Dondero’s van

The lovely Darren Hanlon has been in New York for the last couple of weeks and it’s been great to spend a bit of time with him. Through Daz I was also lucky enough to meet a bunch of great folks, including singer-songwriter David Dondero. Dondero deadpans wry, often sarcastic, fables collected like tumbleweeds from all corners of America. Fitting, as he’s a man of no fixed address; Kerouac with a guitar and a sense of humour. His latest album # Zero With a Bullet is really something, you should check it out.

Daz and Dondero are kindred spirits – both love the road and the adventures it brings. So it was a thrill to cop a back seat in Dondero’s van on a quick Saturday trip upstate. Dondero had to pick up some merch in New Paltz so offered to give Darren and I a ride to a gig in Woodstock. Naturally when travelling with musicians there’s no shortage of options for the stereo, and we had a particularly meta moment when Daz put on a song by Justice Of The Unicorns called “Dondero’s Van”. In vain have I trawled the internet to try to share this slice of musical madness with you, but to no avail. It’s a very simple song, delivered in Rusty’s trademark creaky warble. (UPDATE: you can hear the song online here. Thanks Tom!)

Hey there Mr Sound Man
I’d bet you my life

You were in a band

Hey there Peter Fonda

Hey there Sasha Grey

Could you drive Dondero’s van?

From there it gets a little Dr Seuss for the chorus, detailing all the places the van will go.

Through the darkest night
Through construction sites

Et cetera. The van we were in wasn’t the actual van of the song though. The eponymous van was a monstous 15 seat Dodge Maxi that rumbled down many a highway, and I think Dondero regrets letting it go. At any rate driving through upstate New York on a gorgeous October day is one of life’s great pleasures, whatever vehicle you’re in. The Catskills rose before us like blue-grey smoke on the horizon, while a blazing patchwork of autumn leaves blurred past us.

Earlier, after fish tacos we strolled New Paltz’s winding backstreets. Rummaging for CDs and vinyl in the Team Love store room, Dondero found one of his old guitars, so we sat in the yet-to-be-opened store and had an impromptu jam session. The acoustics were kind of amazing in this empty old wooden room, unhung paintings leaning against the walls and curious passersby peeping in the windows. Sitting cross-legged on floorboards always brings out that kindergarten story-time impulse to just sit and listen in wonder, and it doesn’t hurt when you’re in the company of two incredible song-writers making up ballads about each other on the spot.

Hanging around musicians has been a lesson in creativity. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, but observing musicians, while there’s still a lot of writing that is done alone, the process is so much more collaborative. One band/project bleeds into another as all these random interpersonal links come into play – you’re on tour so you’re couch-surfing with guys from a band you met through another musician you’ve toured with, you’re working on songs and videos with people you’ve met through your music… You can meet a girl on the subway who knows your songs and that night she’s performing with you… There’s always something to be made or tweaked, an instrument to try, people to meet, an old record to listen to and learn from. It’s inspiring.

In that spirit it’s my great pleasure to direct you toward a song Dondero recorded with Darren and Rusty from Justice of the Unicorns. At first it seems a pretty straight cover of the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun”. Except that the lyrics have been rewritten from the perspective of a vampire. It’s a cute idea, particularly given that they rushed to finish it before Halloween. And it’s pretty clever.

Here comes the sun
I’d must make haste back to my coffin
Here comes the sun
If I stay here my skin will burn
Here comes the sun
I’d better run
It’s all right…

You can download the song here (via Largehearted Boy).

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