Where Music is Written, or Dapper LeChampagne’s Unraveling at Austin City Limits

by Justin William Follin

12 November 2008



What the writers say, it means shit to me now.
Plants and animals we’re on a bender,
When it’s eighty degrees at the end of December.
What’s going on?
—Band of Horses

On the third day, the dust rose. Clouds of dirt blew across the field.

The town is so small, how could anybody not look you in the eyes or wave as you drive by?

Dapper was going to disintegrate today. He would see her during Band of Horses. She was wearing white. Her eyes were round and soft when they met his.

The world is such a wonderful place!

In the morning, Abigail Washburn sang songs from China and the Beatles, her and Bela Fleck trading off-kilter banjo licks as two parts of a quartet. Their twangs danced seamlessly through their international canon. In this roots waltz, Dapper sensed the repetition of the banjo’s movements as a circular wheel for the masculine and feminine interchange, Washburn’s playful plucks softening the virtuosic complexity of Fleck’s rapid fire fingers. The sun was heating Dapper’s neck.
Across the festival, David Rawlings backed Gillian Welch’s melancholia. They played on a main stage that made the two Nashville giants seem tiny and vulnerable with just their acoustic guitars. The dust blew Welch’s hair into her face and her skirt against her body. Dapper saw a woman in the crowd with a beard who was dancing with another woman. A teenage boy was kissing his girlfriend nearby. The two singers had perfected their duets like that kiss. They sang, “Oh, me, oh, my-oh, look at Miss Ohio, she’s running around with her rag top down, says I want to do right but not right now.” When Allison Krauss joined them at the end they sang, “Oh sisters, let’s go down, down to the river to pray.”

The dust continued to rise with the sun. Dapper walked by lines of toilets and noticed that people had begun wearing bandanas around their faces. He thought it was because the smell from the johns was lingering in the thick air. A young blond woman wearing large sunglasses and a skirt and a bikini top walked up to Dapper with a trash bag filled with plastic bottles. He gave her his recycling and asked, “Did I see you yesterday at Les Freres Guisse?”

She nodded.

“What an amazing show, huh?” He was hoping she might be into checking out a show with him. Or just have a conversation. The festival was getting hot and sticky and a little company would ease the swelter.

She nodded again and walked away.

Dapper was feeling a little burned. The sun was feeling like a Texas barbecue. He headed to the tent stage. There was an Australian there named Xavier Rudd. He had a beard and bare feet and he played the guitar and hand drums and didgeridoos. He and a kit drummer hypnotized their crowd into a sweating mass of grooving environmentalists singing praises to Mother Earth. Rudd’s didgeridoo solo seemed to embrace the stage like rumbling cave noises deep within the womb of the planet. The packed tent vibrated with movement and collective rhythms, dreadlocks and sweat. The show was a sad love song to the spectacle of natural beauty, made heavy by the fear that the lover was dying. Still, the two on stage electrified Dapper and the rest with tribal rhythms that served as a reminder that the way of the world might change and drop away, but the way of the universe remains. They finished the set with “Rockin’ in the Free World”. Everyone sang along. Dapper left feeling connected with everything.

The early evening brought with it a gaze of washed out blue over the park. The festival seemed more crowded than it had before. Now, though, the bandanas that covered the faces of people near the toilets were protecting faces all over the place. With darkness rising, Dapper had the eerie sensation that the dusty, dry ground and all of the masked concert goers were beginning to resemble a riot, some sort of protest to the toxins oozing through the air, through the streets, through the globe. Large groups of people covering their faces can seem unsettling. It is as if, without identity, the individual is free to act with the collective. It is a short leap from collective to revolution, but also a short leap from collective to collapse. Dapper thought of his friend, paranoid and disillusioned.

Wheelin’ through an endless fog,
We are the ever-living ghost of what once was.

Dapper tripped over a couple of legs and repeated “excuse me” as he found his way over a labyrinth of limbs already planted in central spots close to the stage. Band of Horses wouldn’t be on for an hour, but, already, prime real estate had been claimed. Most of the eager had shown up for Blues Traveler just to ensure their spot. Dapper squeezed in next to a group of high school kids and a guy with scraggly hair sitting alone. That guy’s friend appeared somewhat suddenly and sat down like a whirlwind of conversation.

“I just took a piss with three people,” he said. He wore a headband and a big beard and really short shorts.

“Couldn’t hold it?” Dapper asked.

