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reprinted without permission from Time Magazine; July 16, 1990; Pg. 81

Life Along the Fault Line
David Baerwald writes rock poems of metropolitan malaise


By JAY COCKS

Picture this. A small, comfortable apartment in Los Angeles. Three people, all trying to write and make music, but not necessarily together. In the living room: David Baerwald and David Ricketts, trying to come up with an appropriate follow-up to Boomtown. Pressure enough right there; not only the normal, friendly collaborative pressure but the burden of trying to equal or even top one of the best albums of the 1980s. In the bedroom: Toni Childs, who was living with Ricketts and laboring over her own lyrics besides.

"For a year," Baerwald remembers, "she'd been working with one line of a song: 'Where's the ocean?' We would be working, and she'd be in the bedroom singing this one line, 'Where's the ocean?' After a year, I answered her, 'Take a right on Sunset.' She never spoke to me again."

The story is so typically Baerwald that it could almost be one of his lyrics: rueful, nasty, funny. The collaboration with Ricketts collapsed shortly after this incident, and it took Baerwald two years to get himself back in working order. But then---and here life takes a sharp left away from art---things started to come around. In 1988 Childs made a smash debut album, co-produced by Ricketts and featuring a beautiful spooky ballad called Where's the Ocean. And Baerwald finished a solo project, his just released Bedtime Stories, that makes a worthy companion piece to Boomtown. That's what they call a wow finish.

At 30, Baerwald has a knack for eccentric rhythms (rock-based, with sudden jazzy inflections) and a knowing turn of phrase. (Examples: "I got stopped by a cop for oblivious driving"; "Instead of Nero/ We got Madonna/ She's fiddling with herself.") The son of a UCLA political science professor, Baerwald was born in Ohio and at the age of five trailed his father's academic career to Japan. When he was eleven, the family returned to Los Angeles, where he eventually drifted into the music slipstream and decided that "the only way to play rock music was to live." That meant skipping college. That meant parental disapproval. That meant some rough knocks and tight corners.

He played in a couple of teen bands, wrote for gardening and porno magazines, worked in a doughnut shop and acquired the close-up view of life along the fault line that shapes and colors his songs. He and Ricketts had been making demos of a few tunes, and one of their tapes landed flukily at A&M Records. Boomtown was born out of that tape.

On his own, Baerwald is now honing a screenplay on which he collaborated with Sean Penn. He is also touring with a fine, fierce new band. They lay down a carbolic concert that may eventually include the exquisite Hello Mary, a piece of lovelorn virtuosity whose lyrics consist entirely of one end of an overheard phone conversation: "Heard you had a son/ Don't remember his name/ That's a really nice name/ I just called/ To check and see/ If my memory's correct/ And you mean a thing to me." The song sounds so heartfelt it almost seems raw, and it's not hard to figure why. "You know," Baerwald says, "two days before I started making Bedtime Stories, I was living in a nice house in the suburbs with a woman I deeply loved. The day I started, I was living in a motel in Compton." He may have changed his address since then, but, on the evidence of the songs, his broken heart is still in the right place.

---With reporting by Elizabeth L. Bland/New York
 

 


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