Sweetly Subversive Sounds – Dave's True Story

If the reader is unfamiliar with Dave’s True Story1

First, DrHGuy is sooooooo sorry for you. Thank goodness you are finally discovering this sophisticatedly salacious, so hip it hurts combo. People were beginning to talk.

Now, imagine yourself sitting at a too-small table in a New York cocktail lounge with someone quite clever, intriguing, and, it’s becoming evident, a little more daring than you. The two of you are auditioning for each other with the prospect of tonight’s final act being staged in bed.

You ended up at this place on the advice of that one guy who runs with the cool kids yet still seems to like you, and thanks to his guidance, you are drinking martinis – not appletinis, crantinis, chocolatinis, and certainly not Coo Coo Firecracker cucumber martinis.

But the reason he recommended this place isn’t the exclusivity, the latter day hipster ambiance, or even its refusal to serve those Johnny-come-lately-tinis; it’s the music.

Live Music By Dave’s True Story

The trio2 performing on the tiny stage reassuringly present themselves in the standard low-key jazz-vocalist-and-backup motif. One guy is adorned with sunglasses, and both men are wearing hats. Equipment, instrument cases, and cables are casually strewn about.

Front and center is an attractive female vocalist (Kelly Flint), a chanteuse with Julie London’s smoky, sensual intonations showcased in Peggy Lee’s soft and cool singing style – with a dash of Suzanne Vega and Joni Mitchell and just a touch of Debbie Harry added. Her Pernod-infused voice somehow fits each song precisely.

The bass player (Jeff Eyrich) has a beefy physique and reliable proficiency befitting his instrument.

The guitarist and songwriter, (Dave, as in the “Dave” of “Dave’s True Story,” Cantor) insouciantly produces, with no wasted movements and seemingly minimal effort, complexly inflected chords that give an ordered vibrancy to the total sound.3

They are playing music that is jazzy (but, thank God, not Jazz), melodic, and smooth, reminiscent of performances by Norah Jones or Harry Connick, Jr. (or Donna Krall before she hooked up with Elvis Costello) but a tad bouncier (think Bonnie Raitt) and more, well, cocktail loungey.

So far, so good. But, that’s not what makes the repertoire of Dave’s True Story special.

Surreptitiously Seductive Songs

The music they play is also professionally unobtrusive. There are no musicological histrionics, vibrato-enhanced double forte crescendos, or amps set to a Spinal Tap 11 to interrupt conversations or discourteously demand ones attention. They play and sing within the lines.

Which explains why it’s only after the fourth song in the set that the charmer into whose eyes you’ve been staring. blinks those eyes, turns to you with a quizzical, bemused look, and says, “Did you hear that? Listen to the words.”

And, those next words are

He should be spending Sundays
Over a charcoal grill
Or tuning the family Hyundai
Not at some bachanalia
Hog-tied in black regalia

The slippery rhyme of “Sundays” and “Hyundai” notwithstanding, it’s that “hog-tied in black regalia” thing that captures your interest.

The next number, Another Hit, invokes Johnny Mercer and “Sassy” Vaughn in a songwriter’s plea for just one more hit to maintain the succession of toys, women, and glamour he’s enjoyed. It’s a little dark but, hey, how threatening can a song that name-drops Johnny Mercer be? You relax.

So, you relax until they play a song about “that crazy chick in the sequined mermaid dress” who was betrayed in love “and now it’s only toys that share her bed.” Yep, she said toys. That’s almost as disturbing as the realization that in the 21st Century, your response to a song about “a crazy chick” is along the lines of “groovy.”

As the night goes on, you discover that the Dave’s True Story playlist includes

  • A song that describes “Sex without bodies,” involving “five of the happiest people / That I’ve ever seen.”
  • Another song that, within a single stanza, invokes Dobie and Maynard, Dick Van Dyke, Cassandra, and Camus, with enough moxie left over for a concluding couplet that rhymes “Swiss au pair” with “Frigidaire.”
  • A number in which a sexy female voice explains the difference between “the real thing” and “just a spasm” – and her preference for the latter.
  • A plethora of literary allusions of the sort that almost convince you that those years you spent earning that graduate degree in English Lit were worth it. In two verses of I’ll Never Read Trollope Again, for example, mention is made of Jonathan Edwards, Emmanuel Kant, Kafka, Don Quixote, Jackie Collins, [Charles] Bukowski , and, of course, Trollope. In the space of three lines, another song references [Jame] Joyce, [Arthur] Miller, and Kafka.

The Music

The keynote to the music of Dave’s True Story is the tricky, complex, clever, ironic reflections on postmodern love, anomie and anatomy, conflicted concupiscence, and the excruciating pleasures of mid-range sexual perversity set to straightforward, traditional music from the lounge genre: torch songs, Latin rhythms, swing, and even a touch of rhythm and blues.

It’s Cole Porter writing jingles for Toys In Babeland ads.4

The Mystery

The mystery of Dave’s True Story can be summarized thusly:

If they’re so great, how come nobody knows about them?

Well, for one thing, Dave’s True Story is not totally unknown.

They have sold, after all, over 50,000 copies of their four albums, Dave’s True Story (1994 with new version in 2002), Sex Without Bodies (1998), Unauthorized (2000), and Nature (2005), produced on their own Bepop label,5 without big-budget PR promotions or the support of one of the mega-music companies

And, they are not only known to but also beloved of critics, including those from The New York Times, Playboy, CNN, Soundstage, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Consumer Guide, Atomic Magazine, AOL Music, PopMatters, JazzTimes Magazine, and Impact Press, among many others.

