the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

It's Time for a Little Soul Searching

Jim Walsh

St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 18, 1994

Vampires, contrary to popular myth, have lost their taste for human blood. Once upon a time, they sought it out for sustenance and status, though nowadays, they're after something else.

Nowadays, they're after souls.

Not only are they after them, but they're getting them. Take a look around. As we enter the end of the 20th century, souls are being stolen slowly - sometimes it takes years - because vampires are patient creatures. They'll take your soul if you let them. And you will let them, yes you will, because you won't have a chance. Because you will not recognize them. Because there are too many of them.

They go by names such as Rush, Elle and Beck, and, through modern technology, they enter your consciousness every day, whittling away at something deep inside you: that special something that you once protected but which has now mutated into just another fond, sentimental, memory.

But before they take your soul, the vampires fix on your brain. They seduce you into believing that whatever opinion currently being mongered is somehow more correct than yours; that their definition of beauty is somehow more beautiful than yours; that whatever crap is being passed off as culture is somehow more significant than the books on your shelf, the art on your walls, the vinyl in your record collection.

That's when you start skating.

That's when you find yourself growing hard and silly. Against your better judgment, you begin muttering phrases like ``dittos'' and ``excellence in broadcasting.'' You see pictures of models in magazines and on television, and you start appreciating, aspiring, to that beauty, even though you and nobody you know looks like that. You sing along to things like, ``I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?'' because that's what all the cool kids are singing along to.

That's when they've got you.

That's when they've got your brain. And once they've got your brain, it's just a few short steps on that slippery slope to your soul until bang! they're on you. After they pounce, you don't care about anything anymore. Actually, that's not quite right: It's more that you don't treasure anything anymore, because vampires turn treasures into trivia. They convince you that things like souls and sentimentality aren't important.

But then, something happens. You go to First Avenue to see Joe Henry and Uncle Tupelo, the mortal musicians responsible for ``Kindness of the World'' and ``Anodyne'' - two of your favorite records of last year. You've seen them before, and you know that the magic they create can be inspirational; Joe and Tupelo seem to have eluded the vampires, and both seem to have their souls fully intact.

This time when they come onstage, you're struck by how magnificent - how beautiful - they are, this Joe Henry Band. And it's not Elle-beautiful. It's more like the observation made by your British friend, who was spooked by the scruffy fivesome's wild eyes and Midwestern mystique. ``They look like desperadoes,'' he had said, a sentiment echoed by a British paper that said it looked as if Joe ``had picked up his band in a pool hall.'' Beautiful. Like that.

Then Joe starts singing stories that feel like they were made up in an attic somewhere. And they feel so good they hurt: When he comes to the song about a fireman's wedding and sings the line ``Everyone will be there/And we'll all wish them well/As if all news will be good news from now on,'' a lump the size of an orange wells up in your throat, because if you've learned one thing, it's that the ``as if'' part is all too true.

You take a slug of your beer to get rid of the orange, to forget, and to remember, forever, an old fireman friend.

Deep inside, something stirs. Something other than sadness.

It's still stirring when Uncle Tupelo comes on. Lo and behold, they've got that same anti-Elle beauty. Joe's song imploring the damned (you) to ``look alive'' is still ringing in your ears when Tupelo's Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy start singing about the rat race, about how haste makes waste. ``C'mon let's take the long cut, I think that's what we need,'' they suggest. ``If we want to take the long cut, we'll get there eventually.''

Yeah. Modern life is rubbish, you tell your beer, while Tweedy sings, ``Watching the labels spinning on my turntable/There's no call-waiting in my headphones.'' And that's when you recognize the something stirring deep inside as your soul. In a rush, the music (country music) pours through your system and spills into your bones - you can actually, physically, feel it - and you're instantly catapulted to summer. You remember a brilliant sunset you once saw over a cornfield in Iowa, and a surreal display of the northern lights over a lake up north, and suddenly, you don't feel so jaded anymore.

Instead, you feel rich.

All this takes place as you're standing in your favorite spot in the back of dark First Avenue. For a split second, you think about the 7th St. Entry next door, which, way back when - even before it was a bus depot - was a slaughterhouse where they sheared and killed sheep. You think about the animals' blood spilling where the bar and stage are now, and, despite your improving mood, you close your eyes to better hear the fiddles and acoustic guitars, and you wonder what the sheep who took in the concert by the vampire-slash-country-music superstar across the street a few weeks ago are doing tonight.

In a weak moment, you wish that Rush, Elle and Beck would meet similar fates as the sheep. But you quickly get over that pettiness, because you realize that what makes this so special - possible, in fact - is that Rush, Elle, and Beck have nothing to do with it. You think about your own blood. About how it is tingling.

And you feel, for lack of a stronger word, reborn. You have your soul back, and as you look around, you realize you're surrounded by other saved souls. You start smiling at strangers and yelling over the music, ``Who needs garlic and wooden stakes when we've got this stuff, huh?''

The strangers look at you like you're drunk, and maybe you are.

Memo: Uncle Tupelo, with opening act Joe Henry
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday (ID only) and 6 p.m. Sunday (all ages)
WHERE: First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $6 in advance; $8 at the door
CALL: 338-8388

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