KPJR1 - John Roderick

This week, Ken and John talk about:

This program is hosted by Ken Plume. There is a Patreon to support this show with exclusive interviews with John Cleese and Neil Gaiman.

John is sorry he is so technologically incompetent. Getting Skype to work was like assembling a Saturn V rocket for him. He was racing around with only seconds to spare to defuse this Skype warhead, but he finally got it. Ken is sorry he caused delay in making his episode happen.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

John on tour in Los Angeles (KPJR1)

John recently was in Los Angeles with a group of entertainers and they all constantly apologized to each other. It is the land of apologies, the chateau apology, the Chateau Marmont, and John was apologizing from the moment he walked in and apologizing his way through the whole time. He should apologize that he walked out alive, being sorry he didn't die. He survived it once and now he has the antibodies until it decides that his time is up. He is going have to appease it, which is what Jeff Goldblum does at the piano. There is a dragon living out by the pool and John gently strokes under its chin which seems to put him in good favor with the whole place. John has yet to witness Jeff Goldblum at the piano.

John has seen both of the Olsen twins together with their small entourage of greasy looking boys, some super-skinny oompa-loompas who were smaller than the twins. John is grotesquely large while everyone in Los Angeles seems like a tiny little pond-nymph. He had just been in Chicago and that town is full of monsters with the hands of a butcher! In Los Angeles people recoil in horror when John walks around because they are afraid that some parts of him will rub off on them and they will start losing movie roles because they gained a pound and a half. They are clearly not going to join him for dinner, but they will put their hand on his shoulder while he is eating, they crack wise and they try and get the hell out. John is the food balladeer who is telling them of meals they can no longer have.

John's tour is going great. It is the best kind of tour because all the responsibility belongs to someone else. All John has to do is waltz in, waltz out, and waltz around. He loves to waltz! Jonathan Colton doesn't know how to waltz, or maybe he just would never do it in public. Now that he thinks about it, John did actually participate in a Coulton midnight waltz. John is just a trained monkey who will get up there, waltz for people and he doesn’t care. Ken sincerely hopes that Hodgman doesn't have an organ grinder while John is up there. He would love that, but John doesn’t think he could put it together in time. They probably shouldn't say it because they have already mentioned him too much. Don't talk about Hodgman! He will find and kill you! He is steadily compiling a list of grudges.

John handling his audience (KPJR1)

John is a consummate performer who can stand up there without you being able to tell when he is doing prepared material and when he is improvising because he moves effortlessly between the two. It makes John’s job as sidekick and Minister without Portfolio much easier. He has his particular groove and he has never been shy about making an audience feel very nervous and uncomfortable.

With that as his starting point you can't really have a bad show. If your intention is to make the audience squirm uncomfortably in their chair, what could go wrong and how could you bomb? If the show goes horribly wrong and they applaud, cheer, laugh and have fun, it is not a bad result. John is starting with the premise that they are going to sit in their chairs and laugh uncomfortably and pull up their collars. If he fails at that it is still a great time for everybody.

John adopted the policy very early on that he was not going to ever let an audience kill him. He went to a lot of shows before he ever tried to put on a show himself and he stood in the crowd and watched musicians and comedians die 1000 deaths. He felt a lot of empathy for them as a fan and as an audience member as they stood up there powerlessly dangling on the end of a rope while the crowd turned against them and they couldn't recover. John formulated the plan before he ever took the stage that if he ever did overcome whatever kept him from performing when he was young and actually did get up on stage he was never going to let himself die.

When John was a kid he was a fan of Johnny Carson and he watched him every night. On the Carson show no joke would ever die, because Carson would just stand there with his hands in his pockets and shrug and laugh at you. He would laugh at himself and he would laugh at the fact the joke bombed. Whatever kind of grace that is, you can't get on stage without it. Then you mix a little bit of Letterman in with that who had a more hostile relationship with the audience, but just slightly. He always seemed like the idea of entertaining people was a little beneath him, which was funny! He almost belittled the audience for laughing. Really? You are laughing at this?

John absorbed all that and by the time he took the stage he had a combination of ”You can't hurt me!” and "The fact that we are all here is ridiculous, so: Moving right along!” In more than one instance some guy wanted to get up on stage and have a fistfight for something John said, but usually they only get about halfway up the stage before they realize that John is an evil giant and then they slowly back down the stairs again.

Forced perspective is John's friend! He makes sure his drinking glass is very small and he is standing next to a very small stool which makes him seem crazy big. All of his band members are under 5 foot (150 cm) tall. There was one guy where his friends had to drag him out of the bar as John was standing on stage insulting his mother and his family. He had it coming, by looking at him you could tell his family and mother were stupid!

