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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lenzi

(Re)Collection: Soul Asylum

Soul Asylum has been on my mind a lot lately. At a party last weekend, I was talking to a friend I hadn't seen for a while about meeting your heroes. I met one once. In the mid-'90s. The hero didn't let me down. I let the hero down.

My group Number One Cup played in the Twin Cities quite a few times in the '90s. We were offered a show in the summer of 1997 at the 400 Club. We had released Wrecked By Lions that year. This club was legendary and at that time was owned by Bill Sullivan, who tour managed the Replacements and Soul Asylum. We played with Lifter Puller. That was Craig Finn's band. He later formed the Hold Steady.

I think we were the headliners. The stage was pretty high and the drum riser even higher. It was a long, shotgun style club like the late, great Lounge Ax in Chicago. There was a decent-size standing area for the crowd. That night there were quite a few people there. We did our thing, and I might or might not have kicked over my drum set, which I really liked to do. That usually happened when I'd had it with music or some other such recurring theme in my irrational head. I broke a lot of stuff. Really pointless, but it feels so good (to the tune of Reunited by Peaches & Herb).

Anyway, after the show each of us took turns standing back by the merch booth where we had our records, T-shirts and stickers for sale. (Chores like that get divided up when you are in a touring band and don't have a driver, tour manager, personal masseuse, etc. ). Wait, I think Lifter Puller headlined. The memory is fuzzy.

A guy came up to the table to talk. He seemed a little older than me and he looked very familiar. Who was it? Bingo. It was Dan Murphy. Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum. Probably the band that I listened to the most from 1985 to 1991. I absolutely loved Made to Be Broken, While You Were Out and Hang Time. And they were such a great live band. Dan and Dave sharing the mic a la Mick and Keith or Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. Painfully loud. Stupid. Heartfelt. Sweaty. Funny cover songs. Jukebox Hero to name one. They were doing what I wished I could do. And the people who had seen them live got it and really loved them.

Most people at the time focused on the Replacements as the underground voice of the generation. While I loved the Replacements, they seemed like sarcastic, slightly mean-spirited older brothers to me. Too cool to hang out with me and probably more likely to fuck with me. Soul Asylum seemed approachable. The blown-out knee, rolled cuff jeans, thrift store T-shirts and the ratty, used-to-be-white-but-now-looked-dark-gray Converse Chuck Taylors. It was my uniform for a while. They had my vote. Hands down.

A friend of mine who went to Northwestern told me a story about them when they played at the university. After the show, they loaded out and were in the parking lot slowly ramming their van against the building. Bump, reverse, bump, etc. Laughing their heads off. Most likely extremely drunk, as usual. They had that sense of futility about them, but it seemed so romantic. A bunch of disheveled buddies driving around the country in a filthy van, playing amazing shows, getting drunk, doing stupid shit. Yeah, they were my dudes. I bought into that image.

So Dan doesn't introduce himself. He tells me how much he likes my band and how awesome it is that I play drums and sing and that we rocked hard. All the things I really wanted to hear but rarely did. I ask him if he is Dan Murphy. I tell him it is great to meet him. I tell him about all the times I had seen his band.

And then I utter the two sentences I regret to this day: "Man, I used to be such a huge fan of your band. You were my favorite band." Immediately, his face sank. Shit, how many times at that point had he heard or read that. That was not long after the song Runaway Train became a surprise hit. It was everywhere. Underground music people talked so much shit about them. I may or may not have also talked a lot of shit about that song. I may or may not have thought it was a sappy song that did grievous harm to their legacy as one of the rockingest bands in the underground.

What I said doesn't seem too insulting, but I knew I had just damned him with faint praise. The ever present backhanded compliment that most musicians loathe. I guess all people loathe that.

It was too late. I'd poisoned the moment. He graciously said it was nice to meet me and walked away. I felt like such a dick. I ruined it. I wish I could have that one back.

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