DAVID KAUFFMAN AND ERIC CABOOR: THERE WAS NO DOUBTING
illustration by dave van patten
Songs from Suicide Bridge is a record that traded a place in time for a sense of place. If you’ve ever found yourself on (or under, where the secret rituals took place) Pasadena’s most haunting landmark, you’ll instantly recognize the loneliness and isolation and creeping feeling of detachment that make David Kauffman and Eric Caboor’s first album such a strange and original work. And in the 60s or 70s, it might have had a better chance at finding a home—yes, albums with ‘Suicide’ on the front cover were never easy sellers, but at least there was something of a public appetite for this kind of quietly fearless singer-songwriter introspection. But when Suicide Bridge came out on Kauffman and Caboor’s own Donkey Soul Music in 1984, Prince and Tina Turner were about to top the singles charts and the local underground was looking to punk, paisley, hardcore and the beginning of L.A. hip-hop—and Kauffman and Caboor were two guys four-tracking an album that sounded like it came from another planet, and a very distant one at that. But they knew they needed to do it, so they did. As Caboor sang, they were “lonely losers” seeking same. And now, after more than thirty years, they’ve found their audience, thanks to a reissue on Light In The Attic. (A very appropriate home—this album is very compatible with the Rodriguez LPs.) David Kauffman speaks now about playing basement shows in Echo Park back and the way the big picture is actually the little picture. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
There’s a story in the liner notes on the reissue about a show you played at a fancy house with a hot tub—did you discover that having a hot tub around really brings out the best of Songs From Suicide Bridge?
That probably has to do with a house concert we gave. It was a husband and wife couple. I dunno if it’d call them rich, per se. They were certainly not begging on the street corner for bread! They were an upper-class couple and folk music aficionados, and they’d have house concerts once every couple months. The story is we … it’s actually kinda embarrassing! We had the album covers delivered to us, and we’d booked the concert under the impression the album was gonna be finished by that time. Needless to say, the records weren’t finished! We were kind of apologetic cuz I think we’d guaranteed a free copy of the album to anyone who went to the show. So we promised to send each one of the people who attended an album—we got their names and addresses and we sent them the albums once we got them.
And you followed through? How heartwarming!
It’s not as heartwarming as you think cuz I think there was a total of 10 or 12 people at the house concert and maybe 5 or 6 wanted a copy of the album.
It’s not the raw numbers, it’s the percentage!
If only that played out in the real world!
What was life as musician like in L.A. then? It’s interesting to me that you’re working while things like punk and new wave are big—and you’re the outsiders to those outsiders.
Eric and I were totally out of the loop in regards to what was the latest stuff. I realize now that punk and new wave was the new thing at that time. That wasn’t our background. We were singer-songwriters. We weren’t gonna try and change what we were doing. We were just too much into being ourselves and trying to express what we were going through with music that we liked. In that sense we were kinda in a vacuum. L.A. is such a big place. There’s a lack of identity.
Right! The place is so big. You’re suffocating cuz you’re overwhelmed by it all. We were trying to do what we did in places we could find the play, but virtually nobody was interested. You know how the whole music thing is. People just go with the flow, and whatever the latest thing is, that’s what they’re into. I met Eric in October of 81—
In the church in Echo Park, right? Sunset and Alvarado?
Yeah—there was a basement coffeehouse down there every Saturday night. It was an open mic we were both at. I did three or four songs and as I was packing up, Eric approached me and we exchanged numbers and a couple weeks later we got together. Mark Phillips who ran the basement coffee shop, he’d call us about once every six months and invite us to play.
What was your go-to order at Burrito King up the street?
I never ate at Burrito King! I used to hang out at the Orange Julius. Echo Park then … it was just deader than a doornail. We were playing at the basement one time and Michael Jackson had reunited with his brothers and was doing a world tour. We’d go out in the parking lot and just shoot the breeze while someone else was playing, and we could see and hear the concert—the lights of Dodger Stadium—and you could actually hear in the distance the music of the Jackson 5 going on, way off in the distance. Then we go into this basement coffeehouse in this church—quite the slice of reality for us! Eric was pretty self-deprecating, and we weren’t burning performers. We had a pretty sober attitude in regards to our talents and what we could do. We had more confidence in our songwriting than our ability to impress anybody with our playing. Typically, we would self-deprecate our guitar playing or even what you said—Eric would say, ‘And here’s another of our top ten hits! Here’s another tune to hum on your way home!’