[H O M E]
Did this really happen? How do I start this?
Last week, I hung out with a hero of mine. I will do my best to scratch through the haze of the evening to give you an entertaining and maybe even an insightful report. Ok. John Popper is the guy that got me hooked on the harp. That is an understatement. Who hasn't gotten hooked on the harmonica after hearing him wail? His group, Blues Traveler, has been a constant leaning post for me. I have always found solace in the group's tunes, mostly in John's words and harmonica blasts. My first experience with journeying to NYC alone was to see these guys at Roseland. I have been a fan for more than 11 years.
When I was first told that he was in town and that I should be able to set up an interview, I brushed it off. In my line of work (If that is what this is), I hear many things that sound too good to be true. I will borrow from that old cliche here and not even mention it (you know how it goes, I'm sure), I smiled and went about my days.
It was not until a few days later that a friend informed me of a suprise guest appearance of the man himself. He was to jam with Kevin Mckinney. I didn't really believe my friend, but because I knew John was in town, I gave it a shot. My tulip and I skated freely past the sharped toothed door guy at the Saxon Pub (I like the place but the one doorguy David, I believe, is a character who has power issues and doesn't really like me. More or less on this later.). We grabbed a seat and got ready for the show. In walks, guess who? I gotta trust my friends more.
I knew it was John Popper by his trademark hat, harp case and he just had this glow about him. Other than that, it seemed to be a new Guy. The weight that He used to carry was no more. This was a shock to me. I heard he had lost many pounds, but seeing it was a new story. Wow! Another friend, brought us over to his booth for an introduction. My heart stopped and the room fell silent as we shook hands and he said: "Hi Russ, I'm John. Any friend of Jim's is a friend of mine." (Thanks Jim!).
I gathered my wits , yanked my chin from the floor and watched as he took the stage. He took us all on a musical ride. WE WERE ALL LUCKY TO SEE THIS. He finished up the room and descended from the stage. John sat with My photographer and I. We got some shots of him DAZED. I loosened up a bit and asked him if we could do an interview. We made plans and he took off. I was still in a shock to be sharing a booth with the guy I had seen rip it up at MSG from the nosebleeds. He was friendly and not at all what I expected. Anyways that's how we met.
Friday rolled around as usual. It was 8 in the pm and I was in line for a SXSW film that I didn't want to see. My mind was floating through a watermelon patch when my phone rang. It was John to tell me he wanted to do the interview. I was out of that line and over to pick him up in a slow heartbeat. I pick him up like an old friend. Who he is, just melts away and he just becomes a bud with Jaegermeister. I go over a few of my driving basics with him just so he wouldn't feel uncomfortable with my sporadic ways. He is very mellow. He said "Just try not to kill me!" I laugh and reply "I'll try not to kill me either."
It was right there that I decided not to do a tape recorder interview. That would just be too lame. We were going out to have a good time and the tape recorder just wasn't in the moment. Dialogue rolls naturally when your not being recorded. The only thing is that after much Jaegermeister words weave in and out of memory. I hit him with a question while we are on the road:
Me: - "So what came first, writing songs or the harp? And why the harmonica? What made you want to grab it?"
John: - "The Harmonica was first. Lyrics came later. The Blues Brothers made me want to play the harmonica. I saw them and I wanted to do that."
"We're on a mission from God!"
We arrive at our first stop: The Showpalace. This is the first place anyone thinks of to conduct an interview, right? I had been here once before when the DAZE staff was covering oil wrestling. Not much has changed. Nothing changed, except for the fact that I was with John Popper. The door guy was the first to recognize us. He holds the door and grants us admission. We were on press passes last time but this was like they were happy to have us here. It is beautiful because people keep asking and wondering who I am. Austin DAZE got some attention that night.
I don't make a habit of frequenting these places because it is all about the money. But for an editor on a shoestring to enter with a superstar, that's a different story. If you ever have this chance, I reccomend you snag it. We toast 3 or 5 times and try to talk but the music is loud and the distraction quotient is high. Soon we are surrounded by fans and strippers and strippers who are fans. John gives me a cigar. I blaze it and think back to our conversation in the parking lot. We talked about our outlookšs, relationships and shopping malls. "There's a lot of space in this mall!"
I made some connections with the guy. We talked like we knew each other. There was no bullshit going on. And in fairness to that fact, I'm not going to say anymore about what we talked about. Other than that I like the guy. I start to turn green from the cigar, he pours me another shot, we buy two of the most expensive t-shirts on the planet and boogie out the door. "Where to now? A tattoo? What a good idea!" We slowly make it to Sixth street.
"It's 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we are wearing sunglasses...HIT IT!" Sixth street is winding down. But 2:45 doesn't matter if you are with a rock star. Getting in places is no hassle. Everyone recognizes him. I ask if this bothers him and he replies "I love it." All types of people talked to him about all types of things and he engages in every conversation with interest and a smile. My buzz was leading me away from socializing while his was feeding the fire.
Now I'll talk about the glowing phenomenon. John just has it. He emanates a certitude that you can't miss and people latch on to this immediately. He looks totally different than before, but he is John Popper and people pick up on it. It must be fucked to be this guy at a costume party, because he can't really hide. He doesn't need to say a word and you know it is him. One after another, each of the tattoo shops I know about are closed. We get word that River City is open. We head over there and with a deep breath, we fly up the steps.
Entering the tatto parlor is kinda surreal. That is another understatement. The whole night has been dreamlike. He knows what he wants and the tattoo guy draws it up. With the help of the DAZE, John gets the words "I WILL BE BRAVE" written in mirror letters across his chest. This way when he comes across a mirror he can read it (makes sense). I wanted a tattoo bad. I almost caved and got one of their filed Octopus drawings. I waited about two weeks and got the DAZE logo put on my arm at the same place. I was just talking with some friends (who know the story) and we concluded that this is the only known interview to end in tattoos. YEAH BABY! My buzz completely fades as we make our rapid descent. We hop in the octo-mobile and head home. On the way, I sneak in a few questions:
ME: - "Who was most influential musician to you? And who has been the coolest, most intriguing person you have played with?"
John Popper: - "Jimi Hendrix was a big one for me. As far as playing with people, I've had a great time with PHISH. I would have to say Colonel Bruce Hampton. He is like Mozart. He sat down with me and taught me a few things. I have just gotten hooked on Ani DiFrancošs stuff."
I drop John off at 5:45am and go home. What a night. It is a great story and the best part is that it is all true. We both have tattoos to remind us of the night. I am most grateful to have had this opportunity.. (John, when you read this, be aware that I have paraphrased some stuff. If you remember any more, drop me a line.) I have made a new friend, who I hope to interview and party with in the future.
YES!! YES!! JESUS H. TAP-DANCING CHRIST...I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT!!!"