Rolling Stone, (June 11,1981)

Leo Kottke's Making A Joyful Noise

by Charles M. Young

Page 2

      "I've also been typing.  It's good for the fingers.  I write poems and unfinished stories, sort of in the style of Janet Frame*.  She's from New Zealand, wrote Living in the Maniototo.  She'll write one absolutely staggering paragraph and then you wait a while for the next absolutely staggering paragraph.  My staggering paragraphs aren't quite enough to see me through the next few dull ones.  But I've got quite a pile now.  I hope I can cull the good stuff."

      Kottke, who was an English major at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, doesn't really tour anymore, preferring three- or four-date forays so he can spend more time in Minneapolis with his family:  Mary, his wife of twelve years; Sarah, his ten-year-old daughter (who plays piano); and Joe, his eight-year-old (who plays Space Invaders).

      As for Guitar Music, Kottke says, "the main reason it wasn't out sooner was that I had to record it twice.  The first time was on digital, but I couldn't get the mix to come down to earth.  All the juice was gone.  It was my first dose of technical guilt:  how could I not like the sound from all this expensive new electronics?  Digital is just different -- sideways, not up from analog.  Of course, Leon Redbone insists the best sound is a gramophone with a wooden horn."

      Kottke has also been experimenting with movie music, though he says he's been unsuccessful because he lacks the technical skills for orchestration.  "My early teaching on the trombone and violin ruined me for studying the classics and theory," he adds. "Children should be allowed to come to the instrument, or they'll end up with knowledge and no appreciation.  My playing now is wholly idiosyncratic because of that.  But I always think of Charlie Mingus, who was militant about learning harmony and theory and how to read.  He felt a musician had a moral obligation to further generations and to other musicians so they could learn his technique and so he wouldn't accidentally stumble into someone else's territory.  I agree with Mingus, but I don't want to say it too loud or I'll feel guilty for the rest of my life if I don't do it."  

      Kottke finally gives up his search for the missing check and heads for a demonstration at the UN protesting U.S. involvement with El Salvador; Pete Seeger will be performing. "I've always wanted to meet Seeger," he explains.   "I learned an enormous amount from his early records, and they still sound great to me.  I'm always looking for Seeger instrumentals salted away somewhere.  Ever hear 'Coal Creek March'?"

      Backstage at the demonstration, Seeger is surrounded by admiring folkie fans as various speakers exhort the crowd of 3500 or so.  After an introduction, Seeger and Kottke talk under the din for a few minutes.  Asked for a comment on Kottke's music, Seeger says, "He's the best twelve-string guitarist I've ever heard, and I'm happy to finally meet him." Kottke seems floored by the compliment and wanders off to a hot dog stand.  "He said he is getting older and the future is in the hand of people like me,"  Kottke recounts.  "that's one hell of a burden, the future.  I'm not sure I want it."

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