“What’s the weather like in San Francisco,” my mother asked. I was at United Gate 82 in San Francisco International Airport, waiting to board a plane back to Los Angeles.
“It’s cloudy and rainy, it will be warmer in LA,” I assured my mother. It was 1 in the afternoon, 4 her time. “Mom, we’re about to board, I need to get off the phone,” I said.
Pleasantries exchanged, goodbyes said, I put my coffee down on the ledge next to the moving sidewalk adjacent to our gate. And there he was, walking with his head down, acoustic guitar case at his side. I recognized him immediately as Mark Kozelek, the principal singer/songwriter for the Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon and his own solo ventures. At time, I had cried along to his pains, but mostly, I has just dwelled in the melancholy he had created, interpreting it as my own for too long a time. He wrote records, I listened, internalized and learned to go on because of them.
I grabbed him, visibly shaken — confirmed for myself and I’m guessing that he doesn’t like being grabbed in the airport, so I can only imagine that he was too.
“Hey, Mark Kozelek?” I said.
He put his guitar down.
There are rumors, far and wide and resolutely told about Kozelek’s coldness to his fans. I had entered into a territory that I was not prepared to deal with, but there are times when sheer appreciation stands in the way of remaining cool in the face of greatness, and this was one of them.
“I have been listening to your records for almost twenty years, and I know you don’t wanna be bothered, but I just had to say thank you for the music,” I told him.
He said thank you, and asked what my name was, and asked where I lived and what I did.
“Brian, Los Angeles, ESPN/X Games,” I replied.
He asked if I had seen his recent show at the Unitarian Church in LA. I said no, I was in France. And then he asked me if I was the person at ESPN that covered snowmobiling, and did I know Bryant Gumbel.
I think I said yes to everything, still visibly shaken by his presence. My hands were shaking, I asked for a photo.
“I don’t really like my photo being taken solo Brian,” said Mark Kozelek, “but I’ll take one with you.”
We posed for a photo, I thanked him again for the music, and he departed slowly into the reaches of the United terminal at San Francisco airport.
Yes, he looks miserable to be posing for a photo with me, and yes, we’re both having a bad hair day, but I serendipitously got to meet someone I’ve long admired. And I’m forever glad that chance, random circumstances or some otherworldly power allowed us to cross paths on that one Thursday afternoon in the San Francisco international airport.