Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
The following is a misshapen, unprofessionally penned self-help guidebook in the feeble attempt at getting to know the sneaky, gypsy singer and songwriter known as Mr. Kevin Devine. It might not help anyone whatsoever. It might make you think you couldn't know him any less. He could steal your faith in the written word. It could just be an empty framing.
To begin, Devine's comings and goings are of fanciful and impermanent decadence, as if he relishes being split and quartered by the grueling, prolific boundlessness of his travels and his mental anguish. The man of sunny yellow hair - slick sometimes with the sleepy pomade of no showering - is often wobbling when he's off stage, daring the jackets to take him away. He's often on the ropes, running on the fumes of other people for his own deposits have long since been exhausted. There's a hollow echo emanating from the bottom floor of his well, shooting out of the open hole like a full-bodied musket blast of exhaustion. An exaggeration would be to suggest that Devine tours 12 months out of the year and crashes deathly sick and tapped out for another four months. The math doesn't equate, but it must feel close to that for the tireless troubadour. He must feel that there is no down town, that there isn't a chance for breath-catching, pulling up one's socks or straighten the tie or noose. It's a never-ending gig and it makes the heart-rending emissions in his songs feel like the bloodshot babies of some loud wail comingling with an uncontrollable yawn.
His songs reflect the passionate life that he chooses to lead every single day. It's one that he burns at both ends and also holds a lighter in the middle of the candlestick to cut it in two so the three flames can find some common ground. What it has to do with his music is everything and yet his music is not about being broken down and seeking some version of hidden vitality, like a hidden mushroom or ammunition-packed flower triggered from a stationary box in a game of Super Mario Brothers. He attains valor and the status of a most honorable urchin and erudite in this insistence upon full exhaustion, for it lets loose the endorphins that allow him to compute it all, to ransack the possibilities of expression, hope and hopelessness. He boils a galaxy of thoughts and spoils down into very specific morsels that are rich and tangy. He writes for the rooms full of mixed company and he writes for the rooms full of solitary confinement - when a man can't get away from himself, when he's got no choice but to stay pat and soak it all up, the droppings, the shiny eyes and the aspirations. Devine waves off the sea salt that's in his eyes. He sings about not saving any souls - whether that's his plight or one of a different man than he is hard to say. The belief here is that Devine does save souls - or else he gives them an option, a cheat sheet and some good walking shoes.
The are very few people whose charisma makes your day, whose resiliency in the face of abrasives and explosive audibles gone awry turns you proud, turns you into a fan. There are plenty of people out there writing songs about the ways that life sometimes takes advantage of you and then leaves you hanging by your shoelaces, flapping in the wind, but they seem sorry and manufactured. Believe someone like Dashboard Confessional if you'd like. I wouldn't do that. Though who are we, the listeners, to validate what anyone believes to be their truths and genuines? It's not for us to say, frankly. If they can reach them, they can have them. It doesn't really matter. But more so than most, Devine worked for them. I've seen him roasting his pale skin off in 100-degree temperatures in Texas, sacrificing himselfHe reached those lows and when he did (as he's done still) is he kicked off of the bottom and shot himself back up to the top like a missile. The problem for him is that he only stays above the surface just long enough to grab that desperately needed gulp of air, then it's back to being under the water and trying to get some more. When he sings like this, it sounds worse than it is. You always feel that Devine's got a case of the healthy blues. He's an auteur of them and he's perfected his own form of self-medication.