by Tom Tallett
RIP Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, who passed away of cancer last Friday at the age of 41—one step closer to the stars.
I didn’t know Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller. But then again, maybe I knew him in the way he would’ve liked best for a fan to know him—through the notes he made, the music he played, the images he and his band conjured and left indelibly tattooed on my brain, heart and soul. So don’t take this little outpouring as anything other than what it really is—a genuine fan grieving for a genuine rock ’n’ roll hero. Hell, I wasn’t even around back when Mueller, Danny Murphy and Dave Pirner were spewing out their collective big city angst and boredom as Loud Fast Rules, and I probably wouldn’t have been cool enough back then to appreciate ’em. But it didn’t take long for them to find me, once I’d landed in the twisted time/space continuum known as the Twin Cities—whether it was a deep album cut on ol’ KJ 104 or a gigantic poster in Let It Be Records or a battered copy of one of their releases laying willy-nilly on a shiny stack of Metallica, REM and Beastie Boys CDs at some lame, late-night St. Paul beer party, it was nigh onto impossible to ignore the influence, the attitude, the gritty honesty of that hometown outfit. (“I was tappin’ my foot on a Friday night/To my favorite band ...”)
OF THE WEEK: "I think that you have to feel okay about having an independent
point of view...you get beyond the suffering and you focus on the sweetness
of your vision. And that's how you get through." — Laura Nyro
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Nice Guys (Don’t Get Paid)”
— Soul Asylum
So I worked my way backwards in their catalog, and right around the time I
was grooving on their 1984 debut album, Say What You Will, Clarence, Karl
Sold The Truck, for the first time, the boys hit it big on the charts (yes,
like a runaway goddamn train) with Grave Dancer’s Union. I caught
‘em live several memorable times in the following years—and there
were always two constants at a Soul Asylum show: really cool people ( a lot
of ‘em) and loud, soul-edifying rock ’n’ roll. Along with
shitloads of beer, wash-tubs fulla sweat, gaggles of local celebs, and eventually,
TV news cameras, live radio feeds and the requisite skeezy litter of music journalists.
But them guys up on that stage never even blinked, man. (“And noone knows
what’s goin’ on/But you gotta show up for yourself at the end of
the day/And nice guys don’t get paid ...”) Through Hollywood hoo-rah
and hanky panky, worldwide exposure, gold records and critical acclaim, the
music—and the no-bullshit, down-to-earth attitudes of the players—stayed
true. When I heard that Karl was sick, my first reaction was, “Jesus!
He’s so YOUNG!!” (“Everything’s turning but mostly just
turning out wrong ... the day seems so long”) One year older than myself.
As I lit another Marlboro. Makes ya think, or if not, it sure fucking should.
Karl was as dignified, open and straight-up through his illness as he was on
stage and record all those years—check out his web page (TheKarlFund.com)
and read some of the notes he left us. (“Cancer is a devastating diagnosis
for anybody, and I believe that we’re all just one major illness away
from, if not bankruptcy, losing a lot of very important things in our lives
...”) While he couldn’t help but embrace the grim reality of his
situation, he remained upbeat and hopeful, and the reason why wasn’t the
doctors, or some new treatment, or even pure self-confidence. Sure, Karl had
loads of fans, a loving wife, a great mom, and a happy life. But ya know what
really strikes me as being the main impetus for keeping him around for a year
after he was diagnosed? (“You thought that you would be astounded/But
you left it like you found it/Now you find that you are grounded ...”)
The circle of friends he had surrounding him like a halo of protective rock
’n’ roll love, man. For all the snarky, ditch-diggin’ hoo
ha you hear about the local “scene,” nobody can deny that Karl brought
together more people, both in his life and his death, than most of us could
ever even dream of. The music, the fans, the career, those are all gravy.
Karl’s legacy, beyond those great songs and inspiring moments, will hopefully
be his inherent talent for bringing together a room, a party, a neighborhood,
a community, a city (or two!), a generation (or two!), and a universal spirit.
