A DUNESDAY SCENARIO FOR JOHN EASDALE
Whoa, flashback: John Easdale of Dramarama headlines the bill at the annual Dunesday event this Saturday at Donovan’s Reef.
By TOM CHESEK
Less than a year ago, the mood around Donovan’s Reef had a touch of doomsday about it.
The landmark Sea Bright oceanside bar one of the last remaining sources for old-school Shore kicks in a region increasingly defined by champagne wishes and caviar dreams had announced that the summer of 2007 was to be its last stand on the sand. Two of the three owners expressed a desire to put the property’s no-nonsense building, generous parking lot and private beach up for sale, and the club even hosted a “farewell forever” bash for its generations of loyal patrons.
As reported here on redbankgreen over the past several months, the rip-currents of the real estate market apparently provided a stay of execution for the place where summer never seems to go out of style. The upshot? Co-owner Bob Philips and his partners Chris Bowler and Robert Carducci declared that Donovan’s would live again for summer 2008 with “the only piece of [oceanfront] property open 365 days a year between Sandy Hook and Cape May” resuming a full seven-days-a-week schedule that climaxes this Saturday with the annual day-long celebration that is Dunesday.
Waiting for Dunesday: the “last beach bar in Monmouth County” is the setting for an all-day charity bash on July 19.
Coordinated by and featuring the band that’s surely most identified with Donovan’s over the past decade toastmaster general Brian Kirk and his illustrious Jirks Dunesday brings together nine acts for an indoor/outdoor, noon-til-closing, come-as-you-are crash-course in everything that’s made the Reef something like a regional treasure. More than just a display of Jersey Shore hedonism well, okay, there is that to it the event is also a fundraiser for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, with all proceeds from the $15 door charge dedicated to the Pittsburgh-based UMDF and its ongoing research and education efforts.
In addition to Kirk and the Jirks who are slated to play both under the sun as well as inside up to closing time the lineup for the day includes party presidentes Soul Project, barband faves The Mike Dalton Band, blues axe-ace Matt O’Ree, and the return of one of the most fervently followed of New Jersey’s prodigal popstars “alternative” auteur John Easdale of Dramarama fame. (The full schedule appears here).
Born on the mean streets of Wayne in the early 80s, Dramarama is a band with a backstory that could only be scratched out by the dying, demented millennial music industry. A band that’s popular on the Jersey Shore, fondly regarded in France, godlike in Los Angeles, and somewhere south of Von LMO on everyone else’s radar screen. A band that found itself catapulted into hugeness by the legendary LA disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer, whose advocacy of singles like “Last Cigarette” and the frantic anthem of obsession “Anything, Anything” (a record that sounded like everyone in the band was racing each other to the runout groove) dictated a permanent relocation to Southern California for Easdale and company.
Other milestones would follow, including TV appearances, movie connections, major label distribution, and a one-album residency by ex-Blondie drummer Clem Burke.
Meanwhile, the old WHTG-FM in Eatontown was doing its best to keep the homefires burning, so that when Dramarama finally fizzled out in a flurry of flat sales and record label bankruptcies, Easdale was able to maintain a substantial Shoreside fanbase for his solo shows at venues like the Stone Pony and Joey Harrison’s Surf Club in Ortley Beach. When VH1 came a-calling in 2003 for their ambush-style reality show Bands Reunited, the results were such that Dramarama would live to record (the 2005 release Everybody Dies) and gig again. Their next official area date is an October appearance at Asbury Park’s newly re-opened Wonder Bar.
Although it’s advertised as a Dramarama show, Saturday’s 8p appearance at Dunesday is being clarified by the singer as a show featuring two of the reunited original members Easdale and Pete Wood along with a collection of “Jersey friends” that includes Nick Celeste of Richard Barone‘s band, as well as Bill Siegel of Everlounge. The oRBit desk caught up with John Easdale as the lanky frontguy wrapped a radio interview in New Brunswick.
So, this Saturday set is not exactly an official Dramarama show?
Yeah, I was a little disappointed that it’s being displayed that way. I don’t feel entirely right about calling it Dramarama when one of our three main guys (lead guitarist Mark Englert) couldn’t make the show. I thought they should call us something else I don’t know, the Kooky Kumquats or something.
You know, Mark lived in Wayne with me; he and Peter have played with the band forever, and our Jersey friends, Nick and Billy Siegel, have been playing together with me on solo shows since the 80s and 90s. But we’ll be doing Dramarama songs of course.
I know that Pete has gone back to living in Jersey full time, but what about you? You play New Jersey and New York pretty regularly, so do you maintain a place here?
No, I live in California. I lived here in New Jersey until my late twenties, playing shows and making records. I couldn’t get arrested then. But my dad lives in Toms River, my sister lives in Wayne, and I’m welcome on couches and in spare bedrooms throughout the state.
You stayed out on the West Coast, then, after the band breakup in the early 90s?
When the band broke up, well, it was very frightening. I had to find a job. And it doesn’t make for a very impressive resume when all you can show for the past ten years is that you sang in a rock band.
VH1 got the band back together. We didn’t plan it, but it was the best thing that could have happened. They showed up at my front door one day, when I’m not wearing a shirt, and they worked to make it happen. It was remarkably flattering that they would even think of us that way. It felt like I won some sort of prize; the Publishers Clearing House.
Well, back here, thanks to HTG in the old Matt Pinfield days, you maintained a pretty sizable following; they would play the hell out of your new releases throughout the years.
Radio has been very kind to us over the years. Rodney and KROQ, the sort of influence they had, Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo would be able to pack theaters out west, and then they’d tour here and wind up playing some little bar. This is before they called what we were doing “alternative” or “college” or whatever. To this day New York radio has a hard time with the format. They had the old WPIX in the late 70s, but they can’t keep that kind of format going.
I had totally forgotten that Clem Burke was in the band for a short time! He was also a Ramone for about one weekend.
Clem’s great; just one of the most powerful drummers around. I call him “Keith Moon, without the pills.” He does it all without the performance enhancers.
But he has been known to hit the Grecian Formula now and then.
You know, I can vouch for that.
One of my favorites from the album you did with Clem, one that doesn’t usually make the short list of Dramarama records, was “Work For Food.” Now of course it’s hypercurrent and timely again. We all feel a special kinship with the guy in that song.
Actually, the songs are all about me. They’re all for everybody, but they come from me. If I’m doing my job right, then people will see a bit of themselves in the song; respond to it some way.
I write very few happy love songs, you know. My songs are more violent and twisted, and I feel gratified to share it with the world. No, really. I feel blessed; I really appreciate the fact that people respond to what I do.