Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Makanda Java — Carbondale, Illinois

Jay, the owner of Makanda Java

I am not even sure if the building or the coffee shop that was inside is still there, but when I was briefly a student at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale, Illinois one of the favorite places to hang out when I was attending in the autumn of 1983 was Makanda Java.

Although I had first started to attend SIU in the summer of 1980, it wasn’t until the summer of 1981 when I first stopped in Makanda Java with Alan Thacker and Dick Verucchi of The Jerks. I had seen the coffee shop before-passing it countless times when I walked up and down Illinois Avenue back in 1980-but I wasn’t into hanging out in coffee shops just yet. It wouldn’t be until that road trip to Carbondale in the summer of 1981 when The Jerks played at T.J. McFly’s when I got my first taste of a fine brewed cup of coffee at Makanda Java.

Until that magical summer of 1981, I hadn’t discovered or been turned onto the finer qualities of life-like enjoying a freshly brewed pot of coffee made from some rich, roasted coffee beans or sipping a demitasse of espresso while enjoying some freshly baked pastry or a bagel oozing with melted cream cheese. I liked coffee and had been drinking it for years but when it came to my java it was best served or so I thought, in a white ceramic mug at some truck stop like the Tiki in Peru or some diner. That would change when I got to know Alan and Dick and started going on the road with The Jerks. You might say that was one of the perks (pun intended) of being in The Jerks and getting to know Alan and Dick: they turned me onto more than just music like what a fine cup of coffee should taste like.

I would soon find that out in the summer of the 1981 when The Jerks made the first of three visits to Carbondale and gigs at T.J. McFly’s (once managed by Jim Belushi back in the 70s if the rumors are correct). One afternoon, Alan, Dick and I went shopping at Plaza Records, located in a small shopping center across the street, and later stopped in for some coffee at Makanda Java.

What I remember most about the coffee shop was its cozy and homey atmosphere. There was a counter in the front where the owner Jay sold all kinds of coffee and herbal tea as well as muffins and other pastries and a few tables, but as you walked toward the back, it looked more like someone’s house crossed with an antique shop. There was this old Wurlitzer jukebox that was filled with many 45s of bands who played at various bars in Carbondale like the Hangar Nine, The Club, PK’s and T.J. McFly’s, another counter where one could buy coffee beans and tea and in the back sofas and chairs for people to hang out and relax.

The coffee house had originally been located in the artist community of Makanda, not far from Carbondale and many of the regulars (that I would soon discover) had either attended SIU at one point or another in the past 20 years or were artists from Makanda. It was not unusual to bump into some hippie artist from the 60s or some avant-garde filmmaker or artist from the 70s in the coffee shop. And when many bands played in Carbondale they always made a point in stopping in at Makanda Java to drop off one of their 45’s for Jay’s Jukebox. It was also not uncommon for Jay to play some new 45 or album that a customer had just purchased at Plaza Records-like the Christmas XTC single I would buy in 1983 and listen to with Jay over a pot of house blend one afternoon.

When I went back to SIU in the autumn of 1983 I hung out at Makanda Java a lot. I remember many a cool autumn afternoon sitting outside at a table made from these huge wooden spools used for wire on a tree-stump enjoying a pot of the house blend and reading SIU’s school newspaper The Daily Egyptian. That fall there was even an article about Makanda Java in the paper and how Jay, who had moved down to Carbondale from Chicago, had found what could best be described as coffee house nirvana with his shop. I still might have that article in storage back home.

Most of the people I went to school with and hung out with at the bars and clubs also hung out there. A couple of times I would start drinking coffee and once that caffeine buzz got going, I would forget about going back to class. I was studying filmmaking back then and one night, some of the film students borrowed a copy of the French movie The Red Balloon and showed it inside.

I had some friends who lived next door-Becky, this girl I knew from the first time I went to SIU in 1980-and her roommate and we hung out a lot. I wonder whatever happened to them and the others I knew from 1983? There was this one guy, Savich, who had his name legally changed to that after watching one of the Star Trek movies who I also met back in 1983 and hung out with at Makanda and other places.

When I left Carbondale at the end of that semester he was supposedly going to Vandalia to teach cons at the State Penitentiary located outside of town how to paint. I would end up patterning the main character in my short story “Going after Sexton” after him.

I can still remember one cool, autumn afternoon sitting outside with a pot of the house blend watching everyone walk by. When someone passed that I knew, they would pull up a tree stump and join me for a while before heading off to wherever they had been going. To wax philosophical a bit, I suppose that afternoon and many others were a microcosm for my life at the time, when I wasn’t too sure about where I was headed, but sometimes you just want to sit on the sidelines or in the audience instead of being down there on the field or on the stage.

Since 1983, I have been in countless coffee shops around the world but all pale in comparison to the good times I had at Makanda Java. It was a great place to hang out when I was in school but at the same time it was also a place where I got to discover some things about myself through the people I met and what we talked about as well as be turned onto various kinds of music and literature that would come to define me as I got older. I suppose we all have our own Makanda Java in our lives, some special place that has shaped and defined us.

22 Comments

  1. Thanks for visiting my blog. I am enjoying yours and have made it my daily read.

    Aloha and mahalo!

