Dear John Conquest
Dear John Conquest,
We did not know each other well. I write music, you wrote about music. I sent you music, you listened to that music. I played music, you invited me to play music for you.
My friend Hank suggested that I send you a record, my first real record, back in 2011, so I did. Then I looked you up and started reading your magazine. I immediately regretted sending you my record. While reading my first 3rd Coast Music, I recognized instantly that you were a true connoisseur and you sure as shit didn’t pull any punches. You were passionate, well-studied, whip smart and hilarious. If you loved something, boy howdy, you loved it and if you hated something, lord have mercy, you reveled in that moment just as gloriously. Your liquid fire pen made me quake in my fucking boots. I was terrified.
When the recession hit, it hit Oregon hard. I had just started writing music for that record, Ain’t No Whiskey, and was struggling hard to keep my teaching job as state and federal funding dried up. My students and their families hit dire straights: Poverty, homelessness, drugs, incarceration. When I wasn’t teaching I was busy playing one shitty gig after another, touring throughout the Pacific Northwest singing about rain and booze and feeling that there was no music community here for me. And if not here, the place that I am from, I reasoned that there was likely no space for my music anywhere. I felt that these songs would continue to be sung into a vacuum. That was, they would be sung into a vacuum until I decided to stop singing them altogether and then there would be nothing. Teaching and music took me to some of the most desperate places I have ever been, both geographically and emotionally. The desolation I came to became me. I wrote Ain’t No Whiskey as a photo album of this place, rural Oregon and its inherent heartbreak. I had no real hope for the record and and certainly no expectations.
But, as luck would have it, you liked that record. Hell. You gave me the best review I’ve ever gotten. You heard what I was singing about. You heard it, John. And on the wings of that connection, I flew my green ass out to Texas to play music for you. I was, again, terrified when I met you– as I usually am of people that I respect– and of course, we played too loud and too long. But you didn’t give a shit, instead you graciously forgave our nerves. In fact, you made us feel right at home in that dark bar in Austin, checking in every so often to quip about the bands, tell us how crappy Oregon is, proselytize that anything north of the river is a commercialized train-wreck, but mostly to rave about every artist on your bill. And we could see exactly why: You sought out some of the most compelling artists that are making music today. In March of 2012 we lived for three days and three nights at the G&S soaking up every little bit of the music that we could. We ate tacos next door and Jimmy got me so liquored up that I couldn’t hardly see straight. With a whiskey-soaked heart, I could not believe that we were so lucky as to have been included that year. And every year since. And every year, after many hundreds of miles of travel, as we made our way into the black G&S, we were always greeted with a giant hug balancing a pint, and a quip about something you had on your mind.
When people talk their big break, they are usually talking about some sort of commercial success. When I think about my big break, it starts with you and your belief in me, in us, in all of us, and in the power of good music. You invited me out of rural Oregon while simultaneously inviting others in. You gave me ears and opportunity when i needed them the most. You helped me find a community, the one that you created through your giant heart, your tough love, your shit talking, and your plain old humaness.
So, while we didn’t know each other well, we knew each other well enough. And I’m gonna miss you like hell.
Cheers and thanks for everything,
John Conquest was a music writer, NotSXSW festival curator, FAR Radio Chart organizer, and many, many other things, besides.