Ken wonders how much of a dynamic change it is for a performer knowing that the audience has been imbibing and isn’t in their right sober mind. There is a sweet spot in every crowd. When people are having their first two drinks they are getting more and more excited, their voices are rising and they get animated. You want to go on stage for a crowd that is peaking like that and have steam coming off of them, it is exciting! If you put on a show every night you will possibly miss that sweet spot some times and go on after they have become belligerent or after they, through no fault of your own, have become discombobulated and are out of control. That also happens sometimes in the middle of your set and all of a sudden the mood in the room changes.

It very rarely gets ugly, but the crowd can start to turn on itself a little. For a Punk Rocker that can be energizing, but John is using a lot of words and does a lot of talking in between songs there does come a moment where that guy in the back suddenly feels comfortable, empowered and drunk enough to say ”Less talk, more Rock!” or something like that. Most of the time that is just fun because some asshole feels like he is part of the show now. Good, let's make him part of the show! Can we have the house lights up please so we can invite Mr. Guy to really have his moment in the sun?

John won't let the crowd decide to become a mob and he has strategies to bring them back from the brink of becoming a mob. It got close a couple of times, but John ended up turning the crowd against the one guy, the loudest voice in the room who is trying to turn the crowd into a mob, the one asshole who thinks he is going to take over the show and turn it into his show. It is the easiest thing in the world and it is astonishing how that guy never thinks that this is going to happen to him because he is in the dark in the back of the room, he thinks he is anonymous and he thinks he can start throwing hilarious barbs at you and derail the show. He may have his anonymity but John has a mic and a rapier wit. Also, if it comes to fisticuffs, John will follow that line as well. It is a show, here we are, and it is going to read great in the newspaper tomorrow if John actually get into a fight with a guy, so let's go and see how far this goes!

Getting into fisticuffs (KPJR1)

John has been in fisticuffs many times. He grew up in Alaska, a state that is completely off its rocker and people up there are nuts! If you go to Butte Montana, there are like 10 people in this state, but all 10 of them will kick your ass. Alaska is as big as 1/3 of the continental United States and it only has 500.000 people (actually 700.000). They all have a little cabin on an acre (4000 sqm) of land and if you come onto that acre you are going to have trouble. There are places left in America where if you say something to someone in a bar that insults them, they will not apologize, they will not say ”Oh, I'm sorry! Did I mishear you?”, but they will punch you in the nose. Not everyone follows the Williamsburg Hollywood Portland Oregon code of self-reflexive feeling that they must be at fault here.

The people in Butte Montana still fight for pleasure and it is not a Friday night if there is not some kind of dust-up out in the street. That is less true for Anchorage now, but there are certainly places in Alaska where it is, and those people do come to Anchorage to buy fresh vegetables and new dungarees. There is no Williamsburg of Alaska, but they are separated by 100 years and 1000 parsecs. There is a coffee shop in Alaska that could be the Williamsburg of Alaska, next door is a bookstore and there is maybe a vegan grocery store, but that is the extent of it. There is an alternative movie theater, it is basically Switzerland. There are some ferns hanging, and you can get some Colombian roasted coffee. Most of the rest of the Alaskans drive by there and avert their eyes because they are sure that everyone there is gay and they don't want to see it.

If you don't want to fight, just don't talk shit about people in bars! Alaskans aren't going to come into your home and fight you. John is big, loud, opinionated, and bordering on being a pain in the ass and there was no hope for him as a teenager other than learning to defend himself because people took him on. He would say something and he would get a pop in the nose. He had his teeth knocked out and if he shaved his head it looks like a rail-yard up there from the number of stitches he had, but that is part of being a caricature of a Western dingdong who didn't know better.

Getting into a fight bout Mike Dukakis (KPJR1)

One time John got into a fight with a baseball team. He was at a post-game party in Spokane Washington, he had long hair down the middle of his back and these guys were all crewcut Reagan-administration-era jocks from the Inland Empire of the Northwest. It was a volatile combination to start with and some guy said something bad about Mike Dukakis because he was trying to pick a fight with John. Dukakis is some kind of I-Tie, some kind of Daigo Fag, and he was going to run this country into the ground.

John turned to him and said something about his mother, because what else was he going to say? John was being baited, he was the one guy in the place that everybody thought was a Democrat, which was the worst thing they could say about a guy. He had the long hair and they did that ”Is that a woman or a man?” type of thing. John said something about the guy's mother and the guy jumped up and fists started flying. Of course there is always some white knight on the baseball team who gets in front of his buddies and says ”Hey, let's not go there, let's all chill out!” and pretty soon that guy and John were backed into a corner and were fighting for their lives. It was a different era.

