February 20, 2003

From the Horse's Mouth

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Ten reasons why I enjoy Ithaca’s own Johnny Dowd.

10. Guitar Playing — Johnny’s lo-fi licks manage to sound sloppy and precise, dissonant and emotional all at the same time. The perfect style for the Dowd world.

9. Humor — I love when a band needs to be seen live to be fully understood. The Flaming Lips make a lot more sense when you see them in bunny suits covered with fake blood. Johnny is similarly hard to gauge on record, but live one understands how ghastly tragedies coexist with such a killer sense of humor.

8. The Blues — Since the Blues left the Delta they’ve been reduced to merely an aesthetic, a melody progression, a style of playing. The blues have lost that sense of harrowing isolation and pitch-black fear felt in the scratchy recordings of Charley Patton and Son House. Johnny captures that lost primal darkness.

7. Storytelling — Johnny, like the great Hank Williams, writes deceivingly simple songs. Yet most great songs seem predictable and obvious at first sight but manage to powerfully revive familiar stories in profound and poetic ways.

6. Age — Johnny recorded his first solo record at the age of 49, when most of his coevals had given up the rock’n’roll dream. Most have settled into cushy lifestyles and are satisfied with passing on some musical literacy to their kids. Nice to see a man that didn’t quit.

5. Drunkenness — His impromptu poetry, slurred monologues, and wounded wails — this is the stuff legends are made of and Johnny’s shows are filled with them.

4. Van Diagrams — The subject matter of Dowd’s songs can be represented using two partially overlapping circles. The first represents “infidelity” the second “murder.” Both play beneath God’s dark shadow.

3. Discomfort — Someone once described Johnny as “dad’s drinking buddy imitating Nick Cave.” The description is misleading, however Johnny’s lyrics and music skillfully capture that aspect of dad’s drinking buddy that left one feeling strangely uncomfortable. Whether it’s the misplaced sexual remark or an unwanted stare, Johnny often gives his listeners such jarring detours into a character’s psyche.

2. Requests — Whenever my friends and I scream for the amazing “Worried Mind,” Johnny rarely leaves us hanging.

1.The Line — “You’ve got a dirty dirty mind, and a missionary smile.” That’s as good as it gets.

Peace, “the dark horse”

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin