Blessed Feathers, a popular band in town, has fallen apart, but its passing should not be mourned. Here's why: The past is a trickster heavy with karma anyone can fix, given the right frame of mind, as well as perseverance and the will to endure. And the future? Loaded with both good and evil in ample supply. Fish in the sea, so to speak. Some are loaded with Mercury to the gills while others can really swim. And in the present moment, there is just this ... Donivan Berube.
Far as he's concerned, the worst has already happened. Several times over, in his case. As someone who has seen a lot of success locally and internationally with Blessed Feathers, and with so many musicians in Flagstaff, what would he share with folks to know if they want to do the same thing?
"Just write better songs," says Berube, the pain warrior, having already lost his family, and then, more recently, the love of his life and creative partner. "That's the best thing you can do for yourself. All else is distraction."
So, for the living in the moment thang, let us not dwell on what's her name (Jacquelyn Beaupre, who according to her Facebook account, is living in Wisconsin now).
After all, most of the compositions are sung and performed by Berube. Even those Beaupre once sang. Has he considered just having someone else perform the old partner's parts on the Blessed Feathers?
"We wrote songs independently, but collaborated in their recording and performance," he says. "So, yes. Many of the Blessed Feathers recordings feature me singing and playing all of the instruments, even on some of the songs that she wrote. I have a live band now, though (Flagstaff locals Eric Dovigi and Jasper Komassa). I play drums while singing and sampling, and they're playing the guitar parts."
Now Berube is the last man standing.
"It's just me now," he says. "In addition to writing and performing the songs, I also acted as our booking agent and touring manager, getting shows and record deals and handling all of the business aspects that come along with making records and touring on them. So in a way, nothing's changed there. I've lost a partner, but I'll still be performing several of those old songs and handling the business on my own accord."
The new single has a full album's worth of ideas behind it. Indeed, Berube took all of that torment of loss and threw it up there on the screen, all of the way to the drop-dead, I'm-still-alive video of "Love is a Dog From Hell/Who Do I Turn To?" First of all, his sound is updated candy chrome, with the guitar sounding like sonar bells and ambient arrangements scuffing it all up. He sings with a world-weary plea. It's catchy, with his voice launching into the song from different directions as the instrumentals are harshed-out, but of light, as opposed to gloom, like it's coming from some crystal cave beneath the sea.
"I really don't know who is looking out for me," he sings, in ache. And then the song ends with him coming to the conclusion, in that classic Bob Dylan sense of things, telling the lonely one, "Trust yourself." In the video the music ends and he sits on his musician's stool for a while, staring at the screen, and you know it's no act. You can see the car lights going by through the window in the background. Wide is the world, and cold. This is a forlorn look for one person, and one person only.
This is as authentic as authentic gets, in any art form. The muse, be it for a man or for a woman, is the same. Old as Robert Johnson singing blues about "Love in Vain" or just about anything put out by Ryan Adams, with the words "love" and "pain" a cry out to the lost lover or the entire universe. It's all so interchangeable.
On his Soundcloud.com feed, the Blessed Feathers tracks are still there. They are Berube tracks now. Part of a pretty darn impressive catalog. Why not, he put so much into the "brand." But Berube sees a need to clear the deck, so to speak, from his former musical landscape.
"I spent five years building that up, yes, so it's discouraging for it to have ended," he says. "But most people thought Blessed Feathers was a Christian thing, so the name unfortunately turned people away who assumed some sort of religious context. We also literally pulled that name out of a hat, so it felt kind of meaningless. How can you stand behind something if it doesn't mean anything to you? Moving forward under my own name means that no one can take it from me. Except myself."
What has yet to be mentioned is his background, an adventure both romantic and, in hindsight, a melancholy paradise lost. It's so well written in the standard press release form offered on his web pages, there's no reason to change it: "A month after turning 17, Donivan Berube left home and disassociated himself from the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses, thus saying goodbye to his entire family and all of his friends, forever. Then he met his dream girl, Jacquelyn Beaupré, and together they took off to travel the continent and live out of a tent. In the time since, he’s worked as an English teacher in Peru, a librarian in Big Sur, California, and ridden his single-speed bicycle across the country, aside from touring the continent while releasing records on small labels."
Next thing, for Berube, is to figure out the rest of what-the-hell.
"I'm not necessarily too stoked about this city," he says. "Not only did my love partner split, but I'm twice removed from anyone I used to know."
He says half of the first full album is recorded, but he's letting the single fly to test the waters.
"I just started putting singles out on the Internet," he says, "Like the Beatles would do. Then I'll put the album together and it will all occur organically."
The bottom line, for this meditation of loss and rediscovery of his own artistic prowess, is Berube has found what it takes many of the masters of rock a lifetime to learn regarding what makes a song work for the listener.
"You either have it and it's good, or you have it but you lost it and it's bad," he says."I left my life behind to be with her. Now that she's gone, there's nothing I can go back to."
But before we go any further telling sad stories about poor lost blind Donivan, the reader should know he has a new girlfriend, all the right equipment and skills, a solid audience, and connections to such things as National Public Radio, as well as everything that was gained with Blessed Feathers.
"There's healing in the process," he says. "There really isn't any other way I can go about it. It still hurts, though. If I do a song about my family that doesn't exist that doesn't change the fact I still don't have one. That's all to be determined, I suppose."
This article originally appeared in Flagstaff Live