|AN INTERVIEW WITH
THE UNDEFINABLE DUFINE
by Linda Park
I recently had the rather unique experience of hearing a CD which managed as if by magic to cross over and through today's ever-increasing and sometimes arbitrary musical boundaries. The end result is both stirring and provocative. The CD is Oklahoma; the artist is Jeff DuFine.
While many of us have relegated the Oklahoma City tragedy to the past, this Los Angeles musician, a native of New York, felt so intensely affected by it that he devoted the entire past year of his life to the making of this album, "...intended to help in the healing we must all go through." Not only did this project take precedence over every other facet of his life, but Jeff has also pledged to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the CD to the Oklahoma Crime Victims Compensation Fund and to the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation as well.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jeff DuFine over what he calls lunch: a pear and a 2-litre bottle of diet soda. We discussed what drew him to the project as well as "where he's been all his life."
Linda: Your music's very powerful, Jeff. I'm sure it reaches well beyond the boundaries of Oklahoma, wouldn't you say?
Jeff: Yes. Even though the album is dedicated to Oklahoma, and except for the words of the title song, I don't think the music is only specific to that event. It's about the loss we've all experienced in our lives. I lost both my parents and a sister, so the music comes from how I relate to loss and sadness. The music is a way to touch and a way to help us heal. If it makes one person feel the least bit better, then I've succeeded. No, let me go beyond that--if it even makes one person feel, then I'm satisfied. The idea of the CD is to open emotions that have been deadened by today's constant barrage of horrors. It's sanitizing how we're fed them by the news.
Linda: You mentioned the title song, "Oklahoma." It's pretty controversial. Aren't you concerned that it might put some people off.
Jeff: I wasn't when I wrote it. Only in the aftermath was I aware that since the song is written to portray Timothy McVeigh's point of view that some people, particularly those directly affected by his deplorable act, might be put off.
Linda: One wouldn't say it's a soothing song. Some of the lines are quite vivid. "Your child's in the manger/ So safe in the light/ But I'm your God walking/ And I'll bring on their night." The words, especially the phrase, "God walking," made me shiver.
Jeff: Well, this is not a "We Are The World" song. They didn't write a "We Are The World" for the Nazi holocaust. That would have been inappropriate. Just as in this case, given the magnitude of the devastation McVeigh caused, and the fact that we as a people have become numb to events such as this seeming to come with alarming regularity, I felt it inappropriate to reduce it to just another "Let's all join hands" chorus. There are all sorts of political and religious overtones to his brutal act, and just as you can't tell the story of the holocaust without mentioning Hitler, you can't tell the truth of this story without revealing the monster.
Linda: In the last verse you actually refer to McVeigh as the city's "lover." ( "Now you're my new lover/ Now you're my new life/ I've wed Oklahoma/ For the rest of my life.")
Jeff: Yes, it's almost as if he courted that city. He came uninvited like a stalker. Nobody asked him to come and now in the eyes of the world he is wed to Oklahoma. Joined forever to that city.
Linda: Other than this song, being that the majority of the music is instrumental, how would you categorize the album?
Jeff: Seriously? I'm offended by the concept, the need to categorize music. I don't like categories--period. Are you white? Are you black? What's your political affiliation? What God do you pray to? The need to package and categorize everything gets ridiculous sometimes. This is a woman's book; this toy is suitable for blah, blah, blah; this music is suitable for thin white men between the ages of 17 and 17 1/2. 1 don't want to categorize it--it's suitable for anyone who appreciates beautiful music and is willing to open themselves to feel.
Linda: Well, on the subject of feeling, then. When you went to Oklahoma recently, for the anniversary of the bombing, what did it feel like when you actually stood at the site?
Jeff: At first I felt like an interloper.
Linda: Why was that?