The thing about jocks and about Catholic priests is that half of them are true believers and numskulls, and the other half are closet cases who are in the priesthood or on their baseball team because they want to be with other guys. They end up leaving the fold and become investment bankers, which is how investment bankers get made: Investment bankers are all either failed priests or former baseball players. John is not making this up!

John working as an investment banker (KPJR1)

At one point in his early 20s John worked at a stock brokerage because he was trying to go straight. He cut his hair and he shaved himself clean, which was a big adjustment. He put on a tie, went Downtown, handed his resume around, and got a job in a bank. He had de-mountain-man-ed and de-grunged himself because he needed to straighten up and fly right. He needed to figure out how people made a living in the world and see what the straight world is like. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life as a bar-back and he wanted to keep the rest of his teeth. He had aspirations, without knowing what they are, but he aspired to be somebody.

John spent a year working in and out of banks and brokerages and ended up being pretty good at clerking and keeping the books. One day he woke up and just decided he was going to smoke pot that day instead of going to work and he never went back. He did not give them notice, he just woke up, looked at the door, looked at the clock, looked at his bong, and chose the bong. There is a fair chance that a good many of the people are still working at that office today. Most of the head brokers were gray haired men that had been working there for 40 years and the young guys were aspiring to be that. Maybe there is still a paycheck there waiting for him.

Not very long ago John found a paycheck that was 11 years old. The last time he had a job was obviously many years ago and checks expire after six months, but he didn't even bother trying to get in touch with those people and ask them to cut this check for him again.

John didn't have a lot in common with the banking people. Not that he was undercover, but he was in drag to see if he could make it in the straight world and he bounced around through several financial institutions. John’s version of experimentation with the counterculture was going straight and his way of dropping out was dropping into being respectable. He had squeezed all the life out of being a drug-addled debauched degenerate, but even though he was now working in these banks he still lived in a flophouse, a three bedroom squat in Seattle with six people living in it.

There was a 14 year old runaway living in their closet, a bedraggled wet mouse of a little girl had who had just shown up. The streets were much more dangerous then and they offered her to curl up in that coat closet, they found her a mattress, she made a little nest for herself in there and she lived there happily for more than a year without charging her any rent. John bumped into her after she had grown up and she was married to somebody and seemed happy and healthy. She was still a fringe person, an alterna person, but within the context of that she seemed normal and healthy. She made it!

That apartment was any old port in a storm for a lot of people. John would come home with his tie on and sometimes there would be six or seven guys freestyle-rapping in his living room. As he walked in the needle would skip across the record because he waltzed in on gossamer wings. They would stop rapping, the needle would screech across the turntable, and somebody would look at him: ”Who are you? What are you doing here?” - ”You are in my apartment!”

Music during John’s time as an investment banker (KPJR1)

During this period, making music was a secret thing for John. He wasn't ready to share with the world what he made. Somebody had loaned him an old beat up electric guitar and he would sit in his room and very quietly strum it unamplified. He would secretly write songs, but he did not ever play for anybody or share his music. Two of those songs made it in some form all the way into the Long Winters catalogue. They were true survivors and he played a version of them in every band he subsequently had. Most of that stuff was terrible songwriting and that was part of the reason why he didn't want to share it with people. He was learning his craft.

The first song was a spooky Waltz called Mimi and was on the first Long Winters record and a another song called Nora from that same era was on the second Long Winters record. Ira Glass used to say that as a young creative person you develop your taste a long time before you develop your talent and your taste is telling you that the things you are making are crap because your taste is much more evolved. You have to keep working at the thing you are making until it survives, until you get good enough that you can make something that your taste approves of. John definitely went through that period for many years, feeling like his taste was much more refined than his abilities.

The first song that reached John's taste was a song about a girl. One time John woke up in the morning to the sound of his door slamming as this girl was leaving his apartment. He knew that she did not have to get to work and he was not going to see her again later in the afternoon, but she got up and was gone. The night before John had been gazing at her through his drunken smoke-shrouded haze, thinking that she might be the one. He was so psyched and so lucky to be where he was, but the following morning she was like ”I got to get out of this guy's apartment and get down the road as fast as I can!” There is a lot of backstory to it, it was very 1990s: She had a girlfriend at the time who was a very prominent and famous Rock musician of the Grunge era, complicating matters even more.

