I forgot to make mention of the French band Herman Dune in that article, “How I Met Anti-folk”. At first, I thought Herman Dune was one guy’s name, then I learned it was a surname, and for a few weeks, I went around telling everyone, “They’re like the Van Halen of Switzerland,” having fallen prey myself to a common misunderstanding about the outfit. In an old interview in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet Néman Herman Dune states unequivocally: “The band is French.” “Yes, the confusion about our origin is because people are good at making things up,” continues brother David Ivar Herman Dune, in the same mossy article: “And we have never fought the rumors. I lived in the U.S.A. for a while, and all of a sudden the band was American.” I thought they were Swiss because one of their albums is titled Swiss Heritage. “Coffee and Fries,” one of the songs on that disc, is one of my favorites. Another Herman Dune diamond, “Your Name/My Game”, from an album called Giant, narrating the singular experience of love from the alternating perspectives of a baboon that no one can tame, and the crowd at the game, and the scientists who feel no shame, all “shouting your name” in that way big feelings have of seeming universal to all people and places, and even how the weather feels when you’re in love, closes gracefully with David Ivar’s decision, “Let’s call it a song.” I also forgot to mention Defiance, Ohio in that article, an anti-folk band named after their hometown who came to prominence during Bush II’s tenure as a modernized form of the same energy put across by progenitors Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. They may never even have claimed anti-folk, but their souped-up acoustic approach on “Share What Ya Got” made me think of them as a likely example.
I contacted David Ivar Herman Dune looking for a few quotes. As it turned out, much has changed with that outfit, which currently exists between real world manifestations. “I knew I couldn't go on as Herman Dune the way it was going. I didn’t like the music I was hearing from the band I was playing with. So, I just recorded an angry and sad record, playing everything by myself, from a one-bedroom studio apartment in Venice Beach, in terrible acoustic conditions. I just needed that step before re-appropriating the Herman Dune I had created. Which I’m doing right now, finishing my new album. I think there are cool songs on Black Yaya, a break I took to regroup, and I did a whole tour with the album, in Europe, just me and a fantastic French bass player named Vincent Mougel. It gave me faith in playing with others again. And I think my new Herman Dune really benefited from that experience. The weird thing with Black Yaya is that, even more than my Herman Dune albums, it is a complete commercial failure. But something in the sound appealed to movies and audiovisual people. So, I got a lot of screen presence with the songs. And it’s probably the record that I made that helped me the most financially. It allowed me to move to San Pedro, CA and finance my new Herman Dune album. Very strange.”
The new Jonathan Richman album had just come out. Both of us were big fans. “I love Jonathan so much,” he said, “wouldn’t the world be a better place with his songs coming out of people’s cars, in the stores, in bars, rather than most of what we hear now?”
At first, I resisted a little: “Yes, but maybe we each make our own world. I think about that. But yes.”
Then I became inspired: “You know how Charles Bukowski revived John Fante’s career (Fante, a popular writer in the 1930s, was virtually unknown when this occurred in 1983). Maybe you and [Jeffrey Lewis] could do the same thing for Jonathan Richman!”
American pop culture is rooted in veneration of past examples. I’ve already named about fifty in here. Great new books about teenagers are hailed as being the next Catcher in the Rye, great new albums the next Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, inventive lyricists the next Bob Dylan, and so forth. Comparison to bygones is not consideration. Funny how habits can limit our estimation of objective merit that way. It’s because we all live inside a giant jukebox continually trying to replicate the same hit parade around here, have you noticed? One of Dylan’s primest motives seems to have been contradiction of this regularity, going against the expected, presenting beyond normal range as a habit.
His latest prank? Apparently copying whole sections of his belated Nobel Prize acceptance speech from SparkNotes, the online version of Cliff’s Notes. Howard admired him for not hewing to the expected line by composing his own pompously heartfelt reviews of Moby Dick or All Quiet on the Western Front, the books in question, as required for winners to qualify.
He was guilty of having attempted to produce what the audience expected, in this case, perhaps for the first time ever in his career. But had he done it ironically? Deliberately? Had that been why he’d cribbed from SparkNotes in the first place?
