Batting leadoff at Loeb Stadium: America … ‘quite an honor’
Talking hits, 50 years on the road and Kate Bush (!!) with America founder Dewey Bunnell ahead of a show sure to be a Lafayette trivia question one day. Plus, local lawmakers on post-Roe legislation
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A Q&A WITH DEWEY BUNNELL, A FOUNDER OF THE BAND AMERICA
On the road for more than a half-century, there still can be a first for the band America.
At least this week, when America’s tour comes to Lafayette.
“They pronounce it Loeb, right?” Dewey Bunnell, guitarist and one of the founders of America, asked.
And, yeah, Bunnell got the pronunciation correct on a new Loeb Stadium that opened in 2021 in Lafayette’s Columbian Park, preparing to be broken in with its inaugural touring show Thursday night. (Tickets: here.)
“I do know we’re up first,” Bunnell said. “That’s quite an honor. We’re going to have to really polish ourselves up for that one.”
On a morning last week, Bunnell had just arrived in Orlando, from his home on a small lake in northern Wisconsin, deciding what sites to see and mapping out a three night, weekend swing that will include shows in Savannah and Augusta, Georgia.
The band – centered these days around Bunnell and Gerry Buckley, high school friends and founding members, along with the late Dan Peek – never quit touring with a collection of hits from the ‘70s and early-‘80s: “Horse with No Name,” “Tin Man,” “Daisy Jane,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Sandman,” “Ventura Highway.”
Which is a place to start …
Question: Do you like the weekend kind of approach to touring, after 50 years in the business?
Dewey Bunnell: It's certainly better than dragging yourself out there and being gone from home for weeks at a time. It's more of a job aspect. I'd hate to term what we do as a job in any way. But it's more that you can plan to be home on X night. … I’m not sure I like it this summer, because we’ve booked every single weekend. We’re making up for lost time, if you will, with a lot of shows that were rescheduled because of COVID – whether it was one of our guys getting COVID on a weekend, which has happened, and we’ve had to move those dates. Or because there were shows that were moved two or three times over the course of the last two years, because we gear up and then, oh, Omicron is here. It’s been real spotty. Last year we squeezed in 39 shows. That’s after 17 months without playing a note in public. And this year, we may get 55 in. Everything, needless to say, has been disrupted in the live show world.
Question: Have you found that you’re able to bounce back on stage and on the road?
Dewey Bunnell: I got to say after the 17 months off, I hadn’t done much playing. I don’t do a lot of playing at home, off the road – not in these later years of my life. I get in there and strum a little bit. … When I got down to, hey, we’re a couple of weeks out from doing a tour, I started refamiliarizing myself with the set and talking about the songs we do in the show. I had to relearn some stuff. I thought everything was muscle memory by now. But it’s not. It doesn’t come back as easily as I thought. All those muscles have to be reoiled and used to get back into the groove. We’re in the groove now. I mean, the shows have been great. I’ve been enjoying the shows and the guys getting back together.
Question: Your catalog is so familiar to a lot of people, I would think it would be natural to come right back into it.
Dewey Bunnell: Do it in your sleep, yeah? It is, basically. I don’t have any problems remembering lyrics and things like that. But there’s a certain pace to the show, and if you’re not doing it like usual, with a touring schedule over the decades that’s been 85 shows to 100 shows a year, constantly going, you know it.
Question: You talk about this not being a job or looking at it as a job. But do you still pinch yourself or are you surprised that, so many years later, you’re able to make this your living?
Dewey Bunnell: Yeah, it's been a long time that I've been surprised that we're still doing it. I think we all – at least Gerry and I, the founding members, we've been on the whole ride – there were many times we thought things were winding down. Obviously, you fall off the charts and there's new genres, new eras going through. So, I was always prepared for something to end. And certainly, it's slowed down. We’ve had huge peaks and valleys. … But this is all we've ever done, Gerry and I. This has been our life since high school. Never went to college. Making music was what went from a pipe dream to the real thing to, uh oh, we’ve got to step it up. Of course, by then that was our lives. We don't have something to fall back. … I'm pretty much exclusively a guy in America. And I like just being a team player and being part of that team.
Question: Peaks and valleys. Were there moments that gave you that resurgence? How do you mark a peak and a valley?
Dewey Bunnell: I honestly think there’s powers that be that you have no control over. So I don't know about radio programming or how that works, how you continue to be kept alive by broadcasting. Certainly, there were the eras coming out of vinyl into the digital age where people were replacing their record collections with CDs, and this need for content, quote/unquote, out there in so many walks. But something kept the music alive. And that's the intangible. The songs stay young, if they're still applicable, from generation to generation. If they can still kind of move an emotion or create an effect, as music does for all of us in whatever genre we're listening to, then there's no control over that. I think the fact that we stayed on the road, we have stayed visible, so we’ve been added to playlists, whether classic rock or, God forbid, “yacht rock.” The live show has been the only real tangible thing, where you’re doing something in real time.
That always leads into this question when people say, “How can you play that song every night?”
Question: OK, I’ll bite. How can you play that song every night?
Dewey Bunnell: I never even think about it, because every night is a new challenge. It's like, how can you step into the batter's box for 162 games a year? What do you mean? That's what I do. There could be a swing and a miss on any given night. So you have your head in the game.
Question: What do you see out of your audiences these days?
