Here's a weird way to spend your morning: Listen to Amen Dunes' Through Donkey Jaw, a muffled howl of a record from 2011, and fall down a rabbit hole reading about Miki Dora, the iconic Hungarian-born surfer after whom Damon McMahon named his new single. Before long you'll probably end up reading this piece, from the LA Weekly in 2006, by Jamie Brisick:
If you took James Dean’s cool, Muhammad Ali’s poetics, Harry Houdini’s slipperiness, James Bond’s jet-setting, George Carlin’s irony and Kwai Chang Caine’s Zen, and rolled them into one man with a longboard under his arm, you’d come up with something like Miki Dora, surfing’s mythical antihero, otherwise known as the Black Knight of Malibu.
Then you'll end up watching videos like the one below, which is just 90 seconds of Dora surfing in the 1960s. Mute YouTube, leave Amen Dunes playing in the background—I was stuck looping the harrowing "Jill" at this point—and the whole thing might sort of come together; Through Donkey Jaw might start to sound like a nasty revision of surf music, like Dick Dale after a shitload of bad acid.
Then spend some time searching for stories of Dora's apparently infamous scams and crimes, and the people who hated him because they thought he was a mean-spirited bastard, and the people who apparently quite liked the fact that he was a bastard. Here's a bit from a piece by Sheila Weller at Vanity Fair in 2008 which tells maybe five stories between the quotes and the descriptions of the interview subjects themselves:
In a town of creamy opportunism [Malibu, California], the thefts by which he supported himself were so small-time, high-risk, and potentially humiliating that they bespoke a cockeyed integrity. He made the patently tacky petty theft a symbol of bravado and status envy. “Mike, Duane, and I competed with each other to be ripped off by Miki—‘Miki stole my wax!’ ‘Yeah? Well, Miki stole my money!’—it was a badge of honor,” says Larry Shaw, today a psychologist who works with trauma victims. “We were a band of brothers—vulnerable, damaged boys—and Miki was our Pied Piper,” says Mike Nader, whose long, successful TV acting career was twice interrupted by substance abuse and who taught acting in East Hampton, on Long Island, before his recent move to L.A. to get back into films.
Definitely listen to "Miki Dora," the first single from Amen Dunes' newly announced third album, Freedom, due out March 30 on Sacred Bones. Its melody is closer to these on the haunted pop of Amen Dunes' 2014 album Love, but there's an insistent beat behind McMahon's voice now rather than a loose acoustic guitar, and it builds into something gutturally pulsating. McMahon's voice rises in the middle, and he sings "Sitting on the pier / Sipping on my beer," which is unexpectedly satisfying. It comes with a video, directed by Steven Brahms, which you can watch at the top of the page.
Alex Robert Ross is on Twitter.