Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: Souled American's Flubber (1989)

Souled American's Flubber (1989) is a gem I discovered by happenstance the summer of 1990 in a used record store, long shuttered now, near the University of Washington. It was a cassette I took East with me when I went back to New York City that autumn to attempt to salvage my marriage.

Flubber turned out to be a Bush-I era staple of mine. Saturdays, hungover and drinking rich black coffee that I made in one of those aluminum espresso pots inexpensive and widely available in New York City bodegas, I would read from a stack of newspapers accumulated during the work week, maybe a little philosophy too, and wallow in the cracked, tilting, dilatory, burbling and mellifluous sounds of Souled American.

Souled American hailed from Normal, Illinois (a college town of approximately 50,000; home to Illinois State University) and were alt country before the appellation was common. The band walked a razor's edge between high art and lampoonery. In this, Souled American is reminiscent of '60s ersatz Folkies the Godz; the band prefigures Will Oldham's output as well.

The first five cuts on Flubber are stunning. Unfortunately, the only track of the first five available on YouTube is "Wind To Dry":

(The YouTube at the top of the post contains tracks from the album's deliciously soporific second half.)

Souled American's four-album Rough Trade output coincides with the Grunge Age and the presidency of Bush I. It was still possible, though becoming more difficult, to pursue a humble life of small town bohemian creativity. With the "adjuncting" of our universities, the offshoring of much of our industry, the "Amazoning" into obliteration our record stores and bookshops, and the "Walmarting" of our commercial spaces, there is no place left for the penurious bohemian to hang his hat and make his art. Like a polar bear swimming in the sunny Arctic Ocean looking for an ice floe to catch a breather, the bohemian is in real trouble these days. Everyone is hunkering down hoping merely to survive.

Listening to Flubber all this week I couldn't help but smile because I remembered how it felt when I was a young man and I thought that the future was open and roomy, pregnant with possibility. Sure, work was horrible. But I had alcohol and the weekend and my aluminum coffee pot and a stack of books. There was plenty of time to figure a way out of the rat race and paint that masterpiece.

Of course the future has a tendency to disappoint when it actually presents itself. And that is what is so satisfying about the past. It allows us access to a beautiful dream of a future that never appeared.

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