galleries for writers from all over the city and beyond.

He wrote more and more straying from traditional Philadelphia styles.

Espo brought Twist to a writer’s meeting at Lemon Hill. This is where Jesse met Twist. A west philly writer that had beef with nemel punched Jesse in the head while he was talking to him. Jesse got back up and kept talking, as if he had not even noticed he’d been punched.

Agua appeared on the scene. They shared a similar background and after a couple of years a short lived friendship developed.

I went to New York for a little while to work as a messenger and came back to Philly. The bike messenger scene was growing, the hardcore scene was fading and changing. I moved into an old mansion in West Philly with 8 other punks and messengers. The house was an epicenter for graff and bikes. Jesse was there often as well, he always knew where to be.

The pro skater Serge Trudnowski became a bike messenger. We all worked at Time Cycle together and had the best time. The open call system of radio made for constant entertainment and company. This was pre cell phone, pre-text. We had beepers. Hearing voices on a radio all day felt like a luxury. We were always connected.

Jesse and Agua fell out after doing a ton of graffiti damage. Serge started writing and joining the missions to abandoned buildings.

A crew of writers from Staten Island and Brooklyn, MIA-RTH was going to art school in philly and nemel linked with them.

Serge moved to New York and was a messenger there. He began bringing his friends that wrote and skated down to Philly. I followed him back up there a year later.

The first Street Market show happened at the ICA in Philly. Twist put nemel and agua down with THR. Amaze came out to the east coast again and Jesse developed a friendship with him. A lot of the style Jesse picked up came from Amaze and Grey.

I haven’t mentioned this before but we were all straight edge…and then we weren’t. Jesse through his heaviest bombing time in Philadelphia was completely sober.

We started drinking. Heavily.

Jesse began to race road bikes and was always training. He was able to drink and still ride in the morning. He moved to Portugal with our friend Neil to train and to race.

and this is where our story begins to break.

He came up to New York to visit often and told me stories about Philly. He wasn’t writing as much and was focused on partying, riding, racing and being a bike messenger. Amaze was teaching him how to use Illustrator over the phone and email.

There was no social media to connect us. There was a message board called salt, or crewcial, or trackstar that we spent to much time on. That kept us connected too.

I started doing coke when I was out and then when I was in too. The first time I was sitting in the back of the pink pony with Sace doing key bumps. The euphoria and speed was a natural fit for me. After I broke the seal on that one Jesse soon followed. Our nights out got longer and more manic. More graffiti, more staying up all night filling black books, more connection, more bonding. I can’t say it all started out negative, I don’t think it ever does.

I became friends with a lot of IRAK dudes and got down as the crew swelled. I was doing more and more drugs. Really anything I could get my hands on except heroin. I remember getting a vicodin prescription with 60 pills in it and five refills. There was no regulation and generally the medical community assumed all of this was safe. Oxy Contins were gaining popularity with our friends. We knew they were heavy but no one was aware of where they would take you.

Serge moved back to Philly, he chilled with Jesse a lot. Jesse developed a new group of younger friends-mostly people that looked up to him.

By 2005 Jesse was ready to get out. I worked as a messenger for a delivery service and offered him a job. He left Philly and worked for us. It was a short couple of days before he decided it wasn’t for him. It was a lonely job, you could be arrested or robbed or worse, you were a moving target, and he didn’t want to add anything else to his life. I believe he still remembered his father getting busted and didn’t want to be part of the same pattern.

Jesse was staying with one of my wife’s friends in Williamsburg. He also had a girlfriend back in Philly. That didn’t end well. One night at earsnot’s apartment Jesse was put down with the crew. We started showing artwork and trying to take things a little more seriously. Shortly after Amaze offered him a place to stay in San Francisco and he took the opportunity and left New York.

I believe his first few months were great. i’d get updates about how well things were going. He had a ton of friends, was bombing all the time, was so happy…If there was anytime in Jesse’s life he was happy this was it.

And then he got hurt.

He fell off a building and shattered his leg. While he was in the hospital they put him on a morphine drip. He left the hospital with a script.

He was working for twist and I was working for espo. We were both happy to be helping two of the greats. We went and visited Jesse and recorded a song. We had a weird performance art, spoken word kind of thing going on. The content of the song would be slightly prophetic and is really to painful to a number of people to be heard now.

When we recorded it the body count hadn’t started and we didn’t know over the next 10 years how many of our friends would end up dead. We thought a lot of this was still a joke. Maybe a little bit of a sick joke, but a joke nonetheless.

