“It seems to me that songs are already out there floating on the air. There are stories that need to be told, feelings that need to be communicated, and some of us are just chosen to be the conduits.” –Dan Johnson
And so the story does go that Dan Johnson would meet the cast of characters from his new project “Hemingway,” and through him they would whisper their darkened secrets long held, trusting the once ousted minister-in-training to guide them out and into the light. It all started with five songs, a string of individual tales woven into a concept piece so epic that the storytelling would not be sated by the confines of lyrics and music alone. No. These stories marched clear past those limits until a companion book came into view, in a collaboration with acclaimed novelist and journalist, Travis Erwin. It’s a place where these weary characters could lay down their burdens, make their full confessions, and at long last, convalesce in their repentance.
It’s no secret the title song and story “Hemingway” is inspired by the life and tragic suicide of Dan’s father, an injured military veteran who lost all hope when he discovered his military skills didn’t translate to any sustainable job in the civilized world. The depression and eventual mental illness that followed led him to, as the songs says, “take the Hemingway out.” Dan was only 10 years old at the time and was instantly stripped of his childhood, to bear the responsibilities his father left behind. When he finally gained a life of his own he admittedly took a tremendously selfish turn, indulging in a reckless life full of drugs and women as depicted in the song “The Favor” and its accompanying story, ”The Devil’s Child.” “Tom Waits For No One” and the accompanying story “Ice Water“ were born of a breakup scene from Dan’s own life staged in a dimly lit room, all romantically ready and waiting for a woman who would never return. “Bloom” is a sentimental piece, inspired by Dan’s three daughters and the pleasure of watching them blossom into strong, beautiful women, a precious experience he nearly missed out on. Through the guilt of his past and the general lack he felt as a person, Dan came very close to following in his dad’s footsteps, but at the last minute he decided he would see it through, and instead poured his inner battle into the hauntingly personal song “Lone Gunman’s Lament” and accompanying story “A Bad Man.” The entire collection of songs (produced by Johnson and Adam Odor) and short stories is a heart provoking narrative about the relationship between decision versus chance in life, and the inextricable ties between good and evil in the world. For Johnson, the hope for fame and the biggest music stages is not what drives his ambition. In this rat race towards stardom and instant celebrity, Dan would much rather have true conversations through his music. To him, those are by far the best shows in town.