Something Wild

At the Como Zoo, local singer-songwriter Jeff Hanson unleashes his inner beast

Overhearing the conversation, a preschool-aged girl wanders over to Hanson, looking as if she'd like to take the seat next to him on the bench where he's smoking. "Hi," he says in his best faux-seductive voice.

She stares at him blankly, then quickly decides to turn back to the lions.

"Yeah," Hanson sighs, clasping his hands behind his head. "You can tell that I'm really good with the ladies."

Darin Back

When Hanson was the same age as his young suitor, he admits he was a bit "obnoxious" in his musical ambitions, playing guitar by the age of four, and starring in musical theater at ten. ("I played the Boy Who Cried Wolf," he later writes in an e-mail conversation. "I sang this really weird song in a very, very high voice. I had to wear knickers as part of my costume. How bad is that for a ten-year-old boy?") At the time, he was listening to nothing but Beatles records--and, he admits, the occasional Hall and Oates single. "I was like If John Lennon's gonna play the guitar, then I'm gonna play the guitar," he laughs. Yet, at 25, he's no more a Lennonist than a Marxist: You get the sense that he'd be just as happy forging his own quiet path to indie stardom than taking an Abbey Road walk of fame. "Some people make it their job to hate you when you're successful," he says.

Maybe that's why Hanson envies the animals here at the zoo. "They don't have any predators," he says. "That must freak them out a little, but it's also kind of nice. What does an ostrich have to be stressed out about? It's not like it's thinking, 'How am I going to pay my rent next month?'" He looks around the zoo: The sun is streaming down, the kids have hushed to a whisper, and the ostrich is starting a strange little dance. Pleased, he throws his hands up, as if he's no longer thinking about the ostrich. "It basically has everything it needs," he says, smiling.

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