I first met J back in college days. We lived in the same dorm, the wild and woolly Collins Living-Learning Center, which was kind of like a coed fraternity of hippies and punks, intellectuals and artists, gays and lesbians, and other types that the student body considered “freaky” for whatever reason.
We didn't call him “J” back then. He was still known as Joe Nickell. I didn't really know Joe too well in those days, but I did interview him for Indiana Urinalysis, a 40-minute documentary about the urinals of Indiana University. (Joe told a story about his brother, Alan, peeing on another boy in elementary school.)
Strangely enough, I also featured Joe in another video I produced in the late '80s: Joe's Turd. Yes, yes, I had a scatological thing going on, but let me assure you that these were serious videos with weighty scholarly impact. Indiana Urinalysis is still shown in folklore and anthropology classes at IU, and that's a fact.
Joe's appearence in Joe's Turd was an odd coincidence. I stole the text from End Product, a fascinating and highly recommended book, and this “script” called for a main character name of Joe. I asked Joe to be in it not for his incredible on-screen charisma, nor his flair for physical comedy, but just because his name was Joe.
But Joe and I didn't really become friends or hang out together until after college. I graduated in '90; Joe graduated in '91, and his parents gave him a video camera, which I borrowed and played with frequently. With his palmcorder and the facilities of Bloomington Community Access Television, I produced a half-hour program of short pieces called Do Not Become Confused.
Joe got a job as a “service bartender” at Mark Pi's China Gate, and he stole a hundred-odd dollars' worth of hard liquor to stock his own bar. But Joe didn't really mix a lot of drinks in those days. When he did drink, which was often, he sucked down cheap wine in large quantities. I preferred beer. And already we were branching out into other, more interesting drugs. I personally escorted Joe on his first acid trip and his first, and last, experiment with cough syrup. It was at this time that marijuana began to imprint our pleasure centers in a significant way.
A favorite pasttime amongst our circle of friends was to gather at Joe's house, take drugs, and pass the cam around. We shot on the fly: planning a scene, shooting it in one take, then planning the next one, with absolutely no idea of where we would end up. The results varied from the insane to the stupid to the occassionally sublime.