LoveLand’s The Beautiful Truth: We’ve Already Stuck Our Heads Up And Now It’s Time To Swim

Ken Roeder

Ken Roeder

by Chris Estey

I saw John Spalding for the first time playing guitar for Ninety Pound Wuss at Seattle’s historical all ages club Velvet Elvis in Pioneer Square back in the late 90s. He was a tall, handsome, blonde, sleek panther of rock and roll strength and class. His sure hands squeezed out harsh walls of noise from his instrument and then created sinuous, multi-layered melodies that were both catchy and weird. Within just a couple years, Goth-meets-hard rock meets-post-punk “arty hardcore” evolved with NPW and the more intense Botch, and soon we were all thrilling to the likes of Blood Brothers, Pretty Girls Make Graves, These Arms Are Snakes, Minus The Bear, and others. John was a contemporaneous creative inspiration for many of those bands as much as he was a brother to the people in them.

Back when I was editing a rock magazine for Tooth & Nail, John would sneak into the offices in Pioneer Square and give me ferocious back-rubs (probably because he could tell how stressed out I was due to my boss, the legendary/notorious owner of the label). We would chat in my office and then he would go out and charm the hell out of everybody else, especially the ladies. Ninety Pound Wuss was about to tour behind their third album, Short Hand Operation, which would be the last for the label. When we first met, he and I went out for a long lunch at Dome Burger and I interviewed him for the magazine. Soon he would come by periodically and we would go out to his car where he would play me his own music, which was very different from the abrasive angst of his work with Jeff Bettger, leader of NPW, and their next band, the notorious performance art-infused Raft Of Dead Monkeys. It was, well, funky and strange and yet still fully rock and roll. It was art-rock made by a sweet spirit, positive and almost searingly honest.

Flash forward to a month ago, and John, who has been suffering from terminal cancer that originated in his colon and spread to his lungs after almost uncountable rounds of chemo, got back in touch with me after a lengthy absence. He wanted to play me an album, his album, which he titled The Beautiful Truth, under the moniker LoveLand. Struggling through the joy and pain of a marriage tragically shadowed by sickness diagnosed shortly after he wed, John poured out a life full of love while experiencing extreme ontological decay. Ultimately, John did what every writer, musician, artist, and songwriter aches to do: he created a statement, a lasting mark on reality.

In songs like the gorgeous and gut-punching “Father” (about his wife Jody losing her father while he was on tour and couldn’t be there at home to comfort her), the typically (for him) loving affirmation “Girl Get Pride,” the get-high-on-the-roof-as-the-sun-rises anthem “Beautiful Girls Have Beautiful Apartments” (about hanging out with Jody when she went to art school in Boston), LoveLand’s album The Beautiful Truth has the kind of soul that indie rockers don’t even usually attempt. It reminds me of when I first heard Betty Davis, and when I was publicizing her first two albums for Light In The Attic -- this is a merger of organic rock with electronic dub, entirely unique and compositionally daring.

LoveLand - Girl Get Pride

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“I’m not afraid of anything, that’s why the album is called The Beautiful Truth, John said about the twelve song odyssey. He wrote much of the material on Raft of Dead Monkey’s only released full length Thoroughlev and now he is finally putting out a solo work that is anything but solo.

John’s beloved friends from bands Minus The Bear (singer Jake Snider), Pretty Girls Make Graves (Andrea Zollo), These Arms Are Snakes (Steve Snere and Chris Common), Botch (Dave Knudson), Morgan Henderson (ex-Blood Brothers, Past Lives), well-known recording geniuses like Matt Bayles (Pearl Jam, Mastodon, Minus The Bear, Heather Duby, Isis), Ben Verellen (Helms Alee), and Common (Minus The Bear, These Arms Are Snakes). Bayles mixed and mastered the entire album, and it was partially recorded at the legendary Litho due to the grace of its owner Stone Gossard, who blessed John with donated (and expensive) studio time.

Andrea Zollo, the vocalist from Pretty Girls Makes Graves and now the drummer for Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death, sings on the album. She describes John’s music as “eclectic and beautiful as he is”, adding, “He is a sick guitar player! He is incredibly passionate about music and people and life, and I think that comes through in the songs. He is completely submerged. John has such an incredible uplifting energy about him, like standing next to the sun. I can feel that energy come through in his music as well. It is honest. And honesty and candor is something that he really taught me to value over the last year.”

Ben Verellen (Harkonen, Helms Alee) recalls seeing a tumultuous show John was playing when he first met him. “I’m not really sure when I first met John, but one occasion sticks out in my memory. I think sometime mid to late 90s, Raft of Dead Monkeys played a show with a band I played in, Harkonen. I remember the venue was a short-lived spot in downtown, and somebody forgot the keys that day. While all of the bands waited on the street, somebody broke in a window or something and we had the show. I remember John having a bizarre, awesome guitar style, and rocking the fuck out.”

Album catalyst and overseer Bayles puts it this way: “He is dealing with some pretty heavy subject matter and while it is serious, there are uplifting moments in the music to offset the serious side of the album.” That simple explanation leaves room for the listener to invest their heart into it, and The Beautiful Truth rewards that investment.

While John’s family and friends surrounded him this past weekend with their love and constant attention, John left this world.

