Thursday, October 16, 2008



It’s hard enough

To find an open door
It’s hard enough to see

It’s hard enough
To sit and wait your turn
It’s hard enough to be

You are my only love
You are my safe
You are my one aside
Why don’t you stay?

It’s hard enough
To plow a frozen field
It’s hard enough to try

It’s hard enough
To drain an ocean filled
It’s hard enough to try

You are my lone love
You are my safe
You are my one aside
Why won’t you stay?


I’ve been thinking a lot about Souled American lately. It’s the way the light is strumming through the trees ringing the meadow; the way the days are changing timbre, etched as they are now in long gold and copper; the way the crickets and tree frogs weep and gnash their teeth mad in the moonlight for warm summer gone. It’s the way—maybe—we peep naked over the sash onto the holy dawn field and feel (in light of a recent West Coast sojourn) homeless and a little bewildered (sometimes). Home is where you make it. Is that a saying? In this season I have to remember to make it here where I am. Souled American carries all that burnished loneliness and quiet madness and also wry humor and frustrated, perfect rhythm; this is why I’ve been thinking of them, I suppose. They are good music for the season.

I met Chris Grigoroff and Joe Adducci in 1999 or so when my band opened for them in San Francisco. They were the first true musical stars I had ever met; their reputations preceded them (Camden Joy’s book was already out, and their music was on the streets), and when they arrived disheveled and stoned and impossibly old in a rental sedan (having driven from Chicago to play two shows on the West Coast), we were all in awe. Watching them stumble onstage, looking for all the world like post-apocalyptic scarecrows in wraparound sunglasses and tattered jeans and running shoes, wreathed in dope smoke, none of us had any idea what to expect; they hassled the harried soundperson for a bit, smoked a joint, demanded beer “without fruit in it” (code for Budweiser or Pabst, anything but the microbrew on offer), and launched into one of the most alarming, psyche-altering sets of music my young self had ever seen. I was also stoned that night, having smoked some of the pot they had proffered upon arrival (they were nothing if not giving), and had to walk around the block several times during the course of their performance to quiet my soul. I know now that this had less to do with the quality of their weed than the profound conjuration they were involved in. They were damaged and baffling, maddening and gorgeous, grievous, hilarious, and, in their way, rhythmically perfect. Everything flanged and flammed and strobed in glacial, prescient unison; Chris hung back from the microphone and shook his head from side to side, sobbing in a cracked windowpane tremolo. Joe played a homemade fretless bass; upon the headstock he had scrawled, in permanent marker, “Lee Skalar.” They were ramshackle and dark and wild and singular, and there was a distinct possibility that the whole thing was a put on; that’s how in control they were. They were involved with us all (and there were many people there that night; San Francisco was a Souled American town at that time) deeply and inextricably; they also did not seem to give an everloving fuck. They were incredibly smart dudes. Gris gris men.

Over time, I became better friends with them. We were never close, but I hung out and played with them whenever they came to town, and I would see them when we traveled through Chicago. I was always a little starstruck. I recall walking into The Uptown on 17th and Capp (back when we still had to dodge hookers and the occasional fired gun to get in the joint) with Joe once; he smiled and said, “I used to play in a reggae band called The Uptown Rulers.” This made perfect sense. They were roots.

The last time I was in contact with Souled American was in 2004. I had just returned from Europe when I received a frantic call from the owner of a club in San Francisco I had set them up with. Apparently, their show hadn’t gone so well. There were few people in attendance (by this point, San Francisco was not so much of a Souled American town; it had been almost ten years since their previous album was released) and almost no dough at the end of the night. They threatened the employees of the club and were eventually pushed out the front door, which was promptly locked. They spent several hours beating on the door and haranguing the bar staff before the cops were called. It was uncomfortable for everyone at the time (except maybe them), but it’s hilarious to think about now. The only rules they played by were their own; nobody else even knew what game they were playing.

Listening to meisterwerks like Sonny, Frozen, and Notes Campfire today, I still think it’s some of the most complex, challenging, beautiful music I’ve ever heard. “Make Me Laugh Make Me Cry” (from Fe) continues to makes me pump my fist in grief and glory; the rambling melody of “One Note” (a song that is supposed to be on their next record) still runs through my head at weird times.

They're so tuff. Souled American—where are you?


6 comments:

Andrew said...

This is lovely and well-put. Did you happen to see the article by Ted McDermott in the 2008 Music Issue of the Believer?

Scott said...

Now that autumn is coming around I recently put on Frozen. What a vibe. Was the 1st show you are talking about the one at Epicenter or Makeout Room?

Lee Skalar.

Hiss Golden Messenger said...

It's hard to choose between Frozen and Notes campfire, but I often lean towards Frozen. It's sort of a Spirit of Eden/Laughing Stock situation...depends on the day of the week. I was writing about the first Makeout Room show, but the Epicenter one was equally epic (and possibly better)...for some reason I just had a clearer mental image of the Makeout Room show.

Andrew, I did not read that McDermott piece, but I would love to. Souled American are one of those bands that people will always write about- they came into this world fully mythologically formed and ripe for the writing. The catch is that they've had to live the lives they lead (which seem somehow complicated and fraught with peril).

Please do send that piece along if it somehow exists in send-able format.

Andrew said...

will do -- let me know where to email it!
best
Andrew

Hiss Golden Messenger said...

oh yeah- hissgoldenmessenger at yahoo dot com is always good

Unknown said...

I just got a book by Camden Joy called Lost Joy. Liked some essays more than others but I do really like the collection originally published as posters called 37 posters about Souled American. Highly recommended