By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Jeff's fellow musicians understood the truth of this observation as well as anyone--and that's one of the reasons they loved him. Mike Elkerton, Bill Houston and the other members of the Denver punk band Babihed, with whom Jeff grew close, were among the most flamboyant on the scene, but their stunts paled by comparison with his. At a memorable Cricket on the Hill open-stage performance, for instance, Jeff appeared wearing a hat that resembled two bare breasts. At Jeff's request, Darin Kavanagh passed out lollipops shaped like penises--"cocksicles," they were called--to all the ladies in attendance.
Many of Jeff's songs matched these exploits in lasciviousness. Take "Teenage Mutual Self-Stimulation:"
Well, I took it out
Put my rainbow on
I couldn't feel a thing
Then she told me I could take it off
And my heart began to sing
Teenage mutual self-stimulation
That's how I spent my summer vacation
By the early Nineties, the rudest of his material predominated. Even some of Jeff's admirers, like Baggs Patrick, wished it were otherwise. "It was amazing that he could take stories of this bottom-feeder lifestyle and make them fun for most everyone," he says. "But he also could have been genuinely commercial if he'd just learned to take some of the edge off sometimes. I'd say to him, `I know you've got a lot of other feelings that would make just as legitimate song subjects.' But after a while, he wouldn't try anything else but something totally mad."
Jeff didn't want to push the edge of the envelope; he wanted to rip through it--and this desire led to situations as dangerous as they were absurd. He would smash his guitar for a big finale, sending chunks of wood flying into the crowd, only to realize afterward that he didn't have an instrument to use for his next show. Or he'd insult the largest, most inebriated person at a gig and wind up with a beer bottle bouncing off his skull for his trouble.
The closest Jeff came to being murdered for his music was at a private holiday-season function Babihed had been hired to play. According to Elkerton, the Babihed mates asked Jeff to join them on the bill, thinking that the party would be attended exclusively by college-age types. But upon their arrival, they were startled to discover that for each student, there was a well-dressed, middle-aged relative unlikely to appreciate power chords and slam dancing. Not knowing what else to do, the musicians tossed aside their song list and began cranking out surf instrumentals that, to their great relief, everyone seemed to enjoy.
The Babihed players had just finished their set and were accepting the congratulations of the older generation when Jeff showed up, with Gary in tow. Jeff wanted to play, and Elkerton said that would be fine as long as he bore in mind the diversity of the audience. After agreeing, Jeff did the opposite; seizing a guitar, he belted out "Dick in the Wind" and other unsavory favorites from his repertoire. The partygoers were not amused. The older relatives began grumbling, and several athletic-looking students decided that Jeff was purposely insulting their family. At last, a man told Elkerton that the guest of honor's grandmother was offended, and ordered him to remove Jeff from the stage.
Elkerton knew that carrying out these instructions would be asking for trouble, and he was right. Rather than slink away, Jeff erupted, cursing and proclaiming that no one respected his talent. In an effort to drown Jeff out, Babihed collectively returned to the bandstand and kicked off another surf ditty. But Jeff wasn't going to leave quietly. Chugging from a bottle of champagne, he smashed Babihed drummer Mark D'Agostino in the face with a fistful of cake, then began playing catch with Gary using pieces of the family's nativity scene. When a ceramic baby Jesus flew over Elkerton's head and landed in the fish tank, everyone realized that the party was over.
Things got worse on the lawn. After Jeff called one of the jocks a "faggot," they jumped the singer and began beating him. "You're kicking my ass now," Jeff told them cheerfully--but he lost his bravado when one of the students tried to bite off his finger. He was pummeled almost to unconsciousness.
Gary, who recalls trying to pull the men off Jeff, received the same treatment; he was so damaged in the assault that he aimlessly wandered the neighborhood for three hours, certain that someone was after him. The next day, he discovered that his friend's injuries were just as severe as his own. Jeff was battered, bruised and had difficulty breathing, but the only thing that worried him was his finger. He was afraid he'd never be able to play his guitar again.
By the spring of 1993, Jonathan was back in New York: He called Jeff frequently with questions for the book, but he was having difficulty getting the information down on paper. At the same time, script problems were preventing the film from moving forward. The project eventually shifted from 20th Century Fox to Columbia, but the transfer resulted in little more than additional delays. Jeff, who Gary says was itchy for change, decided he couldn't wait any longer for Jonathan's enterprises to make him famous. Babihed mate Bill Houston's brother Pete was living in Austin, Texas, one of the nation's most vibrant music communities, and with typical impulsiveness, Jeff decided to move in with him and take the city by storm.