Over the course of roughly three decades, Alvin has compiled one of the great, if underappreciated, California songbooks, cataloging the people and places most overlook or choose to ignore.
His is not the confectionary California of endless summers and Hollywood glitter or the kooky capital of New Age seekers and sunbaked hedonists. Alvin sings of life on the margins and between the cracks, of farm workers and illegal immigrants, of meth heads and lost souls and places like Bellflower, Fontana, the High Sierra and the 605 Freeway.
He sings in a throaty rumble of love and loss and ghosts of things past. California natives, Alvin believes, suffer an odd kind of nostalgia that comes when talk of old times refers not to generations ago but a period only a few years back. “By the time you’re 20, you’re 40 in the sense of waking up in the morning and thinking, Let’s go see the orange groves. But they’re not there anymore,” he says. “They’re just gone.”
Alvin, 55, has never been an overtly political singer, in the sense of writing protest songs or lending his name to a cause. But he is an acute observer of politics—especially California politics—and with the Golden State in seemingly perpetual crisis, with high unemployment, meat-cleaver budget cuts and a government paralyzed by partisanship, he suggests the state, as we know it, may be headed the way of those orange groves. Listen closely, and you might hear it in a song.
Red flames are growing
At the top of the hill
If the fire don’t get ya
Well, you know the
For all the darkness, that resilience shows through in Alvin’s music. In “Dry River,” the ode to a trench, he sings hopefully of the water returning and the blossoms blooming. It’s the kind of defiant optimism that marks a true Californian—and the stuff that keeps dreams from dying.
No one knows when this will end
Well, what that fire burns down, boys,
We’ll just build it back again
The great Dave Alvin with Cindy Cashdollar and Christy McWilson at Eddie's Attic. Feb 25, 2010
Thanks to stynger.
Dave is singing about "someday it's gonna rain" and "it won't be dry any more". Be careful what you wish for. "California Dreaming" right now is hoping the rain and snow will stop.