“David Baerwald is a talented and extremely unprolific artist who has maintained some loose ties to the fringes of American progressive music” (Currie). “His songs are littered with people who either never had a chance or pissed it all away. The streets are dark and dangerous, you can’t trust the cops, the wealthy are corrupt, and the government doesn’t give a fuck about you – yet somehow, impossibly, always, there is a beautiful glimmer of humanity. Sometimes even the hope for redemption. And his voice is the perfect vehicle: ragged; slippery of pitch; alternating between world-weary sigh and anguished howl. It’s postmodern Los Angeles as the Wild Wild West, and in many ways, he’s never altered that viewpoint” (jefitoblog.com).
“Baerwald is the type of guy best described as wiry. Slight of build, he has a firm handshake and piercing green eyes. Peppered with brown flecks, they’re notably expressive as the gateway to a man who has lived a full existence. The few wrinkles on Baerwald’s elastic skin speak to that life’s ups and downs, even though he’s just a couple of years past 40. Whatever life has dealt Baerwald, he perseveres, and in the process, he’s made music the world needs to hear” (Caligiuri).
“Baerwald…moved to Texas in November of 2001 to put together a touring band for this project. It was quite a ride getting here” (Caligiuri).
“Born in Oxford, Ohio, in 1960, his family moved to Los Angeles in the mid-Sixties. His father was a political science instructor, whose work took the family to Japan for a time. They eventually settled in L.A. in the Seventies” (Caligiuri).
“’Just in time for me to join the Less Than Zero crowd,’ cracks Baerwald” (Caligiuri).
“The youngest of three children, with two older sisters, Baerwald picked up one of his sibling’s guitars before he was 10. The punk explosion had just hit, and he tried to fit in” (Caligiuri).
“’We were just a bunch of twerpy nerds and rich kids,’ he recalls. ‘I was playing bass in those days with a band called the Spastics. It was more of a youth gang than a real band. I think a lot of punk bands were that way; there were a lot of people who were in bands, but were really car thieves or drug dealers’” (Caligiuri).
“After high school, he drifted through a series of odd jobs, including one that involved doing story analysis for Orion Pictures. ‘You’d take a book or screenplay and distill it to three paragraphs,’ he explains, ‘and do it in the style of what you were writing about.’ There was a lot discipline involved and it helped Baerwald in his penchant for songwriting” (Caligiuri).
“Then there was what he refers to as a series of problems with local law enforcement that led to a change in lifestyle. ‘I moved in with my parents who were going through a divorce,’ he continues. ‘I still had all that aggro, youthful energy. I needed a place to put it. I called up Dave Ricketts, who wanted to score film. He was a friend of a friend’” (Caligiuri).
David + David:
“The duo David & David…scored a bona fide hit in 1986 with Welcome to the Boomtown” (Caliguri). The song opens with an “unlikely first verse for a Top 40 song in 1986 – it was, after all, the year of El DeBarge’s ‘Who’s Johnny?’ ” (jefitoblog.com).
“Musically, the song’s creepshow synths and wobbly E-Bow were no less anomalous. Yet something…must have struck a chord with the people listening to pop radio, because…the duo found itself one of the most buzzworthy new artists of the year” (jefitoblog.com). “With its glossy surfaces and memorable melodies, Boomtown was deceptively smooth. Beneath the slick production, the songs were tales of despair and broken dreams in the era of Ronald Reagan” (Caligiuri).
“Baerwald says that making music with Ricketts was therapy” (Caligiuri). “’I was wrestling with paranoia and depression, and he was essentially agoraphobic. One day I was looking at 15 years in prison and he was a set painter at a movie studio’” (Caligiuri). “’I was in a lot of trouble with a lot of different things and I was engaged in this ‘young guy catharsis’ thing’” (Caligiuri).
“’I wasn’t really making it for anyone’” (Caligiuri). “’It was a couple of screw-ups in someone’s bedroom with a portastudio, that’s all it was’” (Caligiuri). “’I wasn’t thinking about record companies or the music business. Somehow our tape ended up on the desk of Jordan Harris, the A&R guy at A&M Records. The next thing I knew, we were on MTV 20 times a day’” (Caligiuri) and “’being asked our opinion on world events. Both of us were freaked’” (Caligiuri). “’It was very disorienting” (Caligiuri).
