A visit from an old friend

There’s a certain rhythm and inner warmth when you see an old friend after a number of years. While I’ve never spoken to Leo Kottke in my life, seeing him perform Thursday night at the Orpheum Theater had that feel.

I first became acquainted with Kottke in the mid-70s through his albums Greenhouse, Ice Water, and My Feet Are Smiling. His tremendous fingerstyle playing and, yes, even his voice (which he described in the liner notes to a 1969 album as akin to “geese farts on a muggy day”) enthralled me. I’ve seen Kottke perform solo three or four times over the years, all in small venues. Too much time had passed since the last one, though, and over the last two years or so I’ve had an increasing desire to see him perform again. In fact, his 2005 reworking of one of my favorite songs he does is the second most played tune on my iPod. So visiting with an old friend is the best way to describe how seeing him Thursday night felt.

There’s the initial assessment of the distance time can create. Is this the person you remember? Then you do some catching up, with new tunes being the equivalent of “here’s what I’ve been doing lately,”) and, of course, some reminiscing through older songs. And with Kottke’s dry, often self-deprecating humor punctuating his quirky spontaneous soliloquies, the relationship quickly is as comfortable as ever. After all, some affinity is required to feel you understand where someone is coming from when a commentary on song titles involves a discourse on the variety of ants in the world and one ant taking over a neighboring anthill by asking an existential question.

Yet you also realize the years have gone by far too fast. You’re struck by the fact that there seems to be a significant number of “older people” in the theater. You don’t remember seeing that much gray hair in the audience the last time — or on you and him. It evidences how long it’s been since you saw each other and you regret it’s been that long. Worst of all, two hours, plenty of mirth and some 15 tunes end up flying by so, so, so fast.

So, thanks for stopping by Leo. It was wonderful to visit with you again. I promise I’ll try not to let as much time pass by before we next get together.

If you aren’t really hooked on your instrument this job would be a hell on earth. But if you are, it’s the best.

Leo Kottke, The Performing Songwriter, May-June 1994

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