Your very flesh shall be a great poem
Wordsmith Dean Haakenson’s Be Brave Bold Robot
It’s a Sunday afternoon at McKinley Park, and it’s 114 degrees. A group of mostly out-of-shape musicians are in the middle of a weekly whiffle-ball game. The air is hot, the grass is hot, the dirt is hot, and the skinny yellow whiffle-ball bats are hot. The cheers and splashing at the community pool about 50 yards away spread through the park. The sign above the pool entrance reads “Everyone Pays.” On this day, they’re all paying in the heat.
Dean Haakenson is on the mound, winding up to throw a whiffle pitch. Haakenson, the leader of local band Be Brave Bold Robot, sweats like ducks quack. A long, bushy beard dominates his features. He looks like Walt Whitman in his 20s with his lumbering walk, a smile underneath the beard and the seemingly inevitable yawp. Before pitching to one batter, Haakenson yells, “Did you just get out of prison? Then you’ll know what this feels like.” He’s a mixture of confidence and nerves, and it’s reflected in his music, so let’s back up.
Be Brave Bold Robot—which generally features a rotating lineup—anchors its sound on non-rock rhythms with drums and Haakenson’s ever-present acoustic guitar. In that way, the band resembles a reggae version of the Counting Crows—especially on “Keep the Women Happy,” a song it recently performed live at the 2006 Sammies. The surprises come when Haakenson incorporates unexpected instrumentation, such as the vibes on “Those Things” (recorded live in KDVS’ Studio A and available at www.bebraveboldrobot.org). As Haakenson put it, “I like discordancy amidst the pretty.”
In another way, Haakenson evokes Mike Doughty when he raps through “The $1000 Grape Drive By,” a track that could be on Soul Coughing’s Ruby Vroom. It’s the rapid-fire lyrical pattern over rock with a dash of hip-hop that begs the comparison. Haakenson’s lyrics, like those on “Gamma Rays,” sometimes border on the silly: “She don’t believe in spankings … but he’s never scared of pancakes.”
“I love stories,” Haakenson said. “I love short stories and how certain arrangements of words can make a much greater impact than other arrangements of words. Maybe one strikes emotional chords, and one paints a clearer picture in the mind’s eye.” But his music is a reflection of his personality, so let’s back up.
Earlier, at a Saturday night before a Be Brave Bold Robot show at the Fox & Goose, Haakenson fidgeted at a table. His legs jumped up and down as he sat. He sweated. He talked like Jack Kerouac wrote—a refreshing stream-of-consciousness prose—and ordered a round of tequila shots.
When asked about the origin of the band name, he recalled that the phrase “be brave bold robot” was used several times in Isaac Asimov novels.
“I do not know which ones, or in what context,” he said. “I will find out before I die.” Haakenson still produces the local zine where he originally used the name Be Brave Bold Robot, though he said the publication is being left behind as the band’s popularity grows.
Later, Haakenson stood under the lights at the Fox & Goose and sweated. He rambled on about something, alternately interesting and confusing the audience. He let out a yawp and dove into the next song.
The next day, he’s pitching the whiffle ball, and he seems equally as happy and exuberant as he does onstage. He sings from the patch of dirt that is the pitcher’s mound before delivering a screwball. And it’s pure poetry.