Couple weeks ago, we introduced Possibly 4th Street, a regular SOTC feature in which writer Rob Trucks invites musicians he likes to play anywhere, somewhere, in public. So far, he’s messed around with the Fiery Furnaces and Oakley Hall, but here’s the real thing: a songwriter who brought us to a dog run. Thank God for a man who raises the stakes.
photo by Rob Trucks
Steve Wynn, “Bruises (Live at Dog Run 105)” (MP3)
by Rob Trucks
with videography by Karan Rinaldo
Steve Wynn walks down the stairs from 103rd Street and Riverside Drive. In between the road and the Hudson River, I’ve taken over a park bench—strewn backpack, camera, recording equipment and frozen Mountain Dew—just south of the Hudson Beach Club watering hole and Dog Run 105, one of about a hundred benches in Riverside Park that run parallel to the river itself.
The pathway is picturesque, like a scaled-down version of the Great Mall in Central Park. You know, the tree-lined, park bench-lined avenue that got its close-up in Kramer vs. Kramer.
“So where do you want to do this thing?” I ask Wynn. As in, “Which of these many, many park benches would you like to perform on, under, in front of, or next to?”
Because Riverside Park was Steve’s idea.
“The dog run,” he says.
“Over by the dog run?”
“No, in the dog run,” he says.
Which is just about the best idea I’ve heard in weeks.
Steve Wynn does “Kerosene Man” in a dog park
To place properly the career of Steve Wynn (the guitarist, not the Vegas hotel magnate who put his elbow through Picasso’s Le Rêve) you have to go back to the early ’80s, when he, a very young man, fled Davis, California for Los Angeles and brought together the Dream Syndicate. As frontman (read: lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter), Wynn became the official face of the Paisley Underground, a southern California-based grouping of bands like the Rain Parade, the Three O’Clock, and Game Theory, all propelling a tumultuous tangle of Velvet Underground cool and L.A. (think Chinatown and the novels of Steve Erickson) dark.
The Syndicate’s singular debut, 1982’s Days of Wine and Roses—especially lead track “Tell Me When It’s Over” with its hypnotically simplistic guitar lead—remains a bold and crucial marker on the alt-rock growth chart, beloved long after after the Syndicate disbanded in 1989.
Since then Steve has released numerous solo albums and stepped into side projects like Danny & Dusty and Gutterball before latching onto the Miracle 3, his band of the past seven years and, give or take, seven hundred shows. And yet despite three Miracle albums (all recorded in Tucson, incidentally) in which Wynn successfully searched for a sound he once proclaimed as “loud and raw and huge and broken,” he is still best known for Days of Wine and Roses, an album he recorded when he was all of 22.
But something must’ve changed in that past quarter-century, because cool and dark rarely translate as uninhibited—a quality, I assume, one must possess to willingly strap on an acoustic and step inside a mewling maelstrom of Upper West Side mutts.
“I live close to here,” says Wynn. “Actually I thought of a lot of different places to do it, and I chose a friendly place, a place where I feel comfortable. And I wanted to do it down here because I come down to this park a lot, but my girlfriend, who’s also my drummer, Linda, she said, ‘Do it in the dog run.’ Because we’ll come down and we’ll stand at the fence and watch the dog run for hours. It’s like watching Congress. There’s a whole political scene in there. You don’t even have to go to the movies. It’s all going on in there. And so I figured I would just throw myself into the mix.”
Wynn’s side project Danny & Dusty will play the Bowery Ballroom, New York City on January 12, 2008.
photo by Rob Trucks
Steve Wynn, most recently of Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3
Around 5:30 on Thursday afternoon, September 20th
Dog Run 105, just across the cart path from the Hudson Beach Café
Where Steve Wynn was headed a mere five days later:
What the hell?
