I think most people have a love-hate relationship with social media. But I’m sure many will agree that it’s always fun to catch up with people they haven’t seen for ages. When I first met C.J. Gunn (ne Christopher James Gunya), he was a little punk from Cleveland with a big mouth and a heart of gold. Now he turns up one book, one straggly beard, hundreds of tattoos, and 20 years later. I’d say we had some catching up to do and I was happy to have had that opportunity last week.
Born in Cleveland in 1974, Gunn had a tumultuous childhood and ended up losing both of his parents early on. A natural misfit, he turned to the punk scene for a sense of belonging. By the early 90s, Gunn had played in a variety of punk bands in the area. He was great at networking and ended up getting the attention of many local acts as well as national ones passing through nearby cities. One band that was a huge musical influence on Gunn and whose members would become recurring characters in his rock and roll life was The Ramones. When Gunn heard that drummer Marky Ramone was playing in Cleveland with his band The Intruders, he did everything he could to get on the bill with his band The Subtones. Not only was he successful doing that, but he also was lucky enough to get on two more dates opening for The Intruders in nearby towns.
Marky and Gunn bonded quickly. They started to discuss the type of gigs Marky was playing with The Intruders and it was clear that some of the booking agents just didn’t get it. Marky turned to Gunn to start booking him gigs. At this point, Marky was also doing some dates with The Misfits, but it was not a good situation. Gunn saw that Marky, who had now become a friend, was unhappy. He slowly began convincing Marky to start playing with his own band, doing Ramones covers. When the time was right, Marky agreed and took Gunn as his guitar player.
[Image courtesy of CJ Gunn. Used with permission.]
The band had a lot of success playing South American dates where Gunn confirms The Ramones are “like The Beatles.” However, when the band got back to the states, they were not so lucky. They were working with a new booking company who, again, didn’t seem to have a clue about booking a punk band and they ended up playing some depressing gigs. The touring life also started getting to Gunn. “I had enough. I was drinking excessively and partying and it was just bad decisions on my part left and right.”
Happily, the punk scene in Cleveland was starting to get some life back into it, so Gunn chose to stay there and reform his band, The Subtones. However, the resurgence of the scene was short-lived, and the drugs and alcohol that had plagued Gunn on the road were still all too prevalent in his life back home. It was a downward spiral as many of his friends on the scene moved away, seeking better opportunities in other cities.
The Subtones also ended up disbanding. “They quit on me and I walked out on them,” says Gunn. It was during this time that Gunn started to realize the toll that his addictions were having on his friends. “A fun time turned into a dark time,” he says, “and people had enough and that’s what kind of freaked me out; when I saw people that normally would never be that way with me, when I saw them take a real step back I said I ‘have to reinvent all this’. There were people who really depended on me and it was really falling apart.” Gunn became sober in 2009 and never looked back.
And so, crawling from the ashes, Gunn did have a bit of reinventing to do, but he still had one valuable keepsake from all his turbulent times…a journal. He had been keeping a diary of his adventures since 1997. Gunn says of the book, “It started as journal/diary but took story form when I started diving into my past. Pieces started to fall together. One story opened the door to another. Once I started those early journals it kept going and going.”
Gunn says that many times over the years he would stop writing, becoming discouraged, thinking, “Come on, this is silly, no one’s going to want to read about me,” but it’s a good thing he kept on with his writing. In 2015, he was approached by a girl he knew from high school who had started working for a publishing company. She had heard about some of Gunn’s adventures and thought it might make a good book. When Gunn was asked if he had anything in writing, he started putting his scraps of paper together, muddling through garbled streams of consciousness and scribblings that were made late nights in moving vans as he hovered under a flashlight. With a two-fingered typing approach, Gunn struggled over the pages until he was able to submit what turned out to be a pretty great book.
[CJ Gunn Band (L to R): Rose Kuhel, Jeremy Good (J-44), CJ Gunn, Holly Berry.
Image courtesy of CJ Gunn. Used with permission.]
Gunn is now enjoying the success of his novel while playing in a band with punk veteran rockers, girlfriend Holly Berry on guitar, Rose Kuhel on bass, and J-44 on drums. The band plays out under the name CJ Gunn. Their next show is on Saturday, November 26 at Now That’s Class in Cleveland, OH. You can also follow them on their Reverb Nation page and check out their videos on YouTube. Gunn’s book, Catch Me When I Fall, can be purchased now at Amazon and various other web sites.
Marky Ramone (w/ C.J. Gunn and Aaron Dowell) Santiago Chile 2005 PART 1
CJ Gunn, Aaron Dowell and Marky Ramone February 9th 2005 Santiago Chile Club La Batuta. Special guest, Joey Ramones’ brother; Mickey Leigh. Marky Ramone – Drums
Marissa Bergen is a Los Angeles-based musician and writer. “Spotlight On Local” focuses on independent underground artists in the hard rock, heavy metal, and punk genres.