Friday, June 24, 2005

Closer To The Stars - Birth School Work Death - G'bye Karl

Just heard that Soul Asylum's bassist Karl Mueller passed away at age 41 last week from throat cancer. I actually saw it on some blog called "Pimps of Gore" (well, sheeeeeeeeet, Karl woulda found some irony in that I'm sure...)


But ultimately, damn, that's a bummer. I had no idea how seriously ill he was...

Late last fall, apparently Soul Asylum had a reunion to raise money for Mueller's health care bills in Minneapolis and I didn't hear about it til I did a random web search last month.

Oh well, aside from buyin' a ticket, there's not much I coulda done I s'pose so I don't resent not being contacted personally...although they were a band that made everything seem personal.

From their low key friendly midwestern banter backstage & even onstage, to their touching music that bordered on incredible on the right nights.

I first saw 'em open for Husker Du in D.C at the old 9:30 on F st in Feb of 85 and they just tore the roof off the sucker and make Mould & Hart look like lazy fat guys. I was a teenage runaway, and after trying to sneak in twice , I reluctantly droppped my last 10 bucks at the door and got my money's worth in the first 15 minutes.

I went and saw em again a month or so later at some weird gay disco called The Eastside Club, and there were like 5 people there besides them. But man, they played that show just as fiercely as the packed one a few months prior and had a great time despite the dismal turnout. I was hooked, I bought the 7" single, the Times Incinerator cassette outtakes with Mueller gleefully singing James Brown's Hot Pants, the EPs , the new albums, and even the old albums like "Say What You Will Clarence, Karl Sold The Truck" etc.

As much I wish I coulda been some use to them over the years, they pretty much had it covered. Hi energy stage show, intense personal tunes, and a work ethic that took them through every podunk bar in the country twice.

poster i made circa 1988

I moved out west & I'd just show up early at venues and bug 'em, especially if I was broke. To get in free I'd load their gear (and laugh at their jokes while I drank their beer). At the Mab, Berkeley Square or wherever they were playing there'd be lotsa stories and jokes, & more beers. I soon noticed as they came around, they had upgraded to a rental van, and seemed things must be looking up.

I tried to get the band some press once, but Twin Tone sold their contract to A&M and Maximum Rock & Roll wouldn't publish my piece. Instead, Kerrang the metal mag sent a photographer and took pictures of them on the stairs of the old I-Beam on Haight Street.

From the melted Eagles tape on their dashboard to Dave Pirner's ripped t-shirts & jeans and Dan Murphy's baseball jerseys, to their voices just passionately wailing at the top of their lungs above the guitar drenched din. It was amazing to see circa 1985-1989 and something I'll never forget. Someday I'll get around to posting a crazy video clip I edited of those guys at The Rathskeller in Boston blasting through Closer to The Stars from one of those last indie hurrah's called While You Were Out.

Soul Asylum - While You Were Out CD

At some point someone at A&M decided to pump up the band with a 12" radio airplay single of their Hang Time record, but to this day no one can barely remember the A side, it was the B side recorded at The Roxy in LA That put the band on the college radio map for good...

The James at 16 Medley which incorporates everything from The Godfathers "Birth School Work Death" to Buffalo Springfield, Ted Nugent, Prince & Wild Cherry cribs. Long before we had Mash Up DJs & Me First & The Gimme Gimmes , we had Soul Asylum... kickin down thirteen covers in just over eleven minutes and that was all we needed man...

Here it is culled of some old creakly vinyl, featuring the amazing late Karl Mueller at the start... dig it

James @ 16 Medley

The Village Voice & Spin magazine called them the best live act in the US in the late 80's, and things could only get brighter...

But rumore had it that A&M brass weren't sure what to do with the band, and got pissed off when their recording sessions were too loud at the old Chaplin soundstage studios lot in Hollywood.

Next thing ya know they were supposed to be headed for the big time & then an album later Karl was back to washing dishes at the same club in MPLS his band would headline.

Seemed as quickly as they arose, they had just disappeared, and left just when the going got good. They resurfaced several years later, in the post Nirvana grunge era circa 1992, and instead of flying the flannel Pirner complained of hearing loss, and switched drummers & made the new one sit in a plexi glass box. Seems they had matured after a bit of woodshedding, and somehow after getting dropped by A&M, were signed to Sony.

Pirner got all extra sensitive, and let his inner hippy shine through more...

They put out a video that featured those runaway kids, and the next thing ya know they are double platinum and the first rock band to play on the White House lawn!

Gone were most of the pranks and chessy covers eating up half a set, and in was a Hammond B-3 player and a movie star girlfriend with tix to the Oscars.

Karl remained a loyal steadfast soldier, even when the promo budgets didn't allow him to do the radio station tours & MTV interview appearances...

He hung back in Mpls, likely smoking, while Pirner played out his 15 minutes.

Now we've lost Karl... and I haven't got anything important to add here... maybe we'll just put down a couple more tracks and listen in...

Here's some songs that mean a lot to me... not sure if y'all will care, but these are some important cuts I'm hoping you'll dig...

Soul Asylum - Closer To The Stars (Acoustic MTV Unplugged Version)

Soul Asylum - Hope ( Descendents Cover )

also the blog known as "Pimps of Gore" posted 4 classic tracks from the "Hang Time" & "Horse They Rode In On..." albums...

visit there within the next couple of days to suck up more good free shit...

Sony, in a classic spurt of a day late & a dollar short just finally released a live album this year of a concert from 1997 that the band played for a high school prom in a flood damaged part of North Dakota. I just ordered my copy and suggest you do the same if ya wanna have some fun in the memory of ol' Karl...

The band opens up the set by ripping into School's Out by Alice Cooper, and besides playing their own hits & near misses they toss in some other covers like Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell, Johnny Nash's I Can See Clearly Now, Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, Smokey Robinson's The Tracks Of My Tears & Lulu's To Sir with Love...

click to purchase : SOUL ASYLUM
After The Flood: Live From The Grand Forks Prom
recorded live 6/28/97
Soul Asylum - After The Flood: Live From The Grand Forks Prom June 28, 1997 CD

We'll miss you Karl...

The Karl Mueller Memorial Fund
c/o Smith Barney
345 St. Peter Street
1800 Landmark Towers
St. Paul MN 55102-1637

Karl's funeral went down on Weds in MPLs. Pirner & Murphy of course spoke fondly of how without Karl there would have been no Soul Asylum, and how he came back from a trip to England in high school with an earring and a Discharge T-shirt and started the momentum that lead in 1981 to forming to Loud, Fast, Rules. Dan Murphy reportedly closed his eulogy with quotes from Karl's favorite song "Stay Free" by The Clash, a slogan which Karl carved into his bass (now on display in a Minnesota History Center in St. Paul).

"I'll never forget the smile on my face 'cause I knew where you would be/ And if you're in the Crown tonight, have a drink on me/ But go easy, step lightly, stay free."

There's accounts of his funeral posted at Scott Hudson's Rant-A-Bit

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