The Story Behind Suicide Bridge

At Light In The Attic, often the story behind a release is as interesting as the music itself. This is one of those cases. Earlier this week we announced the release of Songs From Suicide Bridge, a folk album by David Kauffman & Eric Caboor that was originally recorded in 1984. Today, we want to reveal a bit more of how the album came to be by giving you a collection of quotes from the album’s beautiful liner notes, which were written by Los Angeles writer and chronicler of place Sam Sweet, (All Night Menu). These are some of our favorite liner notes ever, as they really read like a short story, a simple yet meaningful one. And the rest of the story is told through the songs themselves.  

The Colorado Street Bridge, aka ‘Suicide Bridge,’ the place that inspired the tone of the album, the design of its cover and gatefold, and upon which the album art photos were taken:

  • Following its dedication, the Los Angeles Times called it ‘a way of loveliness.’ By the 1980s, locals simply called the grand structure ‘Suicide Bridge.’ In the seventy years since it opened, more than 100 people had successfully ended their lives by jumping off the edge. In one well-publicized  incident, a distraught mother pinned a note to her daughter’s coat, dropped her off the bridge, and then jumped behind her. The toddler became the only individual to survive the plunge, her fall broken by tree branches, a sandy landing, and the heavy coat in which she was wrapped.
  • The bridge had given Caboor chills as an eight-year-old, and he was unnerved to find it abandoned when he and Kauffman showed up with a photographer friend. They happened to visit during a brief  window when the bridge was closed for repair. While walking along the empty roadway, it was easy to feel that it had been shut down specifically for them.

The Friendship

  • The Venue Where They First Met: One of the last folk venues in Los Angeles was located in the basement of the Echo Park United Methodist Church, a white Spanish stucco chapel hidden in plain sight among the burrito stands and car washes that crowded the  intersection of Sunset and Alvarado. Each Saturday night, the church janitor–an ex-drifter and folk singer named Mark Phillips–organized a makeshift coffeehouse where anyone could play.
  • More than collaborators, each was the other’s biggest fan and often his sole audience. They were never a duo in the conventional sense. Rather, as Kauffman put it, “We were two loners who happened to join forces.” They started out with dreams of getting a record deal, but after years of playing empty coffeehouses around Los Angeles they conceded defeat.
  • They commiserated about the unfairness of the music industry and the loneliness of Los Angeles.
  • On their mutual idol, Danny O’Keefe: Watching him play was just devastating for us. He’s a phenomenal guitarist–we were envious of that. His songwriting’s to die for– we were envious of that. We just thought to ourselves, ‘You know what, maybe we better just hang it up. If this guy can’t make it, no one can.’
  • Caboor eventually married and had a son who grew up calling  Kauffman ‘Uncle Dave.’

The Album: 

  • At some point, one of them suggested, half joking, that they should put all their darkest and least viable works together on one record, if only to spite the industry that had rejected them. It would be the debut that no one wanted to hear. When they  started plotting a song list they realize it was the record they wanted to hear. That was enough.
  • Everything was recorded onto a four-track portastudio that Caboor had purchased from a music store in Van Nuys. Being limited to four tracks forced them to layer instruments in unusual ways, and the machine only accepted blank cassettes, giving the recordings a ghostly, grainy texture.
  • They later came to accept that most of the promo copies probably ended up in cutout bins, although they did receive requests for additional copies from deejays in exactly two locations: Halifax, Nova Scotia and Sitka, Alaska. The album was formed by Los Angeles but its songs spoke to a drastically different climate.
  • They expelled something in the process of making the first album, and though they continued to hone their craft, the soul of their music was never as severe or as uncanny. ‘People would tell us those songs were depressing,’ said Caboor, ‘but it wasn’t depressing to us. In a lot of cases, playing those songs in that little room was one of the only things that made us feel any better.’