Juliana Hatfield looks panicked when she answers my knock at Evan Dando’s apartment door. The two rockers, both 43, had played their first show as a duo, at the Mercury Lounge, the night before. It was sold out. “I just got here, and I woke him up,” she says, opening the door wide enough to slip out. “You don’t want to go in there. He’s sort of living in squalor.” She suggests we go to a coffee shop to wait for him.
The pair have known each other for twenty years. They were the pinup fantasy couple of Boston’s alternative-rock scene (she still lives there): both pretty, both damaged—he by drugs and she partly by her crush on him—and both experts at bohemian iconography. They’re still pretty, and they have each continued to record and tour (in 2003, Dando, without his band the Lemonheads, released Baby I’m Bored, and earlier this year, Hatfield put out Peace & Love), but neither is as famous as both once were. Instead of battling the current wave of nineties nostalgia, Dando and Hatfield have decided to embrace it by playing a few shows together, and perhaps recording an album.
“Juliana was saying she was done playing live,” Dando explains, after taking a seat in the coffee shop and ordering an extra-toasted everything bagel with cream cheese. “That made me really sad, especially because I love her new record. So I said to her, ‘Before you quit for good, let’s play some gigs.’ ”
“This was a chance for us to be able to hang out,” says Hatfield.
Lately, “I’ve been playing music to make money,” Dando says. “I never really had to do that before, and it’s a mind-fuck. This is bringing me away from that. I feel like I might have a chance to write some more songs—together and also separately—because of this.” Hatfield agrees. “It’s so obvious, I’m surprised we’ve never done it before,” she says. “Maybe we were too immature to handle sharing a stage with each other.” I ask if they’re feeling particularly grown-up these days. “What?” asks Dando. His attention has wandered. “Throwing up?” Hatfield laughs and rolls her eyes. “Have you ever seen that movie Leaving Las Vegas?” she asks. “Evan and I are kind of like Elisabeth Shue and Nicolas Cage.” Dando nods, then asks, “Wait, are you a hooker?”
We decide to head back upstairs. Dando says a jolly “hey” to the doorman; he’s rented an apartment in this surprisingly generic financial-district building for eleven years and seems to know everyone we run into.
These are some of the items on the coffee table: a dingy stuffed tiger; an open bottle of Dr Pepper; a wad of cotton; several empty beer bottles; a flashlight; a Strokes CD; a melon-size chunk of rippled steel poached from ground zero; a charred tablespoon; a copy of Aleister Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend; a Polaroid of Dando and his ethereally blonde estranged wife, Elizabeth Moses; a pile of plastic bags filled with substances; a crusty container of green sauce. Dando is passing around vintage guitars and telling stories inspired by items he finds on the floor, like the pair of paisley patchwork jeans made by an Italian friend, a photo of Martha’s Vineyard where his father and “macramé, LSD-damaged hippie” stepmother live, and the postcard from his dentist reminding him that his last checkup was January 9, 2003. “He’s a groovy guy,” Dando says. “He looks at your teeth and is like, let’s get you high.”
Dando uses both hands to pick up his piece of the World Trade Center. “Open the window,” he commands. “The towers were right there. That morning really fucked me up. The second plane was so close, it went shoom, right over my head.” He pauses and absentmindedly pats the pack of Marlboro Lights in his shirt pocket. “Because I was so close, I know what really happened,” he says. “I shouldn’t get into it, because I’m not a political person, but they were blown up by bombs. They were not taken out by those airplanes. Those fires were going out and then the buildings blew up. What I saw and heard that day was a crime, and not by the people they’re saying. That’s all I’ll say.” He pauses. “I’m worried about our country. But then again I’ve been worried about America my entire life.”
We’re sitting on his sticky sofa. Dando has whisked away the most offensive mess, but he looks down at the table, realizes he’s missed something, and casually covers the plastic bags with a copy of Pere Ubu’s Final Solution. I ask what role drugs play in his current life. “I still take drugs and stuff, but don’t say that, but I do, you know? I’m not the kind of person who would ever swear off anything.”
“Should we go?” Hatfield asks.
“You don’t like it here,” he says with mock injury.
“Seriously, should we go?” Hatfield asks. “I’ve got ants in my pants.”
Dando agrees to “suit up” before leaving the house. This consists of wandering around the apartment looking for a pot pipe. “Does anyone have one?” he asks. “No, I guess I would be that person.” He does one last sweep through the kitchen and points to a photo on the door of the fridge. “That’s my wife,” he says casually. “She’s gone.”