14 Jul Pat’s Top 40 Before 40: Alison Krauss
16. Alison Krauss – Forget About It (1999)
Alison Krauss phoned my house on Thursday November 23, 2000. Yes, the Alison Krauss.
I was at York U taking Rob Bowman’s Popular Music course. Rob loves music more than anyone. One of the very best teachers I’ve had. Right at the top. By age 21, his life was already more exciting than 1000 people put together. I loved that course and count myself lucky to have been in it around Rob and so many interesting students.
Anyway, I knew I wanted to focus of bluegrass for my final paper in the course. Specifically, I was interested in the diversity of sounds in modern bluegrass and whether “purists” exist in this genre. Bear in mind, this was just months before O Brother Where Are Thou came out. The first concert I saw at Massey Hall was Alison Krauss and Union Station in October 2000. I went to the stage door afterward and she and the band came out to say hello to folks waiting in the cold. She shook my hand and even gave me the Gorbachev handshake.
Rob suggested I interview Alison. He said it in such a way like “you should wear a hat when it is cold” or “you have to boil the water first then put in the pasta.” Nothing seemed impossible to him. Teaching lesson #251: encourage the impossible.
He told me to contact her publicist (Jim Merlis) who would hopefully take the pitch to her manager (Norm Parenteau). What did I have to lose? I did what Rob said. Jim told me it was an interesting idea, he’d take it to Norm, and very explicitly “don’t call us we’ll call you.”
I fully expected to never hear from her or her people again. Even at that point, I was pleased and actually surprised that someone would take me seriously. An important early lesson. But, sure enough, on November 22, Norm called me and said that Alison was interested in helping me. The next day was American Thanksgiving. She would be home, and at some undetermined point, she would call me.
The next day, I just ate dry Pro Stars in my pajamas, staring at the phone. Literally. It rang three times. Once, it was a phone survey for the pending federal election. Then, it was my mom to ask “did she call you yet?” to which I shouted “Jesus no!” and hung up. And then around 7pm, she phoned. The called ID was blocked. I couldn’t even *69 her later on. My landline was hooked up to a Panasonic cassette recorder – an incredible invention to this day. The landline goes into the recorder and then runs a line straight to the phone. I still have it and use it. I hit record and said “Alison, thanks for calling…”
For a split second, I wondered if all of this was an elaborate practical joke from any one of my genius level arsehole friends.
We spoke for 40 minutes. I remember because I was worried I’d have to flip the tape. Lots of to and fro in our chat, as though we had already known each other and we were just catching up. She still took every single question seriously and answered in detail. We talked about bluegrass purists, whether they even exist or not, genre designations, the future of bluegrass. At one point, her cordless phone was going to die and she had to switch. The fact that I remember that, and have a recording of that, says a lot about just how amazing I think this moment was in my life.
The paper was fun to write. I spoke to Ken Irwin and the late and great Mike Auldridge for it as well. At a conference in Pittsbrugh, it even won an award. When Alison came back through town, I went backstage again and tried to give her the paper. She wasn’t available but I did give a copy to Jerry Douglas. What a weird life I’ve had.
Some friends don’t know how seriously I took bluegrass for a long time. Another amazing teacher I had, and also a great friend, literally wrote the book on bluegrass (he will return later in this list). I liked bluegrass because it is sad music that sounded happy. I still play the dobro and listen to bluegrass, but I consciously stepped away from the music maybe 15 years ago. Why I can’t really say. But I’m coming back.