By Lindsay Mower, Staff Reporter & Layout Editor
If you have ever been to Java Joe’s in downtown Farmington, you’ve probably ordered your bagel with speciality cream cheese from a man wearing a plain t-shirt (occasionally a sweatshirt with a few stripes) and a pair of jeans. This is Andy Keirns. He’s most likely had a conversation with you that’s left your head spinning as you’ve reimagined your own existence in the universe, though chances are, given his humble nature, you don’t know much about Keirns himself.
Andy Keirns has been working at Java’s long enough to see more than a couple rotations of Farmington’s flux of college students. The story of the man behind the counter, established in Farmington in 2002, becomes infinitely more interesting when peering into his life outside the coffee shop: an artist, a farmer, a musician, a phenomenal writer and composer, a storyteller and an advocate for the universe; the legend of Keirns, intricate and inspirational, is a tale that must be told.
A native of Tiverton, Rhode Island, Keirns grew up with what he describes as a “relatively unmemorable childhood experience,” spending most of his time in areas of Southern Massachusetts like Fall River and New Bedford, engrossed in the hardcore metal scene that he and his friends fell into during their later teen years. Describing the ‘Technical Death Metal’ music he listened to as incorporating elements of jazz fusion and math rock to make a brutally interesting sound, Keirns added a disclaimer; “The violence that comes along with a live show is not interesting to me… Violence is stupid. The culture in a lot of ways is inherently ignorant— not the music.” Around this time in Keirns’ youth is when he started drinking alcohol. “I was just like drunk all the time. And nobody can tell when you’re 18 or 19 because that’s what kids do.”
How Keirns found himself in Farmington is rather simple: he came to study at UMF with hopes of being a social studies teacher. “I live social sciences; walking around, going to work… I live in this kind of sociological, anthropological world where I just get to observe everything and make comments about the world around me.”
Describing his struggle with academics Keirns says, “I made it to my senior year, but I was in my senior year for three years. I was not equipped for school, I wasn’t ready emotionally. I’m sure I was a pain in the ass for all my teachers and my advisors.” Transitioning into being a part time student in 2004 he started working at Java’s, until 2007 when he decided to take some time off from school. “Life was really, really hard for me… I was really depressed,” he said, “If I wasn’t at work I would be at my apartment with the shades drawn, drunk. And it continued to get worse.”
It wouldn’t be until 2012 that Keirns quit drinking. “When I finally woke up at 28 years old, I was still 18 in a lot of ways,” he said. His means of survival was to keep busy and to avoid his apartment covered in booze bottles. “Everyday after work, I’d go down to the river, I’d like speed walk the loop a couple of times and then I would sit and read a book until I could not bear to just be sitting and reading anymore,” he said, “that was how I got through the first few weeks.”
In addition to his time at Java’s, he also began working for a woman named Deborah Chadbourne who needed help on her farm in Freeman. “It’s an interesting story because it’s two people who have very, very little in common, who were brought together by her farm.” Expressing his deep admiration for Deborah given her instrumental role in his recovery, Keirns says, “It wasn’t just the soil, it was Deborah’s soil… Farming is really great for a person who was in my situation.”
With the positive impact of physical labor on his well being, Keirns also developed a new form of self expression. He decided he no longer wanted to be defined by what he wore and that he “just wanted to be,” so he cleaned his entire apartment and got a new wardrobe, featuring only plain clothes. He also began writing a concept album entitled ‘Bridges Between.’ Using a combination of software synthesizers and live performance, he developed a new sound with an “intentionally cheesy and un-self aware feel” that he dubbed ‘Theatrical Space Metal.’ Keirns’ music is the perfect tool for understanding the complexity of his own mind. ‘Bridges Between’ is a sci fi/fantasy project about an interdimensional alien who realizes it’s not only sentient, but capable of altering the fabric of reality and creating universal empathy and utopia by connecting the global community under a single consciousness, with the intention of evolving humanity to be closer to god. “It’s a work in progress,” Keirns says, “It’s not just an idea. It’s something I got very, very far into.”
Today, this is the story Keirns has to tell. “I can’t shut my mouth about the drinking, the alcohol and about my experience with getting sober,” he said with slight laugh, “it’s just unfortunately how I define myself.” Expressing his gratitude for never being fired from Java’s through his struggle with alcohol addiction, he says he still creates music, a gift that sobriety has granted him, although it’s currently on hold while the house he just bought is under renovation. Unabashedly admitting that he’s still learning, he says, “Now I have to live in the same community that I used to live in, trying to prove to myself and the world around me that I am not who I was.”
Keirns tried finishing school by taking one class at a time, but with only three classes remaining he never did graduate; today finishing school is not on his agenda. “My college education in some ways, I guess, was a waste,” he said, “but everything that has happened has led us to where we are.”
Keirns isn’t your average (Java) Joe; he has seen a lot go down in this tiny Western Maine town. His story needs to be heard, especially by the ears of all millennials finding themselves in a drinking culture that disregards alcohol abuse as a serious and realistic health issue; in particular, the dangers of binge drinking. His voice is that of a complex American hero, one of many facing common hurdles of the modern age, but more importantly his is the voice of one who has pulled their life together and is now reaching out to share their story with others.
As you thank him for ringing up your cup of coffee in the morning, make sure to take the time to absorb and appreciate the gems of wisdom within each story he gifts you. After all, as Keirns likes to say, “We take for granted things that are supposed to be.”