Damn, Sam, We Hardly Knew Ye

Joni Mitchell once sang, "You don't know what you got till it's gone." Aside from the bit about paving over paradise to make way for a parking lot being sooooooo South Florida, the lyric could also sum up the could-have-been, should-have-been local love affair with Sam Beam, a onetime Miami school teacher and musical wunderkind who eventually morphed into Iron & Wine. Sadly, it took folks from the opposite end of the country, Seattle's bastion of ultrahipness, Sub Pop Records, to discover Beam's talents and turn his local lo-fi basement tapes into revered indie manuscripts for the new millennium.

Other music followed, much of it recorded in his Miami home studio, and by the time his second album, Our Endless Numbered Days, appeared in 2004, Iron & Wine had already captured a sizable underground buzz. Beam's bold weave of mood and texture rendered remarkable soundscapes — rich, robust musings that found melody and imagination all but inseparable.

But did South Florida take notice? Fuck no. Iron & Wine sightings were practically nil here at home, and while that may be partially due to the music's reliance on studio savvy, Beam was practically shunned locally. Perhaps it was too cerebral, too precious, too anything-but-the-gloss and attitude demanded by South Florida's oh-so-slick environs.

So Beam left, gave up teaching, and headed to more hospitable terrain, the musical bastion that is Austin, Texas. There, nestled in that town's creative cocoon, he created what may well be his masterpiece, the newly minted The Shepherd's Dog, an organic album filled with swirling textures and bold yet subtle strokes. Its songs reverberate from far parameters — pulsating and vibrating like a hallucinatory dream state... enticing, enchanting, and intoxicating.

New Times wanted to chat with Beam to get his thoughts on the new disc but, more important, to find out what caused him to finally break ranks with us. We'd hoped to reassure ourselves that it wasn't our neglect, that there were no hard feelings, and that maybe, just maybe, he thought of us fondly. But no such luck; Beam's not speaking... not to the national rags, not to New Times. "He feels like it should really be about 'the music,' " a press rep responded when pressed. So we'll try not to take it personally, but being the ones left behind, we feel like a spurned lover whose mate has reached the point of no return. We just want to reconnect. To tell the former homeboy we'd still like to claim him as our own.

Regardless, Beam's echoing a song sung by one of Joni's old cronies, a folkie named Tom Rush. "No regrets, no tears, goodbye..." Or, to put it more bluntly: out of sight and out of mind. Here's to burning up the distance in between.

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Lee Zimmerman