Dewey Bunnell: The fact is, we, right from the beginning – we were teenagers with our first album out at 19-, 20 years old – sort of had attracted by virtue of radio and exposure of the songs a broad range of audience. We did have older people, even when we were younger, listening. We had our generation. And we've always been happy to see certain young faces. In recent years, the graying of the crowd has been more and more evident. There's a lot of baby boomers, but we'll see pockets of younger people. Whatever our place is in music history, if you will, if they’re coming to see a ‘70s band of singer-songwriters and they've lumped us in with the Eagles and Jackson Browne and singer-songwriters of the day, then they're wanting to see that piece of the puzzle, possibly.
Question: Have you been following what’s been happening with Kate Bush and sudden interest, thanks to “Stranger Things”?
Dewey Bunnell: It's so bizarre you say that, because my wife is watching “Stranger Things,” and I watched a season or two with her, but I lose track while she stays on it. We were watching one night, and I was reminded of “Running Up that Hill.” God, I loved that song. And that night I pulled it back up, not knowing that it was exploding at the very moment. What a phenomenon.
Dewey Bunnell: No, really I don’t. We’ve had such great success, and I’ve been rewarded accordingly in that life is really good. … We used to get pissed off at our publishers for not beating the sidewalk and getting some of our songs placed here or there. And we’ve had a lot of use in things over the years. But more power to Kate Bush, and more power to the strength of the song.
We go through this all the time with the Beach Boys and Chicago and bands we play with. We’re all understanding that the songs are what retain the youth and the freshness and the exuberance. That’s why they were popular in the day. And whatever that element is, if it still applies to a newer generation or a bunch of listeners, then that’s where the power is.
IF YOU GO: America will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 30, at Loeb Stadium in Lafayette’s Columbian Park. LD Miller will open. Tickets: $29, $49 and $69, available online here or at the Long Center for the Performing Arts box office at 111 N. Sixth St., in downtown Lafayette.
SPECIAL SESSION ON INDIANA’S ABORTION LAW: REP. LEHE ADDS TO THE LOCAL DELEGATION’S TAKE
After Friday’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, I surveyed the local delegation to the General Assembly – essentially any representative or senator with a district in Tippecanoe County – about where they stand on what Indiana should do with its abortion laws.
Four of the seven answered Friday (see below).
State Rep. Don Lehe, a Brookston Republican in House District 25, weighed in Monday.
Lehe, serving the final months in a 20-year career in the Indiana House, said that during a recent campaign event, he mentioned to House Speaker Todd Huston that he hoped Gov. Eric Holcomb and the legislature wouldn’t wait until the start of the 2023 session to act, if the court overturned Roe.
“I said I wanted to be there, and I wanted to be involved,” Lehe, a member of Tippecanoe County Right to Life, said. “It’s been one of my priority issues. I don’t want to miss the opportunity.”
Lehe said he would support whatever bill came out of the Republican House and Senate. But he said he preferred to see a total ban, with the possible exception for when a mother’s life was at risk. He said he didn’t prefer exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
“I understand the dilemma that girl is in,” Lehe said. “That’s a tough one for me, because the way I see it, we’re punishing a baby for the crime of the father – of the rapist, I guess.”
Does he see that as punishment for a woman who is a victim, who has been raped?
“I understand,” Lehe said. “It's just another tough situation that that someone is going to have to decide who's guilty, who's innocent, whose life is more important.”
Some of this is a repeat from Saturday’s edition, but here's where other members of the local General Assembly delegation, stood, as of Friday, along with how you can get in touch with them:
Rep. Chris Campbell, D-West Lafayette, House District 26: Campbell said that she’d heard a couple of options coming in the Statehouse – “neither of them good” in a state that already makes decisions on reproductive rights difficult. One would include a tighter timeframe for women to get an abortion, moving from 22 weeks after the last menstrual cycle to eight or 10 weeks, with no exceptions for pregnancies involving rape or incest. The other she said she expects includes an all-out ban on abortion.
“I feel Indiana has, really, no right to create further restrictions, when they do nothing to prevent the need for abortion,” Campbell said, pointing to the state’s ranking as one of the worst when it comes to infant mortality rates. “We don’t give women access to maternity care, which is one of the biggest causes of infant mortality. If we’re actually trying to save babies, there’s a lot we could be doing. And this is not it. This is going to cause more deaths.”
Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, House District 13: Negele’s district has parts of eight counties, including sections of southern and western Tippecanoe County. Negele said:
“We’re going to look at a comprehensive approach on unwanted pregnancies and determine how best to prepare Hoosiers on education, prevention and supportive care which will need to include funding. Special session at this point is to address the surplus and refund Hoosier taxpayers. … A comprehensive approach would include exceptions, in my opinion. I will be working hard with my colleagues to find a reasonable compromise. As you know we have a diverse caucus. The financial and prevention component is critical for my support.”
Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, District 27: Klinker said she wasn’t sure what measures would be proposed during the special session. “For me,” Klinker said, “I’d prefer to leave things the way they are. But we’ll have to see what happens and what they propose.”
Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, District 41: Brown, who will retire from the General Assembly at the end of 2022, said he expected the legislature to take on the abortion debate in July. What sort of bill, if any, would he favor? “Too early to state a final position,” Brown said Friday.
State Sens. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, and Brian Buchanan, R-Lebanon had not responded as of Monday. They were among those who signed a March 8 letter from Republicans in the House and Senate that called on Holcomb to bring lawmakers back to Indianapolis if and when the Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs case and overturned Roe v. Wade. The upshot of that letter: “We have a responsibility to Hoosiers to ensure that our state laws are aligned with the Supreme Court decision …”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: To find phone numbers and other contact information for your state legislators and members of Congress, go to http://iga.in.gov and click on “Find Your Legislator.”
Thanks, again, to Wabash Riverfest for sponsoring today’s issue. For more about the July 9 community celebration at Tapawingo Park in West Lafayette, click on the links below.
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