David Baerwald

TrackAlbum
All For YouBedtime Stories
Good TimesBedtime Stories
A Bitter TreeTriage
Brand New MorningTriage
Ahh, My BabyHurly Burly
A Prisoner's DreamHurly Burly
A Friend Like Our Dear StrangerA Fine Mess
WhyHere Comes The
New Folk Underground
CompassionHere Comes The
New Folk Underground
Nothing's Gonna Bring Me DownHere Comes The
New Folk Underground

 

Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

More than any other musician I consider myself a fan of, David Baerwald’s career has traveled a decidedly illogical and non-linear path. He came to prominence in 1986 as one half of the duo David + David, whose debut and sole album Boomtown produced three hits singles in the US, two which broke into the top twenty. So of course they broke up afterward for reasons that have never really been spelled out, although there has been some speculation their attempted second album was viewed as far too dark to be commercial by the record company.

After the break up Baerwald focused on writing for others artists, oddly enough under a pseudonym as often as not. Over the years his songs have been recorded by everyone from Waylon Jennings to Luciano Pavarotti and Ashlee Simpson to Japanese classical musicians the Yoshida Brothers.

He did manage to release two albums during this period. Bedtime Stories, which has been described as an album concerning suburban ennui and decay. Which sounds sort of depressing if Joni Mitchell hadn’t played some guitar and sang some backup vocals for it. Baerwald returned the favor to Mitchell on her Night Ride Home album as well. He once said in an interview that he stopped playing new songs for Mitchell because she felt he was “unleashing more malevolent energy into an already malevolent world”. The other album during this period was Triage, an equally upbeat effort about fringe-dwellers of America’s paranoid and disaffected subcultures, done in a narrative song cycle of course.

In the early 1990s he co-founded the Tuesday Night Music Club with producer Bill Bottrell. Eventually this loosely based songwriting collective turned into the group that produced Sheryl Crow’s first album as well as albums by Susanna Hoffs, Linda Perry and Kevin Gilbert. There was of course all sorts of negative fallout concerning the effort as Crow often took full credit for the album in interviews and the rest of the group felt they were often equal participants, some going so far as to say they carried her. Oddly enough David Ricketts, the other “David”, was part of the group and played bass on some tracks as well as getting songwriting credits on four songs that Baerwald also got credit on. You would wonder then, if they were still working together, why not a second David + David album?

In the years following he centered solely on songwriting for others and a large amount of soundtrack work.

In the late 1990s he started recording again and produced three more albums, more or less, before disappearing into other people’s work again. He went back to soundtracks, writing major hits such as Come What May from the film Moulin Rouge and scoring a number of television shows into this decade before vanishing again, seemingly without a new credit since 2012.

There is no Davidbaerwald.com or net although there is a fan run site which isn’t exactly open access, nor is there any social media trying to get you to buy his music. No he just seems to come and go as he pleases and if he feels like creating music he does, if he doesn’t he just disappears on us for a while.

With all that out of the way here is my top ten Baerwald songs taken from his five solo albums.

He started his solo career with the lines “Lucas Riley came to LA, from a dying English town/With his nineteen year old wife/Who swore she’d try and settle down”. In All For You, the first song of off 1990’s Bedtime Stories, Baerwald established himself as a story teller. And a good one. It’s an oddly upbeat song about misguided notions, infidelity, and possibly murder for hire. Who doesn’t love that genre.

The second song off the album, Good Times, is just as strong again; in an oddly upbeat way he relates how confused and fearful the protagonist’s life is but he thinks he still might be experiencing the good times. Not really a pleasant thought.

A Bitter Tree, from 1992’s Triage, is another feel good song about seeing your father laying drunk on the floor with a strange, actually peculiar, woman. Brand New Morning from the same album sort of sounds a little more upbeat given the title but not really as it’s about “I’ve got no sorrow; I’ve got no war/I can’t go through that nightmare anymore/I don’t like weapons; I don’t like drugs/Maybe it’s time to be settling down.”

Then came a six year hiatus from recording that sort of ended with Hurly Burly, which is really a soundtrack album but one where every song is performed by David Baerwald & the Palindrome Floating Band. Eleven songs, nine of them being instrumental. But the two that aren’t are wonderful. Ahh, My Baby puts forth that rarely uttered sentiment that “I love you when you drink”. And not in an ironic way. A Prisoner’s Dream is about just what it says it is.

