The following is an exercise in introverted nostalgia, for which I apologise in advance. That said, some readers may enjoy it, and a few may even understand what it's talking about.
When I got to my office today, I discovered a brown paper bag covered in lunatic, smeared crayon scribblings shoved under my door. After a period of puzzled scrutiny, I was able to determine that it contained the following cryptic message:
Two Meany Davs is playing ageen at Tastee Mercahnts on Saterday. Can U pleeze tell the peopels to come too it?
- Mike Irwin
Recognising this as the nom-de-crayon of an unfortunate socially and ethically challenged individual whom I have on past occasions attempted to aid in his quest to live a normal and productive life, I spent the next wee while padding out his sad note into something more worthy of the Pundit readership.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to announce the most important cultural event in New Zealand since Te Papa's last exhibition of "NZ Beer Cans Through The Years".
Saturday, 7 September 2013 - Taste Merchants, Dunedin.
1916 Zurich, 1964 Brighton, 1968 Paris, 1978 Brixton, 1985 Manchester.
These dates all resonate with social meaning, rich soil in which the meanings of the age are composted and spread around the flower beds of late capitalism. Thus too, 1994 Dunedin.
A time and a place: the brief flame of youth splutters against the cold winds of reality. From the streets came the rumours of a new sound, a movement, a style, a way of life, a mode of transportation.
The common element that kept cropping up in these intense, feverish, whispered conversations was a name: Too Many Daves.
Where else - when else - how else - and indeed why else - could such a vector arise? The strange town of Dunedin, New Zealand, is a geographic and sociological oddity. Described accurately by travel writer Paul Theroux as "cold and frugal" and imagined accurately by horror fantasist H.P. Lovecraft in the "Call of Cthulu" as a place where "faint drumming and red flame were noted on the distant hills."
I recall the first night I encountered this unlikely subset of pop culture refuseniks who were embarked on a mission to rebuild the beat group from the basement up, an experience that is etched by diamond (cost-effective, industrial, mass produced diamond) on my memory.
Stumbling up the beer soaked carpet on the stairs of a downtown club, I elbowed my way past a crapulent door man into a maelstrom of sound and fury. Jammed into a dingy corner and hemmed in by an eager, expectant audience, Too Many Daves were three songs into their debut performance.
Jimmy, Denzil, Stix and Sidevent were balanced precariously on the edge of permanent disaster. The quartet flung themselves with a terrible self-destructiveintensity against the anomie of their generation. Then they stopped for a break, and their manager Ron forced his way through to the stage with seven pints of beer under each arm.
The Daves summed up a moment and a mood. The early and mid 1990s were the best of times and the worst of times, with the worst of times maintaining an advantage on points.
As writers, the Daves used a broad brush and primary colours to outline a manifesto of discontent with the status quo. Bollocks to the Real World inflamed with its full frontal assault on bourgeois convention, whereas Dreamin' of Speedin' (with Peter Meaden) showed a softer, more emotional side to the generally cool, clean and hard ethos of the Dave's self-referential universe. Nice Flowers, on the other hand, was a claim to the good things in life by perennial outsiders, with their faces smeared on the wrong side of the restaurant window, expressions halfway between a resentful sneer and an envious sob.
Lao Tzu noted the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. This was indeed the Way of the Dave, one might say the Tao of Dave. Many stories circulated as to what had happened. A cataclysmic final performance left a stunned city reeling. But the magic moment had passed - and it was time to move on. With a heavy heart and a suitcase of old paperwork, I boarded the last Southerner express at the Dunedin Railway Station before they closed the line north for good. The summer had passed all too briefly. Years drifted by, life took me many places, yet the Daves remained a stubborn influence on my existence, reminding of a time of raging against the dying of the light.
It was a pleasant but not particularly surprising surprise when I was contacted recently by the well known Uruguayan publishing house "Editions Modernismo Montevideo" to pen a short entry on "the Daves" in a bespoke encyclopaedia of Contemporary Culture, available exclusively by mail order. It seemed my years of archival toil had borne fruit.
