Listen to this track by Lemonhead Head and one-time nineties alternative poster boy Evan Dando. It’s “Hard Drive” a Ben Lee-penned song as taken from Dando’s 2003 comeback record Baby I’m Bored.
That album was the follow up to the 1996 Lemonheads album Car Button Cloth. That’s a seven year hiatus between albums, which is practically a geological period in the pop world. To boot, this record was not the jangly, peppy alternative pop of Dando’s prime period either, which had many a fan and music critic at the time of its release wondering whether they’d ever get anything as era-defining as It’s A Shame About Ray from Dando ever again. Well, to that I say pshaw, friends. I say that for many reasons. But, one big one is that this isn’t a Lemonheads record anyway. It’s an Evan Dando record, albeit with the work of other songwriters featured on it. This includes the aforementioned Ben Lee who wrote this one, and had a hand in writing two others on this release as well.
If you take the view that an album is meant to be a whole artistic statement, an extension of where the artist or artists were at the time of its creation, then this one certainly makes sense. This song is certainly appropriate to where Dando’s head may have been at at that time when he recorded it.
Evan Dando had spent the nineties as a representative of the glitz and glamour of the rock star life in that era. He was critically celebrated, of course. And his high-profile relationship with fellow musician Julianna Hatfield made him something of a media darling, too. The mainstream media sure do love their celebrity couples, as we all know. But, Dando experienced a lot of the dark side of celebrity life as well, particularly in his use of hard drugs and alcohol that had him appearing in the music papers for all of the wrong reasons. By the latter half of the nineties and into the early two-thousands, he took time off, got married, and decided to concentrate on normal adult activities that helped him find his footing. When the time came to go out as a musician and recording artist again, he had to redefine his process a bit.
One particular element to that process that may have driven the shape and texture of this album was an acoustic tour on which Dando embarked shortly before this album was recorded, and on which this song’s writer Ben Lee also appeared. The jangle and crunch of his back catalogue was repositioned into a more spare setting, letting the songs breathe a bit more, and reveal something more of their structure. All told, this is the sound of an artist hitting the reset button on his life. Thematically speaking on this tune in particular it sounds like the direction he wanted to take after the rock star life became old and tired, and about what was important to him as an adult. It feels like a statement about taking stock.
This isn’t really a “getting over drugs” song, necessarily. But having said that, the sentiments it expresses certainly serves as a counterbalance to a drug fueled life on the road. This song is about valuing the things in one’s life that makes it worth living in the present, and that would cost us dearly were we ever to lose them. This song is about finding oneself finally able to embrace the joy and gratitude found in a life experienced in the moment; where one lives, who one loves, and who loves us in return. It is about being aware of and truly knowing oneself. It is in fact the polar opposite quest to seeking oblivion.
This can all be applied to anyone who seeks to find their center in a world full of dangers and loss. And perhaps that is why it is so affecting. Had this been about Evan Dando’s personal journey solely, then maybe it would allow us listeners to leave it in that box. But, it isn’t and that’s its strength. The call of oblivion in a world like ours is a loud one for many, many people. Ultimately, we all need to feel ourselves in motion, surrounded by the things and the people we value most, whether we were once alternative nineties pin-ups or not. And maybe that pursuit is where we can all find the most meaning, too.
For more on Evan Dando and where his head was at around this time and soon after when he reformed the Lemonheads in 2006, have a read of this article from The Independent.