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Mary Beth Mueller

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Dave Pirner, Dan Murphy and Karl Mueller in 1995.

Per Breiehagen,

Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, left, with bandmates Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy at an October 2004 benefit to help defray Mueller’s medical expenses.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

KILL KANCER

What: Benefit featuring the Magnolias, Dave Pirner & Dan Murphy, Golden Smog (with Chan Poling but not Jeff Tweedy, who canceled an appearance announced earlier), Loud Fast Rules, Curtiss A's Dark Click and Howler's Jordan Gatesmith.

When: 7 p.m. Sun. 6/17

Where: Cedar Cultural Center, 416 Cedar Av. S., Mpls. 612-338-2674.

Tickets: $15. www.facebook.com/TheKarlFund

Mary Beth Mueller: Weathering the storm

  • Article by: JIM WALSH
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • June 11, 2012 - 10:55 AM

The house sits just off the Mississippi River, where nesting eagles, blue herons, towering maple trees and a cradle of nature and wildlife provide a rural calm in the heart of Minneapolis. A similar peace is being lived out these days by its lone resident, Mary Beth Mueller, who describes her life after the June 2005 death of her husband, Soul Asylum bassist and co-founder Karl Mueller, as "the perfect storm."

In those two years, she not only lost her husband to esophageal cancer, but their two dogs to old age and their south Minneapolis house to medical expenses and the tanking economy.

"Things just spun quickly out of control," said Mueller last month, sitting in the back yard of her new residence, which has been in her family for decades. "That grief, that loss, that being so on edge for so long and holding everything and trying to control everything and ricocheting from one crisis to the next during Karl's illness ...

"Something inside of me definitely broke. My spirit broke. My hope was lost. My life got really crazy and I shut down. I became very isolated and I was not very healthy."

Slowly but surely she started getting healthy two years ago after drug and alcohol use got the best of her. Part of her healing process has been to redouble her efforts to raise money for cancer research with a fundraising concert next Sunday.

"I'm an addict and I'm in recovery, and that's the truth," she said, her ailing Scottish terrier Katie sitting on her lap and a pot of French press coffee at her elbow. "I couldn't see my way clear, so I just dug a bigger hole. I've climbed out of that hole. I understand a lot more what my thought process was at the time. I didn't have the coping mechanisms in place to handle that level of grief and loss.

"It's a crazy deal, and a lot of very well-meaning people told me to get counseling. But I am, if anything, very stubborn. My experience in life is when you're ready to accept certain things, then you'll put in the work that's necessary. I'm one of those people who learns only from skinned knees."

• • •

The first benefit for what's known as the Karl Fund took place eight months before Mueller's death, with rare performances by the Replacements' Paul Westerberg and Hüsker Dü's Grant Hart and Bob Mould, plus Soul Asylum, with a chemo-frail Mueller on bass.

Next Sunday's benefit at the Cedar Cultural Center will feature all-star group Golden Smog, Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner, and Jordan Gatesmith, of local buzz band Howler, who grew up down the block from the Muellers and helped Mary Beth with housework and yard chores after Karl died.

Originally intended to help defray his medical expenses, the Karl Fund also provided money for early detection of esophageal cancer and surgery research by the Minnesota Medical Foundation and the doctors who cared for Karl, including Dr. Jonathan D'Cunha.

"As a direct result of the Karl Fund, we've developed a new drug to kill cancer cells, so that is an unanticipated positive outcome," said D'Cunha. "We try to get government grants to do this kind of research, but it doesn't always work out, so without philanthropic support like this, it is very difficult to get it off the ground and get people excited about this kind of research."

The fund has been mostly dormant since Karl's death. When Mary Beth's friend Tom "Chuck Fred" Taylor died of esophageal cancer this spring, she was inspired to resurrect it.

"This is for the amazing work these doctors are doing; this isn't me exorcising my grief and 'Oh, let's all remember Karl,'" said Mary Beth. "Every day someone mentions to me they remember Karl in a certain way. And it's fabulous. I love it. I'm so happy that other people got to know that funny, quirky, great man because he was one of a kind.

"He was a very quiet man. Everybody assumes a lot of drama that goes on with a rock band and perceives what your life must be like, but a very good day for Karl was listening to the Twins on the radio and rearranging his garage. God knows he loved to go onstage and he loved to rock, but then he just loved to come home and live in his neighborhood.

"He had a great love for Minneapolis. He loved living here. He loved being low-key."

• • •

These days, the same can be said for Mary Beth. She spends her days gardening and exploring her new neighborhood with Katie, and works nights as a manager and server at Kings Wine Bar in south Minneapolis, not far from her and Karl's former home. She visits his grave at Lakewood Cemetery often, and meditates on the cards that life has dealt her.

"I've been through a lot. I've survived a lot," she said. "Some of it fate has dealt me, some of it I've put myself right in the middle of, but I'm on the other side. Very peaceful. Very happy. I have an amazing family and my safety net was huge. I'm not confused any longer between the things that I want and the things that I actually really need.

"I've adopted a new way of looking at things. I wake up every morning and I think to myself: Just for today, what do I have to do to stay peaceful and happy and centered, just for today?"

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