Baerwald Goes Solo:
“It all flamed out spectacularly before they managed to even release a follow-up” (jefitoblog.com). David Ricketts “went on to behind-the-scenes work for artists like Toni Childs” (jefitoblog.com) and “Baerwald began a solo career, releasing…Bedtime Stories, in 1990. As with David & David’s sole album, it was an album of deceptively laid-back pop; the calm production and subtle, memorable melodies hid the fact that Baerwald’s characters were either inflicting or suffering from emotional pain. It was a triumph, winning raves from critics, but it sold very few copies” (Erlewine).
On his second album, 1992’s Triage, “Baerwald decided to have the music match the message, creating soundscapes that recalled a subdued, more pop-friendly Tom Waits. Again, the critical praise was substantial but the record sold even fewer copies than the first. A follow-up wouldn’t be seen for nearly a decade” (Erlewine) as Baerwald “would discover an increasing lack of support – even hostility – from label bosses (not to mention an indifferent record-buying public)” (jefitoblog.com).
Film and Television Work:
“A growing antagonism toward the music business led him to composing music for films, television, and commercials” (Caligiuri). Over the next decade he would be “involved with films like Clueless, Reality Bites, and The Pledge, among others” (Caligiuri). He would significantly contribute to the soundtracks for 1999’s Hurly Burly and 2004’s Around the Bend. He also “received a Golden Globe nomination for Come What May from Moulin Rouge!” (Caligiuri).
Tuesday Night Music Club:
During this time, Baerwald also “took time out to work with other musicians and tweak his playing skills” (Erlewine). He contributed to albums by Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Rickie Lee Jones, Susanna Hoffs, and Sophie B. Hawkins, among others. Of most note, however, was his work with Sheryl Crow.
He was “an important part of Crow’s 1993 debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, as one of its guitarists and co-writer of seven of its 11 songs” (Caligiuri). The album was born out of a loose collective of musicians who started gathering at producer Bill Bottrell’s studio on Tuesday nights beginning back in the fall of 1992.
This group was also largely responsible for the creation of Baerwald’s own Triage, Susanna Hoff’s 1996 eponymous album, Linda Perry’s In Flight (1996), and 1995’s debut solo album (Thud) of fellow Tuesday Night Music Clubber Kevin Gilbert.
“Baerwald’s politics, increasingly dark personality, and refusal to play record-company stooge all contributed to a rift between himself and the guy running the show at A&M at the time” (jefitoblog.com). They “held onto Baerwald’s contract only so it could prohibit him from releasing anything while simultaneously engaging in a whisper blackball campaign against him” (jefitoblog.com).
As Baerwald says, “’I had the worst breakup with [the record company] of any I have ever heard of. I personally insulted a bunch of the people that worked there. They wanted me to be Sheryl Crow’s slave and I didn’t want to do that’” (Caligiuri).
“’I rejected having a solo career,’ he claims. ‘The whole thing seemed like a bunch of shit. Narcissism, egomania, vanity. I don’t consider those attractive qualities, and I don’t know how they became the gold standard in today’s culture. To have that world as the only arrow in my quiver seemed like a suicidal way of working’” (Caligiuri).
“It would be nearly a decade before another album would surface” (jefitoblog.com). During that time, Baerwald faced “a long stretch of death and devastation…His friend John O’Brien, who wrote the novel Leaving Las Vegas, an inspiration for the song of the same name on Crow’s album, committed suicide” (Caligiuri) and Kevin Gilbert died in 1996. Bill Bottrell “lost his 7-year-old son William in 1998. Throughout it all, Baerwald took refuge in writing songs” (Caligiuri).
“’I never stopped writing," he claims, ‘but these songs were for my own benefit. I didn’t expect or even think there would be a purpose in releasing them’” (Caligiuri).
From a Fine Mess to the NFU:
“Then one day my mom was on the Internet looking for relatives and found this fan page. It seemed my music was important to a lot of them. I ended up recording all the songs I had written. Someone suggested I give it to the people on the fan page. I was genuinely touched by their interest” (Caligiuri).
“The recordings ended up as a two-CD, 28-song set called A Fine Mess” (Caligiuri) that was later cut down to a single disc for release on Lost Highway in 2002.