By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
"Dean's agent didn't really care if we used the name as long as we weren't doing very well," Elm recounts, "but he said that if he started seeing it in advertisements,or if we started selling records, then he had a problem. I don't think it was really about money--I mean, Dean Martin has plenty of money. But after he listened to our tape, I don't think he was sure if we were some punk-rock band or a joke or what. So I guess it was just easier to say no. That's why we had to change our name." He hastens to add, "But we definitely still like Dean."
Dean might well like the newly christened Friends of Dean Martinez, too. Far from being a loungey novelty, The Shadow of Your Smile is an excursion through a pre-rock landscape that seasons mood music of the past with a pinch of twangy Western flair and a lazy, exceedingly dry sense of humor. Originals such as "Swamp Cooler" and "House of Pie" call to mind the eerie quality David Lynch films routinely exuded before the director became a brand name, and "Ugly Beauty" is perhaps the cheesiest Thelonious Monk cover ever committed to wax. "John and Joey picked that one--they're the jazz buffs," Elm states. When asked if any jazz purists had taken umbrage at the liberties the Friends took with Monk's work, Elm replies, "I haven't heard any complaints--it would be kind of interesting if we got some. But we usually don't get that type of person at our shows. Mostly we get people like this guy who came up to us the other night and said he wanted us to play something by Supertramp."
Elm and company didn't comply with the request, mainly because none of them had memorized Breakfast in America. Beyond that, though, Elm claims to have developed an allergy to the majority of ditties that include singing and lyrics. "Most vocalists are a big turn-off to me," he declares. "There are some of them who are good, but a lot of them aren't. And I find that a lot of lyrics are just stupid. Over the years there've been so many good ones that it seems to me that people have run out of ideas. Besides, I think the music by itself can be enough. It's kind of nice to listen to something and not have to be thinking about, `Hey, I'm in love,' or `My girlfriend screwed me over.'"
A sizable number of listeners seem to agree: The Shadow of Your Smile has sold far more copies than either Elm or Sub Pop had anticipated. To capitalize on the response, the band has just cut three songs (including "Monte Carlo," a Santo & Johnny cover) for release on a single in January. Another album should follow. In the meantime, the five-piece is bringing its sound to young and old, with varying results.
"About a week and a half ago, we played a retirement home," Elm says, "and they liked most of the band, but I didn't go over that well. I think the steel guitar was messing with their hearing aids. We were playing, and this old man in front made this face, put his hand to his ear and said, `Aw! That stuff's awful!' So I had to stop playing. But after that, John went into some old thing and they loved it."
Life, death. Joy, sadness. Dean, Jerry. And aloha with a steel guitar.
Vic Chesnutt, with Friends of Dean Martinez. 8 p.m. Saturday, October 14, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax, $7, 322-2308.