|Concert Performances: Austin City Limits (1981)
Recorded live from Austin, Texas, it's Austin City Limits. With Austin's Passenger, performing their eclectic blend of original music, and master guitarist Leo Kottke in a rare television appearance.
[Leo plays "June Bug"]
[Leo plays "Pamela Brown"]
This is a song that I wrote for my kid Joe, who inspired me one day when we were leaving Target [Ed. note -- I'm told this is a chain of department stores in the Midwest]. We'd picked up one of those, some of those, sort of, things for him. I was feeling in a patronizing mood out in the parking lot so I asked him if he -- he was very young at the time -- if he knew where -- he still is -- if he knew where babies came from. Because it occurred to me I'd never asked and I'd kind of like to know what his ideas were about it, cause he has -- he has perfect acuity, I think. For example, somebody asked him once what he wanted to do when he grew up. He said "I want to do nothing, like my dad."
And this time in the parking lot when I asked him if he knew where babies came from, he looked up at me and said, "Is this another one of your jokes, dad?" What a great guy. It is kind of a joke, in a way.
Anyhow, this is, it's called -- oh, wait a minute, let me get my foot switch here, my nauseator working. OK. This is called the ..ulp [tuning]. There. This is called "The Orange Room," which is...this is a room that he likes to play in, in his father-in-law's house. [Audience member shouts out something and Leo laughs] My father-in-law's house, Thank you, yes. Woosh.
How old is he Leo?
[Laughing] Oh God. I feel like Kitty Genevieve, sort of. Oh terrible. I need help, I know that.
[Leo plays "The Orange Room"]
Thank you. This was written by a friend of mine for ...actually, an acquaintance of mine for a friend of his.
[Leo plays "Louise"]
This is another tune that I tried to figure out...
[Leo plays "Eight Miles High"]
Thanks a lot. Before I launch into this last tune, I'd like to give you a brief introduction to this thing.
I was originally a trombone player in Oklahoma as a child in --
[Leo laughs]. Yeah. Well, I learned though I gave it up. What I learned from the marching band that you get thrust into if you play a brass instrument was a lot of arrangement stuff and things like tension and release and continuity and stuff like that. At least I was told about it. And I learned that some instruments exist for the purpose of discipline or punishment.
If any of you have ever played in a marching or a brass band you know that's true. The euphonium is the first step down after...if you're a trombone player you get sent to the bass trombone, which is at the end of the line and you get whole notes and that's all you ever get to play. The guy that...Boomer McSpadden was our bass player and he was used to...the reason he was subjected to the bass trombone was cause he used to holler out punch lines to jokes that he'd told during recess while we were playing our tunes.
The euphonium or the baritone was and is the most pervasive form of punishment. but if you were a real jerk they made you play the tuba...cause nobody wanted to play it -- at least there in Muskogee at that hour and time. I mean I do know some tuba players who enjoy the instrument...Jonathan Dorin...sorry Jonathan. But Jerry Demardi was the guy that played the tuba and he was terrible. And across from me was what they gave you in the woodwinds if you can't handle these things: there's always a place for the E-flat clarinet, nobody wants it because it doesn't work. It's something like a French horn -- excuse me, a horn, you don't call it a French horn -- because if you hit a note, it tends to shatter. Or with the E-flat clarinet it's a double-reed. It's like blowing -- playing through a straw. And if your straw has ever collapsed while you're sucking on it you can imagine what it's like while you're blowing on it.
And the guy that sat across from me was an albino, a guy named Roger Johnson, who played this thing with a determination that I haven't seen since. And we got to be...through his agonies and my amusement we got to be kind of close friends. And one weekend he invited me out to the fame -- he lived out on a farm -- excuse me, I put my finger in my eye, I don't know why I do that, not smart at all. He invited me out to the farm and I really wanted to go because he had a Cushman Eagle. There were about three guys that'd been killed on those in the seventh grade that year so they were the thing to have.
I hopped in my ride and went out there and spent Friday night there. We got up in the morning on Saturday and found out that this thing had collapsed. It was broken down more or less, it wasn't working, which left me... Four-H movies were mandatory then in Oklahoma, you had to watch them, and I knew what was going to happen and sure enough, we went out in the pick-up truck and we put the gate down and dragged a hay bale around for the cattle and three stuff out for them and we dumped silage on the hired man which was a real disappointing endeavour because it falls on your head naturally if you shovel it out from the bottom anyhow. As you can tell, I had kind of a bland afternoon.
On the way back to the farm -- house, farmhouse, we're on the farm -- Roger, who we had called White Hair with that muted sensibility for metaphor that musicians have ...what a horrible nickname, Whitey Ford doesn't know how lucky he is -- Roger probably was feeling a little like a careless host or whatever the word is because, as we got near the house we passed the chicken coop and he looked down -- or at me -- and he asked me "Would you like to kill a chicken?" And I said, "Sure!" So you know how they are: they're all mobbing around your feet "Kill me, kill me, kill me, kill me." And he grabbed one of his chickens...I thought we were going to decapitate it, which is the way I've seen it done and no, he had a little trick where he'd grab it by the neck or the beak and twirl it over his head like this and give it a little "phut" and the chicken would croak, instantly.
So I selected my volunteer, put it over my head and gave it a little spin and a little "phut" grace note at the end and nothing happened. The chicken just flopped around and flopped around. And I did that for quite a while, trying to get this to work. While Roger's eyes got pinker and pinker over here. He said, "Why don't you let go of its head, take it by the feet and beat it against the side of the chicken coop?" I pounded it on the coop for a long time but if you ever -- it didn't work either. If you've ever taken a cat and swung it at the fender of a car, it just turns its head on the way by and the most you can do is scuff your fender or the cat. If won't hurt it. It's what saved most of us from a life of cruelty: our victims could survive and make us feel foolish. So I kept pounding the thing and if a cat is hard to -- if it's hard to get a cat off of the wall, or on the wall, you can imagine what a chicken is like with that little bitty head on the end of this big thing that it has. It wouldn't work.
So Roger said "Why don't you hold it down and I'll back the tractor over its head?" And he backs the tractor -- this is true -- we backed the tractor over its head and we left it there for half an hour because we knew better by then. And we came back and it had died of boredom in the dark there. We ate it that Sunday.
I've since gone back to Muskogee and I've found a lot of my old friends there, but not Roger. [Leo starts playing "Jack Fig"] I'd like to thank you all for coming out in the dark on a rainy day like this. It's been a pleasure. My thanks to Passenger.
[Leo plays "Jack Fig"]
Thanks a lot. It's been a pleasure. Thanks a lot.
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