Searching for Evan Dando
To make their teenage dreams come true, two friends embark on a quest for the elusive Lemonheads frontman.
ALISSA BENNETT: Do dreams come true? Does The Secret actually work? Is it possible that sometimes, our deepest longings manage to tap into the chaotic static of the universe and generate perfect order out of the sloppy laundry pile of our lives? We don’t know! Naomi and I didn’t make a mood board or chant a mantra or participate in creative visualization to secure our interview with Evan Dando. We didn’t even write a proper pitch or send evidence of our journalistic integrity. Instead, we asked 700 times in 700 different ways and decided that we wouldn’t accept no for an answer.
As the frontman of the Lemonheads, Evan Dando was the untouchably hot rock star of our early-’90s dreams, the rascally bad-behavior enthusiast who gave interviews about his drug problems, has been known to wander off stage, and wrote songs that made us forgive him for all of it. He was an elf and an imp, a dater of supermodels and actresses, the unreliable boyfriend who shows up at your door, his neck ringed in hickeys and smelling of another woman’s perfume. Like legions of other Gen X teens, we loved Evan Dando. And we felt like maybe he’d finally love us back, if we could only get close enough to show him who we were.
Professionalism is a hate crime, so we sent our first requests through Twitter. “Can we interview you, Evan?” We wrote several times, finally conceding defeat when he didn’t reply. “I can’t believe @evan_dando is ignoring us,” I tweeted, hoping he’d notice but undeterred when he didn’t. A friend of Naomi’s felt sorry for us and sent us Evan’s phone number, a Las Vegas exchange that we texted aggressively for several days straight. “This is me in a Hate Your Friends shirt on a beach at 15 years old!” I wrote to him below a bleached-out snapshot of myself, expecting enthusiasm but finding none. “Let us pick you up and take you for a drive!” Naomi wrote. “You can smoke in the car!” It didn’t matter to either of us that he didn’t respond.
I received word that Evan was offering his services on Cameo, so we decided to pay the $175 he charged for a personalized message and acoustic song. “We want to interview you for Interview magazine!” we wrote in lieu of a song request. “Say yes!” But our Cameo came without an answer, just an upside-down iPhone video of Evan singing a sad Louvin Brothers song followed by a brief non sequitur addressing the pleasures of no longer being a rock star. We wondered if we were being too intense, if our eagerness had lurched into something darker and more menacing. Were we scaring Evan Dando? “I’m not worried,” I told Naomi. “He’s going to love us.”
NAOMI FRY: We decided it was time to abandon our DIY approach and get more professional. We were adults, weren’t we? Another friend of mine had observed our sad Twitter plight, and, wanting to help, came through with the email of Dando’s longtime manager. Maybe he could make our dream a reality? In an attempt to maximize our chances, I decided to use my New Yorker email address. Whether this helped or not, we weren’t sure, but the manager, John, emailed back swiftly. He would love to have us do something with Evan, he wrote. After all, a box-set of the Lemonheads album It’s a Shame About Ray was coming out in early 2022, in honor of its 30th anniversary. The Lemonheads were currently touring the East Coast, in fact, and he could connect us with Jim, the band’s tour manager. We could interview Evan while they were in New York to play Irving Plaza.
Were we finally going to meet Evan Dando? We could barely contain our excitement. But then, a lull. Jim seemed to be ghosting us. Were they onto us? Could they sense our yearning? “They’re like, ‘Maybe these people will go away,’” Alissa texted me. After eight days, we finally received a response. Evan would be willing to meet with us before sound-check, for 90 minutes, on the day of the show, but he didn’t want to leave the venue. This threw a wrench in our original plan (a drive, smoking in the car, etc.), but who cares? It was all happening.
BENNETT: One hour before our meeting, Jim the tour manager (who told us his nickname used to be “Uncle Fun”) broke the news that our interview was cancelled, because Evan needed to rest. “We’re coming anyway,” we told him, jealous that Sinna the photographer was still invited to take pictures, but we had been cast out of Eden because we liked to talk. We made a series of veiled threats, insisting that we would write our story with or without cooperation from its star. We didn’t need Evan anymore because now we were fueled by his rejection. “Come to sound-check. Maybe he’ll soften,” Uncle Fun texted us encouragingly. “He’s going to love us,” I said. “He’ll soften!” The truth was, we’d too thoroughly humiliated ourselves to back down now.
Two hours later, I found myself lurking outside of Irving Plaza, waiting for Naomi to arrive because I cannot do anything by myself. I panicked when I saw Sinna and Evan crossing Irving Place and walking toward me, laughing as though they’d been friends for life. Evan didn’t look sleepy to me. “Sinna!” I shouted at these two strangers who had no idea who I was. “It’s me! Alissa!”
