Enchanter, shaman, guru, sage — these are all words that have been used to describe singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart. And it’s not that I disagree — Devendra certainly is special. The talented young man with the voice he himself describes as a “possum getting a Pap smear” always has been someone to watch, ever since I first met him in ninth grade. It’s just bizarre when strangers start worshipping your high school friends. Rolling around in mud at Cacophony Society parties in the late ’90s, he didn’t even go by Devendra, but by a suitably quixotic nickname (which he asked me not to reveal), and looked less maharishi, more woodland nymph. But he always maintained the air of mystery that continues to inform his music and leaves his fans pleasantly astounded.
(Photo by Kevin Scanlon)When Devendra began to garner press attention after the 2002 Young God Records release of his debut album, Oh Me Oh My… The Way the Day Goes by the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit, I would read interviews with him in big music mags like Spin and get annoyed. More often than not, Devendra would leave out his years growing up in L.A. He would mention Caracas and Texas, also locales where he put in time as a young pup, but failed to mention any of the sordid, raucous calamities that comprised his formidable years as a Malibu teenager.
In my own snarky Hollywood manner, I would show these interviews to my non–rock star friends and make comments like, “Oh, maybe L.A. is just too obvious for a blossoming demigod.” But I can admit that was just my high-school-buddy-is-getting-really-famous jealousy talking, because these days, Devendra is loudly and proudly about the West Coast. He just took up residence in a house here (well, in Topanga, but that still counts). He is recording a new album here. He is making a documentary here. His muse-poet Svengali, the mysterious Antae Bargan, is nearby (Devendra still talks with reverence about the way Antae, pictured here, as always, in a three-piece suit, taught him to play the shoe — apparently it makes a very faint jug sound). And as Devendra told me, “I’ve spent the last four years traveling constantly, and L.A. is where I always want to return. I have strong and certain feelings that Mother Nature is gettin’ on in her years and it sure shows on the East Coast. Her hair is brittle and graying, her beautiful breasts are sloping down toward her mellow and gorgeous gut, but she is still young here. The West is where she is still green, still.”