John rolled out of bed, even as the door slamming was still reverberating through the apartment, grabbed a guitar and started writing a song about her and this moment. It was all he could think of to do. It was a moment of self-dramatization and his heart was in the clutches of a cold hand, so he couldn't think of anything but putting a song together, processing it in the only way he could. The song was a tragic sad-bastard song and at the time he thought that it was the first good song he had done, it was such a dimension beyond because it was real and if nothing else comes from this broken-heartedness, at least he had this song. It was only later when John realized it was also a terrible song, it was just better than the terrible songs he had been writing before, but that song didn't survive either.

It was a terrible song from a genuine place because John was trying to talk about something real rather than trying to talk about what he imagined he should be saying. There probably was a phase where he thought he should explore this whole realness thing more and see what that is like, but of course that was false also. You are exploring realness now? Okay, good! Good luck with that! John was learning the language and was teaching himself the diction of how he needed to talk about his own feelings. Gradually he stopped trying because he had enough frustration and enough sadness that he knew that writing songs did actually help provide relief and turning during bad times into good fruitful art. John stopped trying so much and started working.

The song Mimi (KPJR1)

The song Mimi goes back to John's flophouse period and is a song that he can actually look back on and say it is a good song. He discovered 3/4 time, the secret weapon of Rock music, and he was writing a song about an experience he had in High School in Alaska when he was driving with his girlfriend in his 1974 Chrysler Imperial on a snowy road. On the left there was a cliff that went down to the ocean and on the right there was a rock wall carved out of the mountain, like the PCH. There was not a lot of room for error on this road and everything was frozen. The rock wall was covered with frozen ice and the ocean was also full of frozen chunks.

John was 16 years old and he was driving this car that was too big for the road, let alone for him. She scooged over across the enormous couch of this Chrysler and starts blowing in John’s ear. No one had ever blown in his ear before, it was his first experience with having a girl blow in his ear, which is a pretty interesting and giddy feeling. Having never had it happen before he really took notice of how this blowing in the ear was affecting every cell in his body. He was absorbed by this feeling, his attention was distracted, and as he came around a corner he had drifted across the center line and a school bus was coming the other way on the ocean side. John grabbed the wheel and swerved, the bus also swerved, and they narrowly missed each other. The bus did not careen off the edge and John did not slide into the rock wall and everybody kept driving.

She was sitting straight up in the inner chair, white as a sheet, and John was clutching the steering wheel, white as a sheet, and they continued driving in silence for what seemed like a very long time. Their hearts were pounding at their near miss, and then she said ”You almost killed all those kids!” and John said ”I almost killed all those kids?” It taught John a very important lesson about human beings, love and responsibility and he had been chewing on that for years! ”You almost killed all those kids!” The song Mimi is a dramatization of those events and it doesn’t come to any conclusions as John has not come to any conclusions in life. He doesn’t think she identifies the song as being about her.

Today she is actually a chief surgical resident or chief of residence at Dartmouth hospital, so she became a very accomplished medicine person and lives in an entirely different universe. They talk periodically and it is really like talking to a doctor. They are different and they talk differently. Like a lot of John’s childhood friends she embraced the world of status, accomplishment, and academic achievement, a world that self-segregates from the larger wilder tumult of people. Most of John’s childhood friends went on to breathe rarefied air, which was the goal all along because you don't get an advanced degree without hoping to be somewhat segregated through the possession of that degree. You don't put letters after your name in the hopes that you will be down on the street with the homies, hanging out and kicking it. Status is nothing if not exclusion!

John graduated last in High School (KPJR1)

John is on good terms with all of his High School friends. He graduated last in his class as 364th out of 364 graduating seniors because he never did a single homework assignment in four years of High School. Not only did he passively not do homework, but he actively refused to do homework. Because he tested well they couldn't fail him but had to rehabilitate him. It was a war of attrition! The guidance counselors were all over him like flypaper on an innocent fly. They tried everything they could and they even put him on emergency suspension, hoping that would teach him a lesson. John loved High School! He was editor of the school newspaper and he was Sergeant at Arms of the student congress.

High School for John was four years of him against all these adults who were trying to make him realize his potential, but he was not going to do that if it had killed him. He wasn't so smart that he was above it all, but he was belligerent. He was not smarter than them but he did think they were dumb. At the very end of High School the assistant principal called John together with his guidance counselor, laid his transcript out in front of him and he didn't have enough credits to graduate because he had failed too many classes. His cumulative GPA for four years of High School was 1.2.

