By Kristi Kates
It takes at least five hyphens to describe the career of Chelsea,
Jeff Daniels. And the songwriter part of that equation, Daniels
says, is always on the lookout for interesting song topics no matter
where he is or what hes doing.
On the set of the indie film, Paper Man, in which Daniels co-stars
with Ryan Reynolds, that elusive song, How Bout We Take Our Pants
Off and Relax was found in an unassuming hallway.
While filming the movie, Ryan and I would always pass each other in
one of the hallways, Daniels explains in a telephone interview, and
wed make that joke, you know, where youre about to walk into someone
else, neither of you is sure which way to go, so you say shall we
dance? Well, Ryan and I had been doing that for weeks, and one day we
walked into each other in the hall, and instead of shall we dance,
Ryan said, how about we take our pants off and relax... and I said
to myself, now that sounds like a song, he laughs.
Daniels, still a Michigan resident, is best known for his work in such
big-budget Hollywood films as Dumb and Dumber, Speed, Radio Days, and
Arachnaphobia. But he solidified his start as a writer when he was
living in New York City, where he kept notebooks of his writings. He
says writing taught him a lot about how to be a musician.
I was writing, you know, those early 20s, Who am I? kinds of
songs, Daniels explains, I kept them in a notebook, and numbered
them. Most of them wont ever see the light of day; I doubt anyone
will ever hear them - but it taught me a lot about songwriting.
Another of those hyphens - playwright - finds Daniels penning a play
a year for his Purple Rose Theater Company, also in Chelsea, Michigan;
and if you think hes too busy to keep that up for long, youd be
Im a writer. Thats what I do, Daniels says simply.
BIG BAY SHUFFLE
Music is also what he does, although its perhaps the lesser-known of
his accomplishments - so far. An accomplished guitarist and quirky
vocalist as well as a prolific songwriter, music is the talent hell
be showcasing at his upcoming shows in Harbor Springs and Manistee.
Daniels has both a positive and an ironic attitude about his reception
as an actor-turned-singer, having penned a song called If William
Shatner Can, I Can Too, referring to Shatners turn as a singer on a
Ben Folds album. Many of Daniels folky songs have a comedy element to
them, including one of his newest, which he says was inspired by an
Upper Peninsula hangout.
Theres a tavern in the U.P. called the Lumberjack Tavern, Daniels
explains, and theres an actual dance that they do up there called
The Big Bay Shuffle, hence the song title. I discovered the dance
some 30 years ago, and wrote the song about it.
LIVE AND UNEXPECTED
Other popular Daniels numbers include Sittin on My Old Front Stoop,
Forgive Me, Robert Johnson, The Lifelong Tiger Fan Blues, and
Michigan, My Michigan.
Daniels newest album, Live at the Purple Rose Theater, features even
more of his original tunes, plus - you guessed it - the final version
of the Ryan Reynolds-inspired How Bout We Take Our Pants Off and
Daniels will be playing a wide variety from all of his albums at both
shows, and says that his audience can ...expect the unexpected.
You know, when actors pick up a guitar and sing, its usually a
recipe for disaster, Daniels says. I know theyre there for what
Ive done in the movies. So first, Ill make them laugh. Then Ill get
them dancing. Its fun to play the Michigan shows, which mean a lot to
all of us. Ive got friends in the Petoskey area, too - so Im looking
forward to it.
Jeff Daniels will be in concert at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee on
Tuesday, September 21; and at the Harbor Springs Performing Arts
Center in Harbor Springs on Wednesday, September 22. Both shows are at
7:30 p.m. Tix available at ramsdell-theatre.org, www.blissfest.org, by
calling 231-526-4500, or at various ticket outlets in Petoskey (The
Petoskey Chamber of Commerce) and Harbor Springs (Between the Covers