Jesse came back to New York for another art show and we got an opportunity to do it out in SF a few months later. Joey Semz died that same weekend in New York. Jesse had hung a piece up on the wall. Two pieces of cardboard with “do drugs” written on them in pink spray paint. Tino ripped it down and ripped it up when he heard about Semz. Jesse didn’t understand why. Semz dying was the first crack in my facade, I didn’t want to die. My friends that had started out on oxys 2 years before were now all on dope. I loved these guys and they were so far off into their own world there wasn’t a way to reconnect without being on their level. They slowly disappeared, rehab, jail, out of the country, finally dead. It’s not a fast thing, it’s gradual. People just slip away.

When I flew out to SF this time Jesse had a new girlfriend and a new place. He wasnt staying with Amaze any longer. They picked me up in a hippie van at the airport and I thought something was off. She drove us around to do tags. Jesse got in a fight with a homeless lady and we went back to his place. It smelled and there was dog shit on the kitchen floor. We sat down and they chopped up a bunch of oxys and I did a line. After that they loosened up and told me they were always on oxys. It became clear their life was centered on getting these pills and doing these pills.

He had fallen in love with the lifestyle. He already racked, he already partied, he already bombed, he already was an artist, the oxy’s just made it easier. In the past his girlfriends had kept him in line, this one was just as down as he was.

We left it on bad terms. There was one painful night in a dark, chinese restaurant where me and Resq tried to convince him to stop. His girl freaked the fuck out and he ended up staying with us for a little bit. He told us what we wanted to hear. He’d get better, he’d stop, he was going to ride his bike, he was going to do so much. I was still naive enough to believe it, because I knew Jesse, or the old Jesse and I didn’t want to believe I’d already lost our friendship.

He held on for a while and there were highpoints in his art career. A wall in New York with Twist and Amaze. Glimpses of art world acceptance. Dinners and banquets and dressing up.

It seemed like things would turn around. He sobered up a few times but he was always pulled back. He lost his job and he was on his own. There were different girls and different scandalous stories. More people that tried to help were burned. More people who cut him off.

He bounced around back in forth between New York and Philly for a couple of years. A few people stayed connected to him but I couldn’t do it. He lost his place in New York and had to move back to Philly.

In 2012 we painted a wall together for a local developer in Germantown. Gkae hired him. He showed up, went to the store for 20 minutes and came back asking who the project manager was and if we got a per diem. He painted a wall in Miami with Earsnot before that.

In 2015 I saw him in the Whole Foods on South Street. He was with a girl I didn’t know and I was with my 6 year old daughter. he told me he was out of rehab. He had gone to jail. He was clean. He wanted to start over. It was like I we just picked up in 2007.

I had a studio downtown, I offered him a place to stay and get back on his feet. He moved in. He was up and down with his mood. Resentful about his art career. He felt he was being blocked or held back by a number of people. He had mandatory therapy sessions scheduled to stay out of jail. He fought with the psychiatrist. She asked what he did and he told her she was an artist. She inquired about what type of art he made and he told her he was a “lifestyle artist”. She pushed harder and it infuriated him. He came back to the studio furious.

I let him borrow money and he could never repay it. He told me he was on vivitrol and he couldn’t do heroin. He got arrested for shoplifting and then He lied about why he was racking. He started sleeping all the time. We talked about how he should start tattooing for money, he had friends set him up with a tattoo gun. He started tattooing people, some who would offer to pay in drugs.

We fell out. He had to go and this is where I left this story.

Different old friends helped him out again and it didn’t pan out. He had gone through almost everyone that would be there for him in Philly and there was no one left to help him anywhere else. Party friends are fun to party with but aren’t going to be there to pick you up or help you out. Some might even want to bring you down further.

Many plans were made but none were realized. It hurt to help him. He had learned to get as much as he could out of a situation before he burned the bridge and moved on. There was only so much you could give before you hurt yourself.

He moved around to a few tattoo shops and ended up living and working in Bristol PA. He couldn’t get along with any tattoo shop in Philly and couldn’t get anyone to take him in in New York.

Serge was the last one there for him. He gave him a place to stay while he got back on his feet one more time.

After briefly getting his own place in Germantown he ended up in NJ where he would stay until he passed away.

He was cremated in South Philly and his memorial was held in Love Park where so much of his story started.

Jesse was an artist and he lived the only way he could. He had a tattoo on his back that said “Live your dreams” and he did. I loved Jesse like a brother. There was only one nemel and he lived the life he dreamed of until his life just became dreams.

Oct 14 2018


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On Hold

Oct 10 2018

Blog is on hold for a few days. May check back in with info.

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