Tuesday, June 12, 2007

see my soul makes it home

By 6 o'clock Thursday evening - I wanted to be a writer for Rolling Stone.

I was sitting in the lobby of the Ship & Shore Motel which had been converted into the VIP festival hub, which meant a full open bar - someone to crush the mint for your mojito or get you a plastic cup filled with frozen margarita. I poured myself a T&T and sat down.

The press handler and I were waiting on the arrival of The Damnwells - who were playing live for the street party and who were also the subject of the documentary "Golden Days" - which was showing at the festival over the weekend. The film's trailer had hooked me. The Damnwells, out of Brooklyn, have opened for The Fray, The Dixie Chicks and Blue October and had struggled to get their band on a major label. They succeeded - getting the go ahead from Epic to produce their first professional record. Only to be dropped from the label after months of recording, fine tuning and waiting.

The press handler spoke nervously into her cell phone as she checked up on the band yet again - and Alex Dezen, lead singer of The Damnwells, suddenly showed up behind us both.

Frankly, I didn't expect to get much out of the guy. I write for the local paper, and Dezen & The Damnwells had spent less than 10 minutes in Saugatuck. Dezen had a radio man waiting for a five minute spot and The Grand Rapids Press threw in a last minute call requesting an interview...and the band was supposed to go on stage by 7:30.

Before I go on let me just say - now that I've watched "Golden Days" three times and have had nothing but their latest album "Air Stereo" playing in my car all weekend - it's hard not to fall in love with The Damnwells. Theirs is a kind of genuine rock and roll that's hard to find these days. It's in the sound of a guitar case clicking open and shut, the smell of the strings... It's in small bars and clubs where guys like Dezen and his band play under heavy lights... It's on the road.

Instantly I was hooked on the lyrics...delivered soulfully by Dezen - like on "Golden Days": 'Am I in tune?/Yeah I can't hear much but the melody coming from you...' or on my favorite track so far "I Am A Leaver": 'Lock your lips in Eastern time/bleed my heart, I'm leaving mine/see my soul makes it home/I'm high on wretched wine/spinning here alone...'

Back to Thursday night, Dezen, the handler and I walked across town to get the radio man his five minute sound bite. The Grand Rapids Press was rushing to get to Saugatuck before The Damnwells took the stage. Dezen and I sat down to talk.

We talked about the movie... "Ego would probably be the death of any documentary film," he said. "You have to kinda e on the outside."

Dezen seemed nervous - but he was comfortable enough to joke around. I wanted so much to relate to him as he talked about being young - and then getting older - and still trying to find some form of success. Even with the film and the new record and the band's current tour - he was careful. "Whether it takes us to, you know, large success still remains to be seen," he said.

The subject turned to the band itself - and I got cliche - "So how long are you guys going to be doing this?" I asked him. "Forever?" Dezen laughed and was quick to say - more or less - not really. And it was almost heartbreaking. You expect some bands to break up and go off on their own. Soon that Pete Wentz guy will probably find his way out of Fall Out Boy and I'm sure each Pussycat Doll will sign their own record deal. But bands like The Damnwells you just hope will go on forever. You don't want them to grow up.

"The future is very finite," Dezen said. "I think our goals are pretty much practical. When you're more practical about your goals, you can build to bigger achievements."

The band's music, he explained, will "live on beyond us". "That's the only goal that has any real permanence," he says. And he uses the term "insurmountable obscurity" and suddenly I want to be a groupie. I want to be Kate Hudson in "Almost Famous". I want to be a "band-aid". I want to make a list of every band I've every liked and go on the road with them.

"When you play a show," Dezen says. "You leave more of an indelible impression on people. A record is a permanent memory of that experience."

And suddenly I realize - I want a lot of permanent memories.

Dezen says what he wants, is to feel like "at the end of the day, I can walk away."

And I thank him for his interview. And I wish him luck. And I leave him for the rest of the reporters. I go outside on a high and wait for the band to set up. When I make my way up to the stage to take pictures for the story, I stop at the small table that is sitting just a few feet away and throw down $15 for "Air Stereo".

Unable to make the screening of "Golden Days" at the festival, I get a screener to take home. I pop it in and I watch...and then I watch it again. The festival is over. The weekend is over. I don't want to go to work. I want to sit in the shade of Rachel's garage and drink a beer and scribble notes into a notebook and go home to a slate full of stories waiting for me the next day. I wonder if I'll ever really write full time. For a bigger paper. Or a magazine. Who knows. The future is very finite.

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