The Hand That Rocks & Rolls the Cradle

Dan Zanes

My favorite Get Out the Vote e-mail arrived this year on Election Day morning from a big-time music star with his photograph and the simple, cheerfully axiomatic reminder that "every vote counts." It was not from Bono, Barbra or Willie, but rather an avuncular middle-aged scarecrow of a fellow with punk hair, holding a mandolin and smiling as if to affirm that despite it all—the war, the president, Darfur—the voices of a reasonable and humane America might prevail.

Dan Zanes used to be in a bitchen 1980s rock band. The Del Fuegos broke up, he got married and had a baby, and in a decade of writing, recording and performing, Zanes built a following of new fans: a constituency of parents and children listeners who get a kick out of resisting the entertainment industry's segregation of audiences. Transforming himself and simultaneously creating a following of moms, dads and kids, Zanes made his place in the freeform and fluid parade of re-interpreters of American roots music. It doesn't matter if you don't immediately recognize the songs. Zanes' joyful introduction or re-introduction to some you learned in fourth grade or at camp will make you re-enlist in the hootenanny army for humanity upon hearing the opening chords of "The Cuckoo Song," "Wabash Cannonball" or "Tennessee Wig Walk." In seven CDs, including the newest, Catch That Train, he and his deceptively ragtag-seeming multilingual band are joined by such specially invited sing-along hipster pals as Lou Reed, Suzanne Vega, Deborah Harry, Bob Weir and Philip Glass.

Zanes. Photo courtesy OCPAC
Zanes. Photo courtesy OCPAC

No doubt Zanes will sing his own original signature song "Wonder Wheel" in concert this weekend, and no doubt I will start weeping as I sing along aloud: "Going 'round and around, it takes us up, and it takes us down. I love the sights, and I love the sounds, riding on the Wonder Wheel. I looked left, and I looked right, saw her smile, and it was bright. Like the sun, that kind of light. We're on the Wonder Wheel."

"It's all good, Dad," my little son assured me the other day. He's four and clearly trying on a future persona as well-adjusted generous activist citizen, or so we hope. He listens to all kinds of music, joins in, doesn't discriminate between grown-up and kiddy, listens for wonder and finds it everywhere. For that, I thank in part his Uncle Dan Zanes.

Dan Zanes and Friends at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787; www.ocpac.org. Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. $25.

 
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