by Brian Cook
on Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 1:40 PM
A cab picked us up outside our Sydney hotel on our last day in Australia. The driver—a self-described cross of Pablo Escobar and Ron Jeremy—asked if we were a band. When we answered in the affirmative he mentioned that he had driven an American musician to the airport a couple of months prior. This wasn’t particularly interesting news; there’s no shortage of American artists touring Australia at any given time. I assumed it was one of those artists whose name you vaguely recognize but aren’t actually familiar with. So we were a little surprised when he asked if we were familiar with a guy named Mark Kozelek.
Sun Kil Moon and Kozelek’s solo records get a decent amount of play in the tour van, so yes, we’re familiar with the man. Familiar enough to know the guy also has a reputation for being a bit standoffish. Or perhaps you could just say that a lot of people describe Kozelek as being a dick. Though to be fair, the few examples I’ve heard of his dickish behavior are usually kind of amusing. My favorite example is his supposed habit of setting up his mic stand in one corner of the stage prior to his performance so that all the diehard fans congregate on that side. Then when he actually goes on, he takes the mic and sets it on the opposite side of the stage, where he performs his set. It takes some balls to snub your biggest fans, and I couldn’t help but wonder how a guy that writes such sentimental music has such an antisocial streak.
The cabbie went on to talk about how he drove Kozelek to the airport. It was just him, his guitar, and a suitcase. But first, he wanted to be driven past the club he’d played the night prior so he could get a photo of it. Apparently Kozelek always tries to get photos of himself outside the club. So the cabbie complied, drove him to the venue and snapped the photo for him. Then Kozelek told the cabbie to pose for the camera. Apparently the notoriously aloof singer-songwriter took a shine to the driver and posed in a series of photos with him.
It was refreshing to hear about the human side of the off-stage Kozelek, to hear something that refutes his reputation as an asshole. It made me think of his line in “Sunshine In Chicago” where he talks about his shows being full of “guys in tennis shoes.” It’s obvious the man has a sense of humor, but there also seems to be a bit of disdain towards his audience, a certain sadness to his life as an entertainer. After hearing the cabbie’s story, I think of Kozelek less as an overall jerk and more as a reluctant cult hero.
It’s strange how one little anecdote can change the way you perceive things. For me, Kozelek’s reputation always seemed at odds with his songwriting. How could someone who wrote songs like “Glenn Tipton” be an asshole? But the cabbie’s story makes me hear Sun Kil Moon in a totally different light now. It’s no longer a matter of “this guy is a jerk but he writes really beautiful songs.” Now it’s “this guy writes really beautiful songs, it’s just a shame that he doesn’t like being on stage.” It’s a crucial difference, and one that makes it that much easier to appreciate his music.