There was a list of 18 kids with higher GPAs than John who were being held back. John had insisted on taking AP (Advanced Placement) classes the whole time and there were classes including AP history and some English class on his transcript with an F, but they had whited out the zero and given him credit for these Fs. They had just had a meeting with all the teachers and they had decided that it would be best if he just graduated and got on with it. They would rather not have him back or try to do this anymore, so ”Good luck and Vaya Con Dios!”

Adults not encouraging young people (KPJR1)

Fighting against all the adults for four years of High School was exhausting and soul-crushing to John. They were not above using every technique of bullying, undermining his confidence, and other terrible things. They did not want a teenager to slip through their fingers in this way, especially one that everybody had such high hopes for. John didn't come out of that unscathed. He was bruised by the fact that no adult ever took him aside and said ”Hey, you are going to be fine! One day you will have a podcast and it will be fine! One day you will figure it out and you will find where you belong in the world. Maybe you will have a band or maybe you will make it on the television or be a writer for a newspaper or something.”

No one wanted to acknowledge that there was a future for John. Their cosmology was that he either was going to go to a good university and become a productive member of the white people of America, or he was going to end up being a junkie on Skid Row. Which was it going to be? Junky or bank president? John got out of High School pretty sure that he was going to end up dying as a junkie. For four years they did not offer him even a single white rose, like ”There is an option, kid, which they don't like to tell the kids about!", but he could still make his own way in the world.

John couldn't stand Kerouac at the time, but he still wanted to go off across America because books had told him that he could find the real truth behind the curtain that only Allen Ginsburg knew. He was following the idea that there was a whole other world, but he didn't know anybody from that world and nobody offered him the opportunity to get there. There is a certain amount of magic in books and as a kid living out in the hinterlands you don't necessarily feel invited to join that world.

The scary part about about leaving your hometown at 17, sticking out your thumb and hitchhiking off into the middle distances, is that you might get there and the beatniks and the hipsters will say: ”Who the fuck you think you are, kid? Go back to your college prep!” John only had the thinnest confidence that he was going to find likeminded people in the world. He could not go down the path that they had laid out for him and he was not smart enough to make his own path except the path of most resistance.

John stood athwart! He expended much more energy refusing than he would have expended acquiescing. Today he regrets that in the way that a lot of middle aged men do when they look back at their lives and realize that they were trying to reinvent things that were well-established. A part of John wishes he had joined the Navy because it couldn't have been any worse than spending those years in shooting galleries or whatever the hell he was doing. A lot of his experiences as a young man that he thought were full of frisson and hidden meaning had no hitting hidden meaning at all, but were just squaller. There was nothing being learned! Instead he could have been in American Samoa with the rest of the crew of his battleship, having sexy lady times and drinking cocktails out of coconuts.

John is looking back on his life and thinks ”For the most part this is how it went! This is the path!” and he feels both pride and regret. What he has now is Today and he has Today and Tomorrow to work with. He certainly doesn’t regret not going to Yale. Hodgman and Coulton both went to Yale and now the three of them are locked in a room together. If John wanted to be a philosophy professor at Princeton, he would be on a much harder road to get there without having a college degree, but as someone who is not looking for the validation of Princeton and who is working in a world where he is self-invented, he is rather trying to be a philosophy professor on Twitter and nothing is keeping him from doing that.

John wishes that somebody had told him that, but he recognizes why no adult could do it. Sometimes he meets kids who seem to be struggling and he tries to tell them that they can end up anywhere if they are interested in charting their own course. There are surely people teaching philosophy at Princeton who got there by building their own sailboat and sailing around the world. Someone who does have an accreditation is not any better a philosopher than someone who doesn't and talent is not based on a piece of paper. Even in the highest realms of achievement where the walls are built entirely out of PhDs the colleges are most afraid of missing out on somebody brilliant, somebody on the outside who is smarter than you can make by just stacking books.

Even in the most closed-off institutions there is always the opportunity to come from outside, they try to do it with honorary degrees. If you are truly onto something you will always be welcome and there will always be a place for you. The true revolutions in human history never come from inside the institution, but they always come from someone working alone at a desk with a single lightbulb who has not been accepted by the patent office or whatever, being out there struggling and innovating. Einstein and Nietzsche were patent clerks.

The Internet making things easier for creatives (KPJR1)

With the age of the Internet all these walls got broken down, although it might seem as if the Internet has even more self-imposed walls than whatever is imposed from outside. The key is that they are self-imposed and physically there is nothing there. No business structure or corporate structure is preventing people from doing things. Those are mental walls that masquerade as total freedom. John looks at nerd culture with a lot of curiosity. A lot of really smart and creative nerds are very self-satisfied because no one is telling them that they can't spend all day working on Star Wars themed throw pillows. It is a triumph and people love it, but it is a false freedom. People are struggling against the opposition, fighting against the walls and the system is forcing them to innovate and become their own people.

