RL303 - Smzdrj

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: Maybe John should have driven a truck, referring to how John eliminated a lot of possibilities of how he could have conducted his life very early on.

The show title refers to a made-up band name without vowels like those bands that are on Bumbershoot these days that John has never heard of.

Happy Labor Day!

It is kind of early.

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

Why we celebrate labor day (RL303)

Merlin is celebrating labor day by doing five hours of podcast in honor of the great labor day podcast riot of 1919. They had chained a podcasting factory door closed and there was the terrible Triangle Shirt podcast fire. People kept stealing podcasts in their pocket on the way out because they couldn't afford guards around the podcast factory. Then there was the time when the floor of the podcast club fell and mostly Italian podcasters got hurt who were doing shows about Computers, Lamborghinis and downhill skiing, the three things that Italian Americans love the most.

It is not just a stereotype, because all stereotypes can be disproved. When Mario Puzo was getting ready to do The Godfather, he only wanted this movie be about the family and he didn't want to portray Italian Americans using computers, because they were tired about that stereotype and there would have been a protest! Everybody came to the United States knowing that this was the land where they could record audio with their computer and because they wanted to make a better way for their family.

It says it right there at the foot of the Space Needle in New York City: ”Give me your tired, your C++ programmers, your disenfranchised who are yearning for some integrity in gaming journalism.” Until recently they had miswritten Michael Barbero's name on the name tag at Ellis Island. They called him Michael Daily Show and they had to change it when he went back to Barbero, because that is his family name.

Merlin says that this banter is not funny because it is not even going anywhere! To John it feels like You Look Nice Today, except there is no other guy to make it sound good! Merlin likes to think it was them who invented making things up because before 2000 you wouldn't get a lot of white guys sitting around making stuff up like it was facts. It was a different time and people only talked about computers on podcasts. They talked about Linux distros, about code management and about brackets. Today we have shed that and we are finally free!

Computer people being the gatekeepers to what is on the internet (RL303)

Not that long ago, computers became the place where we practice our culture. The people who are standing athwart the gate, the ones who know how to put things on computers and on the Internet, are therefore also standing athwart our culture although they are not the first people you would want as the gatekeepers of the culture, because they are not cultural people. That is probably true even historically and culturally in journalism and publishing, because publishing is a business that had its own needs and its own preoccupations and biases, but that was how the culture got onto paper.

The publishing industry generally hired people for the gatekeeping jobs who were in the ”people who have the ability to read” family because they were going to decide which books were going to make it through to the paper. John is not saying that the computer people standing athwart the culture are necessarily standing there saying ”Stop!”, but they are saying ”I like this and I will help facilitate its presence on the Internet. On the other hand I don't like or don't understand this and so I'm not going to devote my time and energy to it.” It is not a conspiracy, but just an unhappy accident.

Merlin thinks what John was just saying is very culturally relevant. John likes to be a man for all ages. Ideally people should be able to listen to this program without knowing when it was recorded because it exists outside of time. Whatever years are in the show are in the show!

The way we interacted with the computers was for a long time governed by the people who made the functionality, the interface, the storage and the accessibility. For the longest time a computer felt like it was made by somebody who made computers. Interfaces from the 1980s and 1990s were designed by an engineer, not by a designer. One could also say that the platforms at the center of disseminating information in our age are being run by computer people who have a real different idea. They want to make the glasses to scale without much concern for what kind of liquid is in the glasses. They want to be out of that business and not have any responsibility for that.

This was true back in 1967 and it is still relevant. Hopefully it will not be relevant anymore in 2267, because John does not know what will happen.

We have been and are still living in an age where a lot of things are big and got big and remain big and accessible and our cultural practices are determined by the way we interact with machines which are controlled by people who are not speaking a universal language. Their prejudices are embodied in the way the machine is written and how the culture is written down. The shape of the glass is determining so much, but the lack of interest in what's inside the glass is just as shaping for our culture. Here we are on the selfsame internet, being listened to by a lot of those very people and it is Labor Day!

And that concludes entry 075.XP3098 Cultural Relevancy, certificate #39077 (a reference to John’s other podcast Omnibus).

John-themes and Ken-themes in The Omnibus (RL303)

John and Ken record two episodes of The Omnibus a week. Every Tuesday a Ken driven show is released and every Thursday a John driven show. By looking at the list of titles and knowing what he knows about John, Merlin is guessing the Anarchist Cookbook is by John, which is correct. Listeners of Roderick on the Line could look at Omnibus topics and be maybe not 100%, but 70% sure ”Oh, I bet you that’s a Ken, I bet you that’s a John!” Prisencolinensinainciusol is obviously John. Tylenol murders, William Rufus King, and Backyard Blast Furnace feel very John. The Washington Generals must be Ken ”There isn’t a ladder!”