  2. I unfortunately do not remember you, but I know everyone you mention in your post. Becky lives in Chicago, she studied Hapkido at the same school as I did(last I saw her was 2000). David’s (Savich) father was a sheriff (I heard) and I think he became one too(heard this in early 1990’s). Duke Sexton moved to Japan last year(2008). Last I heard Cindi (Beckys roommate) moved to SF and was studying Dance therapy(1990). Luinita (spelling?) was in Texas (that was Savich’s GF) studying medicine(1999)

    • Hey Kevin! Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. Nice to hear about all these people from Carbondale; perhaps they will be able to stumble across my blog one day, too.

  3. Thanks Jay for posting this link! I was in Cdale for a 1/2 day work trip last winter & stopped in the former Makanda Java for lunch. I can’t remember the new name but it’s a somewhat hoity toity restaurant (certainly by Strip standards) and they served a kick ass Ahi Tuna Salad. The aura of Jay Stemm’s original Makanda Java still hovered in the air. Apathetic servers took 15 minutes to come to the table which was fine because I didn’t want to be rushed down memory lane.

    By the way Becky Sievers is in New York & you can find her on Facebook. There was a huge Airwaves/C’dale reunion in Chicago Labor Weekend Sept. 09. Good times had by all. RIP Bill Hartley who passed away about 3 months later…

  4. I remember Makanda Java in the 80’s! Savic Enn is a corrections officer in a landfill in Winterville, GA. I would love to talk to Duke Sexton again. I played music briefly with him in C’dale in those days back before the booze became my reason to live. After our mutual friend and fellow bandmate Michael Hodock died of a heroin overdose in the 90’s?…I lost contact with him. I’d also like to get in touch with Jay Needham and Rick Taylor.

  5. I remember Makanda Java well, I had coffee there when I went to SIU 78-82. I remember the old ratty comfy sofa chairs, the creaky wood floors, the large glass specimen jars for spices and coffees. I’ve been looking for a picture of it for a while, because I have such fond memories of it, which is why I Googled your site. When I think of coffee, I think of how I started at Makanda Java, with all it’s simple authenticity, and now all there is is Starbucks (their coffee is good, but it’s so commercial). Thanks for the memories.

    • Roland,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comments. Makanda Java was a special place and it was what a coffee house should be like. It was such a great place to gather back in the day.

      Jay Stemm still lives in the area; perhaps he has some photos (he’s on Facebook).

      I liked sitting outside on a fall day with a pot of the house blend, a muffin and the Daily Egyptian.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

  6. Hi All ,
    Im still freinds with Jay and go to Carbondale often to vist him. I Played music with David and Mike and Duke . I miss them all.I remember all the names and think of my times down there often.
    Hope all of you are doing well.
    Sandy

  7. If you would foward my email adress to David Greer I would be most grateful.

  8. Sandy,

    Thanks so much for your comments.

    I’m sorry, but I do not have David’s email address; he is on Facebook, though.

  9. Yeah I looked but there are like 100 David Greer’s. Thanks anyway. This was a pleasant read for me .

  10. The Sandy Blevins I remember, I met in a little corner of hades known as Hill House. I remember jamming guitar while same said young man pounded on an old set of drums in the basement of that place I mentioned, and also with a Mike Hodock and a Duke Sexton.

  11. That would be me . My number is 217 898 0841 call me anytime.

  12. Hi Sandy,

    Is there any chance you could drop me a line? A friend of mine actually set this up for me: 7menvanish@gmail.com

    I haven’t comunicated with anyone from this era since Michael died oh, so long ago…
    Thanks Sandy,
    -David

  13. Sandy Blevins

    March 2, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Jeffrey , Thanks for this blog . David and I have been chatting again . Been along time since we have spoke. Its nice to be in touch with him . Thanks again !

    • You’re welcome, Sandy. This blog has brought a lot of people together and I am happy to have played a small part in this.

      Please visit again.

  14. I remember T.J. McFly’s in the 1980’s. I saw a lot of bands there including Fools Face and The Jerks. I used to go see bands there, Hanger 9, and later Airwaves. If you ever got a chance to see the legendary Jason & The Nashville Scorchers at Airwaves, it was something to behold. The fiercest live shows ever…we’d dance until we were drenched.

    • Brian,

      Then I probably saw you there, too. I wasn’t there when Jason and the Nashville Scorchers played, but I did see Ministry at Airwaves, The Suburbs at Second Chance, and Bohemia at Hangar 9. I was at SIU from 1980-83, for just three semesters before I transferred to Eureka.

  15. Hello

    I was Googling Makanda Java and found your blog.

    I am an SIU Alumnus, having left in 1979. I remember when Makanda Java had a little shop in Carbondale for a brief period.

    Like yourself I never failed to stop at or hang out in front of Makanda when down in Southern Illinois, for coffee or ice cream.

    I just found out from a sweet fellow I spoke to on the phone that Makanda Java is now closed. This news saddens me as it seemed like a place that would remain, timeless and in tact like all of Makanda seems to.

    I have written two novels that start and return to Southern Illinois and especially Makanda, the first being Immaculate Fetish and its sequel Tidings of Aphrodite. When I was at school we always wanted to film a movie in Makanda, but since that was never realized, having the place in my novels had to suffice.

    Thank you for your marvelous post and the memories it bring back.

    And to the sweet gent I spoke to on the phone, here is my email address. garbovatwins@gmail.com

    Love
    JamieAntonia

  16. Jeffrey,
    I posted to your blog some memories of Makanda Java, they never posted .. do you still have them? I thought I might share them with someone else…

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