Greg Rail Is My FriendI usually find it terribly sad and irritating when people go on and on about those that have passed away. It bothers me because it seems like the perpetual mourners haven’t moved on with their lives. But I have moved on. I don’t think about my friend Greg every day. I don’t even think of him once a week because I’m incredibly busy, and because I have to live right now. But I haven’t forgotten about him. You died in 1991 and you were probably just twenty years old. If you can read this, Greg, I’ve done some stuff since last we spoke. But this is not about me. I don’t even remember the last time I spoke to you because I didn’t know it would be the last time.
Some friends said they were going camping and rafting in the sticks, but you weren’t the one who called me. I couldn’t go because I was finally moving that weekend, and you know, even if I hadn’t been moving, I might not have gone because the world scares me.
It doesn’t matter how (you drowned in a river) and we’ll never know why (because our kind and loving Lord needed a new artist, right?), but you left the world on that trip and I haven’t forgotten.
I have this video we shot on one sunny spring day at SUNY Purchase, where we met and went to school together. We came to get you for lunch, but you were eating Lucky Charms and milk. You told the cameraman that the way to a man’s heart was through the stomach, through Lucky Charms. You ate with us anyway, which was cool.
Later on the tape we made a stupid short film called “Jadsen” that was about one of my suitemates named Jansen who used to borrow everyone’s stuff, often without asking, and never return it. It was never even that he had to have it for any specific reason, it was almost always a prop for some bullshit movie he was making.
It was Greg’s idea to make the film, but we weren’t sure how to cast it. We immediately chose Brian Miller to be Jadsen, because he had the best hair. Peter and I wanted to play ourselves because otherwise we’d have to write more dialogue and try to act, which we knew was a bad idea. Greg wanted to play this guy we all knew as Homeboy Ben. He was the ultimate moronic wigger who was eventually kicked out of college for—get this—repeatedly “tagging” all over the school with his grafitti name, “Hoist.” Whatta fucking retard. But Greg totally nailed Ben with his mannerisms, mangled English and rampant stupidity. In one scene, he was supposed to be sitting in our living room reading Outlaw Biker and when he went to take the cigarette out of his mouth, he slid his fingers down the length of it and burned himself on the the lit end. Greg flinched but kept on going. It was spontaneous and just perfect. When he says, “Yo, I know that Jadsen, he a sucker. I ice him,” and pulled out an orange water pistol shaped like a machine gun, the movie hits its manic high point.
There are some memorable fight sequences edited almost well enough that it seems logical. Even though it only took us a few hours and I don’t think we shot any of the scenes more than once, the resulting film was very entertaining. Since we made that tape, I’ve watched it at least a dozen times with other people—folks who didn’t know me then and never met Greg. That’s my friend Greg, I’d tell them. He’s a really cool guy.
I remember in 1989 when we drove together with my girlfriend to go see Nine Inch Nails in Boston. Greg wanted to drive because he had this giant boat of an American car and it was always a pleasure being in it. It felt like a safe place to be a passenger, and anyone that knows me knows that I’m the worst car passenger ever. Even though the show was oversold, incredibly crowded and the radio was stolen from our host Al’s car that night, it was still a great time. And Greg was the one who first noticed that even though Trent’s guitar might have been plugged in, he sure as fuck wasn’t playing it because a DAT was running the guitar tracks at the same time. When Trent dropped his guitar and the solo kept going, we all knew Greg was right about “Nine Inch Knuckleheads.”
Greg used to draw comics for The Load, which was our school newspaper at SUNY Purchase and I thought he was very talented. The summer that he died he was going to be an intern at a comics company and told me that he expected that when he came back in the fall he’d be even better. I always liked his comics because he had a very unique style that strayed a comfortable distance from reality. As part of this tribute to his life, I’d like to share some of his comics with you because he spent a lot of time on them and they were his form of creative expression. In life he was rather shy, but he was also young. Nineteen? Maybe I was that old, maybe I was twenty and he was nineteen.
His life was too short, especially in light of all the people I see who’ve wasted three of his lifetimes. I hope you’re not doing that. I hope you’re living your life, because the point of looking back is that when you turn around and face forward again, you’ll see the future more clearly. It’s never about getting somewhere, it’s about enjoying where you are, when you can, just because.
I don’t want to seem sappy, maudlin or worse, like I’m trying to exploit a tragedy because that’s the last thing I’d ever want to do. I just wanted you to know, whoever you are, that there was a guy named Greg Rail who was sweet, cool, very talented and funny. I also want you to know that he is my friend. And he always will be.
Web Bonus:I decided to share the video that we made. We did in the Dogme 95 style, meaning no edits, no post-production, only using available lighting and we used only one hand-held camera. Any shot I wasn't in I was probably filming. I originally digitized this to share with a Facebook group I created for alumni of the school but I decided to post it to Vimeo so I could embed it here. YouTube would probably take it down over copyrighted music but Vimeo dgaf. Thanks, Vimeo!
I found an old VHS that Greg shot and appears in. I've e-mailed with his sister a few times and she's very sweet and was grateful that people remembered Greg.
As a special bonus, I got a copy of the tribute to Greg that the school newspaper did. His comics were always a highlight of the funny pages in the school paper. I actually wrote a comic called Treehouses & Slingshots that my friend Kevinn (his spelling) illustrated. It was basically a Calvin & Hobbes ripoff but with two Calvins and no tigers. It was fun while it lasted.