"It's 2007, goddamn it! Punk rockers eat raw, organic, free trade chips made of dehydrated vegetables!"
Chris Cartrett, former guitarist for Doorway 27, said this with an ironic grin after somebody remarked on the strangeness of seeing party people in a whole foods environment. It was the rock 'n' roll way of saying: "Our global village has brought disparate elements together, and now even right here in the microcosm of Lake Worth, our changing consciousness allows seeming opposites to coexist peaceably."
In fact, I'd spent the night cataloging the incongruous elements of my evening at the Soma Center: part health food café, now serving alcohol, and part meditative yoga studio, now serving as a band venue, where a melodic rock band (in which Cartrett was now playing bass) was calling itself the Guns, though they were all passion and no violence.
I had long suspected Soma was just a storefront for a New Age cult, and not just because the café's entrance feels secretive (there's a chalkboard sign out front directing people down a narrow passage between buildings). I'd heard drumming and observed uninhibited dancing, but most of the time the Lake Worth storefront with the "free yoga class" sign in the window was just a tad too tranquil. What sort of place names itself after the drug the government uses to sedate the populace in Huxley's dystopian novel, Brave New World?
If it weren't for my longtime friend and fellow journalist Steve Ellman, whose "poverty chic" fashion and sardonic wit make him more '60s Bohemian than postmodern hippie, I'd never have set foot in the place. He'd had Soma's raw food chef Lisa Steinborn cater his un-birthday party, and I had hit the spinach dip with the sort of enthusiasm most reserve for hash brownies.
I guess it was only a matter of time before I woke up and smelled the yerba mate.
I told Steinborn about my unnatural craving for her dip. "You must have craved the nutrients," she said. An incipient iron deficiency, maybe, asserting itself with a craving for spinach?
While I waited for my walnut-paté-stuffed tomato and ginger green tea shake, I checked the place out. The back entrance to the café really did make sense; it provided a quiet porch, almost a private outdoor nook, in the space between neighboring buildings to enjoy a coffee or access the free wireless internet. The purple bougainvillea arch provided a pretty side alley entrance, which, in the hour I was there, two groups of people used to stage photos.
Inside, the tiny café area had lots of colorful art crowding its walls, a couple of easy chairs and small tables, and a counter that could accommodate about a half dozen butts on stools. Through an open doorway, the larger studio was mostly just open space. Not bare, though. Besides the mirrored wall and hardwood floors necessary for the yoga studio, lots of funky pottery by EarthArtists studio sat high on a ledge around the room, and framed art — which was all for sale — occupied the asparagus green walls. On the ledge above one window, seven wooden letters told me to "Imagine."
Easy for them to say. I was hungry — very hungry — and Steinborn was still slicing and scooping. What was taking so damned long? It wasn't like we were waiting for things to cook. Later, I would learn that raw food isn't pre-prepped so it doesn't sit around oxidizing, leaking its nutrients, which is another reason fast food is so unhealthy. Right now, though, I was ravenous as a wolf, and the hunky barista was looking more edible by the moment.
Rather than lick my chops and stare, I re-directed my attention to some reading material on the counter, including a yellow flier that announced the Guns' upcoming gig. Not only had they begun booking bands, said the yummy morsel who turned out to be owner Scott Allen Brown, but they'd also recently gotten their beer and wine license. So this is what people meant by "harmonic convergence."
"I am combining all I like to do — good food, art, movement, and music," Brown said. Having moved from Minneapolis to Florida for the warm weather and surfing, "I wanted to have a place that I could go and feel good." The inspiration for the place's name wasn't literary but scientific, a reference to a term he had used often while studying kinesthesiology in college. "My anatomy and physiology book says [soma] means the body."
Once my food arrived, I scarfed down every scrumptious mouthful and, in gratitude, bussed my own table. The food clinched it; I'd be back. Besides, I was eager to see the Guns again. I'd seen the West Palm Beach trio play once before at South Shores Tavern during a Guitars not Guns benefit. For a new band (just six months old), they not only had their shit together but it was artfully arranged.
