Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Time Will Be Kind: Lorna Donley and DA

[EDIT]: Awful news yesterday that Lorna passed on. The text of this old post hardly articulates how much this band meant to me, how they introduced me to the first wave of Chicago punk, how many nights I've spent blaring these tunes when I feel most isolated and confused, how fellow DA fan Kathryn and I plotted to visit her at the library tell her these things, how crushed I feel that we can no longer do that -- Lorna is a artist whose death that has affected me unlike any I can recall. This is the second-most-viewed post I've done, so I'm glad to have been able to bring the band's attention to some of you over the past couple of years. Anyway I'm bumping the post in her honor.


Surely my favorite of the original Chicago punk groups right here. Formed in 1978 by a teenage  Lorna Donley, Da (alternately known as DA or Da!) was a mainstay of the Chicago scene by 1980, gigging with out-of-town bands like the Fall, Hüsker Dü (in their 'ultracore' period), and DNA. For most of their run they were a majority woman band, their cool post-punk typically (and rather lazily) compared to Siouxsie and the Banshees.

The first record here is their single, Dark Rooms b/w White Castles. A-side has this pernicious spareness to it, where each part of the song drifts in like another intrusive thought. The guitar chimes with echoes of '60s groups like the Byrds, but whatever hope or optimism that generation had is in short supply here. Instead, Lorna's chanting vocals summon dim specters (in a city with many demons) to convene with those living lifeless in the days of Reagan's empire. "White Castles" is a groovy rant on race and class stratification, presumably in Chicago -- but since Dick J. Daley's de facto enforcement of segregation vitally influenced the racist organization of post-war American cities (see the equally subtle and violent, ultimately successful campaign against fair housing, despite the efforts of MLK), the song reaches wider. Seeing how things have gone since 1981, the urban situation is easily desperate enough for this song to hold up today.

You can read a great Coolest Retard article reviewing this record, (plus a review of Strike Under's Immediate Action 12" EP and a Strike Under interview) in the Dementlieu Punk Archive.

Second is Time Will Be Kind, released shortly after the band's end in 1982. It continues in the more driving, gothic postpunk of "White Castles" but with less angularity and more developed songwriting. I won't go over each song -- just play the video of the opening track -- but suffice it to say that the Byrds' dissociative alienation (e.g. "Eight Miles High") is twisted past dazed confusion to tired rage. Nowhere is this more apparent than on "This Doubt," right at the end of the EP where the band rips into what I find to be one of the most cathartic loner jams in punk. And without any sort of HC gimmicks of speed or blunt heaviness. Grasping for evidence of how-it-could-be, finding mostly nothing, but refusing to stand down and accept how-it-is. It pains me that this band left behind so little, but what they did make has a lot of replay value.

These used to be the band's only official recordings, aside from two live songs on the Busted at Oz comp, which you can check out here. But in 2010, Factory 25 Records released a compilation of unreleased recordings, entitled Exclamation Point. I got a copy back then and definitely recommend it.

Buy DA - Exclamation Point
Download Dark Rooms + Time Will Be Kind


  1. Very excellent post. I never got a chance to see them, but they are definitely one of my favorite bands from back home.

  2. Thanks, *blush* but we were dead set on destruction!

  3. Oh wow, I missed my rockstar-meeting moment! Lorna, I love your works with Da. And much respect for fighting for libraries in Chicago these days!