For years I’ve been writing about this man, one of the most intriguing artists/human beings I’ve encountered, a former dot-com boomer in The City who jumped off the bandwagon just as the bust loomed large, selling off all his belongings and returning monk-like to his artist/musician roots and joining the mass artist exodus to Portland. There Holcombe Waller hangs with an artsy crowd including such other queer San Francisco exiles as filmmaker David Weissman, visual artist Stevee Postman, and a bunch of others who moved north to find community. Yet he’s missed here, and many of his fans will be on hand to greet Holcombe enthusiastically when he returns to San Francisco to perform on Sunday, December 4 at Café Du Nord (2170 Market St.; www.cafedunord.com), which of course is the great funky former underground speakeasy where the cool crowd-in-black goes. In the circles I inhabit, word of Holcombe’s recent artistic surge has been passed eagerly around, with everybody saying the dark, brooding genius has been creating some of the most exciting work of his career, which means a lot, since his latest album, Troubled Times, emerged recently as one of the banner albums of our fractious era, addressing the angst and anxiety so pent up in a society at war with itself and the world. Holcombe is a rare talent, so distinctive, yet so far un-tarred and feathered by the ravenous mainstream press. He’s also a true survivor, something his friends can attest to, and that his official biography points out.
In June of 2001, Holcombe suffered a devastating car accident that left him unable to stand or even sit up and play guitar, a severe blow to his music career. Following September 11th, Holcombe went through a spiritual crisis. He developed strong animosity toward automobiles, as well as a displaced phobia of elevators. He remained addicted to anti-depressants, prescribed to him since a suicidal period in college. Finally, he realized that a major life change was in order. Through the help of a strict yoga regimen, raw-food diet, and the shamanic use of San Pedro cactus, Holcombe weaned himself of the anti-depressants, quit his corporate job, sold every possession except his recording equipment, and went on to make Troubled Times with long-time friend and collaborator Ben Landsverk. It was a good move, a wholly successful transition in life. His haunting, plaintive voice with its soaring high falsetto notes will take you into a moody world characterized by pessimism — “Literally the End of the World” is one of the anthemic songs on the Troubled Times album — but which offers a break in the clouds, rays of sunshine that will beam down on you and transport you to a safer place. The world may be decaying, but Holcombe will rock and cradle you, so relax and let his gentle voice lift your spirits.
The fact that I know Holcombe through yoga circles means nothing. I’m sending that subjective energy directly into the ground and stomping on it just to prove I’m being totally objective when I say Holcombe is one of the great artists of our day and if you haven’t been paying attention, listen up! Head to Cafe Du Nord on December 4 and catch a truly inspiring show.
To get a taste of his style, go to his website at www.holcombewaller.com
This article appeared in the Bay Area Reporter on Dec. 1, 2005.