Op-Ed: Dan McLane, Art, and Why We’re Here

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This is a rough one, so trigger warning: addiction, overdoses, or people dying.

My teenage years, like many of yours reading this, were not the easiest. Yes, there were the traditional stresses of school and life, but also some especially dark and unlucky events. Throughout those years, I was pretty lost, and emotionally / mentally speaking I was not in the best place. Luckily, I had a good crew of close friends to help me through teen life, which is hard even in the best of circumstances. Dan McLane was one of those friends.

Dan and I met through one of my lifelong buds when I was 17. He fit right in to our band of troublemakers, who would meet up every weekend and after school to talk about music, drink beers, smoke weed, and plot how we could do something even more fun the next week, which would end up being exactly the same thing, or maybe a concert if we could get to one. Somewhere along the line, Dan and I became friends. We both had a love for music, eccentric personalities, and a somewhat unexpected athletic talent (Dan could ball out in basketball especially). When we graduated high school we all stayed in touch, but I was especially into what Dan was working on, because he seemed totally unafraid to go for it.

While I had gone to college in Delaware to escape from the stress of real life, drink beers, and play rugby, Dan had gone to college in NYC where he was starting a band and playing legit New York City venues. To those of us that grew up in the Jersey suburbs, that seemed like something that was out of our world. You can’t just move to the city, start a band, and expect to actually make it at 18. None of us had any connections or experience of any kind. But he went for it, and he played big shows. All this while staying 100% authentic to his wacky and satirical self. Right from the start Dan used the music to raise money for good causes and make political statements. Dan was making real art; art that had fans, and Dan was using this platform to do good. I was impressed. Even more than impressed, I was inspired.

It’s no secret why people enjoyed Dan’s music. His live performances, whether with his band The Harmonica Lewinskies or solo, were a sight to behold. He would get on stage and go wild. Imagine Joe Cocker meets the Blues Brothers, and if you’ve never gotten the chance to see them live, The Lewinskies always come prepared to rock in their matching outfits until the venue forces them to stop. These were real musicians, people who had played on other very legit projects, not a half-assed bar band, and they were like a family, by their own admission, all united around Dan.

Like I said, I was inspired. Body broken and rugby career over by 20, music was now fully in my sights. I was going to head to NYC like Dan had and do big things too. In the summer of my junior year, I got an internship at MTV in Times Square and got to spend the summer in the city working (for free), which also allowed me to get a bit closer back with Dan and see even more of his shows in between my “off” days spent working as a middle school janitor. If he could grind and make it happen then I could do it too, and if we could do it together, we could maybe even change the world in our small way. After that summer I was ready to work. I finished up my degree, started taking The Alternative seriously, studied up enough to ace the LSATs and get a scholarship, and headed to law school in NYC. All with the goal of working my way into the music industry just as Dan had begun too.

Law school and starting The Alternative was a ton of work, but those years were when me and Dan were actually the closest. I would try to head out to any of his shows, or even just meet him out at a bar to talk about music and life. Dan was always there to commiserate about all our horrible day jobs and the Mets (which for a while was the same thing for him because he was working making the Shake Shack burgers at Citi Field), and collaborate on the next scheme that would be our big break.

When things got hard or out of my wheelhouse when it came to music, Dan was at least someone I knew in the city who had done it before. Unlike some of you music industry phenoms out there, at 23 years old I had never really booked a show, not even a basement gig. I reached out to Dan and asked if him and his band would headline a Brooklyn show I was putting together, my first. I knew that if I could at least get Dan there, it would be a success. He agreed, and the band gave a phenomenal show. Even my dad showed up and compared the Lewinskies to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (high praise from him). Afterward Dan came up to me and told me “Let me know if you ever want to do this again!” I did. Any concert or festival I’ve ever organized goes back to how well that show did, and that was all thanks to Dan and the Lewinskies giving me that first ever yes.

