The Leo Kottke Connection

Photo by Tom Berthiaume




On Leo Kottke
By Jeff Sampson
© Copyright 1998 by Jeff Sampson
This article may not be reprinted without permission from the author.


It was the night of my Junior Prom. I knocked at the door of my date, Rhonda Lyndon, and was greeted by her mother, who ushered me into the living room. Rhonda was nowhere to be seen, primping, or perhaps admonished to delay her entrance so that her mother might have the opportunity to speak with me in private. Rhonda's grandmother had opened the basement door only a few nights earlier to find Rhonda perched on my lap with her tongue in my mouth and my hand up her shirt. She said, "oh, Rhonda!" and quickly shut the door. As Mrs. Lyndon began to sermonize, I realized that she knew nothing of our little petting offense, and was buoyed by Grandma's benevolence or forgetfulness.
    Mrs. Lyndon was reported to be a recovering alcoholic, and she spoke with great conviction, her mouth quivering with emotion, her eyes moist and pleading. She reminded me that I was expected to conduct myself like a perfect gentleman; there were reputations to think of. I nodded, absent-mindedly stroking a golf-ball sized chunk of black hashish bulging in my pocket. I stared at my rented shoes. They looked like shiny new sports cars. I wanted to take them off and race them on the carpet like little speedboats. I wanted a beer and Rhonda on my lap again. Time stood still.
    Mrs. Lyndon continued on. Chastity. Sobriety. She had me against the ropes, panting for air, when we were interrupted by the sudden arrival of Rhonda's older brother, Russ, a tall young man with a ponytail and tiny round glasses. Whether he knew my predicament and was intent on sparing me, or just wanted to listen to some music, I will never know. What I do know is that what happened in the next few minutes would alter the very course of my life. Mrs. Lyndon introduced us and then retreated to the kitchen. Russ put a record on the turntable. There, ensconced in a velvet wing chair, the trousers of my midnight blue tuxedo tugging at my groin, did I hear the music of Leo Kottke for the first time.
    This was like nothing I had experienced before. It was like listening to the voice of Nature herself; deep woods, drifting snow, swift ribbons of water, the evening sun filtering through trees. His guitar had the throaty roar of a Harley in full flight, all ringing and buzzing, but then could alternately be as delicate as a whisper. There was also bottleneck slide work played with amazing authority, a furious outpouring of notes. He sang inventive words with a unique deep voice. I was dumbfounded, completely intoxicated. Russ nodded approvingly, and handed me the album cover. In addition to some very humorous liner notes by Mr. Kottke, there was a black and white photograph of a man hunched over a guitar plastered with duct tape and paper, his feet entangled in a mess of cords. This was the man who created the music that would quickly become a touchstone for a new life for me.
    The prom was a forgettable affair. Rhonda was the prettiest girl there - lithe and lovely with jet-black hair and a pouting mouth that I am quite certain has been the ruin of many a man since me. As it turned out, she went with me just to be there; she really loved one of my friends. I was dumped the day after, my heart torn and trampled. I never even picked up our pictures.
    Years later, I saw her in a bar, with a new boyfriend, a guy with fancy clothes and a hot car. I looked on from a distance, observing her undeniable beauty. I finished my drink and walked out into the night, never to see her again.
    It was many, many years ago, but I often think of my Prom with a certain reverence; you see, Rhonda Lyndon unwittingly made me the guitarist I am today. Perhaps I will dedicate a tune to her someday.
    Probably not.


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