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Blow by Blow: Introduction

by Johnny Depp
Blow by Blow
April 2001

I arrived in New York City late, somewhere around 11:30pm, from Europe. With just enough jet lag to keep my peepers wide open for one too many hours—my brain crowded with the threat of Mr Sun’s arrival, knowing that soon he’d nudge me out of my snooze and into the world. I shut my eyes tight with the hope that he might be tardy.

Woke up the following morning—or rather, a couple of hours later—with a very prompt Mr Sun stabbing through the black protection of my eyelids. The rotten bastard had found me.

I pitched and tossed and turned and spun—doing my best to avoid him—until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I forced the heavy lids up and open and stared the eyeballs straight into the beastly light. I dunked my face into the pot of hot coffee and dove out the window and thus began the day. Things to do . . . Up. Awake. Onward. Forward.

I made my way downtown to St Mark’s Place to a bookstore of the low-down, the lowbrow, the bohemian, the subterranean-counterculture-drop-out types. My mission—to get my paws on some fine literature suitable for . . . well, you’ll find out. First and foremost, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by the good doctor himself, Dr Hunter S Thompson—a must for anyone and everyone...especially anyone in need of a serious excursion from their four walls. Second on the list, Tarantula by Bob Dylan—we need say nothing about him or his genius. Third, Kerouac—anything at all by ol’ Jack . . . On The Road being the Bible. And why not throw in a little taste of Burroughs and Ginsberg while I’m at it.

I was taking these fine books to prison, to Otisville Federal Correctional Institution, to be specific. I was to meet up with one George Jung, a guest of said facility, Federal Inmate #19225-004.

The ride upstate took a coupla’ few hours—I used this time to get through the several thousand questions that swirled inside my head, destined to be received by Mr Jung. I pondered the answers and then threw them out of the window as I arrived at the prison.

A thick comfort of snow lay on the ground—the sun still pointed in my direction—I found myself standing outside the fence of a bland-looking institution with the benign facade of any Department of Motor Vehicles. And that’s exactly what the place felt like inside . . . that is, until the first set of steel doors. Loaded down with many packets of filterless Camels for Federal Inmate #19225-004, the books purchased on my earlier mission and a pocketful of change for the soda pop machine (one of the very few luxuries allowed at visiting time), I was taken through the congested maze of inmates and their wives, children, lawyers and guards to a small room surrounded by reinforced glass, more steel doors, more buzzing, more clanging, etc. Within a minute or two of waiting in my fishbowl I was introduced to Inmate #19225-004. He stepped up with a crooked half-smile, deep squinted eyes and the weathered, broken, damaged soul of a pirate who’d seen too many days at sea. We greeted each other casually, if a bit warily, and within three minutes—and from then on, he was George and it was as if we’d known each other for a thousand years . . . or more.

For the next several hours we talked intensely . . . him doing most of it. I listened and watched him like a hawk. Spewing tale after tale, esoteric analogies, fact after fact, each one topping the previous. He was generous, he was gentle, he was hilarious, he was heartbreaking, he was all too human—a kind of outcast Zen Master who’d grabbed hold of life by the short and curlies and swung it around for all it was worth. Life, then, snuck up on him and bit him hard on the ass.

Among the many amazing wisdoms that George so generously shared with me, there is one in particular that haunts my thoughts constantly: ‘One is the number and two is the one.’ The most frightening thought of all is that I’m pretty sure I know what he means.

It’s very rare in life that any person opens up their heart and soul to you with unlimited access to their most profound thoughts, dreams, fears, regrets, intimacies . . . even more rare when you’ve just met that person and, because of the obvious predicament, it’s highly unlikely that you will be spending too much time with them in the near future. So for this and more, I owe a great debt of gratitude to George. And also for the honor of meeting him, knowing him, learning him and learning from him. All of this, along with the opportunity to portray George, was made possible courtesy of Ted Demme and Nick Cassavetes, who were the guys who had the nuts to take the ball and run with it in the first place.

I was asked to write an introduction to a book—a book that I know nothing about. They tell me it’s a book of photographs and that these photographs were taken on the set of Blow. I don’t know how to write about that. What I do know is, anything that happened on the set of that film only happened because of George . . . so I wrote about him. And although he was the one major ingredient that was physically missing from our set, his strength, his energy and his spirit was omnipresent.

To the Federal Government, George Jung is nothing more that a whooper stack of papers shoved into a filing cabinet collecting dust, another notch on their belt.

To Otisville Federal Correctional Institute, he is merely inmate #19225-004.

To his daughter Kristina, he is the father that she was never given the possibility of knowing or loving.

To me, he is not a number, he’s not a convict, and he’s not a criminal. He’s a great man whose wisdom and knowledge, unfortunately, was greatly overshadowed by the choices and mistakes he made all those years ago when he hadn’t even had time to brush himself off from the conditioning wrought upon him by his parents.

As I write these words and as you read them, George is almost definitely sitting on his bunk in a 4 x 8 foot cell, dreaming of the day that he, too, can be standing outside the fence of that bland-looking institution, far away from the clanging, buzzing steel doors of the inside . . . a thick comfort of snow on the ground, the sun pointed in his direction . . . Up. Awake. Onward. Forward.

May the wind always be at your back
And the sun upon your face
And the wings of destiny to carry you aloft
To dance with the stars...

Johnny Depp
Friday 13 April, 2001

-- donated by Joni