Friday, February 20, 2009

Thank You for the Music

Last Saturday night I met the King of California, Dave Alvin.

The story begins back in March 1995 at the Backstage in Ballard (R.I.P). I went to see a concert that night that was a triple bill of two people I had only vaguely heard of and a man named Dave Alvin. I enjoyed the other two, Peter Case and Tom Russell, quite a bit but when Dave hit the stage . . . I was transfixed. Transfixed not in some sort of fan-girl kind of way but in a "this music and these words and these stories smacked me upside the head and won't let go" kind of way. It was a seminal night in my musical education. I had found music that really spoke to me. It was also the night I came home to find police officers in my apartment after my roommate had called the cops on our neighbor who felt the need to masturbate in his window. That night was seminal for more than one reason.

Over the years, my musical tastes have changed slightly. Favored artists have come and gone but Dave has always been there. I do not grow tired of his old music and I relish every new CD that comes my way. It has sometimes been months without listening to one of his songs but when I hear one it always sounds as good, if not better, than before. His songs are of borders, both physical and emotional. He sings of people living on the fringes of life. The songs are frequently sad but always have hopefulness to them. Dave Alvin writes and sings bittersweet better than anyone else. He is a critics darling, a roots rock genius and a true American musical treasure. None of that is hyperbole by the way. Music has always been a huge part of my life and Dave's music has been far and away the most important to me.

I have logged thousands of miles listening to him in my car. Road trips and commutes; Dave's songs of the West have been my frequent companion. Many nights spent sitting alone letting the music wash over me. Some dark, lonely nights to match the dark, lonely songs but both the songs and I held that glimmer of hope in the background. Many more happy nights to match the . . . well, mainly dark, lonely songs but that makes me happy too. Sad music is always so much better than happy music.

Last Thursday, Dave played an acoustic show at The Tractor Tavern and I, of course, was there along with Kevin, my brother and my friend Todd. It had been well over two years since he had been in town and I was ready for the show and it was magic. I was once again wrapped up in those songs, the stories, that guitar work and the timbre of Dave's voice.

Saturday night he played at Mississippi Studios in Portland and Kevin took me to there for Valentine's Day. It was another wonderful show with Dave, his Guilty Men guitarist Chris Miller and his old friend from The Blasters, Steve Berlin. Watching them you knew you were watching people who truly loved what they do. Afterwards, Kevin insisted on making me hang around to get an autograph on a show poster that I had bought. I didn't want to be "one of THOSE people" and was getting very antsy about calling the cab and getting the hell out of there. I am very shy and don't want to intrude on others. Besides, this is music I have loved for fourteen years; what if he turned out to be a dick? I would still love the music but would it be slightly tainted? Kevin (a million thanks sweetie!!) stalled long enough for Dave to finally come out to the bar area and I screwed up my courage and asked him to sign my poster. I am proud to say I did not gush. I played it cool, mentioned what an honor it was for me to meet him, he shook both of our hands, personalized the poster and could not have been more gracious. I always said if I ever met Dave Alvin I would simply say (without getting all ABBA on him) "Thank you for your music" and that it has meant a tremendous amount to me over the years. I forgot that part. Maybe I will get the chance again some day. For now I have this treasure to go along with the songs that have become the soundtrack to my life.


Kath said...

I was reluctant to admit that I have no idea who Dave Alvin is until I quizzed H. We're both completely clueless. Where do you recommend we start to familiarize ourself with the Music Man in your life?

khoffman said...

If as a fan of only two weeks I can offer a suggestion, there are 19 complete live shows available for free download in the Internet Live Music Archive. (This even includes a Seattle show) Just go to and search on the key word DaveAlvin.