In a dimly lit room, with a fireplace flickering in the background, Jeff Daniels holds an acoustic guitar in his lap. While many know him from films like “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Dumb and Dumber”, Daniels shares a different version of himself — a folk-singing, finger-picking fool.
Daniels, 65, shared music from his new album “Alive and Well Enough” on Thursday as part of the McCain Connected Performance Series. Intertwining his comedic storytelling and insightful perspective, Daniels showcased his musical talents for the Manhattan community.
After opening with his soulful song “Come a Little Closer,” Daniels wished the community well from his home in Michigan and urged people to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.
“If you aren’t, stay the hell away from me,” Daniels said.
With about an hour of music and storytelling ahead of him, Daniels got straight into his song “Somethin’ Somethin’.” Daniels said to him, the bluesy ballad is either a “sexy song about love or a lovely song about sex.” He’ll let you be the judge of that.
Although a loyal Detroit Lions fan, Daniels still congratulated the Kansas City Chiefs on their victory and coming appearance in Super Bowl LV. While on the topic of football, Daniels said he was reminded of the old Chevrolet commercials that would play during games. The ones that featured the phrase “Real People, Not Actors.”
Daniels took this phrase as an insult and had something to say about it in his song of the same name.
“Just ain’t no excusin’ your reason for using artistic discrimination to sell a truck,” Daniels sang.
Other songs performed during the night were “Everybody’s Brave on the Internet,” which mocked Facebook feuds and anonymous animosity, and “Jesus Was a Stoner,” which contemplates just how high heaven truly is.
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“The Immaculate Conception gets easier to believe if Jesus was a stoner divinin’ on the Devil’s Weed,” Daniels sang.
On a more serious note, Daniels reminisced on his time at the Circle Repertory Company in New York City. It was at this theater company he met Lanford Wilson, the future Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.
As a 21-year-old living in New York City, Daniels never spent time around real playwrights. One night, after a production, Wilson caught him writing a song. He asked Daniels to put music to a poem he’d written.
From the perspective of Wilson traveling the country by bus, Daniels’ song “Road Signs” took the simplicities of his surroundings and made them surreal.
“The country slips by the window the sun dies a screamin’ purple and gold,” Daniels sang.
Daniels closed the concert portion of the night with a song called “Mile 416,” dedicated to the 400,000+ people who have died from COVID-19 in the United States. Though it was an older song of his, Daniels found solace in the message of remembrance.
“Every day it’s a new number, keeps going up,” Daniels said. “This is about remembering each and every one of them.”
Daniels’ album “Alive and Well Enough” is available for purchase exclusively through his website.