When shit goes down, it goes all the way down. And as you get older, hard times are harder. Whereas a breakup may have constituted a bad month in your 20s, it's a bad calendar year in your 40s.
David Lowery, frontman for cult-rockers Cracker, had a big, bad, nasty year. First, he got a divorce. Then Lowery's friend, Bryan Harvey, was murdered on New Year's Day (along with his wife and two small children) in a brutal attack in their home. And now, to pile some poisonous icing on top of the shit cake, Lowery's beloved cabin in San Bernadino County's Pioneertown is most likely a victim of the Sawtooth Complex Fire.
He's not smiling.
"The last few years provided me with a lot of fodder to write about," he says. "It's not to say that I'm in a bad place where I'm feeling sorry for myself, because I'm in a really good place. I guess it's no different than what a lot of other 40-year-olds go through. But I dunno, it took a little while to be happy."
Lowery has always written about the dark stuff, he says, but with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven (his successful alt-rock venture from the '80s), it seems to come out funnier than he meant it to. Lowery and his songwriting partner, Johnny Hickman, may just be the Kurt Vonneguts of old-school college radio.
"I love black humor and making fun of my own misfortune and what I bring on myself," Lowery says. "I love creating an unreliable narrative where you know I'm lying so I can switch from stuff that's serious to humor to outright lies. It intrigues me."
Cracker has always been a bit more straightforward than Camper, as their hit songs confirm-their radio hit was "Low" while Camper made their name with "Take the Skinheads Bowling." But both bands incorporate (and embrace) each other's contributions and those of outsiders, creating a communal recording and touring fraternity.
"Bands delude themselves into thinking that these four or five people are completely isolated on an island and it's just about them," Lowery says. "And that's why a lot of them break up. We have music going on all over the place and there's musician peers and others constantly around and ideas constantly floating around. It's the most natural way to exist as a band."
Lowery may never endure creative boredom. Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven do most of their tours together and they record in alternate cycles. Cracker's latest album, Greenland, incorporates their collaborative spirit into a slideshow of country stomp, classic rock, exotic swells and hallucinatory resonance.
"Most people stop writing good music just because they stop writing," Lowery says. "And with [Camper and Cracker] being cult bands, we have the opportunity to play and record all the time. We're constantly searching for that inspiration from many different perspectives."
The cult aspect of both bands basically allows Lowery to exist in a different realm of the music business. When Virgin Records decided to release a "Best Of" collection without the band's approval (the label owns the Cracker back-catalogue), the band re-recorded some of their songs and released their own "Greatest Hits" collection. The band's version has since outsold its counterpart.
"I never wanted to be a full-time musician, really," Lowery says. "But the way we do things now allows Cracker to play music without being slaves to it all. If you forget to live your life, like a lot of artists nowadays do, it doesn't give you anything to write about but music itself."With the year he's had, Lowery will never have that problem.