Let’s start with the name of this column: “The Treachery of Images.” It’s a painting by the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte (one of my favorites). The text, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe,” is French for "This is not a pipe.”
The other day I got an email from Merrick McKinlay, proprietor of the Miniplex at Richard’s Goat labeled: “David Dondero 6/8.” He wrote, “Hi Bob, I've got a real good one here. David's been performing for 20 years. Some people may remember him as the drummer for This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb. But since '98 David's been honing his craft. Though David's perhaps most famous for his influence over Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst. Hahaha. But seriously, his songs are so well-crafted, his lyricism is as good as any of the greats.”
NPR's All Song's Considered once called David, "one of the ‘best living songwriters’ alongside Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Tom Waits,” thus ranking him among “the greats.” A writer from the Americana mag, No Depression, heaps on more praise, comparing his “rambling, poetic narratives” to Kerouac.
Between his Bandcamp page and a link to an old Tiny Desk Concert (with 102K views) he won me over.
The man is good. And I like his left-leaning humanist perspective. But somehow, I got stuck on his time before he was a wandering singer/songwriter, to his days before the turn of the century with the Florida folk punk band, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, and a strange memory that connects him with Merrick.
As you may or may not know Merrick was once part of a local floor-core band called Starving Weirdos with Brian Pyle, who currently performs as Ensemble Economique. For a while the band also included my friend and KHSU radio cohort Vinnie DeVaney (from Fogou) and Steve Lazar (aka the Humboldt Postcard King).
Years ago, when the Starving Weirdos were heading off on a tour of Europe, I drove some of them to the airport. While helping Steve unload his rucksack, I noticed something sewn on it, one of those hand-screened punk rock patches for "This Bike is a Pipe Bomb.” I told Steve we live in paranoid times and he could not carry that bag through check points required for a jet bound for Europe. I tore the patch off on the spot.
Reading the Wikipedia entry for the band I discovered that it includes a section labeled “controversy over name,” detailing a series of incidents where people had affixed the band’s stickers on their bike frames, leading to trouble: one bicycle was blown up as a precaution, others led to an airport and a college dorm being evacuated, all because of the treachery of images.
Somehow I think Dondero understands all this. Raymond E. Lee, the No Depression writer, titled his recent profile, “A History of Radicalism with David Dondero,” stating, “Music is a loser’s game. But don’t despair…” He goes on asks him, “Why do you do it, then?”
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t do it,” Dondero admitted. “Feels like I just keep banging my head against the wall. Why do it!? A guy asked me this months ago. Why on earth would you do this? I guess I’m just trying to connect to an audience who for some reason showed up to see me. That’s why I do it. That and because of the friends that I make, the bands I get to see, and the chance to feel the energy of the music…” I can relate. The same things apply in writing this column.
Thursday’s show also includes Arcata “upstarts” Kids Eat Free (Merrick’s calls them “upstarts,” I know nothing about them) and John Ludington, whose off-kilter songs should fit. John started as a quirky songwriter, but lately he spends most of time as bass player for Absynth Quartet.
“This will be the first solo performance in maybe a year,” he tells me. It’s been a long five years since he put out his last solo album, Finn, and he says he has plenty of new material. His plan for Thursday? “Short set. New stuff. Old stuff.” I always liked his slightly twisted songs. Good stuff.
In the forest
I wondered, how did AQ end up landing a gig playing their “fire breathing indie-grass” at the Enchanted Forest, a festival this weekend at Black Oak Ranch just outside of Laytonville with a lineup that’s dominated by EDM? (For the uninitiated, that’s “electronic dance music”?) Headliners include Tipper, The Polish Ambassador, Opiuo with dozens of others.
John credits “Tofu's magical booking skills,” noting, “We’ll be waking up the kids at 11 a.m. Sunday,” on what’s called the Lazy River stage. That’s one of three stages at the EF Fest, and the one that is heaviest on Humboldt acts including Object Heavy and BOA Saturday after several reggae bands: Seed ’n’ Soil, Woven Roots and Irie Rockers. Between Friday and Sunday you can hear a mess of our EDM DJs and producers (too many to list here). There’s also a lineup for the “Saucy Spa” where you can hear DJs while you shower or sauna the night away.
Making Americana greater
I received another one of “Hi Bob” emails, this time from Sam Kaplan-Good “from The Trouble, The Small Axe, Ghost Train, etc.” After wishing me well, he admits, his missive is “mostly a self-serving musical promotion email.”
“We got this here band Rogues' Gallery, good ol' boys with original country songs, upright bass and a pedal steel. We're doing the thing at Siren's Song [Saturday] June 10th at 9 p.m. for $5 at door, sharing the night with Miss Lyndsey Battle's new band Daily Driver. (See below. Lyndsey on upright bass!) I think that band includes some of the boys from the No Good Redwood Ramblers. Hope we can squeeze into The Hum. Hope you can make it! I'll put you on the list.”
I’d actually heard about this show the other night at Lyndsey’s birthday party, and can fill some info on the new band: So far it’s mostly built around songs by Cam Trujillo, who handles vocals and guitar (he plays bass for the NGRRamblers) with his brother Colin on banjo (also in the No Good band). Lyndsey helps with vocals and just learned the bass, which she loves.
They note, “Daily Driver delivers only the finest in the soulful and stompy department.” I’ll add, thanks to Lyndsey’s fiancé Gabe, they have a GoFundMe page to pay for some recording time with Tim Gray. (I kicked in. You can too. Click here.)
Around the time I was working on this Hum, I got a message from Michael Walker, who plays guitar in Rogues' Gallery. We talked a bit at the birthday party and he wanted to remind of the Siren show and to invite me to a house show before that, at the home of the other Rogues’ guitarist, Mike Bynum. Michael and Mike are both from Georgia, although different parts — Mike’s from Atlanta and Michael from closer to Florida in the more rural south — “not really the same state,” according to Michael. Filling out the band are Aleister Paige on pedal steel, Rudy Clark-Luera on stand-up bass (who was the AQ bassist before Mr. Ludington eons ago). The band has been together about a year, and like the newer Daily Driver, they’re recording some songs, originals that Michael describes as “Americana, country ballads that kind of thing.”
He suggests that their sound is “grungy,” but instantly realizes that he doesn’t mean like the ‘90s NW plaid type grunge at all, more like “swampy — like JJ Cale — very relaxed and groovy.” That leads into another discussion of words like groove, that means different things to different folks.
Fact is, no one wants to be pigeonholed. That’s left to music journalists, and we don’t always do a good job of it. Pigeons are messy birds and don’t like being put in holes either. This is not a pigeon or a hole. As my buddy Vinnie likes to say, “You decide.”
Friday is the second one in the month, which makes it time for another Arts! Arcata. (Click here for full schedule.) Among the arty affairs with music in the air, at Arcata Artisans (on the Plaza) they're keeping the Sgt. Pepper British Invasion going and the peace and love vibe of the '60s alive.
You're invited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band with a Beatles-inspired art show.
It was 1967, the Summer of Love, and the music was everywhere. There are commemorations happening Across the Universe this year - 2017 – the 50th anniversary of the Beatles breakthrough album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, proclaimed “the greatest album of all time” by Rolling Stone Magazine. Elaine Benjamin and Betsy Roberts have been inspired by the Beatles in their work for years. This exhibit features new work and old favorites from both artists.
Incidentally, there will be wine poured at the Arts! night that night with proceeds going to KHSU, who are about to shift into fund-drive mode. You can meet me, and/or have a drink with me if you show up at the Artisans during my shift as a pourer.
Of course Elaine offered a preview of her art at The Yokels Beatle-athon at the Sanctuary the other day.