Around this time Kevin Gilbert and John O’Brien, both friends and members of the Tuesday Night Music Club, died. Shortly after those deaths the seven-year old son of Bill Bottrell, another Tuesday Nighter and the guy whose house they started meeting at, also died. David Baerwald coped by going into the studio with some other musicians and recording about 30 songs that he felt sounded like a wake just for himself. According to him he never had any intention of releasing them It seems the studio he recorded at would stamp music recorded by artists not intended for release NFU. Not For Use morphed into the New Folk Underground as the assembly of musicians’ name for their group.

Then things got even odder. In the late 1990s a fan put together a Baerwald website for other fans of his music to talk with each other. A website which was discovered by Baerwald’s mother. After that Baerwald started posting on the site now and again and actually conversing with fans. He told them about NFU and the 30some songs. Surprised by the interest he put them together on an album he called A Fine Mess, and produced 500 copies for the people on the website at a $20 price tag. Released, more or less, in December of 1999 most were stamped and signed by Baerwald. A handful of the songs showed up on his next, and til now last album, and a few were songs he had done before. But it’s 28 great tunes he released to some people on a fan site dedicated to him his Mom found. That’s just weird enough to be really cool.

During that time he gave an interview in the Austin (Texas) Chronicle where he made very clear what his artistic vision was. “I felt that I was watching evil triumph, hypocrisy and propaganda ruling the airwaves, and the death of rock & roll, a medium that I felt really strongly about. The death of a lot of people that meant a lot to me in my personal life. So whether I was this successful L.A. shithead or not, I was in pain. I didn’t have a way to express it, yet I was attracted to these acts that were so naked about it and unbeaten by it. That became my definition of what folk music is: It’s of the people. Music unbowed, sprung from an acceptance that life is difficult.”

There are several songs from this album I could have included. It’s Hard To Give A Damn and Black Mamba Kiss are standouts, as are four songs that wind up on the next album. A Friend Like Our Dear Stranger though does as well as any song at portraying the feelings he expressed in interviews, although somewhat metaphorically.

In 2001 he more or less hit it big by composing the international hit Come What May for the film Moulin Rouge. And on that wave he released his, up to now, final album Here Comes The New Folk Underground. Now to be fair my favorite three songs were also on A Fine Mess. Why is a great tune where Baerwald tells you not to ask him why, because he doesn’t know. The why of course is why does life suck. In Compassion though he tell us “Tolerance lives/It’s a gift you can give.” The protagonist believes that the reason he still may be standing is he has learned to forgive and forget and live and let live. Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down seems to finish the message of the first two songs. “Sometimes It gets so ugly/All you can do is crack sick jokes/a little cyanide humor.” But as the songs says, Nothing’s going to bring him down.

Of course he hasn’t recorded under his name since then. He scored a number of American television shows, as well as co-produced an album dripping with A-Listers for the film The People Speak in 2009. In 2012 he scored the television show The Client List, but did not return for their second season in 2013. Nor has he turned up anywhere with credits, unless of course some movie or television show uses one of his old songs. He is still out there though, occasionally popping up on the fan run site I mentioned but with no new music.

An enigma really, but an amazing talent.

David Baerwald Info Source

David Baerwald “All For You” on YouTube

David Baerwald “Compassion” video on YouTube

David Baerwald “A Bitter Tree” on YouTube

David + David “Welcome To The Boomtown” video on YouTube

“Come What May” from Moulin Rouge composed by David Baerwald

David Baerwald biography (iTunes)

This is Calvin’s 24th Toppermost, so clearly he enjoys writing them and telling people what he thinks. Even more so it allows him to dive into procrastinating and avoiding the writing he is supposed to be doing. As such he has no shot in hell in completing his next book when he told his publisher he’d have it done. If you’re so inclined to read any of his real books, and have an interest in the History of Northeast Ohio, you can find them here. P.S. The three books not written by him which show up when you search his name on Amazon.com are by another writer from his hometown. This writer tells a story in which Calvin was supposedly involved in 1980-81 that he has absolutely no memory of.

TopperPost #411

1 Comment

  1. Gil Roth
    Apr 12, 2015

    If you’re interested, I recorded a podcast with David at his home in June of 2014, just click here.
    (Very interested, thanks Gil… Ed.)

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