It's happened to me just about every day in Charlotte since I returned to town from Washington, D.C., early last year, after having left in 2001. I'll be going about my daily routine somewhere when along comes a stranger who reaches out to shake my hand and asks — sometimes sheepishly, sometimes with what seems like a demand — "Are you Jerry Klein?" I try to keep my response as friendly as possible, but I'll admit that I probably come across as a tad guarded when I mumble, "Umm, before I answer you ... if I were him, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?" You see, that's what comes with living a life largely in the public eye. You make a lot of friends, but you also pick up a few enemies along the way.
Over the course of 20 years, beginning in the early '80s, I owned New World Records in Charlotte; was a freelance music critic for the Charlotte Observer; helped organize and presided over the Charlotte Jazz Society; hosted a talk show on WBT-AM radio; served as director of programming for The Great Aunt Stella Center, a gathering space in Uptown; and wrote a regular column for Creative Loafing. (I'm proud to say I brought acts like Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Joan Baez, Sarah McLachlan, Harry Connick Jr. and The Indigo Girls to town.)
As I stated before, I made lots of friends — and enemies.
In May 2001, the Stella Center was suddenly forced to close due to an unforeseen financial issue, and I decided it was finally time to leave Charlotte, which I announced in these pages with my last column, "The Great Adventure," that August. (By that time, I'd written 365 columns for CL, totaling roughly a half-million words.) I packed my VW Beetle and headed to D.C. Here's a very brief summary of what happened next.
It was right after the 9/11 attacks, and I was moving there to find out if a 35-year-old fantasy of being with the woman I'd been in love with since we first laid eyes on each other when we were 16, at a Jewish summer camp in the New York mountains, was "real" or not. It was — we had been meant to be together all those years, through marriages, children, and all of life's struggles. I was just too dumb to know it. We soon married.
Job-wise, I started over at the bottom, answering phones for the late-night talk show at the conservative WMAL, Washington's version of WBT. Over the next decade, I became that station's "pet liberal" (yes, that's what I was called), hosted a show and became part of the station's management. The experience was quite eye-opening, as it put me smack dab in the middle of all of the power politics in what is arguably the most important city in the U.S. Suffice it to say I learned a lot.
Some of the stranger things that happened to me there included sitting a few feet away from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld inside a little room in the Pentagon, a few days before we launched the war against Iraq. And then there was the time Rush Limbaugh introduced me to a howling crowd of 2,500 conservatives at the Warner Theater, a few blocks from the White House.
And then, about three years ago, things got really strange. I was diagnosed with cancer and was told I'd probably be dead within a year. A few weeks after a failed operation, I woke up one morning to find my beloved wife dead in our bathroom.
In January of last year, I became too sick to work anymore. My finances were wiped out and I was about to be on the streets when some old friends in Charlotte offered me a spare bedroom to stay in. So I came home — to die, and very soon, I thought, given what my doctors were telling me. And then, to the astonishment of those doctors, last August, the cancer just vanished. It's simply gone, with no explanation as to how or why. I'm not going to die ... yet.
So, why, you might ask, is the title of this piece "Back from the Dead — Again?" More than 20 years ago, I used that title for a story I wrote for CL about my recovery from an addiction to cocaine. Seems to be a pattern forming here, every couple of decades.
I'm home, through the blessing of some Power I'll never quite understand. I owe a lot to a whole bunch of good people all over the world who pulled me through, and I'm committed to paying it forward. And I'm going to start doing what I really loved doing all those years: Writing regularly for this newspaper. If you remember me, say hi. If you don't know who I am, I look forward to getting to know you.