David + David

David Baerwald and David Ricketts were Californians with musical roots in Bruce Springsteen’s The River. They called themselves David + David on Boomtown, their only album.

David Baerwald and David Ricketts should not be confused with David Whitson and David Phillips, two Texans who also recorded one album: the country-rock A Song for You. Those Davids called themselves David & David.

David + David and David & David should not be confused with the David and David who are two guys at my postcard club. Those are way other Davids.

David + David’s Boomtown is a chronicle of folks going nowhere during the Reagan years. Springsteen and David + David are good at observing losers, but only Springsteen can find their nobility. Springsteen’s people may be headed for defeat, but they’re going down in a last-chance power drive. David + David’s people are slipping quietly into that dark night.

Time has not helped this record, unless you swoon over synthesizers. As singers, the Davids are serviceable. They don’t take chances, except once when they rap, but it passes quickly. They’re the infielder you send into the game in the sixth inning when your regular guy pulls a hamstring. And the song “Ain’t That Easy,” sung from the point of view of an abusive boyfriend, is creepy. The romantic violin doesn’t help.

However: The writing often pops. On “Swallowed By the Cracks,” the line “We would talk through the night/about what we would do/if we could just get started” is a descendant of Pink Floyd’s “No one told you when to run/you missed the starting gun.” On “Heroes” they rhyme “bad guitar players” with “dewy-eyed teenage dragon slayers.”

The opening track, “Welcome to the Boomtown,” briefly broke into the Billboard Top 40. It’s the kind of song that college radio stations adore…for a couple of semesters. It’s also the only song I know with “succulent” in the lyrics:

So I say, I say welcome, welcome to the Boomtown
Pick a habit, we got plenty to go around
Welcome, welcome to the Boomtown
All that money makes
such a…suc-cu-lent…sound

I guess time travel really is possible, because after tripping over “Welcome to the Boomtown” recently, I not only recognized it, I was immediately transported to a drizzly night in Seattle in what must’ve been the late ’80s, waiting in the doorway to get into a Ballard club with Special D. The club was playing a mixtape, and “Welcome to the Boomtown” drifted out of the PA system like a lost soul.

This record is worth a listen. But maybe not on Date Night.

Naturally, the first name of the man who produced Boomtown was Davitt.

Same era, different results
Wall of Voodoo, Call of the West (1982)
The Nails, Mood Swing (1984)

Wall of Voodoo’s specialties were alienation, hopelessness, and robotic laments. Singer Stan Ridgway sounded a lot like The B-52s’ Fred Schneider. When I first heard their song “Tomorrow,” I thought it was The B-52s. “Tomorrow” is a catchy tune with a galloping rhythm à la Men At Work’s “Down Under.”

Wall of Voodoo would be a whisper today, known only to ethnomusicologists, were it not for “Mexican Radio.” The guitar explodes off the starting block and the lyrics leave fun syllables in your mouth:

I wish I was in
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home

The Nails had some serious skills, and Marc Campbell, their singer, had a big, distinctive voice. Their material was not up to their talent. They generally kept things dark and quirky, but they brightened up on “88 Lines About 44 Women.”

Deborah was a Catholic girl,
she held out to the bitter end.
Carla was a different type,
she’s the one who put it in.

There’s humor in this song, as well as motels, money, murder, madness, but it all ends sweetly:

Judy came from Ohio,
she’s a Scientologist.
Pomegranate, here’s a kiss,
I chose you to end this list.

Boomtown isn’t as good as Springsteen’s debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, but it showed potential. And yet nothing happened. Wall of Voodoo and The Nails together released 10 undistinguished albums. Why not David + David? Timing? Connections? The turn of an unfriendly card? “Mexican Radio” and “88 Lines About 44 Women” will live forever on comps of ’80s music. “Welcome to the Boomtown” will not.

My only thought here is that “Mexican Radio” propels and “88 Lines” makes you laugh. “Welcome to the Boomtown” haunts. When excavating the past, which would you’d rather be? Propelled, amused, or haunted? And that’s not haunted as in “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” but haunted as in somebody’s going to die. Alone.

Well, what’s fame anyway? David Bowie wrote a bitter song about it, but he said later that he didn’t care anymore. “I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing. The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants.” And the chance to lead the Republican Party. I’d prefer a seat in a restaurant.


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