Thanks to my my habit of rambling on about my life in a written form I know exactly when I first listened to Christopher Dallman.
From an entry dated 10/21/09:
This morning on the drive to work I became a little bit instantly obsessed with some of the lyrics in this song…
I’m not sure when I first heard his name though. I know he had been recommended to me more than once, I know he had been recommended to me by different people, and I know that the various people recommending him were all people whose musical tastes I trusted. I’m not sure who posted a link to buy his album, but at some point probably a month before that post I was buying some CDs from a website (physical CDs, remember those?) and sort of on a whim added Chris Dallman’s CD to my virtual shopping cart. I remember thinking that I should probably listen to some samples before spending money, and I remember laughing at myself for being too lazy and deciding to just buy the thing. (I rarely did this by the way, but it seemed like a pretty safe bet at the time.) I know that the CDs came in the mail and I immediately listened to whatever I had been all excited about ordering. I tossed Chris’s CD in my car, the inevitability of Los Angeles traffic making it a good place to listen to new music. I’m not sure how long the CD sat in my car before the morning I put it in the CD player. I listened to the first 30 seconds or so of each song before skipping to the next track, just so I could get a feel for what I was in for. (The musical equivalent of reading the last chapter before starting a new book. Something I do with music, but not books oddly enough.) Track 8. Over My Head. I couldn’t bring myself to hit the ‘next’ button. The song grabbed me instantly, it felt like the lyrics were speaking directly to me.
My favorite line in the song:
learning to live is so simple
but simple ain’t easy
and easy ain’t worth your time
I should be fearless
but still now I fear this
I keep looking down while I climb.
I’m not a bad driver normally, but I know I started swerving into another lane because I was so overcome by the beauty of what I was hearing and not paying attention to my surroundings. (I snapped out of that very quickly!) I spent the rest of the drive into work listening to Over My Head on repeat. I spent the next few weeks listening to the album on repeat. (Which sort of implies that I’ve stopped listening to it often. Not true at all, now I just mix it up with the rest of my favorites.) I discovered Chris was active on social media and we pretty quickly struck up a ‘twitter friendship.’
It feels strange to use the word ‘friendship’ in this context, but I don’t know how else to describe it. We chatted online. We weren’t the kind of friends who called each other when we were bored or hung out with each other in real life, but chatting regularly about our lives (albeit in a superficial kind of way) did bring some kind of familiarity to the situation. Maybe I was alone in this, but it certainly felt like Chris was a friend.
It was a gig in early November of 2009 when I first met Chris in person. I know it was a gig he did at Genghis Cohen, but somehow I didn’t journal/blog/post about it so I don’t have a lot to refer back to. It was around the release of the ‘Sad Britney’ CD (a collection of Britney Spears covers, each with Chris’s particular twist.) I remember he was surrounded as soon as he left the stage with what were obviously friends. Feeling shy, I decided not to push my way through the crowd to introduce myself, but no way was I leaving without buying the new CD. Unfortunately there seemed to be no ‘merch’ table so I had to wait until it was possible to grab Chris’s attention. Finally a small break in the crowd and I asked to buy a CD. I might have told him how much I enjoyed the set, but I didn’t introduce myself and I didn’t let him know I was one of the people he’d been interacting with online. While getting me change, Chris paused, looked me, then asked “are you bdbdb?” (My twitter name.) I was shocked he remembered my “name,” much less cared about meeting a twitter follower when so much else was going on around him at that moment. Chris smiled so brightly when I said yes. It wasn’t just me feeling this internet friendship-but-not-really-a-friendship-thing.
A sort of pattern developed where Chris would play a gig, I would bootleg the gig, Chris would pretend he didn’t know I was breaking the rules, and I would share the video files with him when I was done. On more than one occasion he even posted my videos online.
I love the music Chris makes. I think he’s got an amazing voice and is a skilled musician, but I think those two skills pale in comparison to his talent as a lyricist. I tend to collect phrases, lyrics, quotes, etc. the way some people collect stamps or spoons, and song after song I heard words that really touched me.
From Count the Shadows:
How do you measure
The difference between
The way you play and the hand you’re dealt
I must confess that
Every single day
I want to leave my cards face down on the felt
I think those are some very powerful words and ideas. Just like my tattoos, those words speak to me on a very deep and personal level. I’m out of wrists to tattoo (I should have been an octopus!) but I did come across someone who makes bracelets with sayings on them, and was very happy to make me one with song lyrics.
