David Dondero: Living In The Material World

The unsung indie pop icon dissects our modern age

David Dondero / artwork by Ron Hart

Protest music has long been the firmament that echoes our unrest.

That was initially evidenced by the rise of protest music in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, when the Weavers, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul & Mary, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan hoisted themselves upon the winds of change and stirred the sentiments of a growing group of dissatisfied young people concerned about the effects of the so-called “Red Scare,” class-structured conformity, the disenfranchisement of racial minorities and American adventurism in places like South America and Southeast Asia.

It was a powerful force at a time when the world needed it most, but as apathy and excess began dulling any desire to stir things up, and the comforts of middle class living made it more tempting to go with the flow, complacency gave less weight to music that appealed to our collective conscientiousness.

There have been any number of other artists willing to pick up the banner and move it forward — John Lennon, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen immediately come to mind — but as a driving force for contemporary credence, its worth and relevance as a genre seems to have fallen as far afield as hula hoops and pong games have as far as a means of modern entertainment. Given that perspective, it’s a credit to an artist like David Dondero — long considered one of the most insightful and intelligent representatives of the current breed of singer/songwriters — chose to tackle the modern malaise with a series of songs that decry America’s descent into a realm of smug self-assurance. “Dark days are going down,” he laments on “Heather Heyer,” a song about a victim of the tragedy that unfolded in Charlottesville. Like other songs on his daring new album Filter Bubble Blues, it finds him offering a scathing view of the insanity and ignorance that’s seized the American psyche. 

David Dondero Filter Bubble Blues, Fluff & Gravy 2020

Dondero defines “Filter Bubble” as “a situation in which an Internet user encounters only information and opinions that conform to and reinforce their own beliefs, caused by algorithms that personalize an individual’s online experience.”

“There are things I do ponder from my easy chair,” Dondero muses on “Easy Chair,” the album’s opening track. It references the fact that today’s populace seems all too willing to observe an ongoing parade of affronts without asserting its umbrage. Indeed, Dondero makes no attempt whatsoever to coach his criticism. There’s no mistaking the objects of his wrath and dismay on a song such as “The Presidential Palace of Pornography,” one which lays out a litany of misdeeds, from the suppression of women to the use of gerrymandering to keep local elections in Republican pockets and a “presidential palace of immunity” from which distraction, deceit and the denouncement of objective criticism as “fake news” is spewed repeatedly on a daily basis. 

“The record was inspired by what’s happening,” Dondero told Rock & Roll Globe. “The blatant lies and the creation of false narratives by politicians and those in power.  Those conning poor people into helping the rich by using inflammatory issues like abortion, religion and ‘family values’ to hoodwink them out of social safety nets like healthcare, education and environmental protection, all to benefit large corporations with unbridled capitalism using religion and fear as their primary’ control mechanisms.”  

Still, however harsh its commentary, Filter Bubble Blues is neither brutal nor bombastic, at least in terms of tone. Dondero shares his sentiments over a series of soft, seductive melodies that affirm his acumen without adding to the noise and abrasion so prominent in today’s cultural and political discourse. Still, they’re no less potent. “Empty Gesture” mocks the old adage heard repeatedly, suggesting that “thoughts and prayers” can somehow assuage the endless cavalcade of senseless violence that seizes headlines on a daily basis. Permeated by a series of apparent gunshots, the horror becomes palatable by the time the song concludes and the narrator apparently falls victim to the madness, he decries. “Underwater Sculpture Garden,” a tome about our crumbling environmental ecosystem, appears to lighten the mood courtesy of a simple sing-along, but the message is manifested regardless. 

“It’s about the current fragmenting of ideologies through media outlets that highlight the differences and play on peoples emotions, increasing the conflict to sell more advertising through confirmation bias and filter bubbles,” Dondero muses. “It’s giving me the ‘Filter bubble blues’.”


AUDIO: David Dondero “Thought I Was A Hurricane”




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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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