Jesse Dayton and the vicissitudes of stardom: a mystery

In the late 1990s I would have bet something in the low three figures that Jesse Dayton would some day adorn the cover of our little magazine. Now, I recognize that theoretically I was in a position to fix that bet, but, as a practical matter, Peter and I did not force our opinions on each other. (Though we did use certain kinds of crowbars, gently.)

Today, as I put my hands on CDs and made a few hours to winnow them down, thankful that the smaller house we are building continues to be delayed, and so I can put off this sordid chore, I chanced upon a fistful of Jesse's albums. (Now you know how far I got, and why it never gets done.)

Including two different working versions of his sophomore release, Hey Nashvegas!, which finally appeared in 2001.

He seemed a three-tool player: tall and handsome and winning with his female audience; well-voiced, and adept with his guitar; and an able writer. He seemed to have the magic of stardom, that thing I saw or heard early with Ryan Adams, with Kurdt Cobain, with Lucinda Williams (even though I suppose I was comparatively late to that discovery), one or two others.

I write this while reading (in between three other books) Rick Bass's curious, contemplative fictional biography of the Browns, Nashville Chrome. And I am seduced by his conception of unseen magical forces lurking behind and within music, as I am often seduced by the notion of magic (see: Tom Robbins). And so it is through that filter I think of Jesse Dayton.

I know that things happen. Life happens. I know that he was signed to Justice at more or less the same time that label's roster included Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson. And yet I know, too, that time and thought and expense went into that second record, because Justice believed in young Mr. Dayton. Nashvegas! finally came out on a joint imprint, Stag/Justice, reflecting, if memory serves, his move to a label invented by his manager, who had worked at Justice. And I apologize in advance should that prove inaccurate.

It shouldn't have mattered. He made more records, after. And yet...and yet I suspect many reading this hasty assemblage of words have no memory of Jesse Dayton, or only the barest hint of a trace of remembering. Unless you live in Texas, where he presumably still plays. (I know, I could look for his website. The truth of his present career is not of interest to me tonight, though I'm sure it's of great interest to him.)

Maybe I misjudged his gifts. Maybe the industry screwed him over. Maybe he sabotaged his own career, as some artists seem obliged to do. Maybe he found happiness off the stage, and gave up the quest. But I was not alone in my supposition of his coming greatness. I remember, for example, the enthusiasm of our photographer David Wilds, still then living in far-away Portland, Oregon, when he first saw Jesse on stage.

He had that thing, Jesse did. Maybe it left. Maybe he wasted it. Maybe the industry chewed it up. Maybe he had less than I thought, less than he needed.

I don't know.

Life is filled with caprice. That, for the moment, is the best lesson I can glean.

And now back to the cabinets, and the winnowing.

Views: 265

Tags: alden, bass, browns, dayton, jesse, rick, the

Comment by Kim Ruehl on October 26, 2010 at 11:02am
This is possibly the most polarized comment thread since the Merle debate, Grant. Who'da thunk it?
Comment by Adam Sheets on October 26, 2010 at 11:05am
Grant, I understand what you mean about having no interest in horror movies and Rob Zombie. Neither do I. But the albums he has produced in conjunction with the films are really the same stylistically as his older material, but with different lyrical themes.
Comment by Richard Skanse on October 26, 2010 at 11:05am
I think the people getting powerfully defensive aren't following Jesse's horror movie and Rob Zombie projects. They follow him because he still makes the same kind of music he did back when you followed him. He plays straight-up honky-tonk at the Broken Spoke every week. Just recorded an album of dancehall music. And a couple of years ago, he put out a record with Brennen Leigh of very traditional sounding country duets. By no means can any of us — writers, editors, fans — be expected to stay on top of every artist's career from beginning to end. Not caring whatever became of him is one thing — there's lots of stuff I used to listen to that I don't anymore and don't care to — but taking the time to blog about "whatever happened to" someone, and then hastily musing that he might have given up the quest, sabotaged his career or "wasted" his "thing," instead of taking, literally, 30 seconds to type is name into Google ... that's what has so many people rushing to his defense here.
Comment by Dino Corvino on October 26, 2010 at 11:10am
Right, it happened another way. So, the traditional label acceptance that is what you at No Depression are going to consider success? How is that credible?

So, to reinforce, that you once again are willing to continue with this idea that Jesse is unsuccessful, and further you are unwilling to do even the most basic research to either support or contradict that position?

That is simply the most arrogant music writer position ever. You are willing to decide, and write about someone, and essentially call them a disappointment without even doing any research into anything How does that reinforce your opinion? It doesn't. It reveals far more than you are willing to conceed.

You have taken a position of authority and used that position of authority to decry the failures of someone. And those failures are simply untrue. What is more, when you are questioned on that position you state that you are unwilling to do even the most rudimentary research on the position you have taken.

That sir is music writer arrogance.

Maybe we should all listen to you, and let you tell us what works on our ipod or car stereo, or what live shows we should go to.