Ken interjects that those people need an audience for their throw pillows or they are not going to get anything from it and ultimately they will have to make a decision what else they are going to do. John replies that the audience is a mob and there is always going to be a small audience for anything you do. I he walked out into the lobby of the Chateau Marmont and started doing a striptease, he would gather a crowd even if nobody would call it the greatest striptease they ever saw. People don't start out knowing what they want from things. They start out fighting against people telling them they can't do stuff and only by having limitations and having people standing in your way do you develop enough forward momentum that you are able to overcome the hurdles.

If the fruit was just dropping from the trees nobody would get up and build a house. If it was always 75 degrees (24 °C) and sunny you would never invent a water mill. It is the limitations that lead to innovation. The same is happening on the Internet: People are content with having an audience of 35 people. They didn't have to struggle to find that audience, but they put their thing out there and 35 people friended them or pushed ”like”. Their work here is done! The danger of it is that a lot of people who would be working harder if they had to fight for it are stopping just short of the innovation they could really come up with if they had a little bit more pain.

If John was sitting in that room strumming his guitar today, would he have been doing it on YouTube now? The technology has changed, but there is still a big difference between an introvert and an extrovert. Some people put everything about themselves on the Internet and some people don't. They both have access to the same technology, but some people are just intrinsically reluctant to be revealed. For an introvert there is a protection in going on YouTube because they don't have to deal with an audience in person as they would if they were getting up at an open mic night in front of a live audience. It is like putting a message in a bottle!

Things you put on YouTube also exist forever. The songs he wrote when he was 24 are now lost to time and he is not sad to have them lost to time. If they were floating out there on YouTube, even if people liked them, even if people found them now and said ”Oh, it is John Roderick’s early stuff! Isn’t it cute? That's great!” John is happy that no-one ever heard that stuff. If he was that kid now he is not sure whether he would be posting YouTube videos. It may very well have been better for him to put that stuff out in the world at a younger age and get over that reflexive self-editing and self-hate. Just put it out there and get on with it! John is not putting the songs he is working on now on YouTube and while many of his peers are he would not do that in 1000 years! He is not sitting in the middle of a cafe writing songs and he wouldn't do it on the Internet either. It has been five years since John’s last album and people have been asking him all the time on Twitter for three years where the new album is.

John made a series of videos called 13 songs with John where he mocked that process and said ”Here I am, working on songs!”, but then he went back to building a fence or working in his garden. John doesn’t know how many people out there watched those videos or follow him on Twitter who understand exactly where he is coming from and go ”Right, I see, it is part of the process, I am waiting patiently, and good luck to him!”, because all the feedback John gets is from the few people who do write him or tweet him every day saying ”When is the new record coming out?”

John has long stopped worrying about it. Every month he does get a carefully worded two paragraph e-mail from somebody, saying they have never written a letter to a songwriter before, but they just wanted to say that John's music really helped them and they just wanted to say "Thank you very much!" No need to reply, embarrassed to even be writing it, Good bye! John loves those e-mails because he recognizes how hard they are for people to write or how moved they must be to write them by sitting and listening to a record for the 50th time and saying ”My God, this record just keeps working for me and I am going to reach out to that person” Those letters are worth 1000 thumbs up! It is a real thing, the type of thing that the person otherwise would probably have written on a piece of paper and put a stamp on it. They felt strongly enough to break down that fourth wall.

John does feel he has started producing more material for the Internet in terms of writing, podcasting and certainly by tweeting, but the 800 pound gorilla in the room is always the music that he has conspicuously not been finishing and for whatever reason it takes time.

John no longer being confused, new challenges in song-writing (KPJR1)

A lot of the confusion John had when he was young about people, about girls, about the world, about other men, and about his place in the universe has resolved itself. As he grew older he understood why people acted the way they do, he understood why he is where he is, and he did not need to pursue solutions to those problems in music anymore. John doesn’t need to wail in the night about being outside, about being aware, and about any of those things that used to haunt him. Now he can better see his place in things and how the world works. He does not want to imitate that previous state and he does not want to make another record like ”Why does it not work out?” because it wouldn't be honest. Writing an album of songs like ”Here's why it didn't work out!” is very different.