Jeff: I'm an L.A. musician, relatively divorced, you could say, from the bombing--other then watching T.V. coverage. I felt two things: like I was standing at someone else's gravesite, paying homage to people I didn't know, to something I wasn't a part of. I was also completely amazed at the sheer magnitude of the devastation. Like I said earlier, the news packaged it and reported that a building was bombed. But this didn't even begin to tell the story. In fact, many structures were damaged. People felt it for miles, doors were blown off buildings that were 8 miles away. It was only at the site, when I met with the actual survivors and felt their openness, that I didn't feel like an intruder. They are quite brave, so resilient.
Linda: How long did you stay in Oklahoma?
Jeff: I initially went for 5 days, but wound up spending almost a month there. It was quite special. I met with the First Lady of Oklahoma, Cathy Keating; was invited to the Victims' Rights Ceremony at the Capitol by the District Attorney's Office; and was interviewed by ABC and CBS, in both Oklahoma City and in Tulsa. And although I hadn't planned it, I was even invited to sell and sign the CD at 5 major store chains. I ended up selling 4 times as many CDs as any other artist had ever sold there.
Linda: It sounds like you got an extremely positive response.
Jeff: Yes, the reaction was great, and it was especially exciting that people responded and bought the CD because they loved the music and not because of what it represented. People seemed genuinely moved. It made me feel like the music truly touched them. And beyond that, my music may be responsible for a new medical procedure (laughs).
Linda: What do you mean?
Jeff: When I was in Oklahoma City, a doctor who had called Barnes & Noble, where I was signing copies of the CD, heard my music over the phone and rushed down to buy two copies. The following day, I thought I had food poisoning so I called him at home--he'd signed my fan list. His wife answered and said he was at the hospital, but she'd page him for me. A few minutes later, he called me back and told me he was in the middle of performing open heart surgery! He then proceeded to spend about 5 minutes to tell me how much he and his wife loved my CD, interrupting his praise several times to call out to his nurse, "I'll be right there." He finally advised me to get some Pepto Bismol, relax and not worry. (laughing) I never did find out if the operation was a success!
Linda: ( Laughs ) Careful or You 'll be the first musician sued for malpractice. Anyway... I understand you've been talking to the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra about performing your music?
Jeff: That's right. Discussions are presently under way for a joint performance of my music, to coincide with the ground breaking of the Memorial in November.
Linda: Tell me, Jeff, you've actually accomplished quite a lot in your career. you played with the Motels, Jerry Jeff Walker, John Lennon's backup band and on a Rolling Stones tour. You had your own band, Reality Sandwich, in NY And then did the woodshed farm thing with the DuFine Band. You even appeared in, and wrote part of the soundtrack, for a movie with Dennis Hopper. How is it that it's taken you 'til now to put out your first solo album?
Jeff: I guess it's because I've always managed to get in my own way until now.
Linda: Meaning what exactly?
Jeff: For example, in regards to the movie with Dennis Hopper. After I did the movie, the response to my acting was so positive that the editor turned me on to a major director for a major role in his upcoming film. I didn't pursue it. In retrospect, it was safer and less of a risk to be offered and refuse rather than to follow through and risk failure. So, in my life, very often the offers became the successes. The same thing happened with the Miami Vice offer. I always felt that my music came first. I didn't want to become a Rick Springfield. In hindsight, I would probably do it differently today. I'd take the gig. But I'm not all that sure that artistic integrity, being a musician first, wasn't the correct choice for me at the time. Today, I'm more of a pragmatist ... so, look for me on Baywatch! (laughs) And please don't miss my in-depth interview with Jerry Springer.
Linda: Who influenced you the most when you were growing up?
Jeff: Mickey Mantle.
Linda: No kidding? More so than a particular musician?
Jeff: Let's just say I wanted to be like "The Mick" more than I wanted to be like "Mick."
Linda: Were you good at sports?
Jeff: Yes. I played baseball and football in college. But music called me a little louder.
Linda: So what's next for Jeff DuFine?
A Light in the Darkness, a Beacon of Hope, a Pathway to Justice...
Right for America
Right for Oklahoma
Certificate Awarded to Jeff by Victims Services, Oklahoma City Police Department.