I apologized to Evan, touching his arm just like Dale Carnegie says you’re supposed to and repeating his name so many times that it no longer seemed to indicate anything. He told me about his tour bus (“It has a bathroom”) and about his hotel (someplace called Moxy). “Don’t you think we’re going to be best friends?” I asked. “Probably,” he answered, smiling before walking away. It was cold and started to rain. I noticed that Evan wasn’t wearing a hat, and I suddenly felt very protective.
FRY: As I drove my car from Brooklyn into the city, my stomach churned. Pulling into a miraculous parking space a couple of blocks from Irving Plaza, I tried to collect myself as I walked west, but my shaky cool collapsed when I spotted Alissa chatting with Sinna and Evan outside Irving Plaza. They were already friends! What if they didn’t accept me into their group? I introduced myself, shaking Evan’s large hand and making thin, senseless small talk. A shared glance with Alissa told me that we both still felt like teenagers. To fit in, Alissa and I lit nervous cigarettes. We knew that he had been through some rough years, but he seemed lucid, and looking at him, we both felt he was still very much “older-man hot,” sort of like Karl Ove Knausgård, but from New England (the Scandinavia of America).
Sinna and Evan disappeared through a side door into the venue half a block down, and we stayed behind to finish our cigarettes. Entering Irving Plaza, we rejoined Evan and Sinna in the bowels of the venue. Still stung by the memory of Evan’s indifference toward our texts, we decided to call him on the number we had as he stood next to us, oblivious to our juvenile giggles. When his phone remained silent, we realized that we must have received an old or wrong number, and that he hadn’t been ignoring us after all. We felt calmer already. We decided to give our new friend some space, while he sound-checked.
After meeting a pleasant but stressed Uncle Fun in person (“I’m a little on edge”), we huddled at the back of the venue as the band convened onstage for sound-check. Sinna took pictures, and so did we, but mostly of each other, leaning in a variety of poses against the Irving Plaza bar, while the band played bits and pieces of their song “My Drug Buddy,” an iconic tune from our youth. We agreed that they sounded really good. “We love you, Evan Dando!” Alissa screamed, her voice bouncing off the walls of the mostly empty room.
Even after sound-check, though, Evan still didn’t seem that interested in talking to us. We wanted to charm his socks off, but he kept dodging us, walking up one set of stairs and then down another as Sinna snapped pictures and we straggled behind. To commemorate our quest, Alissa took a picture of a cigarette butt Evan had tossed on the ground. But now Evan wanted to have another cigarette, and a guy from Irving Plaza told us we could all go in the “backyard.” We found ourselves in an alleyway among a bunch of overflowing garbage cans. Alissa engaged Evan in some light back-and-forth about the Boston music scene in the ’80s and ’90s, and showed him a video of her 10-year-old son playing the drums, suggesting that he might be able to replace the Lemonheads’ current drummer. Things were warming up.
BENNETT: I knew we had Evan in our pocket when he brought us up to the greenroom and ate a cup of yogurt in front of us. It seemed like such an intimate thing, a food that you would only consume in front of lovers or best friends. We told him
about our saga, about how we’d chased him, how we’d been mad at him for ignoring us, but that we had also always known that we would end up together in this room, surrounded by Yoplait and guarded by a security guard who did not give a fuck about our press passes.
Sitting together, Evan told us that his father had recently died, a trauma that resulted in a relapse and a freshly completed stint in a Pasadena rehab. After he left the facility, he wandered around Los Angeles in some kind of dissociative fugue for 15 hours, drifting through Skid Row’s tent city, but was unable to remember it. I looked at Evan in his tween-sized New York City sweatshirt, a little backpack at his feet and a melting plastic cup full of hot tea steaming on the table in front of him. “We want you to be good, Evan,” I told him, only later understanding that this is what women have wanted for the past 30 years. “Be good,” I said. And I meant it.
We asked him about his life on Martha’s Vineyard, where he lives when he isn’t touring, and he told us about his trailer, admitting that he was nervous about going back because it was a time capsule of his recent troubles. “Do you need a dumpster?” we asked him. “Do you have a pet? Do you have slippers and a bathrobe?” “Will you help me clean?” he asked. Oh yes, we told him. We were cleaning experts. We exchanged numbers, the correct ones this time, eager to make plans so we could start overhauling Evan Dando’s life. I started a new group chat, beaming with pride when he looked at my teenage picture. “Cute,” he said, the 30 years between then and now telescoping down to nothing.
When Uncle Fun came back into the room, he announced that Evan’s mother and sister had arrived. I looked at Naomi. We’d actually done it. We were Dandos now.