Merlin had a copy of the Preppy Handbook around 1982 and read it and reread it voraciously. He loved it so much and he would dive so deep on subcultures! Merlin's daughter doesn't care about him or his life, but he is still inclined to sometimes tell her about things that are relevant to her age. The Preppy Handbook was an 8th or 9th grade thing for him and he remembers that he really got into the novelization of the film The Warriors, because he wasn't allowed to see the movie. In 5th grade he was very into the Warriors and into Animal House, even though he had seen neither. Their commonality is not just violence against women.

Founding a fraternity in High School (RL303)

Some kids in John’s High School who were a grade younger than him wanted to be in fraternities so badly that they couldn't wait to get to the University of Arizona or the University of Colorado and they started a fraternity at East High School called Tappa Mega Kegga. This was Alaska and therefore they put greek-style letters saying TMK on the back of their Carhartt jackets. At the time it was like ”Wow!”, but now you would say ”Oh sure, right! 17 year olds!” They were popular boys!

Some of those dudes went to the University of Colorado together where they joined actual fraternities. The University of Colorado is a storied institution of higher learning and not a party school like Arizona State or basically any school in Arizona, which would be indefensible except for a place where they just warehouse kids because they can't go to Lake Havasu and they go to the school instead and stand around. Merlin says that John just Baader Meinhofed him, because Lake Havasu is a branch campus of an Arizona university. Merlin is pretty sure he heard that as a throwaway joke on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Merlin wanted to be part of a special group and at one point in 5th grade he tried to create his own fraternity and was very into the idea of having a gang with some kind of branded costumes and a cool neighborhood associated with it. Don't fuck with the Wongs! You get the baseball Furies! In Merlin’s High School there was the Brew Crew, a bunch of boys with bucket hats who drank way too much on the weekends. They were allied with the soccer team. Soccer was not that big of a sport in Alaska, but these kind of popular rich boys were instead hockey player adjacent and downhill ski kids.

Little things like that make you realize there is a reason that we don't give the keys to young people. Young people don't really have all the great ideas right away, although there are a lot of very talented young people who never chained the doors of a sweatshop closed, but most young people need a little bit more time with those ideas before they are really ready for the rest of us to bring them online, into the streets, into the sheets, and into the bloodstream of society! Clean needles! You get some toxic water in that class and who are you going to blame? Jack Dorsey? Certainly not! He just wants free speech.

Lake Havasu and the houseboat culture (RL303)

Lake Havasu is not a natural lake and there is an entire culture of people with little flat-roofed two story house boats that are very pleasant to live on, but they are not boats that are meant to go fast. They are slow boats which are great to drink all day on, which is their primary purpose: You drink all day in the hot sun, you get up on the top of these two story boats, you take off your top, somebody gives you some Mardi Gras beads, and you dance lasciviously to some lavacious EDM. People pour beer on each other, jump into the lake and get back out. John has never been on one of those and doesn’t know enough about them to speak informedly, but this is not their first time around the sun! This is not Merlin’s first day!

There is a grand canyon under the water of Lake Havasu that won't ever be seen again until the apocalypse breaks all the dams. They have ruined a whole world and there are Native American artifacts under a billion gallons of water. In Europe they are drinking KERS light or Mike's Hard cider and are going crazy. Times have changed! Mike's Hard Cider actually has probably not been popular for 15 years, so John was making a generational reference, like "Current Indie Rock bands like The Shins". Merlin had a teacher in college who, whenever he wanted to sound relevant, would mention the Talking Heads. "All the way to the Talking Heads!"

Bonnaroo (RL303)

Bonnaroo is in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which is just a wide spot in the road. There was a town there, but it was just a place where moonshiners would get gas, there was no Murfreesboro College, but it is absolutely beautiful there.

Bumbershoot 2018 (RL303)

All the people that John knew coming up in music are now 50 years old and they are running everything in the music business now. The door guy from the Show Box, a super-friendly guy with a flashlight and a black T-shirt had been doing that job forever! He is a super-wonderful man and the only reason he was a door guy was that he happened to be born 6’7” (200 cm) and 290 pounds (130 kg). It is just as God made him! One time he walked in the door of a club and somebody stopped him and said ”Would you just keep standing at that door and keep trouble out?” and he was like ”Sure!” and did that job for 20 years.

