Karl Mueller's Funeral

This account appeared on the Man Without Ties Paul Westerberg message board:

I went. Overflow crowd, as you might expect. I'd guess 400-500 people, many listening via speakers outside in the sun. Ave Maria was sung. I took some notes. It was hot and sweaty, in a beautiful mosaic-lined chapel at Lakewood Cemetery, where Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone and lots of others are buried. Inside and out was packed with people of all sorts--many cool and music-loving and glamorous, the guy in front of me had on a "Horse They Rode in On" tour shirt. The whole scene was not that far a cry from a small, sweaty club Soul Asylum might have played, and I know they sometimes played to far fewer people than that.

Dave Pirner and Danny Murphy shared eulogy duties. Dave called Karl "a vision of a rock god" and remembered thinking on their first road trip "If I never write a good song people will still come to see Karl play." He said Karl would often look straight at him and say, "I love to rock." Lots of funny lines and stories, like when someone cut a finger on a decorative razor blade Karl was wearing at a party, Karl was the one to faint. Karl's mom Mary was the band's mom, nurturing them in the basement and sticking up for them when neighbors complained. Dave sang maybe all the verses of "Morning Has Broken," his voice breaking even more than usual. In later years of touring Karl developed a "quasi-professional attitude," Dave said, retiring to the hotel for a beer and a call home after a show. Karl said had he not been in a band he might have liked to be a flight attendant. Dave finished by singing "Oh Karl," a song he's working on.

Danny Murphy remembered some Karl nicknames, such as "The Impossibly Handsome Karl Mueller" and "Map Mueller" or "Mileage Marker Mueller." A trip to England in 1978 changed Karl: he left wearing a button shirt and gold chains and came back with a black coat and a Discharge shirt. Loud Fast Rules, the band that became Soul Asylum, was a direct result of Karl Mueller, he said. Karl collected a lot of things: more than 400 snow domes, "rude food" (?) such as Smurf-shaped spaghetti-os, and in the 1970s, all 50 state cans of 7-Up. He was a food nerd, Fed Exing his favorite ribs home whenever the band went to Memphis.

Karl wasn't known as a songwriter but did compose the words to the first Loud Fast Rules song, "Planet Zero": "I don't know about foreign affairs/I don't know who's president/I don't know about you and me/I guess I don't really care." Also a countryish number called "Cold and Frosty Morning."

Danny said the Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri was one of the most welcoming of clubs for the band, and it was at a show there that a fan gave karl a bass that became his Number One Bass from then on. The next morning Danny saw that the case was empty and Karl was embracing the bass as he slept (that instrument is currently on view at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, he said). Karl applied some green to the bass then scratched "Stay Free" in to the color--his favorite song by a long shot. On meeting Mick Jones in NYC, Karl told him that song had inspired him to start a band, and Jones was (touched? impressed? I couldn't hear that part). Danny finished by quoting the last lines of "Stay Free."

I saw a few well-known people, and I'm sure there were many more I just don't know or wouldn't recognize. Paul Magers, the former Twin Cities newscaster who now does the TV news at an L.A. station, was looking very somber; he flew in just for the funeral, I overheard someone say. I thought I saw at least two members of the Suburbs as well as Greg Norton, Gary Louris and Tommy Stinson (hair: black). Chris Riemenschneider (sp?) the local critic stood silently surveying the crowd outside after the funeral. There was a private reception after to which everyone there was apparently invited but I didn't go--stopped in at Treehouse records instead and spent an hour meditating over the vinyl and cardboard.

Grieving friends of Soul Asylum's
Karl Mueller remember how to smile

Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune
June 23, 2005

It was the kind of funeral where they quoted from the Bible and the Clash.

A who's who of the Twin Cities music scene and many other friends and fans gathered with family members Wednesday at Lakewood Cemetery Chapel in Minneapolis to honor Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, who died Friday from complications related to cancer treatment.

A founder of one of Minnesota's most successful rock bands, Mueller, 41, battled throat cancer for a year.

