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Hurts So Good 

Sensitive singer-songwriter Dashboard Confessional feels your pain.

Teen angst pays off: Dashboard Confessional has gone from clubs to amphitheaters in a year.
  • Teen angst pays off: Dashboard Confessional has gone from clubs to amphitheaters in a year.

On the one hand, Dashboard Confessional is awful, awful, awful. Wobbly warbling for the wayward -- the wusses, the weenies, the whiners, the wishy-washy. Some way-past-teenaged dude up there with an acoustic guitar, howling about the girl who dumped him in junior high, while real-life junior high girls shriek along.

Bah! Chris Carrabba wouldn't have lasted 10 seconds on The Gong Show before a midget chimpanzee wearing a clown suit and roller skates swept him off the stage with a broom.

Ah, but on the other hand . . . perhaps we hate because we relate. Perhaps one of our young century's most unorthodox singer-songwriter success stories is grounded in orthodoxy, the way some vaguely dashing tattooed gent from Florida has staked a trade on spare, almost violently direct acoustic guitar laments about "falling" and "love," with either "in" or "out of" slid in between.

Carrabba remembers your first love and how much it sucked when your first love threw a milk shake at you and dumped you a day before the fucking prom.

You hate him because he knows. Or something.

Hi, Chris.

"It's not for everybody," Carrabba admits. "It's really not. It's for me. I felt better. I was sick, and it was good enough for me. If everybody liked it, it would be 'The Macarena.' It can't be that good if everybody likes it."

Carrabba started life as a skateboarding Turk, trying his hand at the indie punk thing, siring a few Florida bands (the Vacant Andys, Further Seems Forever) that now exist solely as obscure résumé items for the mighty DC. Presumably, Carrabba was bored, listless, dissatisfied with this whole band nonsense, because a quieter, insular approach -- one dude, one guitar, one ex-girlfriend -- congealed slowly in his attractively pointy head.

He inched toward the dreaded Solo Career. He took the plunge. A few "get 'em on eBay" indie releases later, and suddenly, fate slapped Carrabba on Vagrant Records, current Gatekeeper to the Sound of Now, where he sighs wistfully among such fellow bleeding-heart popsters as the Get Up Kids, the Anniversary, and the Alkaline Trio.

His 10-song CD, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, with the attendant TRL-ready single "Screaming Infidelities," has blown up like yo' momma. This dude's huge.

Meet his fans.

"The way that I look at it, I wrote these songs for me," Carrabba says. "I really didn't have anyone else in mind. But once it leaves my bedroom, I understand that now this is everybody's. It's as much theirs as it is mine. So why should I be the only one allowed to sing? They'd all be onstage with me if I had my way, but there's not enough room."

Dashboard Confessional shows are terrifying -- more akin to a gospel church baptism rite than a rock concert. Carrabba has gone beyond breaking down the fourth wall -- he's let his fans rebuild it, and it towers over him, a majestic cacophony of screaming chicks shouting, "Hope has sprung a perfect dive, a perfect day, a perfect lie, a slowly crafted monologue conceding your defeat" along with him.

What? Why? How? And how did Carrabba get to be the Who?

"I have no idea," Carrabba says. "To me, it's not something brand-new. Maybe it has something to do with the tide of modern popular music being semi-bland. I think the same thing happened to Elvis Costello. What was similar about him, when he came along and was doing what he did, it seemed to be a little deeper than what was popular at the time. I don't compare myself to Elvis Costello, but I see some parallel there, maybe, hearing Elvis Costello for the first time, feeling something completely different.

"I still don't know why."

Forget the Elvis Costello waffling. It's because the fans relate. Because The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most is a bald, linear, diary-entry-for-diary-entry post-breakup lament. Wholly recognizable. And though every songwriter makes some attempt to separate The Writer from The Songs, Carrabba's attempts are half-hearted. You feel like you know him, 'cause you kinda do.

"Most writers aren't [this personal] unless they're terrific in the realm of imagination," he says. "Even if the way you tell it didn't exactly happen, the feeling's there at the root of it." In some cases, what emerges might be "a really twisted version of something that actually happened to me -- sometimes I am a little less specific, in order to save the feelings of the other people involved. I've twisted some of the stuff, so she and I will know, but not all my friends will know."

But in the end, "I can't imagine writing from the place of 'Hey, wouldn't it be cool if this happened to me, or somebody?'"

So he's literal, personal. And he does it well. A recent tossed-off, ultra-brief EP ("So Impossible") is the proof. Four tunes detailing a high school romance ("I'd be so pleased to see you out of the classroom") from first crush to first kiss, all acoustic guitars and Carrabba's hushed intensity. It's corny, dopey -- the phrase "making out" appears often in DC's oeuvre. But he nails the hesitance and fear and joy of teenage love, like it or not.

Some throw stones. Others throw underpants. Both camps will have to throw a lot harder these days, as Carrabba (with a full band he might transplant into the studio for DC's next record) finds himself opening up the big-ass Weezer/Strokes tour.

Carrabba's worried about wooing the screaming hordes that are more comfortable at more intimate venues: "We have a few headlining shows on days off of the Weezer tour, and I bet those'll be the best shows of the tour." But Blossom isn't space, and you'll be able to hear the young lasses scream, enamored of the latest acoustic-guitar-wielding sensation, as fearless as he is dorky as he is achingly sincere.

He can feel your hate. Or he could if he wanted to. "I've been fortunate in having people embrace [this music]. If other people don't, that's not what I focus on. People won't always embrace it. Focus on positive stuff now, while there's still positive stuff going around. I can always look back and say, 'Why didn't they like it? Wait till nobody likes it, then I'll get bummed out.'"

You don't want to see this man bummed out.

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