All Writing and Photography © Alex Livingstone/Owner's Closet

Monday, January 21, 2013

Soul Asylum & Chasing Amy

Along with umpteen episodes of Shameless and various undesirable films that emerged from the depths of cable television, Chasing Amy was available on one of the many Showtime channels offered for free this weekend. Amongst all of the small budget "indie" films I rented to college students as a video store clerk in the late 90s, I had the least tolerance for Chasing Amy. But since those days, Kevin Smith has made a lot of movies and has made a name for himself so I thought I'd give it another chance.  After seeing it again though, I found that the reasons I didn't like it then are mostly different from the ones I have now. Kevin Smith's distractingly pretentious dialogue went from being a minor annoyance in my early 20s to undeniable abomination to my late 30s self.  My identification with the main character's feeling of inadequacy in comparison to his significant other's level of relationship and sexual experience was what caused me to not like the movie the first time around. In the late 90's, I dated a girl who seemed so much more experienced and worldly than I was and I was scared that she might pass me up for my innocence. Affleck's character's challenge was not identical to mine but, his psychological problem was altogether different than mine.

Just before my memory of the weak-ass movie that is Chasing Amy began its retreat back into the dark recesses of my brain, it reminded me of the first time I saw Soul Asylum. No, Janeane Garofalo and Winona Ryder weren't there nor were there caterpillars or missing child posters on the big phone poles. With the awesomeness of the manager of the Cotswold Record Exchange who gave us tickets and my friends' father who drove us, we made it to Atlanta for the Tour and Schmooze party for the upcoming Grave Dancer's Union.  Though we ended up talking to the band for longer than we saw them play, the night was one of the biggest in my life.

After all these years I had forgotten that Chasing Amy ended with Soul Asylum's "We 3." From their 1990 A&M Records album And the Horse They Rode in On, "We 3" was a logical progression of the Soul Asylum ballad. Each album had one and this was the most recent offering. Amped up teens needed to be gently fed the ballad so that we might ingest it at all. Sure, we loved "Going to California," "Michelle," and "Swan Swan H" et al, but this is Soul Asylum we were talking about. This was Loud Fast Rules. This was the critically acclaimed "best live band in America" that we so believed were the end-all, be-all ever living shit. Softness had been doled out sparingly throughout their catalog and that's just how we liked it. A touch of it on the album and even less at the show. "Stranger," "Never Really Been" "Passing Sad Daydream," "P-9," "Endless Farewell," and "We 3." I was a huge Soul Asylum fan for six impressionable years of my life and to associate this particular movie with one of my all time favorite bands kinda hurts but I shan't be too prejudiced; Grand Champeen had a song in The Life Of David Gale so I guess the joke's on me.

So, to me at that time...1990, 1991, 1992..."We 3" was perfectly acceptable. Hell, it started in the saddest of all keys and ended up in glorious F. I'm sure the producer Steve Jordan thought it brimming with pubescent mix tape potential, much like the Replacements' "Skyway" or some Toad the Wet Sprocket wimp jam. But that's not what we thought because we knew the other 11 songs on Horse set Soul Asylum apart from everyone else at the time. So when Bret at Record Exchange presented me and Vinny with guest passes to the Grave Dancer's Union pre-release party at The Dark Horse in Atlanta, we shit our pants with excitement. Atlanta was four hours away and as a senior in high school I could certainly handle that drive. Unfortunately, Vinny and I had just gotten arrested for stupid teenager stuff and were on our parents' shit lists. I mean, the timing couldn't have been worse. I know that I was grounded for a month or two at the start of my senior year so how I was even able to get to the record store for this momentous offering I can't fathom.  I do however, remember leaving my girlfriend's house to go to the midnight sale of Grave Dancer's Union so maybe my restriction had mercifully ended by the time this story went down. (Damn right! I bought that shit on cassette literally the minute it came out.) But that must have been after we were driven to Atlanta by Vinny's dad on a chilly fall night because we went into that evening not knowing any of their new songs. I believe their tour started as their album was coming out and it wouldn't be until a year or two later that they would grace the cover of Rolling Stone as platinum punks.

