Dan Zimmerman, the son of a Methodist preacher, was born in 1948. His earliest memories are sitting in a hard pew listening to his father’s booming baritone voice.
At age 9, Dan and a friend wrote and illustrated their own books, imaginations fueled by Mad, Famous Monsters Of Filmland, and the palpable proximity of Hollywood and Disneyland. In 1957, he also started playing guitar, thumbing through songbooks, and a few years later harmonizing on Everly Brothers tunes with his brother. When the family moved to Arizona in 1962, he pined for the waves of Hermosa Beach, picking out surf music when he wasn’t singing in the youth choir. However, it wasn’t until he entered the Syracuse School Of Art that the plot thickened enough for his own music to develop.
In 1968 he learned that his parents were getting divorced. Drugs were everywhere. The sub-zero winters reached deep. And of course there was the war. He began writing songs to sort though the psychic thicket.
In 1969 it all came to a head. The country was on a collision course with itself. Dan was one of those who fell through the cracks. He dropped out of school and, throwing his guitar and sketchbook into a van, hit the road with a derelict friend and his three-legged dog. Suddenly he found himself trying to live the life of an itinerant singer/songwriter and artist, careening from state to state. When his troubled friend, fleeing phantoms, dropped him off in the middle of Wyoming, Dan hitchhiked to Portland, Oregon, to rendezvous with a friend who had turned him on once in San Francisco. It proved to be a pivotal trip.
Dan embraced Portland as his own, singing in a storefront theater, doing strange drawings in a dank basement apartment, from which he finally reached out to his college sweetheart, Robin of New Jersey, the love of his life. In 1972 they were wed, the ceremony performed by a Hindu swami in a park among the roses. Moving with others to start a yoga community in the Columbia Gorge, Dan built a home in the woods with a bowl of water as a level, a saw, and a hammer. In 1974 he got a job in the forest, working at a government tree nursery, caring for tree seed, fighting fire on Mount St. Helens before she blew. He liked to draw the workers during lunch, and recorded a new batch of songs while sitting in a mud-splattered tree-packing plant.
The songs were distinctly different. In 1978, emerging from a decade of incredible turbulence, the new material reflected a rebirth of his slumbering childhood faith. In 1979, he decided to leave the woods and move back to Portland. Operating several businesses to support his family, he found being a father and husband a wonderful, albeit richly difficult task, a job always complicated by his continued artistic pursuits.
In 1984, Dan and some kindred souls formed Subterranean Cafe, a band that reflected both his sixties roots and the art-rock/punk he was hearing. Over a five year period they recorded three records, all reflecting the immeasurable assistance of new-found compatriot, Blair Stevenson. They played at local bars when they weren’t leading worship in church.
Generally, though the church embraced what they were doing, difficulties began to crop up, and Dan developed a growing aversion to the religious obligations well-meaning people put on each other. As he read Dostoevsky, Berdyaev, and the other Christian existentialists he started to look at faith as a great drama rather than a belief system, and this gave him fresh hope and vision for the years to come.
In 1995 Dan and Robin moved to New Jersey. Their children decided to stay in Portland. That was hard. But, soon after arriving in the Garden State, Dan was greeted by a call from Daniel Smith, of Danielson Famile. The result has been a propitious collaboration.
Dan’s first album on Sounds Familyre was released soon thereafter. Another is currently in the works.
Through the 80’s and 90’s, Dan’s paintings have evolved steadily along with his music, from the expressionist landscapes of the Northwest, through the decade-long development of a black-and-white personal mythos, to his current work, reflecting an increased interest in the abstraction process, courting accident with the branches and trees in his backyard, and drawing waves with crumbling sticks of charcoal at the Jersey Shore.
For the last ten years he has displayed paintings during music performances. At the Knitting Factory in New York they were projected on a screen behind him. A film of his performance at Princeton’s Cafe Improv on public television garnered the equivalent of a Grammy. Lately he has been accompanied by a fine Brit guitarist, Mr. Tony Jones.
Dan has gotten into the habit of referring to himself as an internationally unknown artist; perhaps this is beginning to change. With a basement full of paintings and drawings, and piles of songbooks brimming over with songs new and old, remembered and forgotten, he has certainly paid some dues.