In addition, two of their songs were integral to the movie soundtrack of Kissing Jessica Stein. Crazy Eyes was the signature tune playing in the climactic scene in which the two leads, played by Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Weisfeldt, finally kiss.

Crazy Eyes and Sequined Mermaid Dress, originally suggested by the movie’s music supervisors during editing, were a hit with the movie-makers, the stars, the critics, and the fans. According to Juergensen, “When we were festivaling the film, people would always ask us about the song over the kissing montage — always!” She goes on to explain “They gave us Dave’s True Story and it was perfect. There was something about not only the jazzy feel but the wit of the lyrics. . . . I have a feeling those were actually the only songs that stayed the same from the music cut to the final cut.”

Another piece of evidence supporting the popularity of these songs derives from Verve’s inexplicable decision to exclude both of these songs from the soundtrack CD. Across internet movie forums, the sites of DVD retailers, music discussion groups, one finds references to the missing music and questions about where one can find the songs.6 Again Juergensen’s commentary is enlightening, “I can only say to the people who are wondering – we were wondering too.”

The Most Appealing Characteristic And The Most Off-putting Characteristic
Of Dave’s True Story

[Hint: The most appealing and the most off-putting characteristics of Dave’s True Story are, of course, the same attribute.]

Listening only to the melodies and not the words of these songs produces the sense of pleasant enough background
music, little more than an exquisite form of elevator Muzak.

Only when one grasps the lyrics in the context of the music do those melodies and rhythms become a sly counterpoint to the ideas expressed. Unless, in fact, one attends to and processes the lyrics, Dave’s True Story is just another retro-cabaret act.

The enjoyment of and the entertainment from listening to Dave’s True Story lies in playing with the provocative meanings, rhymes, alliterations, double entendres, allusions, and other devices within Dave Cantor’s musically encased word compositions.

So that’s a good thing.

And that’s a bad thing. (Mostly, though, it’s a good thing.)

Dave’s True Story places demands on the audience. Not only do they lay out a tricky course for listeners to navigate but, unlike ones mother, they won’t insist that one try harder. They don’t, directly or indirectly, remind listeners to pay attention; nor do they hand out cheat sheets that explain the allusions, reference the S&M practices mentioned, or warn one that the next line has more than one possible meanings.

This is not music for slackers

If it isn’t clear already, I heartily approve of this specific case of elitism. You should too. Because the effort required to “get it” pays off tenfold in gratification.

Giving Dave’s True Story A Test Drive

Like all those too cool for school entertainers, Dave’s True Story has a website: http://www.davestruestory.com and a site on myspace.com: http://www.myspace.com/davestruestory

Both locations feature musical and video offerings, most of which seem to come from their later albums. These songs are more mature and deeper than those on the first albums and lack some of the unobtrusive exhibitionism that marked those the earlier efforts.

While those more recently written songs may have a wider appeal and broaden the group’s fan base, I submit that one misses out on a lot of the fun of Dave’s True Story if the early material is omitted.

So, be a sport. Dial up Dave’s True Story on iTunes and pop the $0.99 each for these key songs from the first albums:7

  • Dear Miss Lucy
  • When Kafka Was the Rage
  • Sex Without Bodies
  • I’ll Never Read Trollope Again
  • Spasm

It’s a great deal. Risk less than $5 for the chance to find musical treasures that will not only entertain you but will, if your experience is like mine, convince others (after you force them to listen to the words) that you are, their previous convictions about you notwithstanding, way cool

  1. The semi-official story about the origins of the name follows:
    One of the first gigs they played was at the Postcrypt; they didn’t even have a name, and the guy who organized it announced us like this: “I’ve never heard these guys before and I don’t know if they’re any good, but here they are.'” The gig turned out to be especially formative because as Kelly was introducing the song ‘Last Go Round.’ she said, “This next story is a true story, it’s Dave’s true story.” Somebody yelled out: “That’s your name.” The duo was christened Dave’s True Story. []
  2. More recently, Dave’s True Story has added George (Jorge) Mel on drums, making them a quartet. When I began listening to them, however, they were briefly a duet and then became a trio, which is how, with apologies to Mr. Mel, I still think of them. []
  3. Insouciance also appears to be the theme for Cantor’s dress, although the phrase “studied insouciance” comes to mind in regard to both his musical and sartorial effects. In any case, he is often pictured dressed as he is in the photo below.


  4. I considered “Cole Porter writing jingles for Toys In Babeland ads” a reasonably clever line. After I thought about it, however, I wondered if the Cole Porter comparison might have occurred to anyone else. I did a Google search and found, among many, many others, Cole Porter for the 21st Century, Cole Porter through a David Lynch sensibility, Cole Porter-meets-Seinfeld, missing link between Paul McCartney and Cole Porter, Cole Porter writing about phone sex… . I finally overdosed on coming across Cole Porter meets Steely Dan. Sigh. []
  5. Bepop Records has also produced Simple Twist Of Fate – DTS Does Dylan, Drive All Night (Kelly Flint’s solo album), and even a couple of Dave’s True Story Christmas EPs. []
  6. On today’s Amazon.com Kissing Jessica Stein Soundtrack page, for example, the first customer review begins, Caveat Emptor… The bottom of the CD cover says “music from and INSPIRED by the motion picture”, so it isn’t really the soundtrack from the film. Yes, some of the songs appear in the film, and many songs from the film are absent. For those seeking the two cuts from “Dave’s True Story” (learning to kiss scene), you will have to buy the reissue of the “Daves True Story” CD. []
  7. For extra credit, also buy Flexible Man, which features Mr. Cantor singing as well as strumming. Compare and contrast with Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man. []

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