His bandmates Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner each delivered eulogies at the noontime service.

"Karl made the cramped quarters and the hard times easier," Pirner said, recounting the band's early years driving Mueller's beat-up truck, nicknamed Clarence, to gigs. The group formed in 1981 as Lou Fast Rules.

When Soul Asylum made it big a decade later with the 1992 hit "Runaway Train," Pirner recalled, Mueller was likely to "grab a couple beers and head back to the hotel to call his wife Mary Beth" instead of enjoying the richer backstage scene.

Murphy did remember one night when the bassist hung out with rock legends Keith Richards and Tom Waits.

"Karl kept asking [Waits] what his name was," Murphy said to laughs from the crowd, which overflowed the chapel.

The guitarist ended his eulogy by tearfully quoting the Clash's "Stay Free," Mueller's favorite song: "I'll never forget the smile on my face 'cause I knew where you would be/ And if you're in the Crown tonight, have a drink on me/ But go easy, step lightly, stay free."

Pirner also fought back tears as he sang "Morning Has Broken," a song popularized by Cat Stevens also used at the funeral of Mueller's father, Gary.

Mueller's body was cremated before the service. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his mother, Mary.

Afterward, the crowd moved to Dixie's by Lake Calhoun, a restaurant that Mueller -- who worked in construction and cooked during the band's off time -- helped build.

Virtually every major Twin Cities rock band of the '80s and '90s was represented at the gathering, including members of the Jayhawks, Replacements, H|sker D|, Babes in Toyland, Suburbs, Gear Daddies, Honeydogs, Polara, Run Westy Run and Magnolias. Many local club and radio employees and former KARE-11 anchor Paul Magers, a friend of the
family, were also on hand.

Former Soul Asylum drummer Sterling Campbell, now in David Bowie's band, said Mueller was a "prince" about teaching him the group's songs when he joined in 1992. "It didn't take long before we found the pocket," he said. "We had a lot of really amazing shows."

The stage is usually where Soul Asylum shined brightest. Fans were reminded of this in October, when the band performed at an all-star Rock for Karl benefit concert in Minneapolis.

Soul Asylum spent the past year finishing its first studio album since 1998's "Candy From a Stranger." The CD's producer, Steve Hodge, said Mueller played on each of the record's 12 tracks despite his chemotherapy treatment.

"At first, it was tough for him to even stay awake, but by the end we had to kick him out of the studio," Hodge said. "My impression was Karl always worked hard like that."

Pirner and Murphy have not yet publicly addressed the future of Soul Asylum, but everyone close to the band believes the group will carry on. Mueller even reportedly gave his bandmates a short list of replacements he thought would work.

Either way, Pirner made it clear that Mueller's passion was often the spark plug behind the band.

"Many times Karl would look me in the eye and say in all clarity: 'I love to rock.' "

Chris Riemenschneider is at chrisr@startribune.com.


lil m said…
Thanx for the accounts of Karl's funeral, I am sorry I could not attend. I lived on opposite coasts and he of the middle. I only met him a handful of times on tours, but he was always kind, a humble gentleman & "in the pocket" for sure...

i posted a brief tribute as well on my "Bleaargh" as well with some downlaods of a couple tracks including Karl singing on the "James @ 16" medley...
Scott said…
Thanks for replying...I also wish I had been able to attend. I have also met him a couple of times and found him to be a wonderful person. I think he helped ground the rest of the band during that period where they were huge stars.

I was shocked when I heard the news. I had travelled to the benefit last fall and he seemed to be in excellent health at the time.
Anonymous said…
I have seen them a millon times and Karl was there but not there, smooth but not smooth, almost dancing between the notes. Everyone knows that Pirner and Murphy are the show. Karl was a fan and member of the band at the same time if that makes any sense. I can't begin to explain how awsome that group was in their hayday im MPLS. I saw the first time they played "Cartoon" in public. It was at the Cabooze and was truly transendental. No pretentions there, jusk Rawk. Thanks Amigos.

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