Celebrity webseries are not born equal. Take Live at Daryl’s House. The concept is simple Spectacle style stuff (Daryl Hall invites a famous friend around and they trade some banter before blasting out some of their Famous Adult Contemporary Tunes in what appears to be a ski lodge), but somewhere between that and the finished product, things take on a horrible sense of unreality.
I want to blame it on the lighting (constantly set somewhere between ‘great hall in Hogwarts’ and the kind of 90s softcore porn where everyone’s a CEO), but, truth is, Daryl Hall comes off as the worst jerk ever, completely unaware of everyone and everything around him, and that it increasingly becomes clear that without the foggy lenses of nostalgia, Hall & Oates were probably less the svelte songsmiths we tend to hail them retrospectively as than they were the Matchbox 20 of their day.
It’s bad enough that one has to encounter the cognitive dissonance of Hall jamming on “Remedy” with Jason Mraz, but ‘hamfisted’ doesn’t even start to cover how much of an oblivious prick Hall seems to be. The ‘informal’ luncheon scenes (where everyone is supposed to sit around cracking wise and being friendly) make it clear that Daryl is the kind of guy who absolutely cannot be the person not commanding the attention of the whole table at every point. That’s nothing next to seeing Patrick Stump meets Daryl’s parents before they play “Sugar We’re Going Down” together. It’s a mess. He’s got daughters from previous marriages hanging around, nobody seems to understand why they are being made to speak to each other, and Hall segues into the music room with the grace of the protagonist in “Smack My Bitch Up”.
Visually, the whole thing is confusing. Hall’s band is a bizarre melange of kindly forty-something whitebread pushovers, slick middle-aged session musician types who are as happy to have Hall cut them off mid-sentence as they are to quibble over arrangements of Fall Out Boy songs and marvel over non-standard guitar tunings (“FOUR Ds AND A B? NO WAY”), all while looking like they still use the word groovy to describe changes in the weather. The room they play in look like it was carted plank by plank from Aspen under the cover of off-season. Towheaded Daryl is constantly in dark glasses and a leather jacket, like an alternate universe Philip Seymour Hoffman (R.I.P.) who junked in acting for hedge-funds and cruising for pre-drinking age pussy in a converted Firebird on the Sunset Strip. Like everything wrong with the whole Baby Boomer generation, basically.
So there’s that, but then there’s “Iris” – the song that played when Avril Lavigne had her bridal dance with the guy from Sum 41, and the song that Daryl invites John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls to his home to belt out. Really. You get the whole first verse to adjust to the fact that this is actually happening, and take the time to acclimatise, because when the chorus rolls around, Hall takes the high harmony part (of course he takes the high harmony part) and hurls his voice out like Happy Gilmore slapshotting a golf ball into the next county, like he’s trying to find Jack in the lower reaches of a rapidly sinking Titanic. It’s colossally bizarre, and it’s only topped by Rzeznik leaving the last line of the second verse to Hall- you know, the one about bleeding just to know you’re alive. It explodes out of Hall burst-sewer-main fashion, and the camera cuts to Rzeznik swallowing a snigger, shaking his head like he’s getting away with something (makes sense his entire career has been a series of moments in which John Rzeznik gets away with being John Rzeznik.)
Yet, under this absurdity, it felt like there was something deeper happening here. When Hall sang, there was a release, a flood, a switch flicking, the lights in his head coming on next to how boorish and impatient he seemed when he wasn’t playing. Even though I laughed about the first twenty times I saw it, each new viewing held the same power, and revealed a little more of what it went. It was like the inverse of Zapruder’s film- I didn’t believe the power of what I was seeing because it was too beautiful, and it was because I was seeing Daryl Hall truly and utterly be as Daryl Hall as he could be.
Basically, Daryl’s house is where he lives, and “Iris” is him completely in flight, getting his mental ducks in a row and giving himself over to singing a pop song. It’s something he never would have written, but he’s found a way to identify with everything beautiful and life-affirming in it- he is so in the zone that even “Iris” gets transmogrified into something invested with urgency, potency and feeling. 100% fucking goofiness aside, the joy of seeing him totally in his element is remarkable, like seeing your brother win something as ass-backward as a chicken-sexing contest or something. I completely forgot about what an asshole he was in the rest of the show, because I saw him completely as himself- not fumbling through his awkward family history, not stumbling at being a host of his own TV show. I saw him acting out the reason why he knows he exists; how the most intrinsic thing about Daryl Hall expresses itself, burrowing into the turgid bag of dogshit that is “Iris”, finding what is beautiful and Daryl Hall about it, and bursting out like a flower on a grave.
Like, I guess the lesson-thing here is that if there’s anything in the world that can make you pull a big ol’ Daryl – to see and understand what the thing underneath whatever sits on the surface, and give yourself completely to it – then you’re about as home as you can be, and everything else that are you are lives double when you live through what . To disregard the questionable whole for the substance within that renders it real, and to become real by – that’s what it’s like to be Live at Daryl’s House, and properly alive.