A Musical Interlude On The Campaign Trail

When Time columnist Joe Klein travels the country covering politics, he likes to bring an extra set of ears. His recent road trip with musician Ry Cooder led him to an impromptu and apolitical jam session.

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Covering politics as a journalist can be a grind. It's one campaign speech after another. Long drives to get to the next stop, hoping, praying there's a fast food restaurant still open when you finish off your story. But being out there, seeing the country can be magical. And there are those unplanned moments, those unexpected people you meet who make it all worthwhile. Two political reporters ran into each other on the trail recently - NPR's Don Gonyea and Time Magazine's Joe Klein. And Joe was regaling Don with a tale from his recent road trip. Whenever Joe goes out to talk to voters, he likes bringing an extra set of ears. And this time, it was a friend, musician Ry Cooder, who produced the Buena Vista Social Club CD you might remember from the 1990s. Ry took Joe on a detour, because there was someone he wanted him to meet.

JOE KLEIN: He said I got this great fiddle player in Dayton. And the two of them played a set together at a little bluegrass bar in downtown Dayton called The Trolley Stop.

DAN GELLERT: It was really impromptu and off the cuff, let me tell you.


GELLERT: I'm Dan Gellert and I'm a retired meter reader living in Dayton, Ohio. And I've been playing American traditional music, folk music, old-time music, whatever you'd like to call it, for most of my life.


KLEIN: I knew that this was going to be a special night. It was really fascinating to watch these two guys. You know, I speak music some. I read music before I read words. But these guys were like two astrophysicists having a conversation.


GELLERT: As music goes, it certainly isn't rocket science. It's usually pretty straightforward, what used to be called hillbilly music. And, in my opinion, if you try to fancy up the harmony too much it loses that homemade character.


GELLERT: (Singing) Singing so long, it's been good to know ya...

KLEIN: Dan Gellert, he's pretty damn good. I mean, he exists on a level of proficiency that is beyond my comprehension. I mean, there are things that musicians know about other musicians that those of us who are civilians and just appreciators can't know.


GELLERT: (Singing) And I got to be drifting along...

KLEIN: But that's one of the great things about these road trips and about this country is that everything is always unexpected, as opposed to being in Washington where almost everything is expected except for Supreme Court decisions on occasion.


GELLERT: (Singing) Oh, can I get you now, but until that day...

KLEIN: Music is always a relief to me. It's a big part of my life, and I love the way musicians think and I love the way they see the world. You know, it's always wonderful to be around them and to have someone like Ry Cooder come out and see my world, the political world, through their eyes.


GREENE: That's Time magazine political columnist Joe Klein and Dayton, Ohio musician Dan Gellert. The music you heard was recorded for a video that Joe posted. It's on his magazine's website, Time.com.


GREENE: You're listening to NPR News.

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