Sunday, 6 April 2014

Brief Encounter with Guitarist Nels Cline at Istanbul Airport

Standing in the passport queue at Istanbul Airport - modelled after a Disneyland switchback and just as crowded - I noticed a group of four or five arty-looking Americans in the row in front of me, two of them carrying guitar gig bags on their backs. It is easy to spot Americans when travelling internationally these days, not because of their loud mouths as in days of yore, but because we are few and far between in airports bursting at the seams with first time travellers from the so-called 'emerging world'. Anyway these Americans truly looked like artistes among the crowd of laptop, hand-phone and iPad twiddling tourists and businessmen.

The queue stalled endlessly and the tallest of the lot, a thin 50-something guitar-carrying traveller, stopped in front of me with the name tag on his gig bag dangling in my face: "Nels Cline. New York, NY". Nels Cline - Nels Cline Singers - guitar not my musical bag but he is known for creativity and my Google search a day later showed him playing alongside Ellery Eskelin and William Parker, Julius Hemphill and Tim Berne. Apparently he has hooked up with a rock band called Wilco (whom I have neither heard of nor heard), apparently a big deal which has exposed him to a much larger audience than his avant-garde jazz playing ever did. I've listened to his music without paying enough attention.

Ron: I see being a famous guitarist doesn't help you get through the passport line any faster.
Nels: No.
Ron: Its not easy travelling carrying your instruments and stuff.
Nels: Its not too bad.
Ron: Well anyway, congratulations on making it to this point in life playing music for a living.
Nels: Its the only thing I've ever wanted to do. Thank you.

Security opened the gate and let the line pass; he was gone.

Well, maybe I have to give his music a serious listen now. Humility and talent seldom go together. As Jackie said when I told her about the incident, "reasons to like musicians 101".