A couple of years ago I saw a story in The Denver Post about a local Denver singer with a strong following, a “struggling” singer, the story said, who had quit his day job, sold his house and had moved to the San Luis Valley. Eric Shiveley’s new album, El Diablo, was terrific, the story said, and was available as a free download for a limited time at Shiveley’s website.
I downloaded the album and loved it. So did Marta. We’ve been listening to it ever since and have not grown tired of it. The songs are highly evocative of the West, they’re tightly produced, and catchy. And they beg a question: Why isn’t this guy famous?
From Shiveley’s website there was a clue, suggested by Shiveley himself. Could it be that Shiveley is personally annoying? And that sheer personal ineptitude prevents him from breaking through?
From the website, I also learned that Shiveley was living alone outside of Alamosa, building a house and recording studio, and making a movie about it all. A couple of months ago, I read on the website that the movie was finished and had been submitted to several small film festivals where it was well received. I recently got a hold of a copy.
Everyone But You turns out to be a brilliant shaggy dog story. In keeping with that genre, it is too long, meandering, and full of irrelevancies, and then somehow it all ties together and pays off. If you find yourself laughing or moved when a story goes off on a tangent, is it really a tangent?
Everyone But You offers up a self-portrait of the struggling musician as a self-absorbed irritant, vain and insecure, but also deeply self-aware and downright lovable in his vulnerabilities, and it poses a number of questions: Why do some people try to express themselves through art? What is their purpose? Who is their audience? And if they have no audience, do they still have a purpose?
In the movie, Shiveley can never directly explain why he failed to break through in Denver. He asks whether producing good work is a sufficient key to success. Letting his music speak for itself, the question is answered: Not necessarily. You can write, sing and produce beautiful music and it’s entirely possible that nobody will listen to it.
So, pushing the age of 40, after producing four albums and struggling in a corporate day job he hated, never breaking through as a musician, Shiveley took another path, the time-honored path of the dropout. The movie follows him to a plot of barren but gorgeous land within sight of the Great Sand Dunes. There is painful suspense in this drama. The film is so pointedly artless and yet so aesthetic at the same time that you sense that Shiveley might just break through at the end, or more likely, he might drive himself into a ditch. His life in the San Luis Valley, like the movie itself, is a high wire act. How will he survive, not just emotionally and artistically, but even just materially? How will the movie find an ending?
These questions are all answered in the course of Everyone But You, satisfactorily and humorously, but mostly they are answered surprisingly. What Shiveley demonstrates is that the artist must find a way to express himself. Throughout, he yearns for the audience that has long eluded him, and if you are watching the film, and especially if you are captivated by it, as Marta and I were, it’s you. Shiveley’s immediate project is to build a house, a home, all by himself. The endeavor appears as hopeless as his musical career. And yet, working with limited material, in pursuit of an improbable goal, something both beautiful and uniquely his slowly takes form. This is true of both the movie and of its subject. The nuggets of mysterious beauty throughout Everyone But You are all the more beautiful for being “found art,” found in the unlikeliest ways and places and woven into a naive narrative that is deceptively complex. For me, it all works.
You may or may not have a chance to join the audience for Everyone But You. This will depend on whether or not somebody brings it to a theater near you or on your tracking down the DVD for yourself. Most likely, to see it you will have to seek it out.
But the haunting El Diablo is back, or was as of this writing, as a free download at ericshiveley.net. Get it.
EVERYONE BUT YOU