Alone Together

For songwriters Victoria Williams and Mark Olson, the fast lane ends in Joshua Tree

At moments like these, Williams's mood can quickly turn from the silly to the contempla-tive and spiritual. Likewise, her new CD's "Grandpa in the Cornpatch" describes the waning years of a man after a lifetime of chores for his family: "Now he's hanging in the shade, enjoying this last leg of his earthly life / Learning to rest, soon he'll fly."

In a few minutes, the couple is sitting over bowls of gumbo and cornbread. Williams talks lovingly of Atlantic, pausing only to fill a hypodermic needle for her daily shot. Her husband can only shake his head at memories of his own big-label experience and a little band that had somehow grown into an expensive entourage of cast and crew that had to be kept afloat, putting the Jayhawks ever deeper into debt.

"We had good times, but when it got down to it, I just wanted to do something else," Olson says. "I didn't want to be this guy ... sitting in the van and complaining. I didn't quit the band for any reason other than I wanted to get out."

The subject of the Jayhawks, which Olson co-founded with singer/guitarist Gary Louris in the mid-'80s (and which, last year, released a disc without Olson) leaves him with mixed feelings. He admits that, with the making of the Creekdipper releases and the chores and all, he hadn't given the subject much thought. And at times, his comments are gracious. ("I wish the best of luck to those guys -- I really do.") But without actually saying so, it's clear that he might have preferred the band continue under a different name without him.

"I'm really not that bothered," he insists. "What bothers me is when somebody says 'Man, that was really big of you not to put up a stink about the name.' Fuck that! I'll put up a stink if I want to put up a stink. I basically didn't have a choice. There's contracts."

Before Olson's departure, the Jayhawks came to symbolize many of the richest qualities of the so-called No Depression movement, playing country-flavored rock with dry elegance and moving vocal harmonies, much as Neil Young, Gram Parsons and the Band had several decades earlier. Despite wide critical acclaim and a large following as a touring unit, the Jayhawks never sold beyond the faithful; money became as much of an issue as music. Olson now downplays any reunion possibilities with the band he named back in Minnesota: "No, we had our run. It was pretty deep, some of the stuff over the years in Minnesota between us."

Williams looks up from her dinner. "You might someday change your tune."
"No, I don't think so," Olson says, shaking his head. "I'm not going to change my tune."

"You never know."
"My tune is set."
"You never know, Mark. You might find yourself in the same hall someday."

"I don't think those guys want to play with me, Vic. That's the impression I had."

"Ohhhhhhh, I don't think so. I think they would all love it."
Family memories are scattered everywhere at the couple's Joshua Tree homestead: the large black-and-white portrait of Williams's grandparents as newlyweds, looking more wild and vibrant than any Calvin Klein ad; the refrigerator covered with snapshots of nieces and nephews. In a few weeks, Olson will be joining Williams on a visit to Shreveport, Louisiana, where her family has long since accepted the musical career path she's chosen.

It wasn't so long ago -- in the years following her arrival in Los Angeles at the beginning of the 1980s -- that the folks back home were taking a dim view of her life out west and the business she had involved herself in -- particularly after the end of her marriage to singer/songwriter Peter Case later that decade. Come back home! Go find yourself a good husband! Go back to school and become a French interpreter or something else respectable!

Now, she'll be bringing Musings of a Creekdipper, talking of her life and marriage in Joshua Tree, about recording a little at home, a little at studios in Joshua Tree and Oxnard, California, north of L.A.

"Maybe someday I'll experiment with some other things," she says in a slow drawl. "Might as well. Nothing else to do.

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