david mcmillinBefore we get to David’s “Life in Music” I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Fort Frances (his band) just released the new single from their new record. It’s called “Building a Wall” and you can get a free download at fortfrancesmusic.com. I’ve heard the full album. Worth every penny. I should also add that Fort Frances performed a favorite song of 2015 (#7 in fact).

Here’s a link to the premiere on the very cool website Consequence of Sound.

And here’s a link to their Soundcloud, which also has a free download.

OK…this is all David now…and his music. Enjoy. (PS if you are only going to listen/watch one video…skip to the end and watch Dawes cover Zevon and listen to Letterman’s story. Amazing. Watch until the end.)

This story begins in 1991 on a stage at Schmitt Elementary School in Columbus, Indiana — that’s when I can trace the first real influence of music on my life. Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” was the official soundtrack of my year in Mrs. Ross’ second grade classroom. I loved the song so much that I decided to enter the school talent show dancing to the MJ classic from the “Bad” album. Somewhere — perhaps in my parents’ living room — there is still a VHS tape floating around of me in lime green shorts and a black t-shirt doing a hybrid form of break dancing with the occasional MJ-inspired spin in front of my peers. It’s no surprise that my elementary school days were a bit of a struggle with the ladies.

Over the next two years, I continued to idolize MJ, learning the moonwalk and dancing in the talent show to “Billie Jean” and “Black or White.”

By sixth grade, my tastes were evolving. More importantly, I realized that dancing was not my strong suit. So, I did what any child growing up under the roof of two loving parents in a small Midwestern town would do: I started listening to lots of rap music and wearing oversized pants. (We all have identity crises.) I remember going to the Sam Goody store at the mall to buy Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” cassette single. I knew every word to this song.

When I was in seventh grade, my life in music took its most important turn with my first real concert: Bob Dylan at the Indiana University Auditorium. I heard “Tangled Up in Blue”, and I promptly told my dad I only wanted one thing for my 13th birthday, which was just around the corner: a guitar. Shortly after the show, I began struggling to learn how to shape chords and build calluses on my fingers on my Fender D7 acoustic.

In high school, I did what any kid who isn’t good at sports wants to do: I joined a band. We were called Trial and Error. I remember our typical setlist felt a bit all over the place. We learned everything from Led Zeppelin to Vanilla Ice (seriously). However, the band I’ve carried with me from those days is Phish. “Down With Disease” was a fairly standard Trial and Error cover. Enjoy this pre-cell phone-camera capture from 1994 in Cincinnati.

I was sitting in my senior-year English class when I learned of the September 11th attacks. I remember huddling around TV screens throughout the rest of the school day with my friends, watching the saddest scene that would set the world on a very different course. I’ve been to New York many times since then, and it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. Ryan Adams did not write “New York, New York” about the tragedy — it was finished well before that day, and the record was actually slated to come out on September 11. The studio version on “Gold” is great — just like the rest of the record. But this solo piano version he played on Letterman years later is an absolute, bring-you-to-your-knees masterpiece. One of my favorite performances of all time.

I studied writing in college, and I think it helped me gravitate toward the lyrical side of music. I spent many hours studying Adam Duritz’ approach to writing and his ability to insert the most personal details into songs. While so many bands released music that seemed to aim to appeal to a broad section of the world, Adam’s lyrics were intensely personal, and I found so much inspiration in the style of writing. It’s impossible to pick a favorite from their catalog, but this acoustic version of “Have You Seen Me Lately?” is near the top of the list.

I could continue this post up until my current 31st year on Earth, but I’m going to close this chapter of my life in music on the eve of my college graduation. I went to Moore’s Bar in Greencastle, Indiana where I took tequila shots with two of my favorite professors and belted out a late-night karaoke version of Warren Zevon. But this isn’t “Werewolves of London” or “Carmelita.” Since that evening, I’ve dug into Zevon’s catalog, and I believe he is one of the finest songwriters in musical history. As a fan, I think the man was a pure genius. As a musician, I aspire to have the same kind of commitment to crafting songs as he did. “Desperados Under the Eves” is a brilliant song, but I’m not sharing the original version. I’m sharing this video of Dawes covering it with a story from Letterman that shows the brilliance and beauty of Warren Zevon (thanks to my pal Jeff Piper for sending me this video).

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