No review is objective. Everything you are – your race, age, gender, nationality, your fondness for raspberry jam – all of it informs your reactions and perspectives. For this reason, music that seems to “not care” whether you like it or not is very attractive. It’s an unselfconsciousness, an unwillingness to pander and a total dedication to personal truth. The people who made ‘Songs From Suicide Bridge’ did so almost out of spite. Two best friends and songwriters, David Kauffman and Eric Caboor, had been met with relentless disinterest from record companies and promoters for years. They wrote several dozen songs separately, rehearsed them together in a tin garden shed, toured them on the LA live circuit. Almost all of them remain buried. The only collection of recorded music they ever released was a hand-picked selection of their most uncommercial and unpalatable songs – the kind that give record company talent scouts an excuse to go to the bar.
The result was ‘Songs From Suicide Bridge’. Its namesake is the Colorado Street Bridge, appearing on the cover and rising 150-feet above the river. After its opening in 1913, the Los Angeles Times called it ‘A Way of Loveliness’; by the 80’s, the locals had another name for it. At the time of the album’s creation, only one person had survived the drop from the bridge – a toddler carried by her mother in a non-consensual death pact. The young girl grew up to be a housewife and bus driver. She later told a curious journalist that the incident was “a mother’s love trying to protect me from what she thought was coming on this Earth”. It’s this kind of debilitating and destructive dread that courses through these songs, but the result is emboldening.
Some people kill themselves, some people have an outlet for their sorrow. Those things are, of course, not mutually exclusive, but David Kauffman and Eric Caboor channelled their darkest shadows into this black spectre of an album. This isn’t a record that makes me want to kill myself; it’s an album I listen to instead of wanting to kill myself. Quite often, happy music only adds insult to injury, but music that redirects sorrow and fear into more beautiful forms can be a hand on one’s shoulder. These are songs of uncertainty, of being lost, of boredom, frustration and desperate hope. The fact that this record exists is a hopeful gesture. It opens on the picturesque existential plughole dive of ‘Kiss Another Day Goodbye’, but it ends on ‘One More Day (You’ll Fly Again)’, which fights despair with tenderness.
It’s clear from the start that this record wasn’t going to go anywhere. This slots in somewhere between Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and James Taylor – a style that wouldn’t have another shot of success until the flannel-wearing grunge-folk boom of the early 90s. What’s more, they were from California, but they sure as hell didn’t sound like it. The atmosphere is chilly – you can almost see their breaths rise in clouds as they sing in that cold metal shack. They recorded these songs on a 4-track tape, printed 500 records for $3000, and sent them to university towns across America. It’s telling that the only stores that requested more copies were in Alaska and Nova Scotia – a long way from the warmth of the LA sun. This was a winter album in a place where, musically at least, summer never seemed to end.
The ever-wonderful archivists at Light In The Attic managed to dig up the album and save it from total obscurity, reissuing it in 2015. I’m so grateful they blew the dust off these songs. I bought it from my local record store when it was released, purely because I couldn’t ignore it. It reached out to me, although I’d never heard a note of it at the time. The way that Caboor and Kauffman look out from that small grey rectangle on the cover, with a tired and defiant stare. Like Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (an LP that has sold more T-shirts than albums), it’s an image that doesn’t care whether you buy it or not, but acts as a beacon for the like-minded. I need this album far more than I’d like to, and there are other people I know who may need it too. ‘Songs From Suicide Bridge’ is an out-of-time misfit; an unapologetic blackness and blueness will stand the test of time with almost no wear. It’s an act of sincere generosity for these two men to display such wounded sensitivity, daring anyone to call it a weakness.