We Gotta Get Out of This Place

If its the last thing the Dibs ever do

"Chris is Daddy," says Long Beach musician Wink Musselman. "If anyone in Long Beach deserves to make it, Chris deserves it."

Which is a very nice thing for Musselman to say—even if he is exceedingly drunk and attempting to cradle you like a baby at the time—but what a band deserves from the recording industry, or the city of Long Beach, means absolutely nothing.

You can't control it any more than you can control parents or girlfriends or best friends. You can only do what you do. You can only play the showcases and the shows and show up at the open mic nights and the songwriter nights and any other night when you can play in front of people, and you can call people and send off your self-produced CD to the music critics and write, write, write, write, write. But the rest is out of your control.

"I see lots of people trying to make all these grand plans," Hanlin says. "And they're like, 'Okay, first we're going to do this, and then we're going to go get this, and then we're going to get this guy, and then we'll use that to get this.' And all these things are completely out of their control. And I'm like, 'All right, man. Good luck.'"

When the Dibs take the stage, you have perhaps never seen such a happy bunch of trespassers in your life. They beam like proud parents at a Thanksgiving Day pageant. Most of the people in the audience are friends, and most of the friends are in other bands. Enrico from Pretty Ugly, Bret Bixby from 12 Hour Mary, solo artist Shayna, Johnny Jones of Johnny Jones and the Suffering Halos, Terry Prine from Greater California and Scott St. Louis of Boss Tweed, who has a similar, smaller place in a different part of town.

The Dibs itself is made up of guys from other bands. Hanlin from Bourbon Jones, bassist Matt Jacovides from Speaker, guitarist Mickey Way from Mickey's Big Mouth, Mazich from the Madonnabes on organ, and Mark Roman, who plays with Bixby in 12 Hour Mary. They play at one another's gigs and at the gigs of other friends—sitting in, giving feedback on songs, lending a hand or a voice.

Hanlin, who repairs guitars at landmark Long Beach music shop World of Strings (and who's been known to drive to Riverside on his day off to get a banjo part for a band that's got an upcoming show), has made this place available to other bands to rehearse or play or shoot videos. But as the Dibs take the stage and launch into "So Complicated," a song about dysfunctional love, it marks the first time they've actually used this place for a showcase of their own.

The Record Industry Men have asked that the set be acoustic, so it is. You try to accommodate the record industry as much as you can without hating yourself. That's the trick: knowing how much you can bend and still stay somewhat true to what you had in mind in the first place. The other trick with the record industry is not to go insane or die or go broke or all of the above, which may sound dramatic, but it happens. A lot.

"I've seen the music industry chew up a lot of bands here in town," Hanlin says. "Bands that got dropped. Bands that signed a bad deal and got screwed. Every day I see people who come in [to World of Strings] who are strung-out, hung-over. They've got no money, nothing. And I look at them and think to myself, 'You know what? I don't want to end up like you.'"

But he was headed in that direction when some of the folks he played with around town asked him if he would like to move into a warehouse that had been converted for the purpose of showcasing art.

"When they asked me to move in, it was like I was being saved," he says. "I went through my periods of self-indulgence and being an asshole and did a lot of dumb things. When I moved into this place, it was a conscious attempt to try not to do that anymore. I was being given a second chance, and I thought, 'I'm not going to be a fuck-up anymore. I'm not going to hurt people anymore. I don't want to be this Mr. Negative Bitter Guy anymore.'"

The Record Industry Men want an acoustic set so they can hear the words and the vocals. What they hear is Hanlin's voice, strong and mournful, his face contorted into a kind of pained ecstasy so that it appears he is either having sex or being stabbed.

"Chris' voice is incredible," Jacovides says. "This one time, he was singing at this showcase, just an acoustic guitar, and nobody knew who he was, and the mic wasn't working. So there he is, just singing with an acoustic guitar, off-mic, and it was like one of those westerns when the bad guy walks into the room. Everyone just shut up and started listening to him."

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