I first discovered Jim Shepard in the middle of a wildfire haze, which couldn't be more appropriate. Jim exists in a space tinged with a thick layer of smog, clouding both his history and our post-humous image of him. Even after hours of research, I've only been able to salvage a few pixelated photographs and second-hand, tale-like information about him.
Through these obituaries and memories, I know that Jim was a blue-collar worker who lived in both Columbus, Ohio and also somewhere among the sun dirt roads of Florida. I know that he suffered through a horrific work accident that completely mangled one of his hands. And I know that due to this accident, Jim decided to dedicate all of his time to his many musical projects such as V-3, Vertical Slit, Ego Summit, and countless solo recordings.
After his death in 1998, his friends (who he mostly met in smokey dive bars dotting county roads) were nothing but honest about Jim and his band's presence. One friend, who remains lost and unnamed due to the prickly, pre-Internet nature of the mystery, described them as such: "V-3 came about after the breakup of Vertical Slit. It was an unsightly band with Jim’s paranoid dark blue-collar mystique, Rudy, a drummer of small demeanor, and Nudge Squidfish, a jovial wide-eyed gentleman who was prone to talk of UFO’s and conspiracy theories when prompted by a few drinks. Live, they were freakish sight straight out of community access television, but they carried a powerful force in Jim’s highly melodic art-ish squall that was one part early Fall, another part Joy Division, and the rest filled with land-locked Florida bizarreness and mid-Western sludge."
On top of a sprinkling of unconventional jobs, Jim worked as a jukebox repair man who was often offended by the collegiate attitude of the local poetry readings of the 1980s. His own verses are littered with the offensive, un-flowered laments of a mostly poor, working class man in America at the tale end of the 20th century. He screams in his scratching voice about the corruption of the Kennedys, "deadheads finally looking for jobs," and even the nightmare-like nature of Trump's casinos pre-presidency.
But between the verses drenched in legitimate angst, we find a musician more alien than man, his self-made isolation bold and confident. For those who are lucky enough to unearth and connect with Jim's projects, an immediate, almost distressing understanding digs underneath. How could somebody so genuine and singular remain so unknown? Is this my lot, too?
By Lauren Ball