I can no longer dependably relate how I first heard about the band Sarge. I could have sworn I was told about the Illinois indie band by one of my friends after they’d seen them as an opening act at a Madison, Wisconsin concert. Over the years, though, I’ve specifically attributed it to the individuals who were the most likely candidates and over and over again I’ve been told, “No, I’ve never heard of them.” Their single “Dear Josie, Love Robyn” was briefly a small sensation among the cool kid set, although I think it was a song I longed to hear rather than one that came my way through any means. It simply seemed like something I’d like, with the presence of a personal favorite name in the title to boot.
The first time I’m certain I heard a Sarge song was when I bought a copy of Distant, the CD that was released shortly after the band broke up. In some ways, it’s an odd place to start, considering it’s a collection of leftovers: b-sides, non-album tracks, live cuts, and the like. This isn’t supposed to be a proper introduction to band. It’s the detritus for the diehards, not some definitive artistic statement. And yet it’s exactly the version of Sarge that I want to have. I’ve had copies of each of their two proper studio albums and neither has stayed in the collection for long. They’re too polished for my taste, a little too dressed up in studio finery, even the punkier songs. They were recording in the nineties, after all, that brief time when the expectation was that all the college rock stuff had a chance of crossing over if it was just doused with enough shellac (or, perhaps more accurately, glycerine). For me, the songwriting of Elizabeth Elmore was at its best when it was at its most unadorned.
There’s no song that better demonstrates the validity of my conviction than “The First Morning,” one of the live cuts on Distant. Elmore has sent the rest of the band away to finish the gig with no more protection than her guitar. The song is emotional, smart, and vividly drawn. Elmore’s storytelling through the lyrics is striking in its painful honesty (“A part of me wondered if you’d figure it out/ A different strength to my gaze, a sweeter taste to my mouth/ From the look in your eyes/ I’d say you picked it up just fine”). When I wish I was I had the capability to play guitar and write songs (and I still wish that quite often), it’s creativity precisely like this that I’m wistfully chasing.
Listen or download –> Sarge, “The First Morning”
(Disclaimer: It appears to me that Distant is out of print as a physical object that can procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the artist. It is available for digital purchase, but I have about as much confidence of Elmore and her cohorts receiving money from that as I do them increasing the size of their respective bank accounts if I stepped outside and threw a handful of pennies into the air. Not so incidentally, pennies is likely all they’d receive from that transaction anyway, even if it is on the up and up. That noted, I will gladly remove this track from the interweb if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request. It’s my understanding that Elmore has a law degree, so I’m extra-prepared to follow up on this weekly pledge.)