Poet With a Guitar
Dana Lyons has always impressed me with his ability to write songs that were funny, yet funny in a good way. If he poked fun at something, he included himself in the humor (I’m thinking of his classic song “RV”). His songs always tell a story, and usually we can recognize the people in the story. Sometimes we even see ourselves.
But often not. Dana will write about people he knows, and while we can look on and listen, we can’t become those people. Yet we can sympathize. Or learn from them, be inspired by them.
One of the things I admire in Dana’s music is his capacity for empathy. In one song he empathizes with farmers whose farms have been taken over by giant powerlines. In another song he empathizes with a river that has a dam on it. In countless songs he writes about the lives of ordinary people and somehow manages to really hear their stories then turn around and express them in musical form.
Dana’s songs are rough-edged sometimes but sweet-voiced always; quite often funny, especially when humor is the sweet that covers up the bitter truth, but also reflective in a way where the words support you like a rubber raft on a slow-moving, warm green summer river drifting under overhanging trees and a clear blue sky scattered with puffy white clouds.
Some of Dana’s songs are catchy tunes that stick with you and even wind up being sung by others around campfires or just on car rides with or without a CD or tape cassette jammed into its player in the front dash. Lilting songs usually, not rah rah rah like spray dashing off the prow of an ocean-going ship. Sing-alongs, but sing-alongs with deeper meaning than most sing-alongs. (Why are campfire sing-alongs usually so wimpy?)
This poet with guitar mostly does the Washington State – Australia circuit, with occasional forays to Alaska and I think once Ireland. Dana is also known as an activist with a guitar, and regularly shows up to lend his poetic might at blockades, dam decommissionings and the like.
Dana is well-known in Earth First! circles, having appeared at campfires and on rally stages for years, always with a new song or two and a bunch of favorites as well.
You’ll notice I’ve been writing about a single performer, one without a band to back him up. Perhaps this is why Dana is so loved, yet still largely unknown. Bands give you a big sound, and if you have a big sound you can command everything a big sound commands — equipment, stages, huge audiences, huge venues, and the like. Bruce Springsteen, for example. But you can think of others.
Much as I love Bruce (the Boss) and his small-town stories, his classic themes and the like, he doesn’t write about trees the way that Dana does. Maybe it’s because he’s from New Jersey.
Dana and the Boss are both poets with guitars, but Dana is an Earth First! poet with a guitar, and that makes all the difference.
Date: July 21, 2013
Categories: Inspiring Voices