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Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Outside: Introducing The Dusk Devils
By psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT
By the time you read this, another Halloween will have passed. For those who regard Halloween as an evil trick, devoid of any redeeming treat to sweeten the celebration, this is undoubtedly a good thing. But just in case you Halloween-haters were under the impression that it is now safe to go outside, I will take this opportunity to disabuse you of that fallacious notion.
Before you bask in your so-called safety, take a look outside your window. It's The Dusk Devils, a band of mysterious, mischievous musicians. I thought about interviewing them, but around this time of year, I don't usually interview bands. I unmask them and 'trick' them. In this case, I borrowed my unmasking techniques (or tricks, if you will), from renowned psychologist and philosopher, Carl Jung. I will reveal my festive findings in a few moments, but first, let me share Jung's view of Halloween and the devilish creatures that come out to haunt us every October 31. Though he never mentioned the day, per se, there is much to be read between the lines.
Carl Jung was not among those who decried such a seemingly senseless and sinister celebration, and though I have openly declared myself to be a Christ-centered psychologist, I guess I am not inclined to condemn Halloween and its practices either.
Jung often spoke of embracing one's shadow--that detached, unconscious, festering element of one's character that, if ignored or repressed, comes back to haunt each of us in a way that can spell disaster and self-destruction. In childhood, the shadow is neither light nor darkness. It is simply our human side--the side that is tempted, the side that experiences our will when it is thwarted, the side that gets angry, the side that knows only wonder, desire, and frustration. If parents or other influential adult figures, label this side as "bad" and punish children for acknowledging it and expressing it, children learn to dissociate from that side, restricting it's residence to forbidden, decidedly darkened corners of the psyche.
Over time, this cluster of repressed elements grows darker and takes on an ugly disposition. It becomes The Shadow. These alienated elements become the caged demons of personality that haunt as they hurt us. Our best recourse is to let them out of the cage in socially appropriate, and/or creatively redeeming ways.
The Jungian tricks, or unmasking techniques, that I pulled from my doctor's bag in an effort to reveal the shadowy side of the band took a variety of forms. These included an informally prepared word association list, a group of incomplete sentences with instructions to fill in the blanks, and a collection of CD covers flashed before the eyes of band members who were instructed to provide a one-word association for each. Some day, with the consent of band members secured, these responses may be incorporated into a scientific study--one that may be well suited for a psychological journal. In the meantime, what I can tell you is that nothing scary emerged. One could say that such material was hidden or repressed, but if it were, one would expect longer periods of hesitation between the stimuli presented and the replies I received. This was not the case. I'm sure that none of these band members were free of psychological baggage. None of us are. But it was beyond the scope of my inquiry to probe further.
I was simply trying to get a sneak peak at what fuels the band, not voyeuristically probe into what may or may not lurk behind their collective psyche. Their responses were upbeat, positive, and life affirming. If I had done my homework and listened to the music before I gathered them together for this pre Halloween ceremony, I would not have been so surprised. When I did finally listen to the music, I discovered there was nothing to demonize about Dusk Devils. Instead, my listening experience amounted to sheer delight; it was all treat, and no trick. To reference a catchy 80s pop tune by Robert Palmer, the recently deceased, woefully underrated artist who was indisputably the sharpest dressed man in rock 'n' roll, I found the music of these Devils “Simply Irresistible.”
A fine wine is never hastily poured. Au contraire, it is delicately decanted, in a circumspect effort to avoid disturbing the sediments. That line sounds stuffy and pretentious, doesn't it? Well, Dusk Devils are the antithesis of all that is stuffy and pretentious. They are neither fine wine, nor cheap beer. Their nostalgic music spills freely and frequently, but none of it is a waste. They know how to celebrate life without reveling in debauchery. Parents that typically judge books by their covers, and bands by their names, need not be concerned about this being a devil-worshipping band. Fun-loving? Yes. Playful lovers of neon lights and fun-filled nights? Most definitely. Devil worshippers? Hardly! They are no more devil worshippers than Johnny Cash.
Like the legendary Johnny Cash, The Dusk Devils live the tension that is inherent in the human condition. The reckless abandon that allowed Cash to secure his reputation as a rebel rouser was imbued with just enough humility and repentance to allow him to open for none other than Billy Graham. I wouldn't be surprised if he now opens for the angels in heaven.
Speaking of angels, I discovered both the Cashesque rebel rouser and the humble servant in frontwoman, Jenny Angel. Yes, ironically enough, that is her name.