As John was walking across Bumbershoot this year, he saw him sitting at a table wearing civilian clothes. John had never seen him in a shirt with a collar! As they saw each other, they stood up and gave each other a big American hug. He is not doing security anymore, but he is in charge of ticketing for the whole festival, which is wonderful! The music scene in Seattle is like a big family and people take care of each other. Instead of finding some kid right out of college to do the ticketing, they thought that his guy was great, he was smart and he was like family, so let's just make this transition. Now he got benefits, he got a real job, and he is doing things that are interesting. The whole festival is like that!

John is super-close with the head of production and the guys who are doing the creative work, but also the people doing the technical stuff have known each other for decades. This is exactly right! Corporations have let us down, the world has let us down, but every single one of these people has at one point or another stapled a flyer for their band up on a telephone pole back in 1992 and now they all built a real thing.

The Bumbershoot music festival is three straight days of music. The release of their lineup has always been an important day, not as much as the day the new iPhones are released, but when Coachella, Bumbershoot, Sasquatch or All Tomorrow's Parties release their lineup, everybody in the music business will see it that day. They put up a poster with increasingly tiny text on it and you decide how excited you are and you draw your own conclusions about what is happening with the festival. Is there a Beyonce? Are the any Shins? Coachella has been famous for bringing bands back from the dead that you would never have thought you would see again, like Tupac in hologram and all this stuff that is pretty corny. A couple of years ago there was OldChella with every Classic Rock band that was still alive.

When Bumbershoot announced this year's lineup, nobody in John’s culture in Seattle including all of the people who run the festival and book the festival had ever heard of any of the bands. The person who is booking the bands is a good friend of John's. They have talked about him on the show and sometimes he listens to the show. He said that he has heard of those bands because he had to listen to their music in order to agree to have them in the concert, but not even he has any actual idea of who they are.

Merlin could be very easily bamboozled if somebody read him a list of names and he was supposed to say whether that was a band or not. A lot of bands don't even have vowels in their names, but are just called Smzdrj. Who the fuck is Smzdrj? Is that a Rock band, a Hip Hop band, or a EDM band? What is it? Look it up, grandpa! Smzdrj is Dutch!

John spent the weekend just kind of popping into shows and checking them out. Obviously there was a lot of great music that he was just not keyed into and a lot of stuff where he was just like ”Alright! Alright!” If you had walked around an Indie Rock festival in 2002 without a knowledge of the subculture, most of the time you'd be like ”Yeah, okay! Yeah! Mates of State, I didn't know what that was, but it is good!” It was a beautiful weekend and the festival was well run.

Protests against the organizer of Bumbershoot (RL303)

There is a lot of controversy about the company that employs all the people from Bumbershoot. It is a big national company run by an old guy from Denver that books festivals and owns stadiums and all such. The guy is a Republican and gives money to Republican projects, just like the Microsoft guy, the In and Out burger guy and the Marvel guy. There are a lot of dingelings spending money out there! John did see the thing about Paul Allen which was very upsetting and did not make him very pleased. That is not who we thought he was! The guy from the festival company said: ”If you make a bunch of money, you are going to put that money with the people who are going to help you make more of it!”

There has always been the political tendency in America, which is really popular right now on both the right and the left, where we don't have any ideas about what we're going to build, but we think that the world would be better if we tore everything down. If we just break and tear down every single thing, then everything that will come up out of the ground with no plan at all will just be great, because the natural impulse of people is to only build beautiful things. Those people are kept down by the man and if we destroy the man, then the beautiful things will grow out of the ground. Big flowers, cultural wonders and democracy! We need to drain the swamp, but we also need to eliminate the bad man who is on top of everybody and keeping them down with his boot!

There are a lot of people like that on the liberal side in Seattle who don't really have a plan, but they just want to be against everything. They are against this company because the big bad guy is a Republican. When he came to Seattle he bought the Show Box, the very cool Downtown venue, hired everybody who worked there and said ”Okay, you guys are AEG Seattle now!” Everybody who worked at the Show Box were the exact people you would want because they all knew each other and were keyed into the whole city.

They had been a successful team for years, one they had built themselves and it wasn't their first day. They were the ones who had turned the Show Box into this valuable thing! It was the venue where Merlin and John did their turns-out-show. It was great and it was reliably always great. When Death Cab for Cutie got to a point where they could play the biggest house in the town, the Paramount, they would often play 4 straight nights at The Show Box instead rather than move up to the big venue.

The people on the political side of the city who want to protest things, pick at things and boycott things are really mad that AEG now has also taken over Bumbershoot, because when Bumbershoot first started in 1970 it was one of those city festivals where you could see Mott the Hoople for free. It is in the center of Seattle and it was the first thing after the World's Fair.