"It seemed like they were stealing the right bits and pieces of the Beatles," Lake Worth singer-songwriter Grant Balfour summed up at the time.
When I showed up for the Saturday night Soma show, a small crowd had gathered, half of them a posse I'd rounded up myself. Since the limited space meant a limited crowd, which in turn meant a limited budget (the band was being paid in good karma and juice drinks), it was important I do my part: I ordered an organic wine.
I asked Brooke Joy Waszak, a 26-year-old Soma yoga instructor, if the band or the beer and wine license had brought her out tonight. "We yogis discourage drunkenness on Saturdays," she said. She'd come to check out the band.
"I'm not usually a big 'out' person. Wait, that's not true — I do go out," she laughed. "I was living in denial of who I actually am." Changing the topic, she boasted, "I changed all the spark plugs in my car today."
"How many was that?" I asked.
Waszak's face took on a pained expression. "Eight," she sighed. The culprit was a gas-guzzling Caprice wagon. "I sold my car in the interest of being green, but then I took jobs where I needed a car."
Perfect moment for Kermit the Frog's lament "It ain't easy being green." But the Guns were just then firing their way through their songs and a few covers, including Jane's Addiction and Velvet Underground, while a dozen or so sedate Soma regulars sat in front of flickering votives on folding tables in the studio.
I might have felt bad for the band, but the perpetually unshaven and purposely disheveled front man, Chuck Andrews, specifically said that he didn't want a gratuitous audience: "I don't want people to come see us to support us; I want them to come to be jaw dropped."
The trio was good, but typical of many South Florida audiences, most of the jaw dropping was happening only in the interest of conversation. Mine too. I downed my first glass of wine at one of the folding tables in the studio, where the band was set up, then went back to the counter for a refill, staying there for company and conversation.
Kevin Williams, draped in a geometric wool poncho over his Hawaiian shirt, was drinking jasmine tea. A visual arts student at Dreyfoos School of the Arts, the 17-year-old was enjoying the addition of live music. Also a sitar and guitar player, he said he appreciated how the Guns "slow down their time signatures at the end."
In the kitchen just a few feet away, his friend Steven Rizzo, also 17, was working as a "dishwashing engineer." The two had met at church years ago. Now, Steven calls himself "not theistic" but a "non-affiliated spiritualist," and he enjoys his work at Soma for the "contemplative exercise that goes with it."
I pointed at his T-shirt, with "Wealth of Marcel" printed across the front. "Duchamps or Marceaux?" I asked.
"Or Proust," he said with a shrug, putting the smart in "smartass."
As if on cue, enter my former philosophy professor, Simon Glynn. "It was Jimi Hendrix who said, 'I lived in a room full of mirrors,'" he said, launching into a short lecture that I first thought was inspired by the mirrors in the studio. "You derive your identity from those you socialize with. If I keep hanging out here, I might turn into a fucking hippie." His British accent was evident even in his laugh.
"I love this place, I like the vibe," said Heather LaCroix, a graphic designer from Third Eye Studio. Tonight, she'd skipped her full moon drum circle down at Bryant Park to be at Soma's premiere band show. "When I get a laptop, I'll be down here working," she said, taking a swig of Mich Ultra.
Everything in moderation, Steinborn said. "You can have a raw vegan meal and enjoy an organic glass of wine. We're not extremists."
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"At least you don't have ashtrays," LaCroix chimed in.
"Well, we went out and bought a bunch because people wanted them," Steinborn said. "You get coffee drinkers who want to smoke [outside]. Your body is your body; you get to choose."
Some things you choose, other things you must first dream about. Brown and Steinborn want to be "the Starbucks of raw food," while the Guns aim at creating a mashup of their own. "If the Beatles were born in Nashville — that's what we want," Cartrett told me. And Soma nurtures such imagination.
Wherever your imagination directs you, though — whether to smoothie franchises or country incarnations of British legends — don't even think about one of those hippy shakes served with... fries. Find someplace else to pollute your somatic temple. Not Soma.