He ran afoul of the same accusations of plagiarism regarding sections of Chronicles, Vol. 1, his first publication since 1965’s abstract Tarantula. Despite these seemingly credible allegations, Dylan’s each latest utterance is met with profound respect as the word of a deity, at least an elder demiurge—“Dylan gets it.” The degree of deference afforded Bob Dylan in today’s zeitgeist, with regard to his possible motives, is considerable, especially now he’s said things like he visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to provide paparazzi with an understandable motive for his life so they’d leave him alone. That's one hell of a life. Dylan enjoys a level of respect comparable to that he showed for his idol Woody Guthrie, whose sickbed he famously visited toward the end of Guthrie’s hitch.
I won’t compare David Ivar Herman Dune or his longtime friend and fellow anti-folker Jeffrey Lewis to Bob Dylan in this piece besides getting each’s opinion on the recent press regarding Dylan’s long delayed response to winning the Nobel Prize unexpectedly, Dylan having preceded them both in modernizing “folk” through defiance of norms. Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize and not responding for so long I began to think he never would gave me the feeling he’d outsized the official standard of renown by ignoring it. Then he did respond, and was appropriately gracious, which felt like a letdown, to me.
Says David Ivar, “I have never heard of the band Defiance, Ohio. I think Bob Dylan is fantastic. I think that giving him the Nobel Prize proved that the Nobel Prize is not irrelevant. I mean Selma Lagerlöf, Knut Hamsun, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Sartre, and Bob Dylan, yes, it makes sense. That he wouldn’t have the prize wouldn’t. It just makes the Nobel Prize more relevant to me. It’s not the other way around. Why, of all Nobel Prizes winners, was he the one people were contesting? Had all the people boasting about his lack of merits even read anything by Patrick Modiano, Alice Munro, Mo Yan, or Herta Müller? What was wrong with all this voicing against him? And I feel that he gets it anytime he does anything. Must have exhausted his forces. In a way, you do the same thing in your question, calling him a letdown. He will always be criticized, no matter what he does.”
Real talk. Sorry, Bob, if any offense were taken.
Jeffrey Lewis is a multi-talented creative type based in New York City recently on tour in Sweden, whose latest album with Los Bolts, Manhattan, boasts the numbers, “(Back to) Manhattan”, “Sad Screaming Old Man”, and more, whom I am guilty of having compared to Jonathan Richman in a previous article due to laziness. His thoughts on Bob Dylan winning the Nobel, and what happened next? “Bob Dylan doesn’t need to respond to everything that people say or do about him, why should it be his responsibility to suddenly have to make a speech or an appearance just because some other person or organization has chosen to ‘honor’ him with some award or some degree? Maybe he has other plans, or other things to do or other things to think about. And what are these ‘honors’ anyway? When the ‘Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ decides to induct a band, it is supposed to be an honor, the band has to go and say they are grateful and happy, and make an appearance, but it’s just some random bullshit. The Nobel Prize has more history and respect and seriousness, but still, it’s like, ‘Hey, Bob, I just made you a nice cake! Now, even though you didn’t ask for it, you HAVE to come and eat it! Because I made it for you! How can you insult me by not coming to eat it?! You are such a jerk!!’ I don’t know if Bob agrees with me, but I think for an artist the only reality, the only thing that matters as an artist, is the next blank piece of paper. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how many ‘honors’ you have, there is no power or money on earth that will help you when you come face to face with the next blank piece of paper. You have to take your brain and somehow turn that piece of paper into a song, a song with the power to move hundreds and thousands and millions of minds, or just the power to move your own mind. How is it possible? Where does that magic and strength and power come from? That’s the true mystery, and it’s the only important part of the entire story really. Just Bob, sitting somewhere, right now, an old man with a blank piece of paper in front of him, and again next week or next month or next year with another blank piece of paper in front of him.”
