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Dan went to Oakland Technical High School for a short time, until a shooting there persuaded his mom to send him to the safer confines of a private school near the Cal campus. At Maybeck, Dan did his first major video project, in which he compared snowboarding to skateboarding. At the time, in the late '80s, snowboarding was in its infancy, and had not yet helped launch the extreme sports movement that Dan would later personify in some ways. "It had BMX stunts, motorcycles, and other stuff getting compared to snowboarding," he says. "I jumped a Fiat, forty feet off a rise in the road, cracking the frame in half." A videotape-stuntman was born.
After graduating from Maybeck, Dan enrolled in a few junior college courses at Merritt College, and smoked a bunch of weed. Of course, he kept biking, although he ultimately switched from BMX to downhill mountain biking. He also started going to sideshows in the early '90s and doing his own tricks. Dan had developed a fondness for American muscle cars -- Mustangs, Firebirds, and Camaros. He hooked up with a guy with a relative in the music biz -- a Merritt College parking enforcer who'd ticketed Dan dozens of times -- and started writing funny raps about being a crazy Raiders fan or a bad-ass BMX racer.
Ultimately, this strange brew produced Dan K. Harvest, the persona devised by Mimi Luebbermann's little risk-taker. It was a character who encompassed all Dan's seemingly disparate interests: biking, rapping, getting stoned, driving BIG AMERICAN CARS, doing stunts, videotaping those stunts for videos and, most of all, having fun.
I first heard about Dan K. Harvest through my friends Fred and Allison, a nauseatingly attractive couple with a passion for hip-hop. Over dinner a few months ago, they announced they were going to check out this local character who was rapping at Berkeley's Temple Bar, a Hawaiian-themed dive on the west end of University Avenue. They described Dan as a kind of Gen X renaissance man -- rapper, BMX bad-ass, and underground video auteur. They convinced me that I had to go see him.
Before the show, Fred introduced me to Dan, who was greeting everyone at the door. I was instantly struck by his close resemblance to Woody from Cheers, except for his buzzcut. To my surprise, he didn't talk like a gangsta, which I figured went with the territory of being a rapper. He was polite and welcoming. I bought a pint of Red Hook and waited for the show to start.
His act didn't exactly inspire thoughts that I was watching the next coming of Eminem. His stage show was no-tech, with Dan just rapping over cuts from his self-produced CD, Hella Crazy. And he raps in a peculiar raspy voice reminiscent of those guys who do baritone voiceovers for monster-truck show commercials, booming, "SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY."
But there was no doubt the guy had a certain comic charm. And his raspy reverb was perfect for the show's finale, "Redneck Battle Truck," Dan's homage to four-wheel American gas-guzzlers.
The rap's rhythm comes from a sample of the opening riff of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," giving the tune its subliminal hesher sensibility. It has a few lines that are laugh-out-loud funny, such as "Suck on my fumes as I blaze a new trail/Tires so big, I'm drivin' by Braille" and "Dodge, Jimmy, Chevy, Ford/US Steel smashes Honda Accords."
Practically no one in the fifty-person crowd knew all the verses, but when it came time for the frantically repeated chorus, everyone put on their best "SUNDAY SUNDAY" voice and sang along with Dan, "Redneck battle truck, redneck battle truck, redneck battle truck!"
After the show, I bought Dan's video Str8 Mackin' at Fred and Alison's urging. Fred called the video for "Redneck Battle Truck" an "underground classic." Underground is right. You won't find copies of Str8 Mackin' at Tower Records. Dan sells copies at his shows, bike races, and cycling conventions, and on his semi-operational Web site, HellaCrazy.com. Pro BMX rider Greg Romero gives a nod to "Redneck Battle Truck," which he helped produce and edit, in his own biking video, "I Ain't Mad At Cha."
"Redneck Battle Truck" apparently has a plot, although Dan admits that most people can't tell. In the for-the-hell-of-it spirit of MTV's Jackass, it's a video record of the crazy shit more than one hundred people did one day three years ago in the Petaluma backcountry during a day of alcohol-fueled mayhem. It begins with a guy whose Plymouth gets stuck in a pond out in the middle of nowhere. A friend goes to bring back help, other ragged-looking pickup trucks arrive to rescue the stranded truck, and everyone parties. For sure, everyone parties.
It had all begun the night before. Dan invited a bunch of people he met at a San Francisco rave to jump on his friend's bus to shoot the video at his mom's 25-acre farm in Petaluma. Things started getting chaotic when some guy Dan didn't even know rolled a donated red Hyundai hatchback while speeding around the grass and dirt. The driver survived without a scratch; the car wasn't so lucky. The crowd then started to attack the imported hoopty. One guy jumped feetfirst through the rear window, shattering the glass. The mob then flipped the Hyundai onto its roof and tied it up to the back of a battle truck for a tow, with Dan K. riding it like a chariot. Interspersed between the Hyundai-mobbing are scenes of general drunkenness and shots of Dan K. dressed in a basketball jersey with the number "420" on the back, standing atop a bus, singing the chorus. At the end, a guy does donuts in his Ferrari.
People who have seen the video seem either to laugh with Dan or at him. But either way, they come away entertained. Alison laughs with him: "I think it's just generally hilarious. I mean, it's a bunch of guys destroying vehicles, and putting it all together into a music video." Erika Hauskens, a 26-year-old East Bay indie-rock musician, laughs at the guy. She met Dan randomly a couple of years ago, looking for a house near his swinging bachelor pad. Dan loaded a bowl for her and gave her a copy of Str8 Mackin' to take home. "My friends and I would just get stoned and watch it; it was the most hilarious thing you've ever seen," she recalls. "It was silly." Still, Hauskens admits she couldn't stop singing the chorus of "Redneck Battle Truck" for weeks after she first saw the video. And she credits him for having the nerve to put the thing together.
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