The Leo Kottke Connection

Photo by Tom Berthiaume

 

 

 

Leo encounter of the third kind

 

 

In the winter of 1974 Leo Kottke played at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. This is the college that I attended and at which my future wife Sue was still ensconced. At that time I was in graduate school and Sue was at Bowdoin.
    Bowdoin is a small school, about 1000 students total at that time. Typical of colleges at the time, they had a "Winter's" event, to keep us from going nuts in the endless Maine winter. Actually, I can't complain because I am from northern New Hampshire so actually Brunswick was down south for me. As at least one of you may know, Brunswick is or at least was also the site of a major Naval air station. That is about the only other thing in town of significance.
    Leo played a set in the large gymnasium, with Cal Hand, and although I am hard put to give a set list now, it certainly concentrated on the Ice Water tunes. At the time I was listening to Armadillo, as well as Fahey/Kottke/Lang. The sound of his 12 string coming through fully amplified blew me away, and unlike some of the performers who made it up to Maine, he clearly gave it his all and it showed. I wish I could give you a set list, but I can't, other than to say that they did play "Short Stories" and Cal was right on. He also played "A Child Should Be a Fish", which in my opinion is one of his pieces that transcends the guitar as we knew it. Of course "Morning is the Long Way Home" was also there, and some standards like "Blue Dot". This was only my second time seeing Leo live, the first time was in Philadelphia.
    Unfortunately, like all good things the concert ended. I decided to try to meet him, so we went to the back door outside of the gym, figuring that eventually he would have to come out. It took quite a while, but eventually he came out the back door. We said hi and asked him for an autograph. We gave him a page from a spiral notebook, on which he wrote:

Thank you
What determination you have
I love autographs
Thank you for the opportunity
Leo Kottke

    He wrote "what determination you have" not only because we had waited quite a while, but also because it was pretty cold, probably around 0F or less. Not a big deal to me, but he knew we were serious to stand out there.
    Leo sort of asked what was going on, was there anyplace we could go. We told him we could go over to one of the fraternities, there were some parties going on. I was in the minority at that college in never having joined a frat, but we knew people at this one place, Psi Upsilon I believe.
    Leo said basically, sure, let's see what is going on. We piled into his rented car and directed him over to the fraternity. I think we had the guitars, but at that time I didn't play and didn't have any sensitivity to what he was playing.
    After reaching the frat, we went upstairs and went into a room of some acquaintances. The party was typical, with people dropping in and out for quite a while. If only had known what I know now, I could have asked a million questions, but for me then guitar was a mystical instrument.
    There happened to be an electric guitar in the room, and Leo picked it up and played a little (unamplified). Noodled around for quite a while, is what Sue remembers. All I remember is that he was basically goofing with the instrument. Cal stayed pretty steady, maintaining a conversation, whereas Leo got pretty lost for a while.
    Eventually Leo said that they were hungry and needed to get supper. He asked if we knew where to go, and at that point it was getting late and there weren't too many choices in Brunswick. We suggested the "Chuck Wagon", (one could make some Chuck inferences here), which was out by the naval base and near his motel. He invited us to go along. Needless to say, we were amazed at the invitation, and happily agreed to go along. You've got to realize that we were 19 years old, and this whole event was pretty amazing to us.
    We drove out to the Chuck Wagon, and had a late supper. He offered to buy food for us, as I remember, and we had some quiet conversation. They invited us to come over to the Holiday Inn but we were pretty tired at that point, and felt that Leo was just continuing to be polite when in fact he was pretty tired. He offered to drive us back to the college, and we did not want him to go to the trouble. He insisted, and then gave me $5 to get a taxi, and then left. After he left we found some college friends and got a ride back. I kept the $5 bill for a number of years, until at one point I got stuck and had to spend it. Sue remembers that I objected strongly to spending my "Leo dollars" which I had kept for many years, but did it.
    That's all I remember, and I'll never forget it in this life.

 

- David Morse
Used by permission. Thank you, David.
Copyright © 1999 by David Morse. This article may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

 

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