Jeffrey Lewis is an artist and historian besides writing music and lyrics and playing guitar and singing David Ivar Herman Dune is also a historian of sorts. “I’ve traveled through Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana following the tracks of depression era gangsters Bonnie & Clyde to write the soundtrack for a movie about them. I wrote and recorded a whole album then that won’t come out since the movie aborted.”
What else do they have in common?
Says Jeffrey: “I think the most shared time between the Herman Dune band and the Jeffrey Lewis band was the insane Europe/Scandinavia tour in early 2003, that was a big learning experience for everybody! It was a very tough tour, and it was 6 weeks, we were both really just starting to crawl up to some level of existence in music, forcing it to happen, in a world that didn’t really care whether we toured or not. It was impossible to keep up with Herman Dune, they were such an inspiration for keeping things real, keeping things fresh. We played a lot of bad shows, trying to keep up with Herman Dune! Every show they did was totally different, and they never played with a set list. I had this same idea too, I always wanted to have a band like The Grateful Dead or Phish or Yo La Tengo, where you play different sets every night, and there are surprise cover songs, and the audience never knows what they will get, but to REALLY do this you have to be much better musicians and more prolific songwriters than I was, especially more than I was at that time. So it was amazing, and very difficult, to be on a 6-week tour with a band that SOMEhow had the same idea as us, to be different every night, but Herman Dune could REALLY do this! Andre would play a song, no announcement or preparation, and David and Neman would be able to play and sing along, flawlessly, beautifully, then David would pick the next song, and Andre and Neman could play and sing on it, perfectly, organically, no planned arrangement, just loose, real music, no plan, the most alive band you could be. Because of the two brothers taking turns like that, and their abilities, it was a living organism in a way that I could only dream about. Also, their ability to incorporate other people and other musicians into their creativity everywhere they went and every night! This was also something that I had tried to do myself, for me it was usually just a mess and a disaster, but Herman Dune really made it work.”
Says David Ivar: “I met Jeffrey Lewis right after the first album I released with Herman Dune. Somehow, Jeff knew my brother Andre. We played the Rock Festival SXSW in Austin, TX, where Jeff lived at the time. There Jeff played us some songs, he played us a tape of The Moldy Peaches, and they were in town. I think it is at this exact time that Jeff gave one of his tapes to Rough Trade, I think I remember the night he did. Together we saw the beginning of The Stooges project at Tower Records. At the time it was J Mascis with Ron Asheton and Mike Watt. That was before Iggy Pop reunited the greatest Punk act ever, but I believe it is what caused it to happen. It was fascinating to hear The Stooges’ songs live. Daniel Johnston was in the crowd. At the time, it was a very important trip, our first tour. From that first time, I felt a strong bond to Jeff, that I still feel to this day. . . After that trip, Jeff and I toured a lot together, across Europe mainly, but we also played New York a lot together. I’ve always seen him as a more legit artist than me. Everything made sense in his persona, his life story even, everything was going in the direction of his art. I always had a hard time trying to reconcile the art I felt like doing, the songs I was inspired to write and my personal life. I was born and raised in France, from a Swedish mother and a Moroccan father. Nothing in there hinted to the songs I wrote. He was from New York City, Manhattan even, and he sounded just like that, in a good way. Now, I have learnt I think, that I don’t need to belong to any scene, or a world in particular to be legit, I’ve learnt even that no one else than me can tell when I’m being “for real,” but for a long time I thought of myself as a misfit and of Jeff as someone who made sense, and I liked that about him.”
Throughout the nineties, I hosted several spoken word and art events at various coffeehouses and art galleries in Denver as a self-styled punk poet named Henry Alarmclock. Years later, old school Denver punk Jim Norris purchased and renovated the bookstore on the SE corner of the Broadway and Ellsworth intersection in Central Denver, changing its name from Mutiny Now! To the more diplomatic Mutiny Information Café, and had occasion to invite the former Alarmclock to host a variety show at that establishment. I did my best to drum up interest, but times seem to have changed since Alarmclock’s heyday in the 90s, when each event was standing room only. There were a few standout nights, and several outstanding performers, one being a singer/songwriter named Chrishop, who claimed to be from the future and performed wearing a tutu and a barrette in his hair, playing electric guitar and singing songs about an ideal future society where everyone was nice, and nobody hated each other and anything was possible. Paradoxically, the same character supported the Men’s Rights Movement, and considered it unfair that females weren’t assumptively subjected to the draft as were males—as far as I know, the draft does not currently exist in these United States, but times keep changing, as we’ve seen. I was writing a book about Denver and the Beat Generation, and after one of the events, I said something to Chrishop about Neal Cassady having founded a counter-culture. “What’s a counter culture?” asked Chrishop. “Is that like terrorism?”
