Here at pgd, it seems that we just can’t resist a band who spell their name with two capital letters followed by an exclamation mark ….
Formed in Chicago in 1977, by teenage singer and bass player Lorna Donley, DA! were a band that are now seen as being either ahead of their time or maybe just kind of out of step with their own musical landscape. With typical formative band comings and goings the line-up also included original guitarist/keyboard player Evelyn Marquis, who would soon be replaced by David Thomas, with Gaylene Goudreau (from the all girl punk band Lois Layne) and drummer Dawn Fisher.
In the late 70s/early 80s, Chicago was a hot bed of punk rockery, but the city seemed to favour the more of the hardcore variety which wasn’t quite DA! at all. While most of their contemporaries were playing as loudly and as quickly as possible, DA! were being more artsy and were inclined to be compared to bands like The Cure or the Banshees, despite their geographical location. By summer 1980 the band were playing regularly at Chicago clubs like Exit and Oz and even opened shows for visiting bands including The Fall, Bauhaus and NYC no wavers DNA.
After the release of their first single “Dark Rooms/White Castles” on Autumn Records, they were invited to perform further afield, and opened for Husker Du in Minneapolis and X in Madison.
Ahead of their time, especially for such an “indie” outfit, the band also produced videos for their songs, which was very unusual in the early eighties and something that very few bands who were not on a major label could do. The video for “Dark Rooms” went into heavy rotation on a pre-MTV cable station “Rock America”, and everything pointed towards a rosy future.
DA! were American, but listening to them and watching the videos, their inner band seemed to be very much from the UK. Back in the day there were still pronounced differences between English and American bands. The English were far more inclined to be pale, fey, with a taste for black and white films (not movies) and dressed up in hand me downs. Americans were not.
In his “Secret History of Chicago Music” comic strip in the Chicago Reader, Steve Krakow compared the band to “Patti Smith fronting Joy Division.”
Appearing briefly in the documentary “You Weren’t There – Chicago 1977 – 84”, DA! seem to be remembered mainly for being “too punk for the regular rock scene, and not punk enough for the hardcore scene,” said Joe Losurdo of Regressive Films. “That’s what kind of made them so great, is they were just really, really unique.”
In a 1988 article with Tom Popson for the Chicago Tribune, Lorna Donley explains
”Locally, though, I think we were a little bit misunderstood,” says Donley, ”because we came out at about the time the Effigies and Naked Raygun and Strike Under came out. And all those bands were really hard-core.”
”We released a couple records back then that, in the English press, were constantly compared to groups like Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bauhaus, Gang of Four,” recalls Thomas.
”We kind of got lumped into their bag, but we were quite a bit different from them,” adds Thomas. ”I liked to think we were a psychedelic existential band, whatever that was.”
DA! broke up in 1982 and although Donley and Thomas continued to make music, sometimes even together, Donley also went on to University, and qualified as a librarian.
In 2010, after featuring in the Regressive Films documentary, and a DA! vinyl re-issue, DA! found themselves back on stage playing a few shows where, according to reports, they were greeted with joy by fans who hadn’t heard them in nearly 30 years. Things seemed to be on the up, and DA! were finally getting the recognition they probably deserved all along.
Except…and this is the real stinger, in 2013 just as Lorna was finally being given some credit, and had found her musical feet again, and had just got married… she suddenly and completely unexpectedly died aged just 53. The newspapers reported it like this;
“Earlier this month, Ms. Donley had chest pain while having coffee with her husband of less than three months, Scott Taves, at their home near Peterson and Western. They went to Swedish Covenant Hospital, where she died Dec. 1 of a ruptured aorta. She was 53.
They met at the Harold Washington Library, where they both worked. She was funny, kind and accepting.
Hers was not a rock and roll death. It was an untimely but well known malfunction of the human heart. It’s tragic that Lorna is not still with us, and on a lesser scale it’s also sad that DA! never seemed to get the exposure or the airtime that they deserved, if they had, then it might be their name that was regularly dropped during conversations about influential post punk bands. As it is, they’ll just have to be like us and settle for cult status, which is not such a bad place.
The 7 inch single of Dark Rooms can now change hands for up to $75