Dain Daller, Sept 07 | This American Artist: No-Fi Field Guide to Dain Daller


After a brief raft trip down the Mississippi, Dain hopped on his bike and headed west.

ART IS A SMALL WORD but a huge thing. It’s hard to define, defend, or contain. Art has been usurped by states for propaganda purposes, threatened the existence of governments, challenged status quos, and raised or lowered community standards—depending on your point of view.

Here’s a definition: Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. a. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.

Beautiful. Now there’s a mouthful—or should I say: ear-full or eye-full? You know what they say: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Beauty is also, of course, in the mind’s eye of the artist. Or the mind’s “I,” as my good friend Richard Beymer likes to say.

Art can also be measured by how much scratch it commands at auction. But this is to focus on the fruit, not the fruitcake, as it were. Now before you get your bundies in an undle, I’m using “fruitcake” as a metaphor for the artistic process, and mean it in the most elevated sense.

Artists are known to follow the beat of their own drums. This I applaud. Human beings are not putty, pipe cleaners, or robots. We have feelings, inspirations, intuitions, a need to express, explore, touch, hold, taste, connect, build, create.

Today we salute the calling and life of a remarkable artist named Dain Daller. Fairfield residents may know his parents, Donna Colby and Doug Daller, and his sister Adrien, a legendary chanteuse. Both Donna and Doug are deejays on KRUU-FM, Fairfield’s grassroots radio station, which I manage. Adrien has just completed her vocal and theater studies in England. In her first tryout, she secured employment in a touring musical theater production of Godspell starring Steve Gately of Boyzone (an Irish boy band that has sold over 15 million records to date).

The first time I worked with Dain was incorporating beats he’d created on his computer for an upcoming dance my band was scheduld to play. Besides a plethora of killer beats, I found Dain’s work ethic and focus utterly impressive, his company good medicine. He had definite opinions about what worked best where but wasn’t the least pushy or attached. He exudes an air of joy, not in any nervous, self-deprecating or escapist way, just in his carriage. Even though it was mostly cover music, everything soared, everybody danced every song, every musician was high as a kite by evening’s end. I still have the cassette he recorded for me of the basic beats.

Turns out he is still working with cassettes. Dain is host of a show on KRUU-FM called No-Fi Field Guide, which airs Saturdays at 10 a.m. (rebroadcast Sundays at 1 a.m., downloadable at www.kruufm. com.) High art meets low fidelity at the corner of Kerouac and John Lomax. A proactive found artist, this cat has the gift of sight in spades—a veritable bull’s eye of a mind’s “I.” That’s the thing about art. It’s all starts with vision, what you see or imagine, as well as wherewithal and composition—what you put next to what, what you leave leave out, what you snip and what you tuck. The great ones make the act of juggling those elements look easy.

But here’s Dain’s secret.

Whether he’s living under a bridge somewhere, or in an abandoned building in Chicago, or biking the distance of Europe . . . whether he’s playing an ancient horn-fiddle or trumpet-violin known as a stroviol, or any assortment of instruments, or wearing a hat he embroidered, pants he stitched, or eyeglass frames he rolled himself . . . whether he’s competing in a no-holds-barred eating contest, planning a raft trip down the Mississippi or a crosscountry bike excursion from the banks of the ol’ Muddy to a cabin in the corner of Arizona ten miles from both New Mexico and ol’ Mexico—everything the guy does is friggin’ art. The world is his oyster-canvas. Did I mention he’s totally charming, completely blown, utterly unpretentious, and perfectly centered?

When Dain decided he was ready to do a weekly show, I was ecstatic. He planned to bike across America and deliver shows from the road. Watching him pull the tools togther to accomplish his field-recorded musings was a beautiful thing. He researched and tested different equipment, trying them out in different settings, finally settling on his old standby—an old-school no-frills cassette recorder.

What were the odds a 28-year-old tent-packing illuminated minstrel would be able to deliver the goods on time through the snail-mail?

As I suspected, you can set your clock to this guy. When his first cassette came in the mail, I did a little jig. The little handmade envelope was a work of art in itself. I placed it reverently in a cigar-style vintage black candy box with a maroon tassle on the front, “BLACK MAGIC” in bold letters across the top. It was Dain who had left it for me to collect his offerings in.

Each track of each show is written out in freehand, Lewis Carrol-type etchings, on little scraps of paper, often with little pictures or drawings relating to the contents. Stamps add effect. It’s like Christmas every delivery, to paraphrase Rimbaud. Or was that Henry Miller? I plan to make the envelopes into a 3-D wall sculpture.

Shows highlight the people and places Dain meets along the way: the Navou Brass Band, a chance encounter with a fellow violin-toting bicyclist named Laura Bennet, rolling thunder over the Mississippi, a Madonna cassette he finds by the side of the road, a story about a tough kid and his tragic pet duck at high school, a resident in Missouri talking tornados, rain on his tent, frogs, owls, a congregation singing in church, a barge going through a drawbridge, 98 rpm records recorded in people’s homes, jams with fellow gypsies and in sundry roadsters. . . .

What rocks is not just the sublime no-tech texture of each week’s offering, but the crystalline collecting tentacles of what catches Dain’s eye and the way he adeptly threads each bead of each show together into a heartfelt headress. The greatest storytellers can explode the universe with a single grain of sand. Maybe when you listen to No-Fi Field Guide you won’t hear what I do. All I know is when God created grassroots community radio, this has to be what He had in mind.