“I’m going to Slovenia because Chris Eckman, who is the guitarist/singer/producer of The Walkabouts, lives there. He married a Slovenian woman about five years ago. He’s a really great producer and I’ve always wanted to work with him but we both tour all the time. We tour the same circuits so we’re in the same clubs passing messages to each other through other people, and finally our schedules matched up so I’m going to go out there on his turf to work with him and kind of pick his brain about how he does stuff.
“I’m going over there with a bunch of songs I’ve written, some things we’ve written together, but I’m really hoping to write the whole album there. I like the idea of getting off the plane and it starts right then. To write everything, sing everything, play everything in those three weeks and come home with a record.
“I’ve made several records where I go to a city and throw myself into somebody else’s scene, you know, whether it’s eating the food, walking the streets or playing with musicians. I did that with Gutterball in Richmond about ten years ago. I did it in Boston about eight or nine years ago, and that always works well for me. If I go somewhere new and have new things hit me in the face, I get ideas.”
And the recording project after that:
“I’m doing a baseball record. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, a record entirely about baseball, touting specific players or incidents, things like that. I’ve been talking about this for a long time now, thinking of ways to do it, and I met up with Scott McCaughey from R.E.M., Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus Five. We met up about half a year ago and I told him about it and it turns out he’s as big a baseball fan as I am and he flipped out, so we’re going to get together, Scott and myself and Peter Buck and Linda (Miracle 3 drummer Pitmon), and do the record in December in Portland because Peter’s got a studio there. It’s pretty convenient. And again, we’re going to write a lot on our own before we get together and then collaborate once we’re there. I’ll probably come back from Slovenia and watch the World Series and write during the entire Series.”
And the one after that:
“And the third is a new record with the Miracle 3, my band, my band of the last seven years. We’re going to do a record together in Richmond in January.”
Steve Wynn’s favorite baseball team when he lived in Los Angeles and played with Dream Syndicate:
The Los Angeles Dodgers. (Mention Fernando Valenzuela and there’s a good chance Wynn might get all misty-eyed for his lost youth.)
Steve Wynn’s favorite baseball team since he moved to New York 15 years ago:
The New York Yankees. (That ain’t right. That ain’t right at all).
Steve Wynn’s one previous busking experience:
“I was up in Boston like in ’83, probably ’84, a long time ago, and I was staying at somebody’s house. I was hanging out at The Rat and everybody split. Everyone thought that somebody else was supposed to take me back to this place. Everyone left thinking I was covered. I was there by myself, pretty drunk. So I went out. I had no money. I had like literally no money. I spent it on beer or whatever. I went out into Kenmore Square and busked. I had my guitar with me. I played an acoustic show. I had just finished an acoustic show that night and I went out and busked in Kenmore Square and got cab fare. It was the strongest connection I ever had between playing music and earning a living in my life. You know, it was the most concrete example. I stood out here and played for cab fare and it worked.”
Now that it’s over, a very nice theory on the difference between playing in a club and a dog run:
“You know, there’s a certain suspension of disbelief when you’re in a club. I’ve always thought it was really funny that you go into a club, you play a show and you’re standing on a higher platform than the audience. You’re immediately looking down at them. You’re immediately put into a place where everyone recognizes you as the focus of the evening. So you’ve already got things in your favor. Then you’ve got a PA making you really loud. Things are more in your favor. Then you’ve got lights making you all lit up in a nice way, hopefully. So everything’s like made to take you out of any kind of belief that you’re just like some other guy who can play a guitar, you know, and stand in front of people.
“And it is intimidating to play either out in a dog run, or I sometimes play in a record store where there’s no PA and you’re standing on the floor. Or even playing clubs sometimes that don’t have a stage. Once you start stripping away all the artifice, you kind of have to remind yourself why people even bother paying attention to you. And I kind of like it. I like playing the dog run. Not that anyone’s paying attention, but I figure, if I feel comfortable doing this here, if I feel comfortable playing these songs like I have a reason to be playing them, and if they sound halfway decent here, I guess I’m doing the right thing.”
Steve Wynn does “There Will Come a Day” in a dog park