We Gotta Get Out of This Place

If its the last thing the Dibs ever do

Photo by Jack Gould"This is about being real," says the Record Industry Man who won't give his name. In the murky depths of a warehouse, all soft light and hard angles, he stands surrounded by enough overstuffed, left-leaning couches and cascading, foil wall decorations to suggest that David Lynch is hosting a Tupperware party.

Bands do not play here. That would be wrong. This is a warehouse designed and intended for the express purpose of housing wares. To do otherwise would only invite scrutiny and perhaps a hefty fine from the local authorities. It'd be foolhardy to have bands rehearse here, let artists show their works here, have actors put on plays here, for the entire place to become a confluence of art. It would be positively ill-advised to have a band on the verge of great things invite friends and family to watch them play a showcase here for the record industry men.

"This place is very genuine," says the Record Industry Man.

It's got a name, this place, and an address, but like a lot of places, they're better not mentioned.

"That would not be good," says Chris Hanlin, who says he was saved by the place while also making clear that none of this is taking place, just as he wants to make it clear he is not living in this place, and neither are the five other people who don't live there with him.

Hanlin's band, the Dibs, is about to take the stage here for tonight's record industry showcase that is not happening. The Dibs are a great band, favorably compared by close friends and casual observers to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Counting Crows, Tom Petty and just about any great American rock band of the past 30 years. Their music is smart and soulful and so accessible that more than a few think the Dibs could sell a lot of records. Which is why the Dibs have been (un)fortunate enough to have the tag "best band you've never heard" epoxied to them. Are they the best band you've never heard? Well, I've never met you, but yes.

But the Dibs are also a band from Long Beach, a city with a population bigger than Atlanta yet with just a handful of music clubs . . . what? The Lava Lounge just bit the dust? Make that three fingers. There are a lot of theories that might explain why the city government makes it so hard on club owners, ranging from its disdain of anything local to the lingering effects of a city that was once a playground for thousands of drunken, horny sailors.

Whatever the reason, bands in this town—and there are a lot of very good bands in this town—don't just have to burn their own CDs, create and tack up their own fliers, and take and distribute their own pretentious 8-by-10s, but they have been forced to create their own scene as well. The entire city is a labyrinth of underground venues like the one we are not in tonight.

"You put down the lid on something that's already flowing over, and it's just going to come out somewhere else," says Hanlin.

It's going to come out in back yards and industrial parks, basements and warehouses, with only word-of-mouth, e-mail or a strategically placed, colored light bulb to guide the devotees.

It's not unusual to be listening to a band in someone's back yard, glance around to see the police coming in the front door and glance back to see the band tossing their instruments—and themselves—over the fence. And yet the bands keep coming.

"I've heard of a place and rushed over there at 8 p.m., and I'd have to wait to get onstage, which is, like, maybe a corner of the room," says Rae Enrico of the band Pretty Ugly. "I've waited in line till 1 a.m. to play, then got off and walked outside past musicians still carrying their equipment into the place to get in line to play."

Being in a Long Beach band can make you want to tear your own head off. Of course, that makes it a perfect training ground for dealing with the record industry.

"There is only one rule in the music business," says Ljiljana Mazich, former lead singer of the Yugoslavian band Magazine and wife of Dibs' keyboardist Pete Mazich. "And that is that there are no rules. If you can't accept that, then you will go crazy."

"You roll with it," says Hanlin, who's experienced at that. Adopted as a child, he left Indiana when he found his girlfriend was sleeping with his best friend. He arrived in Long Beach 10 years ago in his mother's Cutlass and slept in a friend's living room on a lawn chair. He's been kicked out of bands, had others implode and been the kind of person a lot of people didn't particularly like, least of all himself.

But he changed when he came to this place, when he realized how little he could actually control—whether it was Long Beach, the record industry or songwriting (which he does best while nearly unconscious). So he changed, and when he did, his balance of determination and acceptance made him something of a patriarch.

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