“Hell no. We’d been waiting in line for so long we just figured, ‘fuck it,’ this ain’t nothin’ we haven’t seen before. So three of us got on the urinal and the woman sat on toilet.”

“There was a woman, too?”

“Yeah. We couldn’t just have a bunch of dudes in there.”

The Beard looked a little taken aback at the possibility of any homoeroticism involved in his story.

“It wasn’t like it was a sword fight or anything.”

He took out a bowl and packed it with green herbs. Dapper asked if he thought Band of Horses sounded a lot like My Morning Jacket. The Beard looked offended.

“Only the voice is similar. They’re a totally different band. Totally. Different.”

He offered Dapper a hit. Dapper obliged. The Beard had a very fast way of talking that altered between nervousness and excitement. His humor bordered on sarcastic while never crossing into the tentative boundaries of irony. As the THC soaked in, Dapper found the Beard’s energy both fun and a little overwhelming. Suddenly, all of the laughter around him and the growing numbers of people waiting for the band felt less inspiring and more constricting. He couldn’t concentrate on any one conversation for more than a couple of seconds. He needed space and he was sorry that he’d have to give up the company of his new friends and his spot so close to the stage. But something inside him wanted to breathe. So he lied.

“Uh, I gotta take a piss.”

If my body goes, then to hell with my soul,
We don’t even know the difference.

Dapper trekked outward past all of the faces looking surprised that someone would leave when they’d all spent so long waiting. He made his way to the edge of the crowd and walked without direction. The sky was almost dark now. He wasn’t sure why he was lingering at the outskirts; he wasn’t sure where to go. But something was pulling him. He felt like he was following something that wasn’t there.

Is there a ghost in my house? 

He found himself walking inwards again. He thought he’d just walk in as far as the crowd would let him. He stopped at a small opening where there was a little space for him to move. The spot felt right. The band came on the stage.

No body’s outside, there’s no one really at all,
What the hell I saw?

As Band of Horses hooked the masses of people in front of them, Dapper looked to his right and saw her. She had brown skin and brown hair and an all white skirt. She stood at the other end of a blanket. Two of her friends were between them but she was all he noticed. Her eyes were soft and round and they met his. He smiled and they both turned to look back toward the stage.

The band was perfect. They were not an imitation of My Morning Jacket. They were their own hooks, verses, and choruses and there was not just one voice on the stage. There were impeccable harmonies. There was even lead singer Ben Bridwell’s downright soul croon that extended their range well beyond the constraints of the pop music they had adopted. The band’s warmth washed over the crowd like an evening stroll through the hills of South Carolina. After each song Bridwell thanked the crowd for being there with hospitality resembling shock that so many would want to hear them play. And after each song, she looked at Dapper, and she began smiling, too.

It was when the band slowed down that Dapper felt his chest curtsey like a debutante at a cotillion. He knew she would be looking at him as soon as he heard the A flat chord of the “Marry Song”. He knew it before he looked himself. He knew she would be waiting for him to look, too. They sang:

I’ll marry my lover in a place to admire.

She was looking at Dapper, and when he turned to see her, her eyes grew large like she had seen a ghost. He looked back at the stage, and when he turned again, she had moved. She had switched places with the friends that stood between them and was standing so close to him the skin of their forearms could brush if one of them swayed to the beat of the song.

He leaned in to speak into her ear.

“What is your name?”

I don’t have to even ask her,
I can look in her eyes,
And thank God that I am forgiven.


Lucky ones are we all ‘til it is over,
Everyone near and far.

“My name is Dapper.”

She extended a hand and he took it, squeezing it gently and letting go.

When you smile, the sun it peeks through the clouds,

They stood swaying together while the band played A flat, E flat, D flat.

Never dying, for always be around and around and around.

Dapper felt his chest disappear first. It opened and dropped away. The air that had felt so thick became the notes of his breathing. His mind, the thoughts that carried with it the stories of people he’d met, the uncertainty of a tumultuous globe, the sense of Dapper LeChampagne uncoiled like a hurricane easing and becoming a part of the ocean. He was no longer Dapper and I looked at her again. I wondered if this would be a moment that changed the course of my life. There was no time in this place, there was no I or her or them. It was more than the economy or the election or the sadness of dying. It was a moment of love, the eternal reality of being. It was the place where music is written.

The band slowed further. They sang,

Always in time, I’m never looking over my shoulder,
I sing to you, I sing it to you.

Dapper took a deep breath. He leaned in close.

“Mariposa,” he asked, “would you like to dance?”

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