The Disney Channel used to be a morning staple for The Hangover children. The kids have grown out of it now, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. But there is one drawback: Dan Zanes and Friends no longer appear in the living room, providing musical interludes between shows. One might ask: Why would a grown man bemoan the loss of videos starring a funny looking, colored-suit-wearing, gangly musician? Because Dan Zanes was formerly the lead singer of one of the best bar bands on the planet–The Del Fuegos.
A few years ago I was reading the morning paper and the kids were watching television (the horror, the horror). To fill time during breaks, the networks showed music clips, usually featuring some goofy singer strumming an acoustic guitar singing about dinosaurs or bunnies. My eyes never left the page. And then I heard a raspy voice backed by a Stratocaster and drums. I put down Doonesbury and there was Dan Zanes.
“Kids,” I said. “Watch. This guy is awesome.”
The Del Fuegos came out of Boston in the early ’80’s. They weren’t musical virtuosos, but the drums snapped and the guitars churned. Dan Zanes’ vocals suggested gravel more than velvet. Ten seconds into a song, you knew they meant it. They sang about the usual rock and roll subjects: girls, relationships, failed relationships, music, and making it through the day. The music had integrity and cajones.
The Hangover first saw them in a San Diego bar in ’84 on a recommendation–more an order–from a friend in Boston. They took the stage and howled, sweat, and jumped through their set. People danced. It was music made for beer drinking and letting loose. Eventually, Miller tapped them for a commercial–a grainy, shadowy bit that is nothing like the slickly produced ads seen today. Most of their videos looked like they were shot in 8mm and created for black and white. That’s the kind of band they were.
The day their second album, Boston, Mass, came out, we drove to Newberry Comics and then listened to it straight through on a portable CD player in a ratty Camaro. A show at the Channel a few weeks later was a masterpiece. The next time they played the venue, it was so crowded that no one could move, never mind dance. Personal space and fire code violations were rampant.
Two more albums and the Del Fuegos were done. That’s the music business. Great bands disappear practically on a daily basis, with no logic or voodoo to explain it. Had things fallen right, the Del Fuegos might have been a contender for the “American version of the Rolling Stones” crown. Instead, they are a footnote.
Dan Zanes is now on a mission to play a folk-rock-world hybrid that entire families can enjoy. He believes in this the same way he did his earlier music. It’s not the Del Fuegos, but we like it. The Hangover will miss seeing the Dan Zanes videos in the morning. They never failed to bring back bars, Buds, and great times, at least until someone spilled Cheerios all over the floor.