Soul Asylum Ascend To Heaven

Author Steve Albini
Publication Matter Magazine
Date September 1984

Chapter The First In Which The Members of Soul Asylum Ascend to Heaven and Attempt to Explain Themselves to Saint Peter

Attorney for the deceased: Max Shapiro
Attorney for the Prince of Darkness: Joel Hyatt
Court Reporter: Hacksaw Shakespeare

As the proceedings were called to order, the four members of Soul Asylum ( hereafter referred to as 'the deceased' ) were found in a sorry state. Drunk as four skunks and paying no attention to frequent gavel banging and occasional yelling from the bench, they put their feet on the furniture and sang Woody Guthrie songs at the top of their lungs. After a solid hour they drifted into an uncomfortable silence. Saint Peter spoke.

"First of all, who are these guys?"

"Pardon me?" said successful attorney Shapiro.

"You heard me. Let's not play silly games."

"Yes sir. Before your highness today we have four young musicians from Minneapolis-St.Paul known collectively as Soul Asylum, a name registered with the State of Minnesota, who come before your hugeness with hats in hand to plead…"

"No,no,no. Hold it right there. I'm not your hugeness. I'm not your highness. And I won't be called sir. I work for a living."

"Yes, Saint Peter"

"That's better."

"These gentlemen come before you to convince you to admit them to the promised land and add to their sculpted likenesses to your hallowed Hall of fame."

"You may be reaching too high, counselor, but proceed."

"Thanks you. In the interest of keeping this short, we will present only one argument on behalf of the deceased. And here it is. These guys had 'it'."


"Yes, 'it'."

"Hmmm, not wanting to sound like an old square, I must admit that I don't quite understand."

"That's excusable Saint Peter, many don't. Animals do.Most underage girls do. 'Hardcore Punks', sometimes, Rich people, never!"

"Yes,yes, spare me. Get on with it. but before you do, let me say something. I wouldn't tell this to just anyone, but I liked 'Billy Jean'. 'Beat it' too. A couple of solid, catchy numbers. Your brief said these guys wrote their own songs. Were any of them like that?"

Derisive snickering and the unmistakable sound of several more beers being opened was heard from the deceased's table. Attorney Shapiro shifted from foot to foot and tried to continue.

"Well no. Y'see it's a different world that they lived in. They loved what they did, and worked like dogs to play what they wanted to play and avoid imitating things like Michael Jackson and…what I'm trying to say is…"

Joel Hyatt, attorney for the evil one, who had been suspiciously silent until now, leapt to his feet.

"Stop right there, I can't stand it. This is worthless. The counsel for the deceased is speaking in the vaguest generalities. He could be talking about anyone from Articles of faith to the Stooges. I must insist on specifics. Lets stop pussyfooting."

Saint Peter asked Shapiro to be specific.

"Rather than beat around anymore bushes, I'll give it to you straight from the shoulder and shoot from the hip. I'll come clean in a big way and tell it like it is with no dressing. You'll get the meat with no potatoes and I'll stop treading water and run this up to the flagpole."

"Please, please. Any more well-worn cliches and I'll clear the courtroom."

"Okay, Soul Asylum were a fast,tight rock band. They were everything you could want in a band - friendly, approachable, expert musicians with an ear for the beat of the heart and an eye for the real us inside all of us."

"Whew. Are you sure you're not going just a little too far?"

"Maybe a little. But you get the idea. What I'm trying to say can be summed up in one word. 'it'. They had 'it'. No hit songs. No major record label. No eyeliner. No ass kissing. 'it'. That's all. Just 'it'."

" Maybe you didn't quite get the message. Be specific."

"Saint Peter, they had one thing,a and one thing only. The big 'it'. The single greatest thing any band could ever have. You can't buy it, rent it or build it. Your best pals can't lend it to you. Some work long and hard enough for it to grow on them like beautiful tumors, but such luck is rare."

"Once you have it, you're pretty much set. You don't need to flex/groom your guitar until it plays without you. You don't need three trips to the dry cleaners before every show. You don't need 24 K par lighting with three follow spots or the girl who did the make-up for three dates on the Spandau Ballet tour in 1982. You'll sound pretty much the same under any foul operating conditions and with any possible arrangement of malfunctioning equipment. And if you manage to write six great songs and put them on one big record…look out."

"In Soul Asylum's case, 'it' embodies itself thusly: They had Dave for a singer, and he was the wiggliest doggone front man you could ever imagine, he wrote most of the songs played guitar and sax and moved around on stage like he had tiny little ants crawling all over his body. Pat was the drummer and his closest match was Lucky Lehrer, Circle Jerk. Well, not exactly. he didn't have the special 'proud of himself' presence, just the speed and precision.

"The there were Dan and Karl, guitar and bass. Fine jumpy fellows they were too. Both of them looked so goddamn happy to be on stage and have an excuse to hop and jump and careen through their skintight riffs that it made you want to shit. These last three knew each other since the second grade and they made good use of it. You can't bullshit someone who's seen you change for chewing gum, and these guys spent little or no time bullshitting one another. Dave said they were 'all driving the same thing; and I'd go one step further than that. I'd say that they looked like four sides of the same coin and played like eight arms of the same Hindu deity."

"Are you finished, I'm exhausted."

"Not quite. At the time they were snatched up to appear before you, they were waiting for Twin/Tone Records to release their nine-song EP. It was called 'Say What You Will…' and was produced by the omnipresent Bob Mould.

"I must admit that the arguments presented have been quite striking. Before I hand down my own opinion, does the counsel for beelzebub have anything to say?"

Attorney Hyatt looked distressed. He fidgeted for a long minute and then petitioned the court for a private consultation with his assistant, Paul Drake. After a pregnant pause, he stepped before the bench.

"We must protest. You cannot ignore the extensive media coverage afforded to the Replacements, the past major label confidence in the Suburbs or the lovely things that Prince has done. Why do we even talk about these guys? I say hand them over to my client and let him teach them some manners down below. They are small potatoes. They need to writhe in hell for a while."

"The court will recess for 10 minutes while I ponder my decision. And no smoking while I'm gone."

During the interim, Soul Asylum not only smoked but began passing a pint bottle of bourbon. Just as they began their capella rendition of 'White Light, White Heat', Saint Peter returned.

"All right, come to order. I have reached a decision. Will the deceased please rise?"

With some difficulty, the deceased climb to their feet.

"I find you suitable for framing. This is one step below Unqualifiedly Lionized, but six giant steps above Hopeless and Condemned. You guys did all right for yourselves. I am hereby returning you to the CC Club, and the first Strohs is on me."