Review Summary: You'll fly again.
When David Kauffman and Eric Caboor released Songs From Suicide Bridge back in 1984, music was in a very different place. In comparison to the decades prior, where folk music sat comfortably with other genres on the charts, their desaturated guitars and loner sensibilities were remnants of a different time. But something pushed the duo to hunker down in a Burbank backyard shed with a 4-track cassette recorder and record. And when it was finished, they self-released it on their own Donkey Soul Music label, released a couple of albums later on as “the Drovers,” and that was it. The two went their separate ways, as life became much more hectic for the both of them. And in any other story about musical dreamers, this would be a fitting and expected end.
It wouldn’t be until 30 years later that Kauffman and Caboor’s music would reach an audience larger than basements and 500 copies of the original vinyl. Reissues of this album soon brought their first record to an entirely new audience. And with it, mesmerized listeners slowly began spreading the album’s legend, much like a classic American folk tale. And today, that’s what I want to share with you.
The cover depicts the duo standing atop the Colorado Street Bridge, one of many “suicide bridges” in the United States. This bridge was the catalyst to this album’s main themes: reflection, bargaining, suffering. The first of these especially seems to tie into almost all of the lyrics on the album. “Neighborhood Blues” paints a picture of the singer’s childhood home and the depressing atmosphere of the neighborhood. This part of life was wrought by inattentive family, junkies, and people rushing to leave in favor of cookie-cutter gated communities. “Life And Times On The Beach” is another song of reminiscing, with our narrator recalling important parts of his life before this bitter set of lines:
“I can't quite remember just what happened after this…”
“Something about a future and the chances that I missed.”
Still, this extremely depressed outlook would not hit as hard if it did not have the perfect instrumental backing. The barebones style with which Songs From Suicide Bridge was recorded with is entirely within its favor. When you hear the chords of a piano, or a strum of a guitar, you’re immediately transported into one of the coffeehouse/basements the duo would play. Captured, like lightning in a bottle. A time capsule of loner culture and folk music’s seemingly-final gasps. “Backwoods” is a perfect example: the slow build of a simple guitar soon turning to a manic episode of confession, with the guitar reflecting this change with matching intensity. Do Kauffman and Caboor top all others in terms of playing and emotion? Perhaps not. But few can deny the strength the two hold on this album as vocalists and as musicians. Songs like “Midnight Willie,” where a homeless man’s final moments before dying are put on display, are a testament to their storytelling chops. A bit of a detour, with the narrator only appearing to give a quarter to the homeless man, but this is perhaps my favorite song on the album if only for how truly heartbreaking it is. And it’s all in the delivery:
“Behind the old man's eyes, there's a story on the brain…”
“A hobo dies out on the skids, a quarter to his name.”
After an entire album of bitter anguish, we get what would realistically be the album’s ending with “Tinsel Town.” This is our narrator’s lowest point in my eyes. Christmastime alone, truly alone, with only a 12-pack of beer to comfort you. The sounds of church bells and holiday songs mocking you. Seasonal depression only worsened by a lifetime of hurt. It ends with the line: “Merry Christmas, boy. And may God bless your chance.” I can only see this as some variation of: don’t become what I have.
But that’s not the end of the album. Sure, it’s fitting to have our central character waste away and become suicidal. But that isn’t the message Kauffman and Caboor wanted to leave off on. The true final track is the album’s greatest twist, and what solidifies it as an enduring classic. Just looking at the title “One More Day (You'll Fly Again)” puts one in an oddly uplifting mood of listening. And then that solemn guitar paired with those heavenly vocals hit you and it all clicks into place. Picture our narrator standing atop a “suicide bridge,” looking over hesitantly. It’s quiet for a moment, and then:
“On the ground, but not for long. Another town, another song.”
“One more day is all you have to live... Don't throw it all away.”
“You'll fly again.”
“You'll fly again.”
You’ll fly again.