And not long before his final moments, when I sat by his side at his bed in the living room, with his wonderful wife and terrier Scooter looking on, he asked how people are responding to the album, proud to have accomplished something beautiful and true, as he was put in this world to do.

If you would like to help John’s wife Jody with the vast medical expenses she has accumulated over the last several years, a fund has been set up at Bank of America (you can visit any branch). Ask for the “John D Spalding Medical Fund” and make a deposit of any amount. All funds will go to John’s family to help pay these expenses.

Ken Roeder
L-R: Joel Cuplin, Evan Morris, Andrea Zollo, John, and his brother Steve
(photo by Ken Roeder)

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18 Comments

  1. Sayit Jon
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Spaldo, although my heart is broken i am comforted knowing your suffering has at last released. I will never forget you and know that I will see you one day again my Friend. Love Sayit..

  2. Josh Simpson (Classmate)
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I attended O’Dea HS with John it was evident back then that he had a tremendous amount of talent, he will be missed but not forgotten. I and a few other classmates had an opportunity to see John a few months back, he was obviously very sick but his excitement to see all of us was overwhelming and really hit home with how much of an outstanding individual John was. Thanks John for including us that night!
    Thanks for writing this Ken. RIP John Spalding

    Regards, Josh

  3. Linda McWhorter
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    What a handsome picture of John!!! That must be Jody (pretty) and Steve (also handsome) standing with him. It has been 2-3 years since we last saw John, but I will always remember the big hug and smile we got from him as we left.....I cannot wait to listen to his music.

  4. Kristien
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    John defined “good people” and I will miss him so much. His heart touched everyone he met. He was an unforgettable and beautiful person. So much love.

  5. Jenifer Tuttle
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I’ve known John since Preschool and could be considered his ‘oldest’ friend...he will be dearly missed. Im so proud of the strength that he had, the drive and desire that he had and ALL that he has accomplished. I am truly blessed to have ever known him and he will never be forgotten.
    I love you John! Rest in Peace buddy and I will see you on the other side.

  6. Therese Luecke Weaver
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    John will be truly missed! He was an amazing individual. I am so thankful that I was included in his celebration a few months back. Anyone who was there can understand the privilege this was. I will be praying for his family and know that he is in a better place. Love you John.

  7. John Giaccone
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Gods Speed, John!

  8. Shea
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Even though I did not see John very much in the last couple years, every time I did, I was reminded it is possible to find the light and beauty in everything. He really was one of the best people I’ve known. I will always remember his humor and gentle nature, and that he was a brilliant chef and musician. Love always.

  9. Jen Mamary
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I had the fortune of meeting John and his incredible family (both given and chosen) during his last several months. I have never met anyone who brightened a room like John. He made everyone feel as if they belonged. I will never forget his candidness, bravery, selflessness, and ability to live life to the fullest. He taught me to cook many things in those last few months! I will never forget you John...I am sad that you had to go, but relieved that you will not suffer anymore. The earth is certainly lonelier without you here...

  10. Suzanne Jez Cessna
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Peace to you and Peace to your family. I love you all!

  11. Blake the cuz
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Keep on Truckin’ John. I miss you and love you.
    Blake

  12. Posted November 25, 2008 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    John had an amazing soul! I feel fortunate to have met him. I want to send out all my love to his wife, family, and friends. Forever In Peace.

  13. Pat Cummings
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I only know John after a friend sent me a link to his my space page and the KEXP interview. Those who are now in the most pain from his absence at least had the joy of knowing John at a level deeper than his mere beautiful artistic expression. Perhaps that is also a truth that is left with his music.

  14. Posted November 25, 2008 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Cameron from Battle Hymns wrote a song for John that he recorded this weekend hoping to play it for John before he passed.
    I thought you guys would all like to hear it. http://www.myspace.com/battlehymnsofthewesternstates
    You can also download it here at a higher res - http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=8550454c18b8894eab1eab3e9fa335ca360adfda6d77c284

  15. DrV
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Rest easy my friend.

    Japanese Maple vs. Tomato Plant

    You will be missed.

  16. Jason Parker
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Friends of John,

    After losing such a wonderful person and great friend, it’s necessary to push on and help the family with the massive expense that goes along with a family member dying of cancer. John has been a great friend to multitudes of people in the music and art community over the last 10 plus years, and no one wants to hear of anymore hardships for his wonderful wife and family.

    Dates have begun to be booked for a series of benefit shows to help ease the burden of their expenses.

    The 1st Confirmed Date is:
    Saturday January 3 at the Comet tavern, show TBD

    I’m sure lots of friends are eager to help and do what they can for the cause, and I would hope that all attempts at raising money from the smallest effort to the greatest, work in tandem to get the word out and do the most good.

    If you would like help by playing a show, help organize this cause or help organize a event feel free to email benefitforspaulding@gmail.com

    thanks!
    Jason Parker

  17. Posted November 25, 2008 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m out on the East Coast and was not farmiliar w/ John’s music until Monday morning, when I tuned in over the web like I always do to get me thru the work day. Thank you for a fantastic day of music that not only introduced me to some beautiful songs and for spreading a message of hope that good music can generate. Mr. Spaulding was indeed a great talent and god bless his soul.

  18. Greg Spielman
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    My brother Mike and I grew up and went to school with John, we also worked together in the 90′s. He was one of the nicest guys you would ever meet. This is a very sad thing to hear. God bless you John.

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