“Better leave before it blinks. I think the sky, it’s a sudden open eye”
A lot of musicians have paid their dues. A lot have earned their stripes. Most of them have gone on to achieve some level of notoriety, but there’s one who, after 25+ years grinding it out, is still, grinding it out. Is it for lack of talent or for lack of interest? Me thinks it’s the latter. Sometimes you just don’t win the musical-success lottery and I don’t think David Dondero gives a shit. I do think you should know who the hell he is though.
I’ve been reading a book called Add Toner by Aaron Cometbus. It’s his second collection of assorted Cometbus zines from the 90’s & 2000’s. It’s an enjoyable read but not as good as his original omnibus called Despite Everything. They’re both great, but what can I say, I like rating stuff. There is a really cool section in Add Toner though, about the time Aaron spent living in Asheville North Carolina. While residing there he helped cultivate a little punk scene by running an all ages venue called Oh My! and by designing show flyers. A lot of the flyers are featured in Add Toner and I was so incredibly thrilled to see the one pictured above.
In the early 90’s David Dondero lead a punk band called Sunbrain out of Clemson South Carolina. Their first album, Perfection Lies, has been cited by Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes as one of his foremost musical influences. Infact, I think it’s fair to say, Dondero invented the vocal style that Oberst has had so much success with. Conor and David actually collaborated later in life on a Deseparecidos song and one of David’s solo songs. You can hardly tell their voices apart. Perfection Lies is truly a masterpiece of an album, and Sunbrain probably should have been in the same conversation as a band like Jawbreaker, or maybe an entirely separate conversation of their own. They were innovators of a sound that was never fully explored. And so the grind continued.
After Sunbrain, Dondero probably did some other stuff, but I’m not a fuckin’ biographer so I can’t speak to that. He eventually ended up drumming for the infamous Florida folk-punkers, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb. The band (unintentionally) responsible for 2 bomb scares. I think he did vocals for them too cuz I’ve heard songs that sound exactly like him.
After Pipe Bomb the real grind began. David embarked on an arduous solo career that continues to this day. The weird thing about this show flyer though, is that both David Dondero and This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb are listed on the bill. I’m wondering if David played drums in the band and did a solo set by himself, or if this was after he quit Pipe Bomb. Maybe this is the show where they met and he joined Pipe Bomb that night! Unlikely, but that would be cool. If anyone knows, please write to me.
In 2018 Dondero is still barely scraping by as a musician. NPR named him one of the greatest living songwriters, yet he continues to grind, usually as an opening act for semi-successful bands. His solo career has lasted nearly two decades. The solo albums are the ones I’ve made the deepest connection with. If you’re not familiar with them, please familiarize yourself with them immediately. Like right now. Well finish the last paragraph first and then do it you animal.
I have this thing where if I don’t get 8 hours of sleep I’m completely useless. I also have this thing where I go to a job every morning to pay my bills, so I did not see David Dondero when he was here to open for Pedro The Lion on a Tuesday night in May. I know, it’s terrible right? I feel deep distress every time I think about it. He really is one of my heroes, but I guess I’ve got to pay my rent or whatever. If you see David Dondero, if you know him, if you bump into him, shake his hand for me and tell him sorry, and tell him thanks.
(Do you guys think my blog is going to get flagged for using the words ‘pipe bomb’ so much? If you found my blog because you are a terrorist, please go away and stop doing terrorist stuff).