Things moved quickly. I headed south again, travelling light, and rented an antique townhouse on the leafy hillsides of Dunedin. I made a few inquiries and nothing came of it. The trail had gone dead. I had an advance in Uruguayan pesos and a need to tell this story, but it seemed that Too Many Daves had vanished, leaving behind only the haunting reverberations of a Roland tape echo unit hanging forlornly in the gloomy winter air.
It turned out that Jimmy was living three houses down the road and I came across him mowing the lawns down to a number one buzz cut one Saturday afternoon. He invited me in for a cup of tea and informed me, better still, that a "19 year anniversary" gig was happening in a few weeks time.
It seemed that my life had once again crossed paths with Too Many Daves.
Over the following days, I pieced together the threads of an unlikely story. As the Dave's manifested themselves one by one back in their old haunts for rehearsals that were planned but never seemed to eventuate, it was my task to cast light on the shadowed past, separating legend from mythology, and fiction from creative narrative.
Following the infamous "Tea Pot" show at Sammys Nightclub in 1995, the band had fractured under the multiplying pressures of their fast but uncontrolled ascent into the media stratosphere. Like electrons sprung loose in atomic reactions, the four Daves had been ejected at high speed into the world following the disintegration of their dream. It had taken years for nerves to be calmed, hearing to be treated, and credit ratings to be restored.
Jimmy had moved to Nashville, paying the bills as a producer of country soul revival albums, while pursuing his real dream as being a teacher of English as a second language. However his business acumen came to the fore, and following a number of high level corporate positions, he returned to Dunedin to take a leading role as a freelance consultant in employment relations.
Denzil spent several years at the Camden Markets at a specialist stall retailing crease-free white Levis and signed guitar picks, prior to completing his Ph.D at Miskatonic University, MA. He is now Director of Nationhood Outreach Programmes at the Ministry of Culture's waterfront bunker in Wellington, our nation's capital.
Stix had always been the most spiritually attuned member of the group, connecting with the inner rhythms of global consciousness via his percussive instincts. Freed from the constraints of life as a touring rock drummer, he briefly flirted with a career in plumbing and grey water management at the Stratford Council Call Centre in London E15. Following this life changing experience, he relocated to the remote mountain ranges of the South Island to operate a private monastic retreat and high altitude trout farm.
"Sidevent" AKA The Fiend had engaged in esoteric studies in gnosticology and hermeneutics in the cultural capitals of the Iberian peninsula. Returning to New Zealand, he established himself as a private collector of period art objects and sonic curiosities, operating from the top storey of his secure and architecturally award winning Auckland apartment complex.
Other faces from this all but forgotten era were also remembered. Colin Zeal, the groups's dancer and mascot, went on to edit New Zealand's sole Trotskyist weekly, before establishing himself as the nation's leading academic commentator on issues of constitutional law. (At least, that's what I was told. Such a farfetched tale strains the credulity of even a fan who wants to believe.)
There was one outstanding loose end in this tangled web. While all the other Daves had achieved professional success in their new and reinvented lives, the fate of group manager and svengali figure Ron D. Ponce had remained obscure. It was as if he had literally dropped off the planet.
Where was he? What could he be doing?
The only hope was the extensive pre-gig publicity would draw the mesmeric mogul from his reclusive lair, and re-establish him in his rightful pre-eminent location in the savage ecology of the New Zealand music industry.
Thus the strange tale of Too Many Daves continues in a new chapter. I look forward to the rumoured "lost album" of live out takes and counsel those who want to glimpse the "spirit of 94" to attend their upcoming performance.
It's time to Ride the Dave Wave along one more street, pushing on towards a horizon lit brightly by the glare of 60 watt Vespa headlights, far away into the night that never ends.
1994 entry price applies: $5 (if that's alright?)
THE BROKEN HEARTBREAKERS are still in the running towards becoming the NZ support act to the Too Many Daves World Tour 2013 (pending confirmation from Dave)