FRY: The next hour was a blur. We chatted with Evan’s mom, Susan, a peppy, stunning woman in her mid-80s wearing jeans, boots, and a cream sweater. A former model, she looked many decades younger than her age. She told us that she now sold real estate for a living in Providence. Evan’s very nice older sister, Holly, a social worker, was also there. Uncle Fun was dispatched to bring back a pizza, and after he returned, the family all sat together on a sofa and ate. The women were glad to hear Evan would be joining them for a Thanksgiving meal at a friend’s place in Battery Park City. They were clearly invested in his well-being, and relieved to see him doing okay. I overheard Susan tell him that he should wear a helmet when he skateboards (his form of exercise, he had told us earlier). “These guys are good people. They’re gonna come up to visit me,” Evan told his mom, gesturing at me and Alissa. We swelled with pride.
By this point, we had loosened up. I shared a slice of veggie pizza with Sinna (C+, but we were hungry) and Alissa and I cracked open cans of Yuengling. We felt bold enough to ask Evan about who he dated in high school, and he told us about one steady girlfriend that he couldn’t help but cheat on, seeming a little remorseful. Evan rubbed his mom’s back and they took a selfie together. Holly told us about a coworker at her job, and Sinna got us together for a family portrait. (I was the Jewish cousin.) The opening band was playing, and we knew that soon, the moment would be upon us. We would get to see the Lemonheads, but this time, listening to the songs would feel different.
BENNETT: I did my best to tell the Dandos that New England was my ancestral home as many times as I could, my voice rising with each sip of alcohol. Eventually, there was nothing left to say about Rhode Island, and when Evan excused himself to meet some lady named Brandi who the security guard would not let in, we left to go visit my ex-boyfriend, who happened to be working at the bar. I felt nothing when the guard told us we had lost our executive privileges and would not gain reentry. “Sure,” I slurred, not bothered by her threat since we were basically in Evan’s inner circle. It occurred to me that maybe I would like one of the Adderalls that were being passed out amongst musicians. I anticipated a hangover, and I’m here from the future to tell you that I was not wrong. Once at the bar, Naomi got her tape recorder out and asked my ex to recount the full arc of our relationship while we burned through vodka tonics and bragged about our success. We had done it, we told this man. We were best friends with Evan Dando, and wasn’t he sorry that he’d dumped me so shabbily over a decade ago? (He wasn’t.)
When the Lemonheads set began, we made our way to the VIP section, where we sang along to every word and I once again screamed, “We love you Evan!” into the ether. “This is the best night of my life,” Sinna said just before a woman asked me if we were “from the Vineyard.” Naomi and I rolled our eyes, insulted that this philistine didn’t recognize how important we had become in the course of the night.
We wanted to congratulate Evan when the show finished. He was everything we dreamed of, so we moved towards the locked greenroom door to tell him so ourselves. “You can’t go in there,” the security guard told us. “You have to leave. Now.” I spotted Uncle Fun over the balcony and implored him to tell management that we were special, that we could go wherever we wanted. “THEY WON’T LET US BACK IN THE GREENROOM, UNCLE FUN!” I called, watching him sweep the floor as if the night was over. “There’s a reason for that,” he yelled back, breaking our hearts into a thousand pieces. “What about my Adderall?” I whined to Naomi and Sinna as we loped down the staircase.
FRY: At a loss, we began to make our way toward the venue’s front door. There was nothing else to do. How was it possible that things had ended up like this? In the stairwell, we passed by the Lemonheads’ drummer, to whom we had been briefly introduced in the greenroom. “You didn’t care about me until you saw me onstage,” he told Alissa in an accusatory tone. Clearly, he was hurting, just like us. The world was full of sorrow, and the light rain that greeted us outside was god’s tears. We lit cigarettes, as Alissa accosted the band’s longhaired soundman, who told us his name was Andy. “We’re going to write nice things about you, Andy,” Alissa said, putting her head on his shoulder as Sinna snapped some pictures. We talked Andy’s ear off, bemoaning our sudden exile from Dando-land. We still had so much to give.
Alissa ordered an Uber, and Sinna and I stumbled toward my car. But is anything ever truly over? We did have Evan’s number now. Might it be time to go all in on that group chat? If anyone thought we were giving up this quickly, they might have had another pair of girls in mind. We couldn’t wait to visit the Vineyard.
BENNETT: Last night, our group chat (we call it “Sinna the Photographer” so that Evan doesn’t get confused about who he’s talking to) received the most recent in a chain of videos from our friend the rock star. In it, he sat on a beach, his head covered with a knit cap, voice clear and eyes shining. He was playing his guitar as the sun slipped behind him, wild and yellow against the sea. “That’s beautiful,” Naomi wrote to him, and I thought she was right. I thought it was beautiful, too. “We love you, Evan!” I texted him, confident enough in our friendship that I no longer needed to wait for a reply.