Once upon a time, there was a young man named Stuart Davis. He played acoustic folk-rock at coffee shops in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Once upon a time, I stumbled across his first recordings, a self-titled cassette Stuart
Once upon a time, I was hooked.
His music was powerful. Catchy rhythms that would stick in your head long after you’d heard them. The lyrics were deep and meaningful, yet still accessible by an angry young white male from the Midwest. Somehow Stuart was able to write pop songs with heart. Soul. Spirit. Moxie. Chutzpah.The music was intelligent AND catchy. Style AND substance. Yin AND yang. I became his biggest fan, rarely missing a show, and snapping up every new release: Big Energy Dream, Self Untitled…
What inspired me most was that he did it all himself. He had occasional guest musicians join him onstage, but it was just for spice. He certainly didn’t need them. He was able to write great songs with just his voice and an acoustic guitar. Stuart Davis was one of the people who inspired me to become a singer/songwriter. I had lunch with him on two separate occasions, once at Fabulous Ferns and once at Sgt Preston’s, each time trying to tap into the secret of what he was doing.
Once upon a time, Stuart Davis shaved his head and moved to California.
These things happen, and I didn’t feel bad about it. We weren’t friends, and there were other local heroes waiting to be discovered. I did feel bad for Stuart, thinking that there was no place in Hollywood for a Bald-Coffeeshop-Folk-Singer-Songwriter, and I doubted I’d ever hear from him again, unless he started some kind of cult. But he would surprise me with the occasional “Anti-Christmas” show at the Fine Line.
When I saw the listing for a Stuart Davis CD Release of Something Simple at the Varsity Theater, I was surprised. Turns out one of his songs was used in the soundtrack for the new Drillbit Taylor movie. When I saw him perform live, I was even more surprised.
There he was, the Stuart Davis I knew from years ago, (sans hair) wielding his acoustic guitar with as much energy as he ever did before, and full of his trademark witty banter between songs. Only now he was accompanied by a full band – drummer, bassist, and lead guitarist. I can’t say the extra musicians added anything to his work. In the case of the song Universe Communion, his intricate guitarwork is lost beneath the noise. The fact that the song still rocks is a testament to Stuart’s songwriting skills, and not that more musicians = better music.
At first I was bitter about the extra musicians and the overproduced album. But on the other hand, the Varsity theater was packed with fans, and Stuart and co. put on a hell of a show. At the end of the day, I had to admit that the music wasn’t better or worse, only different. Perhaps Stuart’s music had been Hollywoodized, or perhaps this was the natural progression artists call ‘growth’. I’m sure there were people who felt the same way about Bob Mould in his post-Sugar days.
I tried to stick around and say “hi” to see if Stuart would even remember me, but he had his hands full of appreciative fans taking pictures with him, and my friends wanted to go. Maybe next time. I’m happy for Stuart, seems he finally got his big break.
I’m glad I still have those old tapes (and a cassette deck to play them on) it’s pretty cool to be able to follow the arc of someone talented who followed their dream and made a success story out of it.
You can find out more about “Punk Monk” Stuart Davis on his website: stuartdavis.com.