To many parents out there, Dan Zanes is a life-saver. He records music for kids that doesn't incite feelings of violence. His rock and roll pedigree, lead singer of the well-loved Boston rag tag roots rockers The Del Fuegos, is more nightlife than day care center. His albums for kids don't spring from some focus group idea of high pitched giggle shit. It sounds like a tired rock and roll singer trying to get through the day by entertaining his kids the only way he knows how.
Obviously I relate.
For several months in 2002, Cash and I were obsessed with a couple of his albums. I also knew that he lived in Park Slope and did much of his recording there. This added a sense of connection to the music for both of us. We had They Might Be Giants recording under Cashel's bedroom and Dan Zanes right down the street somewhere!
The songs he chose were very evocative for me as they were songs my mother had often sung to us on her guitar. For a woman who claims to prefer silence, she sure is a crack musician. 'Erie Canal', 'Oh Susanna', 'Wabash Cannonball'...these ancient folk songs are inextricably tied to my childhood.
The Dan Zanes recordings are loose and easy. People laugh in the background, he talks to the other musicians, it feels like a hootenanny. His voice is a bit bland which ultimately keeps these from being in the canon of great music, but it certainly kills The Wiggles without breaking a sweat.
I heard that Dan Zanes and Friends would be appearing at, of all places, Warsaw. I got tickets ASAP.
What a strange scene it was. A beautiful sunny Sunday Williamsburg morning. Still a bit bleary eyed and clutching Starbucks cups, the parents all seemed a bit sheepish, as if their split personalities were now uncomfortably facing each other in a mirror. One went out to rock clubs like this AT NIGHT and got drunk and danced and sweated and swore. The other pushed a stroller, changed diapers, tried to shoehorn everyday experience into lessons and character builiding, and wondered who the hell let them be in charge of another human being.
Maybe that was just me.
Cash was still more at ease with adults at this point. He could carry on an in-depth conversation about any number of things, but he had difficulty connecting with other kids. When we came onto the ballroom floor, the noise was defeaning. Little beings darted back and forth tackling each other, falling down, hurting themselves, hurting each other, generally creating a ruckus. If Cash had been a turtle, you'd have seen nothing but his shell.
Soon Dan Zanes took the stage. He wore a white suit and his hair semed suspended by wires. His presence was much like on the albums, relaxed, good natured, almost opaque. He had a small band with him to fill in the blanks.
The stage is raised about waist high. For a good portion of the show, Cash knelt directly up against the wood, invisible to the musicians on stage. Kids on either side of him stood on tiptoe to try and join in. Not Cash. He giggled back at me, acknowledging that he was being a goofball but still too overwhelmed to truly give over.
I feared for him at that moment. What if he was always once removed from what he witnessed? What if he never felt the ecstasy and release that I'd found through music?
After a few minutes of this, I was able to let it go. Why? I wish I could say it was out of some philosophical attitude. Nope. It hit me that Dan Zanes wasn't THAT great. The other kids would have reacted that way if they'd been at Chuck E Cheese. They were just that type of kid.
Don't get me wrong...Cash enjoyed himself and the music. But it wouldn't be until he saw John Williams at The Hollywood Bowl three years later that he would be swept away. And John Williams deserved it.
We actually had more fun wandering around Williamsburg after the show. Lesson learned.