John's style of music is very personal and he has never written a song that wasn’t autobiographical. It is very hard to just switch gears and start writing comedy music, political music, or dispassionate music. Writing about the things that he is passionate about now is much harder. Since the last Long Winters record came out his dad died, he settled down and bought a house after years of living out of a suitcase, and he had a baby. All these things are very concrete and very life altering, and John wants to address them in a song very much, but he doesn’t have the language.

It is one thing to write about how a girl broke your heart, to euphemize it and to make a song that is a metaphor about this girl. It is not really about her, but it is a composite of her and a few other girls who did the same thing. That is easy to do without losing any of the honesty, but writing about how losing your dad affected you? You can't really make a pastiche of all the dads you've lost and how they were all kind of different, but mostly the same. You have only one dad and you only lose him once. Johns want to honor him, but it is a new thing that introduces an element of over-seriousness to his writing and so far that amount of earnestness is uncomfortable to be talking about publicly or to be offering to other people. It is hard to just say ”Here is an earnest thing and I am not trying to euphemize this at all, but I am saying this directly!”

That level of being revealed is new for John and he doesn’t have entirely worked out how much he wants of that. It becomes an order of magnitude greater when he starts talking about his child. John has no interest at all in using her as fodder, in making her a character, or in talking about her in a way that is just writing songs like ”Baby baby baby” In this case he would really be talking about a baby! Even talking about her right now is more than he has said about her publicly or on the internet ever before, not that he needs to guard her, but it doesn't feel it is his right to do.

Putting things on the Internet (KPJR1)

John doesn’t want to reveal anything about his daughter to the world because it is none of their business. He wants her to have the opportunity to choose her own course in life as much as possible and not get to be 10 years old and realize that her life has been documented on her dad's Facebook page or that she already has a web page that John has been cultivating for her since she was a little girl. She would have no choice but to either inhabit it or reject it entirely. John doesn’t want to make any of those decisions for her. We are invisible to the world until we announce our own arrival. John appreciates his friends who want to document their family life on the internet, he understands the impulse and he loves watching their kids grow up on their Facebook pages, but when he thinks about himself and his own family, it is something he would never do.

Other people have always made choices that he would not make and he always felt that the choice he would make in a given situation would be different. This is one where he didn’t even have to do any thinking about at all. Why would he put a picture of his little baby on the Internet? That is not what he uses the Internet for. He puts stuff about him on the internet, but he is not trying to put himself on the Internet.

Collaborating with other artists (KPJR1)

In recent years John moved into doing a lot of collaboration. He is lucky to find himself surrounded by people who are enormously talented and who are working in a similar enough language and with similar enough intention that collaboration is much more obvious to do. When Jonathan Coulton asked if John would sing Nemesis on his record, his first thought was ”What an unusual thing to ask someone to sing the lead vocal on the lead-off track of your new record!", but John didn't second guess him for a second because he admires him as an artist. He had an idea, he asked John to do it, and it took John less than a fraction of a second to say ”Yes!”, because there wasn't any other thing to say. Collaboration for John is largely a product of being asked to do things by people that he respects and admires, and being in a position in his own life where he is being asked to do those things.

They met at the station at the same time, they had all gotten off different trains and they are milling around the station like ”Oh hello! You are here, too!” and that is good. It took a lot of train trips, but here we are in a station and if John could have chosen to be in any train station in the country, this is probably the one he would have chosen.

The Internet is still really young and John is the older generation of it. Most of John’s High School friends do not use the Internet for anything other than Facebook or e-mails. There are certainly people older than John who are good on the Internet, but behind him is the younger generation where everyone is on the Internet. A lot of John's peers are at a turning point both creatively and career-wise. John, Coulton, Hodgman and Paul F. Tompkins are friends and collaborators and everybody feels like they are pregnant with possibility. They are all actually making good things now and there is an expectation that something amazing could come out of this collaborative air.

It is a lot of fun for John and Merlin Mann to do their new podcast. They have known each other for so long, talking to one another is effortless, and the fact that anybody else would listen to it and enjoy it is just gravy. They are just broadcasting a phone conversation that they have been having for years. It feels like a great collaboration and you know you are doing the work you are meant to do when it just doesn't feel like work.

John is aspiring to have that be true of everything and to find the thing that doesn't feel like work and resonates with everyone who likes what he does, but when he is tantalizingly close to doing it, he really has to avert his eyes because he can't strive for it, but he just has to keep doing what he loves and hope that more people gather and hope that he keeps loving what he does and eventually it will find its own level.

