Leo Kottke Weighs in On Life, Literature and Guitar (Part Seven)

Leo Kottke Weighs in On Life, Literature and Guitar (Part Seven)

I remember a week that I did at the Troubadour in L.A. right near the beginning there. My opening act was a comedian named Robert Klein, who you don’t see much of anymore, but he’s still working. We played 3 sets a night and every night he did the same set. Not just the same material, but the same timing – syllable for syllable, pause for pause. It was exactly the same. And every set that I heard, I laughed. I knew exactly what was going on and I had it memorized, but I’d laugh.

I went into his dressing room one night and said, ‘I laugh every time and I’ve heard this shit three times a night for four or five nights. It amazes me.’ Then I asked him, ‘How do you get up for that?’ He said, ‘What’s the alternative?’

For me, talking to the crowd – I don’t have the alternative of being quiet. Nowadays, it feels kinda rude. But it isn’t an act. It’s a different way to be yourself. I’m more at home on stage than I am anywhere else and I’m sure a lot of people say that. But even when it sucks, it’s a great place to be. I would never talk to a crowd that way that you and I are talking – they’d be bored shitless.


I don’t know how conscious of this you are, but in the past 3 or 4 years John Fahey has had something of a re-immergence. People are re-releasing his records. Why has there suddenly been a focus on him?

John found a way to synthesize all the different strains of music. They largely centered around the guitar, but for John, it included a lot of anything that he was interested in.

He found this place where it all meets from Skip James to Charles Ives. He knew it was nuts. He delivered it that way not because he was trying to be coy or eccentric, but because he was in the middle of it. He found Skip James. He took Skip James to the hospital to get fixed up before he did any playing.

All of that has an effect beyond what it had on me or anyone else who worked with him or listened to him. I swear that that’s true. And that stuff is what we’re trying to describe, that stuff gets transmitted in ways that we know nothing about. It doesn’t have a space-time thing to it that we would understand. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that people are aware of him. What he did is already out here. What it means is something that he discovered and that resonates out there.


I don’t want to overstate his importance, but are you saying that without him folk music – or music – wouldn’t be the same?

Yeah, no question.

Maybe people need that. Maybe we need something that’s solid. That has something to do with it too. It certainly isn’t what’s made available to us, we have to find it ourselves and people have found John by themselves. That means a lot…That’s the thing about technology that’s great. People are stumbling over things that they never would have had a chance to trip over. And they know what they’re doing.