Hello Stranger from Issue #16
I met John Krajicek purely by chance at a 10,000 Maniacs/Balancing Act show in Dallas eleven years ago. He was a corporate tax accountant who didn’t really belong in such a job; I was a college student with aspirations of becoming a music journalist. (In fact, I’d just that week written my first music feature story for the daily paper in Austin, a short telephone interview with Natalie Merchant.)
John drove down to Austin the following night for the Maniacs/Balancing Act show at Liberty Lunch, and we ended up becoming good friends, though we saw each other only occasionally, whenever I was in Dallas or he was in Austin. My move to Seattle in 1991 meant our encounters became less frequent, though we made a point to keep in touch. John eventually left the corporate world and returned to school to get a PhD in English, spending a couple years in Austin and finally winding up at Texas A&M in College Station.
On June 6, John married Marnie Perrone, a woman he’d been dating for several years; they’d visited me in Seattle in 1995 while traveling across the Western U.S. together. I flew down to College Station for the wedding, looking forward to seeing John and Marnie and expecting to have a fine time, in part because it promised to be a total vacation from all the things I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, though, fate has a tendency to tie everything together in ways you would have least expected.
John and I have always bonded largely over music, so I wasn’t too surprised that his bachelor party consisted of about a dozen of his “pickin’ buddies,” as he’d put it, jamming and swapping songs in his living room. I didn’t know any of John’s other friends, but we all became pals quickly enough. It was impossible not to, given their musical inclinations: Here I am in a roomful of total strangers, and they’re teaching me how to play Whiskeytown’s “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart”, and tagging me to take the verse Alejandro Escovedo sings on the album.
We went around the circle several times, each person either playing a song of their own or choosing a song we’d all play together. Occasionally, standard suspects such as Dylan and Stones songs would surface, but I was amazed at how many of us found a common language in the music of Tweedy and Farrar and Adams and Earle and Van Zandt — and that patron saint of College Station, Robert Earl Keen, whose tunes filled the living room several times during the course of the evening.
The frequency with which material from Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and Son Volt surfaced (with absolutely no prompting from me) was particularly remarkable, and made me think about how Jeff and Jay have always seemed to downplay the influence of the music they’ve made this past decade. Maybe they haven’t sold anywhere near a million records; but when a group of people who hardly know each other can find common ground through their appreciation of an artist’s music — well, that’s the most meaningful tribute a musician can receive.
Particularly when it’s expressed in a setting such as this, so completely removed from even the slightest commercial concern. On this night, those songs became pure and simple folk music, made and played of the people, by the people, for the people. And it sure was nice to feel it that way.