Miracle Worker

Former Dream Syndicate leader Steve Wynn puts the ghost of his old band to rest with the finest album of his career

"At this point in my life, I know I'm not U2 or somebody whose audience is going to feel obliged to say, 'Man, I gotta take and digest this whole thing.' Still, it felt like it made more sense as a long record than as a short record. It covers a lot of ground.

"In a way," muses Wynn, "[Miracles] sums up what I was doing 20 years ago, what I've done in the last 20 years and the things I'm more into now."

Critics claiming that Miracles is a nostalgic return to form, a flashback to The Days of Wine and Roses, are also off the mark. In fact, the album's grown-up garage rock probably owes more to the formative woodshedding Wynn did as a youth than anything he offered up with the Syndicate.

Steve Wynn: "Most of my heroes were cult artists anyway."
Linda Pitmon
Steve Wynn: "Most of my heroes were cult artists anyway."
"I don't want to stop," says Wynn of his lifelong musical journey.
Giulio Molfese
"I don't want to stop," says Wynn of his lifelong musical journey.


Scheduled to perform on Wednesday, September 19, with Clem Snide. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Nita's Hideaway in Tempe

"Yeah, it's funny. The band I had when I was 12 -- doing covers of 'Riders on the Storm' -- it might have more to do with this record than something I was doing in 1982.

"The main similarity is that there was a lot of freedom in the Dream Syndicate. Letting things happen, in an extreme but unforced way. Just pushing it as far as you could. I think that's what this album has in common with The Days of Wine and Roses."

Last year during a visit to L.A., Wynn was dining with Rhino Records senior vice president Gary Stewart -- the man who'd hired him as a teenage record store clerk, then signed him as a solo artist a decade later -- when he found out the label had acquired the rights to the Slash catalogue, and The Days of Wine and Roses along with it.

Over the course of the meal, the two agreed that Days, which had been out of print since the mid-'90s, would be among the Slash titles reissued this summer.

"It couldn't have worked out better," says Wynn. "That record is just too important to me for it to have been done wrong. So I was really glad to have Rhino handle it."

The disc -- released in July -- receives the full Rhino reissue/remastering/repackaging treatment (see accompanying review). To some, Wynn's embrace of the project may seem a bit surprising. Or at least a turnaround for the man who, in the midst of a burgeoning solo career in the early '90s, wondered aloud whether he would still be talking about Days when he turned 70.

"Now," he says, grinning, "I've accepted I will be."

"But," he adds "I'm proud of The Days of Wine and Roses; I always have been." True to his word, Wynn has long retained Days cuts like "Tell Me When It's Over" and "Halloween" as staples of his live sets.

"I know so many people that go solo and won't play anything by their old band -- even if they wrote the songs. I never understood that. It's like, 'Are you not proud of it? Is that like some big mistake from your youth?'

"Granted, there is a period of time where you don't feel like you want to be forever defined by something that you did when you were barely old enough to drink in a bar," he says. "But I look around and it's the same with anybody who does music -- no matter how big they are. Even if it's the Rolling Stones, John Fogerty or Bob Dylan or anybody, they're still having to answer to things that they did when they were 21. My [situation] is no different and there's no reason to feel strange about it. I mean, if Dylan can still play 'Like a Rolling Stone,' I can play 'That's What You Always Say.' It's not a burden."

Not so coincidentally, then, Wynn will be spending much of his current tour playing songs from Days. In fact, when he reaches Tempe next week, the show will be divided into two sets: one focusing on material from Miracles and the other consisting of The Days of Wine and Roses in its entirety.

In the meantime, Wynn seems to genuinely be savoring his status as rock's consummate cult hero while accepting the fact that his work may never reach that elusive commercial zenith.

"There was a time where I tasted that kind of success," says Wynn of the swirl of attention that accompanied his 1990 release Kerosene Man. "I've been on the cover of Billboard and on MTV, and all that. I like it and it's fun, but I don't work for it. I would love to see [Miracles] get all the attention and success that it can, but I'm not basing my life on it. I just feel like it's a worthy crusade, but it's not a necessity for my happiness or long-term survival. Most of my heroes were cult artists, anyway."

Wynn's plans include a tour of Europe -- where he remains a star attraction from his Syndicate days -- and a return to Tucson to record a follow-up to Miracles for a 2002 release. And though he talks of writing "the inevitable novel," for now, Wynn is happy to bask in the warm glow of his latest work.

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