Your unwillingness to engage in even the most basic of research diminishes your voice to the point that it is irrelevant what you think. You are in a unique position to be helpful, and you fail in that miserably.
Comment by Dino Corvino on October 26, 2010 at 11:16am
Look, Clearly Grant has a position of what is important, what does matter, what is of significance.

This opinion lacks any merit to me because Grant is unwillingly, and unapologetic about his unwillingness to at the very least Google someone.

He fails as both a critic and a reporter in this regard. He casts Jesse as a failure. And it does not even matter if it is Jesse. It is anyone. It is the act of casting someone as a failure after his critieria are not met, even though he is unwilling to do ANYTHING to verify his own position.

I could care less if Grant is a fan of Jesse Dayton. But I do care that someone in his rare position is willing to throw a performer away without even the most basic bit of research. That is a problem. That is the problem.

And further, his WHATEVER, is dismissive of the conversation that has started because of something he has written. Maybe, if he did not want to engage people, he could just write this stuff on a legal pad, and put it up on his wall at home. But, that is not what he did. He put it on a powerful and influential website like NoDepression, and from that position this is significant. He is not drunk on a barstool talking to the mirror, he wrote this thing about an artist, and put it on the internet.

Grant, own that. Or take the post down, and send Gary and Jesse an apology for being so cavalier with his career and your pronouncement.
Comment by chris sweeney on October 26, 2010 at 11:34am
Sonya, thanks for that link. I did not realize Jesse was involved with the Mike Stinson record. I've been really into his stuff recently. I am really looking forward to this Friday night at The Houston Continental Club with Mike Stinson opening for Chuck Prophet.

Nick, that's a great story. I'm glad you have such favorable memories of Texas music.
Comment by Grant Alden on October 26, 2010 at 1:12pm
I didn't cast Jesse as a failure. I said (to summarize) he didn't turn out to be the megastar on CMT that I once thought he would be. I thought that was interesting, IN THE CONTEXT of reading a book about the Browns, a beautifully written book which talks about the magic of music and the mystical elusiveness of stardom, which portion of this conversation nobody else seems in the slightest bit interested in engaging. Which is fine, to a point. That conclusion is born out whether or not I troubled to look him up online: he has a different career. I am not making a value judgment about that here, and I don't think I did in the original post. Now...maybe his Zombie soundtracks are consonant with the balance of his oeuvre, maybe they're not. I don't have them, and I don't listen to music online.
Somehow, in this weird culture, saying an artist didn't become the celebrity I once thought he'd be means I'm slagging his subsequent career.
I think that's sad, all around.
Comment by Callie Palmer on October 26, 2010 at 1:34pm
Oy. What started as a simple observation and the posting of a great video about an artist I'd lost track of has really gone nuts. If you all were in my argument class you'd get points deducted for style. Attacking Grant's character for posting his thoughts is really fucking goofy, and bad form. I think it is called Ad Hominem, and it is a logical fallacy. Agree, disagree, let the rest of us know he is thriving (texas is mf big, right?) and yay for Jesse. Still not gonna buy his cds.
One thing I always treasured about the magazine was the different approaches of the music reviewers, and the particular perspective Grant and Peter when they posted editorials. I learned a lot about many artists I might have missed, and more about those I loved and still love. Jesse is good, but he's no Buddy Miller, Guy Clark, Alejandro Escovedo or Townes Van Zandt.
Comment by Grant Alden on October 26, 2010 at 1:47pm
I guess it's a Texas thing, and I don't understand.
A couple quick points. First, I took my creaky internet connection out and looked at Jesse's website. His bio link to SonicBids has been deactivated, and so -- absent this conversation -- I'd not have known about his other work. Second, I looked at his tour schedule. Yes, he's routed to FitzGerald's and back, but he's principally a Texas artist if his schedule through January is any indication. Which is fine. Really. Honest. But it's not the same thing as having a national profile. That is all I'm struggling to get said, and I've spent far more time on this than I should have.
Comment by Dino Corvino on October 26, 2010 at 1:52pm
"Unless you live in Texas, where he presumably still plays. (I know, I could look for his website. The truth of his present career is not of interest to me tonight, though I'm sure it's of great interest to him.)"

You wrote that. Thats negative, and it shows that you were not willing to go and do even the cursory investigation.

"Maybe I misjudged his gifts. Maybe the industry screwed him over. Maybe he sabotaged his own career, as some artists seem obliged to do. Maybe he found happiness off the stage, and gave up the quest"

You wrote that as well. Without any information. See above quote.

You wanted to use Jesse as an example of this or that, the fickle nature of fame, but instead what you did was portray him in a negative light, and you did so inaccurately, which you copped to.

You also showed that you have no desire to do even the basic amount of research. Instead you simply want to spout off at the keyboard, and have us all accept your word.

You compared him to some others in your comments, as if this is the guide and barometer for success.

You failed to make a compelling argument that Jesse has not succeeded, and furthermore by failing at that you fail to make your point that fame is fickle.

And you dismiss the people that read your blog.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.