Once we got to the bar, we were immediately put in our place. The show was 21+. But we had passes!!   No dice, my friends. We were actually allowed to be in the tiny bar/restaurant but the performance was to take place in its tiny basement. Upon inspection of the building, we found that we could stand outside in the sloping parking lot and look down through the patio doors and see the band members from the waist down. Dave had on a black acoustic we had never seen him play before. We could only see the bottom of it so we wondered what kind it was. ARGH! So shitty. "We drove all this way and Colonel's not even here?" We had gotten there in time to see their soundcheck at which they played "Gullible's Travels", "Grounded", some song we had never heard (probably "Runaway Train" or "Black Gold") and "We 3." "We 3!" I never thought I would ever hear that song played live because it's so piano-centric. "We 3!" At that point, "We 3" was one of the 12 songs that made up one of the best albums that had come out in years. It was the farthest thing from seeing your favorite band playing their worst song. It was seeing your favorite band play a song they may have only played that night. I mean, they didn't play it on MTV Unplugged when it may have actually been appropriate.

After soundcheck, there was a meet and greet upstairs in the bar so we went in and stood around with everyone else. The band showed up and one at a time we met our heroes. Dave was drinking Rolling Rock and popping pills, asking us "What it's like to be a teenager these days?" He was wearing a Jagermeister painters cap sideways on top of his dreadlocks. Great look. Dan was wearing a Levi's jean jacket with a Giant records embroidered logo on the back. Grant and Karl were wearing clothes. They had a bunch of Grave Dancer posters out and we had them all sign a couple of them. (Does Vinny have that poster?) Vinny's dad snapped a couple of photos of us talking to Dave, which I proudly showed off to people for years to come. Well, until around 1994. Once Sterling Campbell "joined" the band, the band was kinda done for me. I'm not saying he is the Slim Dunlap of Soul Asylum. He's more like the Tommy Stinson of Soul Asylum. Oh, wait... Here's the photo!

Vinny's dad managed to drive us all the way back to Charlotte that night. I ended up seeing Soul Asylum several more times over the next few years. One of the best shows I saw was when they played   Chapel Hill on the official Grave Dancer's Tour with The Lemonheads and Freedy Johnson opening. I'm pretty sure Juliana Hatfield was on bass for the Lemonheads and I'm pretty sure I didn't give a crap about Freedy Johnson. I got a "college visitation" excused absence because I was going to "visit Chapel Hill." Ha. Cameron and Jason and I saw that show at the Cat's Cradle when it was on Franklin St. in the building where Michael Jordan later opened his restaurant 23. I saw them at the Roxy in Atlanta with Freedy Johnson and Magnapop opening. Why was Freedy Johnson opening these shows? I hear his impostor lives in Austin now. Anyway, that was awesome because we were right up front and they played a helluva show. Kevn Kinney came out and performed (at least) Rhinestone Cowboy with them. The last time I saw Soul Asylum was in 1995 at Vanderbilt University in their horrible sounding basketball arena. They played Sonic Reducer and Matthew Sweet opened the show. He was boring. Oh yeah, I also saw them at Carowinds Pavilion and they played a Mission of Burma tune. Spin Doctors headlined that show, which we all thought was a crime.  So many bad bands back then. Mid 90s, mid-level trash.

All that being said, the best part of seeing Chasing Amy again was how it reminded me of how much Soul Asylum means to me. I admire Kevin Smith for liking Soul Asylum enough to give them the outro song on his biggest film to date. Even though I'm not so sure the song fits very well, I don't really care. The dialog in that film is pretentious and poorly delivered and if it weren't for Jason Lee it would be a complete dog turd. And it really doesn't affect how I feel about "We 3," the mellow song between "Be On Your Way" and "All the King's Friends" on the album that was playing when I lost my virginity.

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