“Anytime you feel like you’ve got an event that needs to happen, this is the place,” Jim told me. When I noticed Jeffrey Lewis was looking for a date in Denver, I nearly booked him a show at Mutiny before concerns about available equipment caused me to propose Three Kings as perhaps the better venue. See, at the time, I thought Jim still owned a share in that joint, too, Jim can be hard to track down for reasons of event confirmation or preparation—which is to say it always works out in the end, his word is good, and I’ve succeeded in arranging several events at Mutiny besides the variety shows—but he can be hard to get ahold of. After several emails went unanswered, I learned Jim had sold his share of Three Kings and reinvested in Cabal Art Gallery and other local ventures and was no longer in charge of booking acts to play there. Long story short, nobody ever got back to me from Three Kings, and Jeff ended up playing across the street instead. So how was that gig at Sputnik I mean the Hi-Dive? I asked him.
“It was shockingly good! I really was surprised, it was a good crowd, about 60 people, and we got paid pretty decently, and the other acts playing were really good and the venue was cool, great stage, great sound. We had some tough small gigs crossing that middle part of America, it’s always like that on a USA tour, the middle is the hardest, very long drives and small audiences and small money, so when we had this great gig in Denver it was a nice surprise in the middle. Also, after passing all this middle-America area with nothing but Trump posters, it was nice to enter the area of Denver and see some Hillary and Bernie signs. In fact the last time I had played Denver was in 2013, on tour with Schwervon, it was the day Lou Reed died, an intense day. I’m about to leave home for 95% of the summer, tours, travels, work, lots to do.”
As for David Ivar, “I have been writing, recording and painting a lot, more than usual I would say. Since Black Yaya, the last album I released (with a comic by @Lightning Lewis btw) I have been through a good number of professional setbacks that have all lead to different creative paths. I’ve traveled through Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana following the tracks of depression era gangsters Bonnie & Clyde to write the soundtrack for a movie about them. I wrote and recorded a whole album then that won’t come out since the movie aborted. I have toured as a duo with a fantastic bass player for a year. I wrote a bunch of songs on the road that we recorded in a fancy studio. Again, too much time passed and the album wasn’t released. I started my own studio in San Pedro, California where I’ve been recording others, but also writing and recording for Herman Dune. I recorded the full soundtrack for a French super hero movie, that should come out next year, the film I mean. Then songs started coming to me again, or like Tom Waits said recently, songs started getting in line at the Hot Dog Stand, they just saw others there and came a running. So, I recorded a new Full Band Herman Dune album that I just finished. Until last week it was coming out on a “Major Label” but then my temper sabotaged the whole thing, which is good since I think I need a fresh brand-new start in life. Lately I’ve been playing upright bass a lot and playing gigs with the artists Mayon and Kyle McNeill. A hand-pressed 10” picture disc of my songs coupled with my erotic paintings is coming out on a supercool Waxpress/Label out of Seattle. Right now, I’m the driver for an artist in the Caribbean for a few weeks, trying to reconcile my duty to drive, small deadly roads, and the endless opportunities to drink cheap crazy Rum and beer. I’m reading a lot of Steinbeck, which helps, and am still trying to figure out what’s going on with Fritz in Love & Rockets right now.”
Coming Soon: Lewis and Herman Dune on politics, the nature of good and evil and more.
How I met Anti-Folk by Zack Kopp
How I met Anti-Folk by Zack Kopp
- Zack Kopp
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