Broken knee and broken teeth (KPJR1)

If there was one thing John could tell his younger self, it would be that you only have one body and to destroy it when you are young is to really make your middle age uncomfortable. John has no idea what his old age is going to be like, but he has trashed himself when he was young. His knocked-out teeth have been a pain in his ass! He walked around without teeth in his head for a while, he got braces, and his teeth are a real bummer.

John also blew out his knee when he was doing an extraordinarily stupid thing at 22 years old. He was at a Grateful Dead concert in the Touch of Gray era although he was not a Dead-head, The lineup was Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Bruce Hornsby and the Grateful Dead at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. John was just there because it was a place where people who were buying and selling drugs congregated and he was way up in the top of the bleachers all the way up in the back of the stadium.

All of a sudden a big thundercloud and lightning came over the stadium and while half the sky was still sunny and bright the other half was black with lightning bolts coming down. Right at that moment the wind picked up, the Grateful Dead took the stage and they start to play Ripple or whatever the first song was. The audience rushed the stage and John was all the way up in the stands and was like ”Yeah, let's go! Let's go down! Let's race all the way to the front of the stage!”

John ran and hopped over chairs, taking two or three rows at a time. He got to the railing on the outfield wall, he put his hands on the railing to hurdle it and as he was going over the rail he realized that he was 35 feet (11 m) above the ground. He was obviously Gonzo and had not put it together! It was the excitement, the drugs, and the lightning. They weren't playing Box of Rain, that would have been a brilliant idea. His hands were still on the railing, he was moving over into space and there was nothing he could do. As he fell through the air he became instantly very sober.

John had taken many great falls. He grew up being a downhill skier and he has flown through the air many times. Also this time he managed to land it and hit it in such a way that only his knee exploded instead of him breaking every bone in his body. John has been limping around on that knee for 20+ years and he had surgery, but there is only so much they can do. Now he looks out to the next 40 years of his life and imagines this knee and what it represents in terms of ”Well, there is going to be a walking stick one of these days isn't there? Let's just be honest!” John should start looking for a silver tipped sword cane. Either that or knee replacement technology will be such that this will be the first thing on his way to being Terminator Bob.

Would it be his teeth or his knee that John would take back? The teeth are so personal, but it is not just about the final time they got knocked out or the time before that or the time before that. The first time John knocked his front teeth out was when he was four years old and still had his baby teeth. Then his adult teeth came in, but he broke them as well and had caps put on them. He broke the caps and had bigger caps put on those. He got those punched out and he got root canals. He knocked his teeth out six times! John never broke his nose and he never broke his jaw because his teeth were absorbing all the blows. In recent years he has really cut the incidence of face breakage down to the smallest level.

Dog sled racing and moose on train tracks in Alaska (KPJR1)

One of the most popular Alaskan sports is dog pulling where you hook the same kind of weights that they use in tractor pulls to your dog and your dog sets off across the ice field trying to pull a sled of increasing weight. The dog that gets the furthest is the winning dog. The dogs which like to pull really do like to pull and you don't have to egg them on.

Riding on a dog sled is a very enjoyable experience that is very different from a snowmobile. You can't get air on a dog sled, but on a snowmobile you can really jump up in the sky. A dog sled is very peaceful because you are out in the snow, the dogs are yelping and off you go, but if anything happens to the dogs you are screwed. It does happen that a moose comes and tramples the dogs. Even though moose have very long legs to walk in deep snow, if they can find a place where the snow is less deep, they will walk there because they prefer to walk in shallow snow or no snow. They are not stupid in that regard, but John can tell a story right now that will illustrate exactly where the moose fall on the stupidity scale.

Moose prefer to walk on train tracks rather than through the deep snow, which would be a great idea if it weren't for the trains. Moose do not get off the tracks when the train comes and even though the train engineers honk their horns, slam on their breaks and do everything they can, most moose will not yield to a train. In the dead of winter Alaska Railroad trains from Anchorage to Fairbanks routinely kill 6 moose in a single trip. People along the railroad tracks get a subsistence living out of picking up the mangled moose carcasses and using them for food throughout the winter.

There were moose in John’s front yard growing up who would eat his mom's birch trees and she would come out in the yard and swat at them with a broom, but they were unfazed by that. They continue to talk about ideas what could be done to avoid hitting so many moose by trains.

Hodgman is doing a guest appearance back at the Largo at some sort of variety hour and John has a seat in the audience. That show starts not very long from now and they should probably wrap up because Hodgman is going to scan the audience. They could talk for another two hours if John wasn't mortally afraid of Hodgman slipping poison into his drink. The entire staff at this hotel treat him like he is Prince Albert of Monaco.

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