While I am certainly not anti-evangelical (quite the contrary), I am a deep respecter of the personal nature of one's faith and belief system. Therefore, I often hesitate to bring up the G word with bands But this Angel had no fear of the subject matter and rushed in while I was treading lightly. When I asked her about how the band saw itself in terms of G...GGG...Gaw...God (There, I said it!), she waxed angelic: "I think this kind of music is incredibly spiritual, in a humorous way that appeals to me.
Although thematically it's as simple and euphemistically carnal as can be--cars, making out, dancing, etc., musically, it brings such joy to the listener and performer, it's nearly divine! This up-tempo, melodious, life-affirming music delivers the ecstatic experience, I think. I feel it in my bones when I hear it and play it--and in my soul."
It sounds like the type of spirituality Elvis exuded. And while at least certain more benighted members of church-going America have yet to shed the puritanical tendency to equate evil with blowing off steam, keep in mind that King David was known to dance for joy. I may be mistaken, but I do believe that when David danced, he seriously tore up the dance floor.
The band is mixed in terms of members' allegiance to any particular faith, with one member boldly referring to himself as a born-again Christian, and the two remaining members, believers in a "higher power or guiding intelligence." Yes, I know that "higher power," and "guiding intelligence" may sound to some like a response one would expect from a recovering Star Trek character at an NA meeting. But though it may have an amorphous, impersonal ring, we've all got to start somewhere.
Jenny Angel is the diva who dreamed up and then developed the Dusk Devils, and she is the driving force that hangs on to the helm, come what may. Recently that "come what may" included the loss of one drummer, followed by the loss of another. Jenny described the former band members as "seasoned pros who recorded and traveled a lot and were from different American music backgrounds--Mark Goehring, country & western, and Pat Frase, jazz. She feels "lucky" to have had such talented drummers, but has also felt a little like the members of Spinal Tap, who'd "get a new drummer just to have him spontaneously combust."
Jenny began writing songs while on a trip, riding on the back of a motorcycle. Once the writing began, her head was flooded with new material--material that she ended up laying down on a four track recorder, backing herself on bass and some honky-tonk style piano arrangements.
Like the Monkees, The Dusk Devils started out as a quasi-fake band. But, unlike the Monkees, this "band" played all its own instruments; it was a genuine one woman band. The only thing fake was an altered band photograph--this 'altered photo' contained a photographic clone of Jenny, Jenny's husband, and Andrae the Giant. The photo was entered on the web site, not as a publicity stunt, and not with the intent of deceiving anybody. If it had been, the photo would have been doctored to make it look more realistic. It was intended strictly as a joke, but despite its low tech quality, many credulous fans bit the bait and swallowed itr. This unanticipated, unintended result caused Jenny to want to make an honest woman out of herself and the "band."
"I hooked up with this gal that had been my on-and-off-friend for years, and she introduced me to Brian," Jenny said as she reflected upon the band's auspicious beginning. "Brian brought an entire production company with him," Jenny stated jokingly. She added that Brian (Paxton), who plays guitar, and shares vocal parts, has added a great deal of "interest and enthusiasm for the music."
Brian declared, at least half jokingly, that he passed the audition because he came loaded with equipment. And what about bass player, Robert Spinzo's reason for being invited to join the band? The original bass player was a day late and a dollar short for the band's first gig at Robert's art gallery, (Maestri). Robert graciously offered to step in and the rest was his story. In addition to his maestro's touch on his "old hollow-body-semi-acoustic" bass, Robert adds his own vocals to certain songs in the band's voluminous repertoire.
What I heard when I listened to the band's demo was a unique blend of energetically charged Americana rooted in such diverse styles as rockabilly, honky-tonk, boogie-woogie, and hillbilly blues. Dusk Devils make covers of such artists as Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Bill Haley, Wanda Jackson, Roy Orbison, and the Blasters their own by channeling the music through their own distinctive blend of personalities and their own collaborative style.
The Dusk Devils treasure the past, and the artists who shaped that past. Their deep appreciation for their musical roots is what gives them the launching pad upon which to launch great works of musical art. Their next recording project involves working with x-Stranger Mark Yeary, former 20 year right hand man and member of Merle Haggards band. This anticipated collaboration embodies the type of ceremonial baton-passing that was characteristic of another old-meets-new phenomenon--that of a recent duet between John McCrae of Cake, and Buck Owens (See http://www.tollbooth.org/2003/creviews/cake.html)
The Dusk Devils take the old songs and make them brand new again. They take the old days, make you think you've lived them before, regardless of your age, and then they make you want to re-live those old days all over again. In the future, if you'll let them in the door, they'll take you back again and again. All the while, you'll feel like your moving forward. If you're following in their footsteps, you'll find falling forward, finding yourself back to the future in no time flat.
For more information on The
Dusk Devils, or to learn how you could be their next drummer, visit