Laughs and libido
Kristina Olsen in concert at Caltech Saturday
By her own calculation, veteran singer/songwriter Kristina Olsen spends 10 months of the year on the road. Most musicians wish they could work that much, but there’s more grit than glamour in living “not anywhere but in my suitcase.” There’s also abundant humor, which Olsen details with earthy glee in her new eBook, “They Paid Us in Tub Time.” She’ll offer a few readings from the book between songs at her concert at Caltech’s Beckman Institute Auditorium this Saturday.
Launched at last month’s International Ubud Writers Festival in Bali, “Tub Time” is an interesting, laugh-out-loud read, particularly for anyone curious about the social and musical culture in 1960s-’70s California. (Olsen was raised by a free-spirited mother and doctor dad in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district.) What makes it compelling is seeing how Olsen translates comic romantic misadventures into poignant balladry. A toe-sucking interlude in an overheated metal tub with a New Zealand farmer, for instance, inspires the melancholy ode to independence “If I Stayed.” In another chapter, a lost song notebook, asthma and a lap dog hilariously delay consummation of a zesty flirtation with a Scottish musician, but Olsen ultimately transforms her libidinous encounter into the sweet “Sometimes It’s Enough.” Her thoughtful recounting of tango tourism and cross-cultural misunderstandings informs the sensual “How I Love This Tango.” Many chapters close with lyrics, and recordings of the songs are embedded in the electronic text.
Olsen has a seemingly endless stash of stories to share about her colorful childhood in California as well as her lifelong career traversing the globe. A recurring theme throughout “Tub Time” is her childhood fascination with female artists — specifically, women who also played guitar with authority. Despite her frustration over the lack of such female role models, Olsen began playing guitar herself at a young age, and subsequently learned to play slide guitar as well as banjo, mandolin, concertina and piano. (Which now enables her to keep things varied when she performs solo.) Her voice is perhaps the strongest representation of her independence and creative drive: a supple, full-bodied vehicle for self-expression that connects with listeners via emotional candor rather than self-conscious style.
Still nominally a Californian — she maintains “a tiny place” in Venice — she now makes her home base in Australia, although she spends most of her time traveling to perform and teach.
Caltech Folk Music Society presents Olsen in concert at Caltech’s Beckman Institute Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena, 8-10 p.m. Saturday; $15 ($5 for Caltech students and youth). Call (626) 395-4652. Kristinaolsen.net