And that’s about the greatest fucking thing a human being can leave behind,
if you ask me. My heart goes out to Karl’s brothers in Soul Asylum, his
wife and his mom, and that great big, screwed-up, loveable rock ’n’
roll family that are his friends, his fans and his admirers. Thanks for all
the years of music, mayhem and much-needed madness, Karl. You will be sorely
missed, man. I’ll just leave off this week with a small sample of that
lil’ ol’ thing I mentioned at the start of this ravaged rant—the
music. And yeah, I know Karl wasn’t the lyricist in Soul Asylum, but you
can bet yer sweet biffy that none of it would’ve sounded the same without
him. So here’s ...
Reasons Why The “Soul” In Soul Asylum Really Means Something:
1) “Bitter Pill,” from And The Horse They Rode In On (1990),
one of my faves—in particular the line, “One more drink before I
go/One last good luck kiss/One less thing to call my own/That’s one more
thing I miss ...” Makes more sense than ever now.
2) “P-9,” from the 1988 EP Clam Dip And Other Delights,
the infamous Herb Alpert whipped cream cover knock-off, this tune also spawned
a great video from the Harder-Fuller crew. Encapsulates, with a vicious sideswipe,
the darker points of the working world from a decidedly blue collar POV: “Somebody’s
thinking that there might be something wrong/Business is sinking and the crew’s
been cast off/Nobody’s bailing, nobody’s sailing/But we’re
watching it from shore/Nobody’s working and we better work this out...”
Just a silly, romantic rock ’n’ roll outfit? Sometimes, sure ...
but this one is, without a doubt, a modern American folk classic.
3) “Spinnin,” another killer cut from And The Horse... Universal
heartbreak at its angsty finest: “Maybe it’s you/Maybe it’s
me/Things aren’t quite the way they should be/And now it seems my peace
of mind has come up for the biddin’/All those I respect and trust I guess
they were just kiddin’/And they will say it’s me who’s lost/And
as you sit there grinnin’/My little world has lost control but still it
keeps on spinnin’ ...”
4) “Sometime To Return,” from Hang Time (1988). Another
great example of why these guys, musically at least, outlived so many of their
contemporaries. A ripping, snorting, savage beast of a single: “I have
seen these closing doors/I’ve woke up on this floor before/Picked it apart
for hours and hours and hours/Of turning, tossing, and looking and listening/To
you and all the fucked up things you do ...” I’ll see your TWENTY
Green Day hits and raise you just ONE “Sometime To Return,” motherfucker.
“Somebody To Shove,” from Grave Dancer’s Union (1992).
OK, so maybe this one was a bit over played on the radio back in the day, but
how long has it been since you really sat down and listened to the words? Right
now, to me, it sounds like a welcome, last-time musical phone call from Karl
himself: “Hello, speak up is there somebody there?/These hang ups are
getting me down/In a world frozen over with overexposure/Let’s talk it
over, let’s go out and paint the town ...” So do it. Karl would
want people to get together, laugh, talk, play his songs, and honor his memory
with comradeship and rock ’n’ roll, kids. Me, I’m raisin’
a great big, frosty mug to him right now ... travel safe, bro.
And that’s all the space we have this week, ya monkeys. Now I gotta
go start Hang Time over again for the fourteenth time today and wipe my ferschlugginer
eyes again. Tune in next time, when we just might detour down Rick Nelson Lane
and attempt to decode those amazing lyrics to “Garden Party.” Either
that, or I’ll finally get around to reviewing that elusive first Bernie
Taupin solo album I’ve been threatening you with for so long ... until
then, make yer own damn news. ||
Soul Asylum recently completed a new studio album that is set to be released
in early 2006. Even though Karl was in various stages of treatment during the
recording, he played bass on all of the tracks.Karl is survived by his wife,
Mary Beth, and his mother, Mary. The funeral is on Wednesday at Lakewood Cemetery
Chapel in Minneapolis. In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to:
The Karl Mueller Memorial Fund
c/o Smith Barney
345 St. Peter Street
1800 Landmark Towers
St. Paul MN 55102-1637
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d
like to see mentioned in this column, or you’d just like to add your own
two cents to the above rant, send replies to: Tmygunn777@peoplepc.com.