Dead dogs still bite for Uncle Bonsai
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:01 PM
May lived a dogs life, and died a poets death.
Once living on the streets and eventually blind, the great Labradors lot was woe and want until she was taken in by Arni Adler. A happy tale to a point but fate had different, darkly comic plans, and May found tragic infamy one evening on the steps of Seattles St. James Cathedral.
Inside the church, classical musicians solemnly recited a program of sacred music. Perhaps lulled by the dulcet strains her master, Adlers husband, was playing the trumpet May took a wrong step, tumbled off a high ledge in front of the church and breathed her last.
It was a really spectacular death, Adler admits in hindsight. Maybe she just had a heart attack. Maybe she thought, what a good place to die, outside a cathedral.
Adler hasnt written a song about May yet. But traumatic pet deaths are among the family milestones being explored by venerated folk-pop group Uncle Bonsai.
Weve been writing songs, oddly perhaps, on the death of pets. I dont know why exactly, Adler admitted, of such new Bonsai songs as The Fish is in the Freezer and The Grim Parade of Cat and Mouse.
Perhaps because now weve all been parents for a while, and thats a very poignant part of parenting, dealing with death alongside our children, she said. Or, maybe its because times passing, and, well, dont fairy tales usually use animals as stand-ins for people? So, perhaps were just following in that tradition.
Uncle Bonsai returns to Bainbridge this Friday for a 7:30 p.m. show at Island Center Hall, the trios third visit in as many years.
Last falls appearance delighted a capacity crowd from the very first moment, when Adler and bandmates Andrew Ratshin and Ashley OKeeffe hushedly intoned the words the babys head is a hexagon, and the evening went sideways from there.
The Seattle-based vocal trio established themselves as darlings of college radio in the 1980s with a repertoire of wry, finely observed meditations on the vagaries of life and love Boys Want Sex in the Morning being perhaps the best remembered songs that are by turns casually cynical and surprisingly affecting.
They disbanded in 1989, but recently have reunited for a few performances each year. Ratshin keeps the bands catalog in circulation on his Yellow Tail Records imprint, and he and Adler have been working up new material.
Theyd planned on writing a childrens album, but found the songs skewed by Bonsais peculiar sensibilities, dead pets and all. Soon, the childrens album morphed into a parents album.
Thats been kind of a funny turn, Adler said. I guess its funny. A grim, morbird turn.
That the new material is informed by the concerns of parenting and melancholy memories of the band members own childhoods is natural. Adlers only son will soon head off to college a poignant time of life, she says while Ratshin and OKeeffe have young children of their own.
The years and the miles take a toll on the ensemble itself. OKeeffe lives and works in distant Iowa, so every Uncle Bonsai concert feels closer to a day when, like a beloved goldfish or a faithful dog, its all just a memory.
Adler is keenly aware of this point.
Ashleys coming back always seems like this is going to be the last time, she said. Its always really a big strain for her to come, shes got little kids. We always feel like, well, who knows how long this is going to last?
It will last at least one more show, and likely one more album; its hard to break up a family, as which after some 20 years, Uncle Bonsai certainly qualifies.
Too, theres this whole new vein of subject matter to mine for songs.
Adler cites a comment by Maurice Sendak, whose fantastic Where the Wild Things Are has gleefully warped the imaginations of several generations of youngsters.
Invariably, something is going to go wrong in childhood, and youre going to spend the rest of your life tripping over it, Adler recalls the author saying. I think thats really right.
Seattle folk-pop trio Uncle Bonsai returns to Island Center Hall at 7 p.m. Friday. Singer/songwriter Matt Price opens. Tickets are $17 advance at Verns Drug and Glass Onion, $20 day of show. Doors open at 7 p.m., showtime at 7:30. Information: www.unclebonsai.com, www.yellowtailrecords.com.