Looking For A Place to Live / Bill Demain
God forbid this should happen to any of us. But it happened to Bill Demain: a devastating flood washed out his condo in Nashville, only to be followed a few months later by a second tragedy, a house fire that wiped him out completely. For more than a year he lived out of a suitcase, in limbo, waiting to find a new home. Now, Bill's not your average homeless person. He's a fairly successful singer-songwriter, not only as one-half of the duo Swan Dive, but also as a songwriter who's collaborated with the likes of Jill Sobule, Bill Lloyd, and Marshall Crenshaw. On top of that, he's a well-respected music journalist, writing for mags like MOJO and Classic Rock. Which just underscores that a misfortune like this could befall anybody.
But as luck would have it, this homeless period had a silver lining; it inspired Bill to write a collection of songs that he has now released as his first solo EP. And -- no surprise -- it's a truly winning album, offering an eclectic range of pop styles, well-crafted lyrics, and charming vocal performance. More than that: it's got heart. When you think about it, that only makes sense -- that a brush with tragedy would call out wistfulness, nostalgia, soul-searching, and mordant humor.
I'm going for the lead-off track here, although you really must check out the entire album (it's finally up on iTunes and Amazon's mp3 store now; or you could order your very own copy here). And why not? "Looking For A Place To Live" kinda says it all, doesn't it?
Acoustic folk seems just the right style for a displaced troubador; it's as if he hasn't got much but his guitar case to lug around (one of the few things Bill had time to grab when fleeing the fire was his 1937 Martin). That gentle rambling strum is perfect pavement-pounding music. But leave it to Bill to face his dilemma with wry humor: "I know how Columbus felt / Sailing round in circles / His coffee in a cardboard cup / And the Sunday classifieds." That sense of being an explorer -- that's probably the only way to face house-hunting and still stay sane. And if, along the way, you gain some sympathy with the dispossessed of this world ("Out with the refugees / Dreaming of vacancies / For what seems eternities...") -- well, that's a good thing, too.
Of course, good songwriting never stops with the obvious. In the process, he comes to understand what's really important: "Maybe home is nothing more / Than where you hang your hat." I like the fact that this song works even if you don't know Bill's story: maybe it's just about a young couple searching for a place to move in together, or maybe it's about a guy being thrown out by his girlfriend / wife and having to find himself a new lonely bachelor pad.
What matters is the wistfulness, the existential sense of dislocation. (Does anybody else hear a bit of Bookends-era Simon and Garfunkel here?) It's a song that treads lightly and takes nothing for granted. A song about stripping your life down to essentials. So self-effacing, so artlessly charming -- and so haunting. In a good way.