Singer-songwriter and producer Jesse Malin, 56, suffered a spinal stroke in May while at dinner in his neighborhood of the East Village in New York, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. According to Rolling Stone, he grew ill at a gathering with friends to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the death of Howie Pyro, his friend and former D Generation bandmate.
A beloved supporter of artists, a tireless philanthropist and a heartbeat of the New York rock scene through his co-ownership of several venues (Niagara, 96 Tears, Bowery Electric), Malin needs help during this period of rehabilitation and recovery. His manager and friends launched a campaign through The Sweet Relief Musicians Fund to raise funds to support him; visit sweetrelief.org/jessemalinfund.
Sweet Relief’s website states that Malin “is under neurological care at Langone Orthopedic Center at NYU Hospital. His diagnosis is inoperable. There is hope but it will be a long hard road using both traditional and alternative medical therapies to get him back on his feet … he is going through so much physically and emotionally. His insurance is good but it will not cover many of his expenses beyond acute care.” He will also have to relocate to an ADA-compliant building with an elevator.
Malin has been making music since he was a youngster and has collaborated with many artists, including Lucinda Williams, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Joe Armstrong and Ryan Adams.
He is known for his energetic, engaging performances at which he often leaps off the stage and connects with the crowd. I spoke with several artists who all hope for his return to the stage.
“It was tragic and devastating news when we heard what happened,” said Alejandro Escovedo, who has frequently toured with Malin.
“I’ve known him for many, many years and he’s always been such a generous and kind human being, and a great songwriter and performer. He puts all of his heart and soul into his performances.
“He sponsored me when I did a residency in NYC for a month and allowed (wife) Nancy and I to stay in his apartment. He’s just been that kind of guy — so sweet. I love him. You meet a lot of people along the way — I’ve been doing this for 50 years now and he’s one of the shining stars of my experience in rock ‘n’ roll music. I’m eager to do whatever I can to help him. I know that Jesse is such a resilient, strong human being. I think he’s gonna blow everybody away with his ability to heal himself.”
Diane Gentile, musician, producer and partner at both Diane Gentile Music and Velvet Elk Records, released her latest single on June 19: a duet with Escovedo, featuring Hoboken’s James Mastro on guitar.
“It’s kind of crazy that the song is titled ‘Walk With Me’ and that’s what we’re hoping that Jesse will do — walk with us again,” said Escovedo.
“I was Jesse’s manager and helped him launch a solo artist career,” said Gentile, who also fronts the band Diane & the Gentle Men. “He then helped me pursue mine.”
She describes a moment when Malin was asked by Bruce Springsteen to play at a show in Asbury Park.
“It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and my phone rang,” she says. “It was Bruce Springsteen’s manager. He said, ‘Hi Diane. Bruce is going to call Jesse directly and invite him to sing at the Christmas show in Asbury Park. Can you give me Jesse’s number to give to Bruce? Oh, and don’t tell Jesse. Bruce wants to ask him directly.’ ”
She hung up and immediately called Malin. She recalled saying: ” ‘Are you sitting down? I just heard from (Jon) Landau; Bruce is going to call you but you have to pretend you don’t know.’ How in the world could I have kept that secret? We figured he would call the day after Thanksgiving, on Friday. Getting through Thanksgiving was a long, torturous, anxious day. Finally, he called. I would venture to say we drank a lot of tequila that night down at Niagara in the East Village.
“We shared an authentic place for mutual encouragement in the pursuit of our creative passion. I worked with him to put the Bowery Electric in NYC on the international venue map and he helped me by employing me and teaching me the many tricks of the live music trade, which he had learned since the age of 14.
“I have never met anyone in my life with such spark, such love of people, such love of life. Jesse’s influence in the music community is so large, and his extraordinary accomplishments are worthy of a book. I have huge respect for his work ethic, generosity, creative drive, intelligence, positive attitude, humor, courage, knowledge and appreciation of music, film, literature and art, and general approach to fully living in the world and in the moment.
“His friends are many and everywhere. … Jesse knows how to pass down the golden opportunities he has received, and has been doing so continually in his lifetime. I am so lucky to have this friendship in my life. The music community is lucky to have him.”
