‘I’ve Got A Story For You’

When I knew him, he was Paul Summers from Eden Prairie. He had kids in the schools – I’d occasionally see the name of his son, Shane, or his daughter, Nicole, on press releases of achievements sent out by the Eden Prairie Schools to newspapers, including the Eden Prairie News.

And I’d run into him occasionally at various sports contests or other school events. We talked at times about music and other common interests, and – if I remember correctly; the years sometimes jumble together – I even spent a Friday evening at his home in the early autumn of 1993, talking more about music and exchanging riffs and melodies in Paul’s makeshift studio. We talked vaguely about doing some kind of musical project.

That project never happened. My work continued to keep me busy, and I assumed his did too. (I never knew what he did for work. All I knew was that it kept him moving around the Twin Cities area; among the clients he served was the small city of Cedar , north of the Twin Cities, where Rob’s wife, Barb, worked in the city offices and saw Paul on a regular basis.) And it was about that time – late autumn in 1993 – when I joined Jacques’ band and thus got busier still.

But in early December that year – 1993 – I got a call one day from Paul. He said he had a story to tell me. There are no sweeter words for a reporter to hear. Sometimes the story turns out to be useful but only a little distinctive. Sometimes the story – as important as it might be to the teller – wasn’t something that we could find a way to use. But you still go listen. And Paul seemed to understand the news business fairly well. If he thought he had a story, he likely did.

I wasn’t prepared, however, for what turned into one of the most memorable stories – Top Five, at least – of my twelve or so years as a reporter.

As Paul and his wife Kathy greeted me at the door, the first thing I noticed was Paul’s hair. Previously short and wiry, it was now shoulder-length, and it was bushy. Figuring that the tale I was about to hear would eventually explain that, I sat on the couch, opened my notebook, took a sip of the coffee Kathy brought us, and asked, “So, what’s going on in your life?”

He began his tale in the southwestern city of Worthington, Minnesota, where he was raised after being adopted as an infant. He said all through childhood and youth, he’d had the sense of belonging somewhere else, not uncommon for adopted kids, he acknowledged. He’d persevered, gone through school and college, married and started a family, still feeling unrooted. Then, when his parents had died, the time came to go through the things in their home, and he’d found papers with the names of his birth parents.

His last name had been LaRoche, and he had living siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, many of them living on Lower Brulé Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Native American, and he’d just come back to Eden Prairie after visiting his newly found family. He pointed at the wall, where hung a quilt featuring – I think – a buffalo. “They gave me the quilt,” Paul said. “That’s what they do for family.”

He said the discovery explained many things: his sense of otherness and his dark complexion and the shape of his nose were just the most obvious. And it was clear that Paul and Kathy were still absorbing the new shape of their lives. They did not know what came next.

I got a picture of the two of them in front of that symbolic quilt, wrote the story for that week’s edition and moved on, thinking in the back of my head that I would need to do a follow-up in a year or so. But other stories came up, a year turned into a little longer, and then I left Eden Prairie for a downtown weekly, and then I left reporting.

Fast forward to sometime in the winter of 2001-2002. By then, I’d met the Texas Gal and we were living in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth. As I did every few weeks, I was digging through the CDs at one of the branches of the Hennepin County library. On this particular morning, I was sifting through the World Music section.

And I came across a CD titled Lakota Piano, credited to a musician calling himself Brulé. I opened the CD and read about Brulé, a man adopted into the Anglo culture who discovered his Native American heritage after learning the identities of his birth parents when his adoptive parents had passed on. Brulé was Paul Summers, only now he called himself Paul LaRoche. And he and his family had moved; they now lived on the Lower Brulé Reservation in South Dakota.

I did some digging. He’d released two CDs prior to Lakota Piano, CDs that seemed to bridge the gap between his two cultures – Anglo and Native American – while at the same time celebrating his birth tradition. As his reputation grew in the Native American music community, so did his musical group. His daughter, now Nicole LaRoche, played flute with Paul and would eventually record her own CDs. His son, now Shane LaRoche, played guitar and joined in. Add a few more musicians and Paul had a group called American Indian Rock Opera (AIRO). And the CDs kept on hitting the shelves.

Here’s Brulé and AIRO performing “Thunder Across the Plains” from – I think – the 2007 DVD Live at Mt. Rushmore: Concert for Reconciliation of the Cultures:

I like it, as I liked the stuff I heard when I first came across Brulé’s music. I’m probably going to invest in some very soon. In the meantime, here’s the website for Brulé and AIRO, and here’s a link to a piece at Wikipedia, which includes a discography and a lengthy list of awards and nominations earned by Paul and his fellow musicians.

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One Response to “‘I’ve Got A Story For You’”

  1. […] Memories since it arrived in the mail about a month ago. I’ve also spent time with the music of Brulé and AIRO since I wrote about it here a couple of weeks ago. And a trip to the Electric Fetus downtown a few […]

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