If you missed yesterday's "prelude" to this post, I suggest you scroll down one entry and read it before you continue (I'll wait).
Okay? Here we go...
I first met Will Dalgard in 1989 at a show THE OXYMORONS played at Canal Street Tavern. As I remember, he was the most animated person in the place, leaping around in front of the stage with the energy of ten people. Afterwards, he came up, said he loved the show -- raved about us even. OXYMORONS had been together only a few weeks, and it was the first time a stranger had come up to me to tell me he liked the band. I had played a number of shows with OXYMORONS and two other bands (SOCIAL DISEASE, FLESHBATS). But this was the first time I felt like a real musician, whose music was appreciated by people other than family and friends (not that I didn't appreciate the support of family and friends, but they're sort of obligated to appreciate it, as some Joe off the street is not).
Will and I became friends. In those days Will, in fact, became friends with just about everyone he encountered -- but most often musicians. He came to know just about everybody playing in a band in Dayton at that time. He knew every band, went to every show, bought everybody's tapes and records and t-shirts, put their stickers all over his car, his apartment, himself. He became something of a fixture, but one you look forward to seeing. And you could tell that, more than anything else, he wanted to be a real working part of that local musician's world, not just as an observer.
Everybody told him he should just get a guitar and play something. I taught him a few chords, but it was Nick Kizirnis who actually made him do it. I'm pretty sure it was Nick who dubbed him "DOBIE WILLIS," (though maybe it was Ed Lacy), I'm pretty sure it was Nick who convinced him to book his first open stage night, and I know it was Nick who forced Will to sit down with a guitar in front of a microphone and record Stand Your Ground.
What's amazing about most of the tracks on Stand Your Ground is most assuredly NOT the (marginal) talent displayed. Will was not, is not, and never will be a great guitar player (though Nick Kizirnis, who added guitar to some tracks, is). He couldn't carry a tune in an SUV -- or even a Hummer, whether you took the back seats out or not. His lyrics, while attempting to display sharp political acumen, offer a pretty simplistic take on national politics and world affairs: Jello Biafra he is not (though he always wanted to be). His rhyme, symbolism, and diction would seem promising if found in an 8th grade poetry assignment, but that's the best you can say about them.
What IS striking about Stand Your Ground is the complete lack of artifice in what Will was doing here. The anger, the pain, the bitter optimism--all are real. In this respect, Will outclasses even his hero Jello Biafra, who for all his oratory skill and political acumen usually lacks an emotional scope that exceeds the bounds of smirking sarcasm. DOBIE WILLIS also outclasses every other self-styled liberal revolutionary I've ever met, most of whom seem to feel very little except that they are smarter than everybody else while restraining themselves from getting too worked up about anything. And Will certainly outclasses all those flag-waving conservative shreik-bots whose true emotions surface only when someone points out the flaws in their childish, dogmatic ideologies.
In a way that country artists who buy summer homes with royalty checks from cheap patriotic ballads will never understand, Will means it. He means every word. And neither degraded analog tape nor the intervening sixteen years since this was recorded can do anything to change that. In fact, events transpiring in the last six years have conspired to make "Hey George" (which is about Bush 41, but who would know it just by listening to this song?) even more immediate and relevant than it was in 1991. For very good reasons, I can no longer listen to Will's political rants with the same sense of jaded condescension with which I treated them back then. It's too much like scoffing at Cassandra while the Greeks are plundering Troy.
Will and I were in a band together (PLANET ED) for a while and sometimes played open stage night at Canal Street Tavern. When we weren't playing music, we would often get together and watch crappy horror movies, sometimes for hours straight. But bands break up and friendships change--people go their separate ways. I've always been a little ambivalent about my friendship with Will. Though I believe Will is a good soul, he's as human as the rest of us, and he has at times behaved in ways that destroy relationships -- often with other people that I also consider very good friends. Will went through some hard times in the '90s. He and his friends and Dayton itself changed drastically--and nobody, including Will, adapted perfectly to those changes (believe it or not, he joined the navy at one point). Still, as I understand it, he's doing pretty well now. He's living in Portland, playing in a street band, and occasionally writing his own blog. I consider him a good friend.
But coming back to Stand Your Ground, while Will has recorded a fair number of things as a solo and with bands like PLANET ED, HOLDEN #9, and his short-lived back-up band, THE WHITE TRASH ALL-STARS, I dare say that Stand Your Ground remains his masterpiece. Though largely ignored, even in Dayton (especially in Dayton), it represents the kind of raw energy and enthusiasm for the power of music, revolution, and life itself that only a wide-eyed novice with no regard for propriety and convention can pull off--the kind of thing we could use more of today.
There may be some who knew Will when he lived here in Dayton who might laugh (or at least roll their eyes) at what I just wrote. As I mentioned before, Will gave more than one person in Dayton ample reason to hate him -- and I think he would be the first to admit that. To those people, I say: you're right, Will was (maybe still is) a talentless asshole. But as Bob Moore once told me, talent isn't everything, and he was right. I think I've recorded some good music over the years (and a lot of bad music too), but I can't do anything that's good for the same reason Stand Your Ground is good, and I really wish I could.
And as for Will being an asshole, well... I won't dispute it. But Bob Moore also told me that there are plenty of talented assholes in the world, and he was right about that too. A lame response, I know, but it's the best I can muster right now.
2. Sweet Al
3. Hey George
4. Neo-Nazi Boot Camps
5. Scat Rap
6. Never Comin' Home
7. Jerry Garcia/Michael Stipe
8. All I believe
Download it! (70 MB) (link re-upped on 2-1-2013)
Recorded by Nick Kizirnis 12/26/1990 - 12/30/1990--except live tracks, recorded by Le Richardson at Canal Street Tavern, Fall 1990. Words and music by Will (except where otherwise noted). Additional guitars by Nick Kizirnis.