Jon Kanis is equal parts inspired and inspiring

JonPortraitFromBookBY Blaine Schultz

His resume includes Encyclopedia Walking – Pop Culture & the Alchemy of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a book that collects his writings from the weekly San Diego Reader, Ugly Things magazine, The San Diego Troubadour, and his own blog site.

Kanis is or has been a recording artist (All American Mongrel Boy – a collection that veers from Beatle-esque to the DIY of “Where is Joe Strummer When you Need Him?”), collaborator, tour manager, radio deejay and producer (State Controlled Radio) and Grammy nominated video archivist (The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1966 Volume One). While that may seem like a long list, the shorthand version is that Kanis is a wonderful chronicler of the human condition.

In the mid-eighties he met the man who would become something of his mentor. Paul Williams founded Crawdaddy! magazine in 1966 and it is recognized as the first publication to take rock and roll music and its culture seriously. Williams was ground zero, writing thoughtfully about Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys’ masterpiece LP “Smile,” while most other publications focused on teen heartthrobs.

Williams also served as literary executor for Science Fiction writer Philip K. Dick.

Kanis met Williams on the eve of a Bob Dylan tour, trading tickets for California shows. And it is Williams’ compassionate searching that often surfaces in Kanis’s articles. Williams died in 2013.

The centerpiece of the Encyclopedia Walking is Check Your Ego at the Door: Transformation and Rejuvenation at Steel Bridge Song Fest, Kanis’ journal recounting the 2013 songwriting workshop held annually in Sturgeon Bay. He takes the reader through a cross-country journey into the process of blind-date songwriting collaborations, insane logistics, and sunrise jam sessions. Ultimately, he leaves with a handful of co-written songs, and friendships that he continues to nurture.

While many of his articles delve into worthwhile analysis from Big Star to the Monkee’s movie Head, to an obscure 1973 New York public television series called SOUL!, the Steel Bridge chronicle serves as a bookend to the chapter titled 1992, where Kanis stands on the edge of his feather and dives in. He transforms his life; trial by fire as a vagabond musician traveling Europe, and then returning to the states to serve as Peter Case’s guerilla tour manager (and sometimes opening act).

His depictions of challenges, stress and the payoff off realizing he made the correct choice is a lesson many young people may find valuable.

Kanis ends with “I didn’t know what the future held or if I even had a future.” Just check his vast reservoir of work and decide for yourself.

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