My Love For Dr. Dog Is A Massive, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Easy Beat Or Go Home
I remember my very first interaction with Dr. Dog. I was a freshman in college and learning my way around our campus radio station. On the overly-heavy studio door was a bunch of band stickers. Few were bands I knew and many were bands I had never heard of before. One of them was Dr. Dog. I remember loving the name “Dr. Dog” and thinking this is a band I want to love. Which, is, honestly the dumbest thing you can think about a band. Likely, I’ve thought that about a band before and since, and it’s still stupid. But that’s how it all started.
My relationship with Dr. Dog is a long, involved love story. They were the first band that got me into-back listening. (I miss the days when I sit down to an album and realize there are many that precede it.) I loved that every time I turned around there was another Dr. Dog record to discover. It surprises me most, when I get flashbacks to the fact that I listed their record Fate over any Wilco album on my People’s List for The Fork, I remember how much this band means to me (and I remember how much Fate means to me.) It was a record I tried out, because we were playing the single from Fate, “The Rabbit, The Bat And The Reindeer” all the time on air. I had recommended “Hold On” to a friend because of the piano hook in it. I then forced myself, like a good little listener, to move past the familiar tracks and listen to the rest of it. Fate then became one of those records that you can’t look away from, the kind that you let play all the way through no matter what your life is up to that day. You don’t even sit down to listen to it unless you have time to listen to all eleven tracks. Later, my friends and I idolized it, no one was able to pick a favorite track.
Then, I met other people who loved Dr. Dog. Fellow audio production majors of mine surprised me with their Dr. Dog devotion. One told me his favorite was We All Belong and we talked about Easy Beat. I became involved with Dr. Dog. I played them endlessly and convinced my best friend Mary to drive to Philly to see them with me, masking the weekend as a trip home to see my parents. They were playing the TLA on South Street in Philly, the first night of two sold out shows on the Fate tour – a show I’ll never forget. (They were all wearing white jumpsuits that had rainbow lattice spray painted on them to match the wall sized backdrop behind them. There were animal heads and lamps all over the stage. I knew every word to every song and because it was Philadelphia, everyone else did too. Even though she wasn’t familiar with them, Mary had fallen in love by the end of the show. One more on our side, I thought.) Later that year, I offered to drive some of our friends from Ithaca to Syracuse to see them live. That summer, I attended the Non-Comm Radio Convention at WXPN in Philly and got to see them live for free. It was Christmas in July.
Shame Shame came out and I found more friends of mine who were also Dr. Dog fanatics. They were soundtracking their video projects with “Shadow People.” We strained to love Shame Shame compared to their past records and debated between “Where’d All The Time Go?” and “Unbearable Why.” Then it was Be The Void with “That Old Black Hole” and “How Long Must I Wait.” And even though I didn’t love these newer records as much, none of us did, I still found myself listening to them. We all found ourselves defending Dr. Dog’s honor. (I remember one time when my friend Mike saw them on a random night when he was home for a weekend. I picked up my phone when he called and it was just “Army Of Ancients” playing.)
Over their catalog, and as I discover their past like Toothbrush, I hear how they lost their dissonance and found their appeal through the over-used label people stick on them: “Beatlesque.” Never mind that they were once (strangely) categorized as psychedelic rock. Or that their music sometimes makes you feel uncomfortable (like “Dutchman Falls.”) Their catalog is the way every band’s own personal discovery should sound. Listen to their discography and Fate is the crest of the wave: it’s their best part. I tell people to listen to that record when they ask me where to start, even though I secretly want to tell them Easy Beat – which has all my favorites on it: “The World May Never Know”, “Oh No”, “Easy Beat”, “Say Something” and “Today.” And I can’t listen to critics talk about their music. They don’t know what I know when I listen to Dr. Dog records and they won’t ever be able to tell me how to feel about them.
So, how on earth am I supposed to review their latest record? When such personal memories cloud the relationship you have with a band, you can’t really look at them critically. At least I know I can’t. I’m supposed to review the new B-Room, sat down to listen to it and these previous 800 words came out. As I’ve mentioned their other records, I put them on and got lost in the discography. “I feel a Dr. Dog phase coming on,” is a sentence I just said aloud to my roommate. And now, I can’t turn back. I might even wear my Dr. Dog t-shirt today. Which record to listen to? As much as I want to turn Fate on I know I can’t get lost in it right now. So instead, it’s Easy Beat which only reminds me of driving around Ithaca, up and down the hill from my apartment to campus, singing along and falling into a deep music coma. Certain songs come on and I immediately pick out the part of the song I look forward to most. I have to stop what I’m doing, I play air-keys and air bass. I could sever my own hands in a euphoric state and not notice until the track is over. I can’t talk to you until a track is over. So how the fuck am I supposed to tell you how to feel about this band?
I’m not even jaded when people complain about them. A lot of people are generally turned off by Dr. Dog. There’s a range, like there is with any band, of people who like, love, like-love, semi-like, kind-of-hate and hate them. A close friend of mine hated that they play forever, which is something I love about them. I was immediately disgusted and offended by it and then moved on. How on earth could they skip over so many songs live? I argue. They have so many good ones! It’s the best part. And they can go on forever because they have two lead singers.
Which only reminds me about my favorite thing about Dr. Dog – the fact that they have two lead singers. Toby Leaman on bass has the deep, raspy voice and Scott McMicken on guitar is the more soprano, light-hearted voice. The rest of them all harmonize and it gives the band actual sonic depth. A few of my other favorite bands also have two lead singers (specifically Dirty Projectors) and rely on the back and fourth and the backup of other band members to do vocals. It makes records more than three dimensional. And not only can they go on forever live, but you won’t get tired of them. (And, actually, now that I think about it, the Beatles had two lead singers too, re Dr. Dog’s “Beatlesque” categorization. The Beatles also ended their magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper, with shared-vocal duties, by way of piano breakdown (need I specify? This is about “Day In The Life”) the same way Fate ends with “My Friend.” Then again, the entire Beatles discography is a magnum opus. And this comparison is too huge for any band/human, but it needs to be said.)
When I went with my roommate/best friend Angeline to see them play at the 930 Club in DC a couple years ago, she was near appalled that I didn’t know their names, that I didn’t know anything about them at all. (Just now I had to look up Leaman and McMicken’s names.) It highlighted our difference in how we’re fans: she learns everything about each member’s personal life and likes their music while I listen to each record, all the way through, over and over and then maybe, I can move on. Frequently, I don’t know everyone’s name. Usually, I fall in love with the Tweedys and the Longstreths and the John Mccreas while other members go (unfairly) unnoticed.
So, now, for an “assignment” I have to review B-Room. How will it hold up against the rest? Instead of thinking about it critically, I’m thinking how will this fit into the Dr. Dog story of my life. Will there be a “Today”-like song on this one, where they layer their guitar solos and write perfect lyrics like “a song is made with sugar and lemonade”? How many choruses will I absent-mindedly sing along to? These are the questions I kind of don’t want to answer. So I guess we’ll see where B-Room takes me. Likely, I’ll post the review here next week. So we’ll all find out soon.