In my last year of law school, I became chronically ill on top of everything else, and I was so stressed. Mentally, I was pretty much done for. Between the doctors, law school, my loans, and the world, I began to barely leave my apartment. However, one thing that could shake me free from my self-imposed exile was a good Lewinskies show. This night in particular was another rousing performance in Brooklyn that me and my partner, Jess, enjoyed (he was so bad at remembering her name and called her Lisa all night – yikes). When the show was over, we stayed to hang with Dan, and as it got late, I talked to him and it was like old times. But still, I had law school in the morning and a long subway ride ahead of me tonight, so I told him I had to go, and Dan grabbed a hold of me my at the door. “Wait, let’s have 1 last beer! On me.” He paused, and searched his pockets a bit. I stopped him. “Okay one more beer Dan, but don’t worry about it.” We stood there and chugged a beer and laughed and hugged again and then I got on a long subway ride home. In some ways that’s a perfect last way to see your friend.

Soon after that night, Dan went into the studio to work on his new solo project, and I graduated law school and after more months of study, I passed the bar exam. I was finally on the verge of working in music industry like I had hoped. Just a couple more hoops to jump through and then I could finally start my own firm and start representing musicians. Dan could even be one of my first clients with this new record he was so excited about. But only a couple weeks before I would be sworn in, I would be informed via Facebook message that Dan had been found dead from an accidental overdose. I was so sad. I was so mad. I wanted to go to his funeral, but the thought of riding on the subway all the way there and seeing all those sad people and my friends and the Lewinskies made me want to not exist. Instead, I went to St Patrick’s Cathedral and cried. Then I cried at home. Equally ineffective.

It has been almost 5 years since then, and with Dan’s memory in my mind I now have my own music law firm, and The Alternative is a real-life music site. I’ve worked with dozens of my favorite artists and I’ve booked shows and festivals in 5 states, and if COVID ever ends I’m sure I’ll add to that list.  If you have ever enjoyed anything that I’ve done in the music industry, any show, or music recommendation or even just a silly video that makes no sense, you have experienced a little Dan McLane, because I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. My career is part of his legacy of world improvement.

That’s the thing about art and our actions in general, they live on and affect people in lasting ways. I know that Dan’s music, attitude, and approach to life did all that for me. And I know Dan did for others too, his bandmates, friends, fans, family and people he never even met. Over all this time since he passed, his friend and producer Ollie was finishing up his final album. The record that he had been working on at the time of his death: The Birth of Mr. Dirty.

As of last week, it is finally out and available on streaming. It’s good, funny, and dark. It’s everything that made Dan such a special soul. My favorite song is “Last Song”, “I gave you everything and more, and the world it keeps turning around. I hear all is well down in Jersey, I’m stuck in penitentiary all the while” Listening to this makes me so sad, but it also makes me remember Dan and why I got into music in the first place. So, I am so thankful to have it.

It is sometimes said or implied that the “purpose” of music writing is to promote artists and direct readers to purchase their work. That is definitely part of it: recommending art and reminding people to financially support its creators so that they can continue, but it’s false that this the sole purpose of writing about music, or even the goal we should focus on. And this article is perfect evidence of why that is true: because Dan is gone and no one is making any money from this record, and yet here I am writing, and here you are reading. We are affecting each other because writing, like music, is art that alters the people it comes in contact with and changes them, at least when it works. A good friend is like that too. They are with you forever.

We leave ripples in this universe that effect the trajectories of those around us. The point is, art is important simply because it is beautiful life changing art, and writing about it is important to convey that to people who it might positively affect, whether there is a financial goal or a living creator, or not. I think that’s important to remember in a world where things are too often simplified to who works for who, to make money for what. There’s more to all of this. You might not be able to bring anything with you, but you can leave a lot behind, and sometimes that is just as good.

I’ll finish with this wild thing that just happened to me in January, because maybe it means something or maybe it just makes me feel good enough to keep going. But I was driving through NJ and it was snowing and I was thinking about Dan all of a sudden and I started to cry. And from the course of this article, you might think all I do is cry but it’s not that frequent of an occurrence. I was missing Dan and thinking about how maybe I should have done something to help him, or texted him more to ask if he was okay, and I was thinking of the people I’ve lost since then, and I said aloud in my car, “Dan, I miss you dude” and then I stopped at a red light and a truck was parked right beside me, and I took a picture because I couldn’t believe my eyes. Miss ya dude.


If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please reach out to services for aid and treatment if possible. SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-4357, is a confidential, free, 24-hour, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. They provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations for people with insurance or without it.


Henderson //@HendoSlice

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