:: Jeff Daniels :: Soiled Dove Underground :: January 6 ::
By Brian F. Johnson
It’s kind of sad, actually. Jeff Daniels is an amazing actor. He’s starred in such legendary films as The Purple Rose of Cairo, Terms of Endearment, Gettysburg and Good Night and Good Luck. But to many people of my generation he’ll be best remembered for his unfortunate bathroom scene in Dumb and Dumber, the comedy film that took all of his serious acting endeavors and tossed them out the window for the sake of hysterical bathroom humor and stupid one-liners.
Now, on top of that, he’s doing something that he says makes him more like William Shatner, of all people — performing songs on stage.
Daniels is a small-town man, who long ago decided to pass by the proverbial Hollywood or New York residences, so that he could live and raise his family in the small town of Chelsea, Mich. There he started a non-profit arts organization, The Purple Rose Theater, named after one of his biggest movie roles.
Five years ago when the theater was doing its annual fund raiser, someone literally pushed Daniels out on stage with a guitar, and what had been a hobby of his for 30 years turned into the newest phase of his performing career. Since then, Daniels has seriously cut his chops on guitar and has begun touring as much as his acting schedule allows, which these days is quite a bit.
“”I just got off the road,” he said in a recent interview with The Marquee, calling from his Michigan home. “I’ve been everywhere since August. I called it the ‘kind of consecutive long weekends tour,’ but it’s kind of the only way I can do it because of the movies. I put together dates when I can fly in on Saturday, do the date and then fly back to wherever I’m shooting on Sunday, and I’ve been able to play about 30 dates over three or four months.”
Despite Daniels’ laundry list of acting credentials, he said that getting on stage was a big struggle for him at first, and one that he is just now coming to terms with. “Oh, it was terrifying at first,” he said. “Not now, I just finished playing near Cincinnati on Saturday and literally before the show there was not a nerve in my body about it anymore. I just enjoy it. It’s the actor that walks out on the Broadway stage now and I’ve played enough to beat the fear, but initially walking out there was terrifying. It’s just unfamiliar territory. You’re on stage and that’s similar but everything else about it is different and, oh by the way ‘Go to the F. Go to the F. GO TO THE F! No, that was an Am. Do you think they heard it? No, I don’t think so. You’re in G now, and what’s the lyric?’”
Daniels was admittedly a five-chord guitar player for years, but in the last five years he has studied the instrument and developed some pretty slick riffs for a singer/songwriter.
His style, as he describes it, is if “Loudon Wainwright and Stevie Goodman had a baby and was related to Christine Lavin. But I’m also a guy who wants to grow up and be Kelly Joe Phelps,” he laughed.
Daniels humor shines through quite a bit in his songs which, in general, are very personal stories of his life. The first track off his disc Live and Unplugged: To Benefit the Purple Rose Theatre is titled “If William Shatner Can, I can Too,” and it’s a very dry, semi-self deprecating song about actors who also play music. In it he pokes fun at Captain Kirk, but also at Russell Crowe, Kathie Lee Gifford, Billy Bob Thorton and Adam Sandler, among others.
But there is also a serious side to Daniels’ yarns, tracks like “Momma Never Left Her Oldest Boy Alone” and “Kathy” show a serious side of the artist and are like diary pages peering into his life.
These days, when writing, Daniels is drawing on five years of experience of figuring out what works and what doesn’t on stage. “I’m getting more aware of what works and what doesn’t. Not completely, but I kind of know early on in the songwriting process now if this isn’t that funny, or interesting or that I need to make this very specific personal song a little more universal somehow. You know, find the metaphor, Jeff. Now I write more specifically for shows and not always, but generally, early on in the writing process I know if this song will travel, and if it can’t, I know what to do to make it do so, or otherwise just finish it up and throw it in the notebooks with the other diary songs,” Daniels said.
While songwriting probably won’t ever replace Daniels’ main career, he said he’s really finding his stride with it and enjoying it more and more. “It’s the purest creative thing that I do. When you walk on stage with your material and you have 75 to 90 minutes staring at you, it’s all the blame, all the glory,” he said. “There’s no band to hide behind. It’s live. It’s different than movies. There is a challenge in that every time and I’ve really been fascinated by the power of songs and the power of stories. It’s all about coming out there and grabbing the audience by the lapels at minute one and not letting them go until minute 90.”
:: Jeff Daniels ::
:: Soiled Dove Underground :: January 6 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Kelly Joe Phelps
• Loudon Wainwright
• Stevie Goodman