Excuse me while I take a Jim Walsh, romantic-rock-historian moment.
I was actually nervous for this interview. That doesn't happen much anymore (unless she's really hot) but this time, nostalgia was working against me. You can tell there's something weird going on—my mouth is hanging open for the first half of the video. And I'm not a mouth breather. (I swear.)
The Jayhawks meant something to me in high school. Hollywood Town Hall was a beautiful record; sad, pretty music, and more importantly, somehow it was COOL sad, pretty music. In a sense, the Jayhawks have always provoked nostalgia with their harmonies and mournful slide guitars; they salvaged the country music I was raised on as a kid, and was still listening to as a teenager, but more and more privately, with more and more shame. (I was self-aware enough to realize country wasn't cool even if it felt good.) But the 'Hawks, they were acceptable to my proto-hipster buddies. Hollywood Town Hall even had these strange, Americana surrealist liner notes written by Joe Henry, a proto-hipster singer-songwriter if there ever was one. And the 'Hawks were local, so even way out in the suburbs I developed a strange sort of pride in them. The first time I saw them, at the Harriet Bandshell in 1994, a White Bear Lake guy, Billy McGlaughlin, opened for them, solidifying that fanatical connection, that sense of ownership.
And Tomorrow the Green Grass came out when I was in college. Great record. It had "Blue" on it. I bought a cool TTGG poster from Red Pets, Northfield's proto-hipster record store, and hung it in my dorm room. It was a washed-out pea green poster with a matte finish (authenticity!) with the band sitting on a fallen tree. I was a full on Jayhawks fan. They were mine.
And then they broke up. It made the front page of the Strib. It was a big deal to lots of us, but it felt personal. It was the first band that I'd ever cared about to break up. And it appeared to be over a girl. (Of course.)
Mark Olson was leaving the Jayhawks to make music with his wife, Victoria Williams. I knew who she was. She opened up for a Midway Stadium show with the Jayhawks and Matthew Sweet and Soul Asylum the summer before. There had been signs—"Miss Williams Guitar" on TTGG had an ominous head-over-heels "Ballad of John and Yoko" vibe to it—but I liked Victoria Williams. She had this quivering, slightly out-of-tune voice that projected vulnerability. She wrote "Summer of Drugs" and "Crazy Mary." She had MS, for God's sake. I liked the entire Sweet Relief tribute album actually. I liked her.
I felt betrayed.
In the intervening years, I bought Gary's psychedelic, disharmonic we're-going-forward-without'im album, Sound of Lies , (great pissed-off and bitter break-up record) and went to more Jayhawks shows and eventually less Jayhawks shows. Their records went in that adult contemporary pop direction and I stopped buying them. I saw Mark and Victoria's band, The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, and they were okay, but I wanted to scream, "What are you doing, dude?" (I didn't.) Eventually, I sort of grew up and stopped taking bands so personally and became a writer. (Or at least learned ironic detachment—hello Oasis! Hello Strokes! Hello gangsta rap!) I actually interviewed both Gary and Mark at separate occasions in 2000. Pretty sure they weren't speaking to each other at the time.
And now here we are, in the same place for the first time in 15 years. I hope the backstory makes this weird little video interview feel less "inside." I think it was an honest interview, even though it's slightly awkward and infused with that powerful Jayhawks nostalgia that I've always felt. But it was good to see Gary and Mark together. Because we've all come a long way, and man, each of us has made some mistakes along that long way. How could we not? There's not enough tomorrows and the green grass is always greener in your memory, right?
So yeah, mistakes, mistakes. But at least here, in this interview, Mark Olson comes close to admitting his. ;)