Mastro says, “If there is a crown for the Pope of the East Village, it is Jesse’s to wear. Jesse has been such a champion of rock ‘n’ roll over the years — not only as a great artist, but by also being able to offer bands places to perform in the venues he has opened in the Lower East Side, which is no simple feat in a New York that has developers fighting for every available inch.”
Malin has used his organizing talents to raise funds for and bring awareness to Rock the Night, Jail Guitar Doors, The Joe Strummer Foundation, Connecting to Cure Crohn’s and Colitis, The Bowery Mission, Little Kids Rock Foundation, the Light of Day Foundation, the Joey Ramone Foundation for Lymphoma Research and others.
Willie Nile has toured with him across Europe for many years in support of the Light of Day Foundation, an organization that funds research into cures and treatments for Parkinson’s disease and related illnesses.
“I’m heartbroken about what’s happened to Jesse,” Nile said. “He’s a world-class rocker and a great guy and this is just so tragic. I know his heart and soul are tough as nails and he will fight like hell to recover from this. In the meantime, it’s up to us who know him and know what he’s given to the community, again and again, to spread the word and do all we can to help him in this great time of need.
“His heart is as big as the sound he makes with his music, which is epic. We’ve shared stages from Dublin to Hamburg, from Copenhagen to Lugo, Italy, and beyond. We’ve played so many shows raising money for research for a cure for Parkinson’s, ALS and PSP here in Jersey and NYC for years I can’t even count that high. He always brings his A game and gives everything he’s got to every song he plays. Over the years he done so many benefits for friends in need, for the Joe Strummer organization, for Save the Stages during COVID for musicians and club workers who had no income, and more.”
During 2020, when there were no gigs because venues were closed due to the pandemic, Malin let Nile and his band use Bowery Electric to hold online concerts.
“It was a huge help to me and my band and I’ll be forever grateful to him for that,” Nile said.
“It’s rare you come across a rocker of Jesse’s caliber and quality with a heart the size of Texas. To anyone reading this, whether you are a fan, or knew Jesse, or have seen him play somewhere, or even if you never met or heard of him, please know that you’d be doing something meaningful and beautiful by donating whatever you can, however large or small, to one of the legends of rock ‘n’ roll, and a generous and good guy who deserves and has surely earned whatever kindness we can give him.”
The last time I saw Malin was in early April at the Mercury Lounge, where I went to watch Trapper Schoepp with my friend Stacy Dylan, co-founder of Connecting to Cure Crohn’s and Colitis. Malin was in the background, serving as the straw that stirs the drink. He supports her organization’s Rock the Night events in New York, for which I am personally grateful, as I have grappled with the disease. Dylan’s son, too, suffers from Crohn’s, and we both want him to feel the support that he provides for people combating an illness. Thank you, Jesse Malin.
Anthony D’Amato, solo artist and a member of the folk-rock band Fantastic Cat, shared his gratitude.
“I was 15 when (Malin’s) The Fine Art of Self Destruction came out, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that album changed the course of my life,” he said.
“It made me want to be a songwriter, and I learned to play every track on guitar so I could understand how the chords and melodies and lyrics all fit together on a cellular level. I got tickets to see Jesse play it live and was so blown away I went to see him two more times that week. I have a particularly vivid memory of sitting in the back of my parents’ car on the way to see Bruce Springsteen at Shea Stadium that fall, listening to the album on my headphones, looking out at the Queens landscape rolling by, mesmerized by the way those songs felt so triumphant and so sad at the same time.
“Even though I was just a kid, Jesse welcomed me into his world with kindness and encouragement. He let me interview him for local Jersey music magazines. He gave me feedback on my terrible high school demo recordings. He let me film a music video with him for a school project. He gave me my first gig in New York and took me on the road in Europe for the first time as an opener.
“I know I’m not alone in having a story like that. There are a lot of artists who credit Jesse with believing in them before they believed in themselves. He’s always been selfless in that way, spreading around opportunities and holding doors open so others can pass through behind him.
“He’s the definition of a lifer, and while decades in this business have a way of jading people, he’s stayed as passionate and big-hearted and curious and positive as ever. And that’s why you’re seeing not just NYC artists, but musicians and music lovers around the world rallying behind him. He’s given so much of himself to charitable causes, to looking after his friends, to supporting other artists and never asking anything in return. Now it’s our turn to support him.”
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