December of 2009: I was between jobs, but even if I had been working I wasn’t at the point where my employment came with health insurance. (Long detailed explanation, has to do with the nature of the entertainment industry and being able to join the union.) I wasn’t eligible for any government assistance with my medication. The pharmaceutical company itself had a program to help low income patients, but I wasn’t eligible for that either because when I did work I made too much money. (Yeah, it makes no sense, I know. But that’s the way it is.) The medication I was going to have to stop taking was a very expensive MS drug that is supposed to slow down the progression of the disease. But it wasn’t a ‘life-saving drug.’ By this I mean I wouldn’t die if I stopped taking it, and therefore there was not a lot of places to turn for help. I was very frustrated and posted something on twitter to that effect. Chris almost instantly replied with “how much do we need to raise?” We. The implication in that one little word was kind of astounding. We. You’re not alone. We. We’re all in this together.
Chris came up with the idea of holding a benefit concert. He recruited his friends Keeley Valentino, Syd, and George Stanford to volunteer to perform. A venue was secured, and the concert was announced on his website and social media. I don’t know how much time and effort Chris put into making this all happen, but I know it had to have been significant.
People who couldn’t come to the concert wanted to donate something. People I never would have thought of asking for help. People I knew didn’t have a whole lot of disposable income. People I knew only casually. People I didn’t know at all. So many people all came together to help me. I can’t even write about it without getting teary-eyed at the outpouring of love I was the subject of. All of those donations, large and small, added up to right around the target number even before the concert happened. The concert itself was indescribable. The music was beautiful, the room was full of smiling people, and my only worry was that I wouldn’t be able to get to everyone who came out to personally thank them. I felt so, so loved that night. It is an an experience I will treasure forever.
Chris posted on his website after the benefit:
I don’t know if I can really put this experience into words in a way that will explain what was happening in my head around then. I knew I needed money for medication, but there was something else I really needed, I just wasn’t aware of it at the time. Being told repeatedly by different organizations and agencies that they just couldn’t help you starts to take its toll after a while. Especially when they each refer you to the other to apply for help, in some sort of never-ending cycle of rejection. You start to feel that you are alone. You are powerless. There is nothing you can do. No one really cares. (People at these places would try to be helpful, it wasn’t as if they were mean or uncaring, but I was told to sell property or borrow money from family or any number of other things that were not an option for me.) You become a little resigned to the fact that you can only depend on yourself, if you can’t provide something for yourself (like medication) then you are just expected to go without… I’ve called Chris my ‘guardian angel’ on more than one occasion, but it wasn’t just the concert and money and medicine that I meant when I said that. Chris taught me that other people (people who barely know me) could be caring and giving. That sometimes I can ask for help when I need it. That no one is powerless when they are surrounded by good people. That I am not alone. It’s something so small, but so incredibly huge at the same time. That knowledge will improve my life every single day from now until I die.
I sent Chris a thank you email. I gave him a thank you card. I thanked him in person. I don’t think even once was I able to articulate just how much his actions mean to me.
Life continued to happen, as it does. Chris released new music which I loved. We stayed “twitter friends” and said hi at shows. As my disease has progressed I venture out into the world less and less, which makes the things I surround myself with more and more important. Chris’s beautiful music continues to be an ongoing presence in my life and source of joy.
At the end of May, 2013 Chris played his “farewell” concert at Room 5 in Los Angeles. It had been a while since I’d seen Chris perform live so I was excited, but sad at the same time. Chris (and Josh) deserve every bit of happiness in life and if this move will bring them closer to that, well, I support them a zillion percent. At the same time I’m selfish and I want to have a zillion opportunities to enjoy his music live in front of me. (Yes, I know I’m coming dangerously close to reducing a talented artist to “dance monkey, dance!” Sorry.)
Arrangements were made. Tickets were purchased. Friends provided transportation, and sat with me in Room 5 for hours before the show since that was the only way to ensure I had a seat. (Room 5 is one of many places that has told me they don’t do anything to accommodate people with disibilites and I was on my own, but that’s a rant for a different post.) I warned my friends I might get all emotional and embarrassing during the show, but they chose to be seen with me in public anyway. I held it together pretty well, making every effort to be present in the moment and fully enjoy the experience. Until Chris started singing Over My Head, that is. It was just too “full-circle” or something for me, and I pretty much cried through the entire song. I probably got a few strange looks.
And then it was over. We made our way out of the room and I hugged Chris goodbye. Just like the first meeting he was surrounded by friends wanting to celebrate with him.
It’s not as if I’ll never hear his music again. It’s not as if we will stop tweeting or facebooking or social media-ing. Really nothing has changed other than the lack of live concerts. (And I have an extensive library of bootlegs I can listen to when I’m missing that.) But I left that night determined to let Chris know what his presence in my life has meant to me, what a gift he has been. This post is my attempt. I hope I was successful.