Even worse than ringtones is the hold music some cell phone users use to replace the familiar intermittent electronic ululations—one man’s favorite song is another man’s strident, horrific noise. Worst-case scenario, the song might reveal something about the person you’re calling. The sweet young thing you met at the Obama rally might really identify with Jared Leto’s over-emoting in 30 Seconds to Mars. Your cool new friend might be inordinately enamored of Soulja Boy. So when light, airy classical music greets City Weekly as we dial up Michael Dean Damron—nucleus of defunct I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House and current group Thee Loyal Bastards, we wonder if we’ve misdialed.
See, what we like about Mike D. is how every interaction is a cherry bomb. When he inquires—sincerely—as to the well-being of you and yours, the anticipation is as sweet as the inevitable explosion; you wave the scent around in front of your face, savoring it, knowing it’ll presently turn deliciously bilious. On the other end, Damron nearly dreads the moment when his trenchant mouth begins its compulsive profane plié, bobbing in plainly elegant, eloquent utterance of his rawest emotions and opinions about the personal, social and political failures that surround us. The Power of D. is a blessing and a curse.
“Absolutely,” he laughs, fresh outta bed—bright and early at 2:30 p.m. “Hopefully, nine times out of 10, [what I say] will be something half-intelligent.”
Damron’s favorite targets—Charlton Heston, Rev. Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps, George W. Bush—would say his rock & roll invective is exactly that. What credence can one give a message that is couched in obscenities and opinions that run counter to your own unimpeachable “morals?” To those grounded in reality, it’s poetry. Even if his vocabulary seems limited, Damron doesn’t need a thesaurus to help him say things are pretty messed up. That’s what makes his records—pendulous blends of compassionate, introspective singer-songwriter fare and balls-out, piss-and-vinegar rock & roll rants—so good.
But not everybody understands or enjoys this about him. Take, for example, one 22-year-old Harry Potter fan on MySpace who called Damron “an old, bitter and washed-up musician of poor quality.” His comments clearly come from an ideological disagreement (a Damron live staple is “Dear Mr. Heston,” in which he calls the actor and NRA shill a “cold-blooded, old-blooded, sick-ass man”—ring a bell?), and it’s a common reaction. But douchebags like this guy, and other critics who can’t see past Damron’s bluntness, are less common than the folks who appreciate his unwavering honesty and who take the time to see that he just as often points the gun at himself.
On Thee Loyal Bastards’ debut LP Bad Days Ahead (In Music We Trust), before he attacks anyone else (and he does), Damron lets himself have it. Coming off like a coked-up Eddie Rabbitt on “I Love the Rain,” he addresses everything from his big mouth to his alcoholism: “I like my clouds all big and black … I embrace my shame.” His demons saturate the record and, on “Hotter Hell”—a song that could just as easily call for intense eternal torment for the intolerant, war- and-fear-mongering scoundrels he criticizes—he says, “gonna face what I got comin’/ don’t you know I’ve seen a hotter hell/ I just can’t remember when.” And, although he claims “I’m tired of kickin’/ I’m tired of screamin’,” he pledges to keep being the angry watchdog—on “Best I’ve Felt in Years,” Damron reminds us “my buck knife is nice and sharp.”
Gotta wonder if that line’s gonna serve as a warning to his MySpace friend. “We’ll be up in Alaska this summer. He can come up and tell me how washed up I am to my fuckin’ face.”
Michael Dean Damron @ Bar Deluxe, 666 S. State, Friday Feb. 22, 9 p.m. Also appearing at The Heavy Metal Shop, 63 Exchange Place, Friday Feb. 22, 5 p.m.