There was an event at Bumbershoot this year where one of the candidates for Seattle Mayor last year was given a forum to speak to an audience and she criticized the festival. She tried to get the crowd chanting, which is actually a form of politics now and is really hilarious. John is 50 years old, not 22, and he doesn’t even know what they are protesting now, because it changes every day. They were protesting Bumbershoot at Bumbershoot and John doesn’t think they understand that the actual people who are making this thing are as Seattle as you could be.

They think their great festival is now owned by these outside interests and ultimately the money goes up the chain and gets to this guy who gives it to the NRA. John is sorry about that, but please don't make it hard for his friends to put on their Rock show, just please! Apparently nobody went to her thing so it is not that big of a big deal. Unfortunately nobody went to see the Fleet Foxes either, but people did go to see Portugal. The Man and that was very exciting.

Portugal. The Man (RL303)

Merlin’s daughter likes the hit song by Portugal. The Man like a lot of other daughters. Most people don't understand that Portugal! The Man is really a stoner Metal Jam Band and not a children's band at all. That song absolutely has their typical sound and he sings like that in all of the songs. It has become a super pop hit and it was wonderful to watch 10.000 18-year-olds being really excited to see Portugal. The Man. John saw them at Bumbershoot 2018 where they also played some Black Sabbath and some Led Zeppelin.

These guys have been a band for over ten years and they have played and played and played. They are a touring band and they are road hard, but they weren’t put away wet and are still out there dry as a bone. They are all from Wasilla, Alaska and they are loving it. They know to play their big hit last and during the hour between when they begin and when they play their hit, they can basically play anything. They played She's so Heavy by The Beatles with a very long guitar guitar solo portion, but they don’t care and it is wonderful to watch them having fun.

Blondie (RL303)

John saw Blondie at Bumbershoot 2018 and they sounded amazing! There was the bass player, the drummer who is still a super-good drummer, Debbie, and a guitar player who was about John’s age. Interestingly they did not play their innovative cutting edge rap tune where she references Fab 5 Freddie. Maybe it is too hard to do or maybe she doesn't do it because it is not as popular now. They were one of the first Rock bands who added Disco-beat to their music during that one year between 1970 and 1979 when everybody had a disco hit.

Merlin says that Blondie was weird from the beginning. What even is a CBGB’s band? Television might be the most canonical one, but many others got leaped in there, like Ramones, Talking Heads, and Patti Smith. Patti Smith was working with the fucking blue oyster cult, she was a weirdo! Then you want to put Blondie in there? What line do you draw apart from appearing in the same place on the planet where all of those bands were doing a similar thing? It is so bizarre! Blondie was a Power Pop band, not a Punk band!

As John was walking over there, he was talking to a foxy gal in an age that would have been age appropriate for John, he asked her if she wanted to join him to see Blondie, but she wasn’t sure. How can she have anything other than total two thumbs up feelings about Blondie? She said that they were always a little too Punk for her, which was not a thing John ever thought he would hear, but apparently there are people his age or a little younger who still feel like Blondie is a little too Punk. By the time Punk Rock was featured on shows like Quincy, people would look at a band like Blondie or The Clash and let them be Punk Rock, whatever that meant. The Clash is a Reggae band, but they would have needed an editor like Bill Barry. He would raise an eyebrow and the whole wall of the building would fall down. He had such good taste and he had good eyebrows, too!

If you were not into Rock ’n’ Roll, the top five bands of the 1990s from Seattle all sounded the same, but from within Rock ’n’ Roll it didn't sound the same at all! Mudhoney doesn’t sound anything like Pearl Jam! Merlin thinks The Melvins were a good band and he likes their album Houdini. Honeybucket is a really great song!

Early 1980s Hip Hop (RL303)

Merlin has some feelings about people naming their band after things in other bands. He is going to give it to The Beatles or to Death Cab for Cutie because that was an extremely obscure reference (The name is from the song "Death Cab for Cutie" written by Neil Innes) and it was the reason that Scott McCaughey even went to see them in the first place was because he was a Neil Innes fan. Whodini was a Hip Hop group from 1981 and the front guy had a very cool Gaucho hat and he was the one who explained that the Freaks Come Out at Night. It was Midnight Star who told us that there was No Parking on the Dance Floor.

Merlin likes early Rap and thinks Jam On It is a very good song. John says that Young MC has a very enjoyable sound, but that is not even early rap. The Dust Brothers developed writing and producing skills in 1987 when they worked for Delicious Vinyl. They wrote and produced tracks on Tone Loc’s album Lōc-ed After Dark and Young MC’s debut album (Stone Cold Rhymin'). They had some dust-up with the Chemical Brothers because of the naming of their song Block Rockin Beats. There were a lot of Doctors, Bigs, and Lil’s, like Lil Wayne.

The Dust Brothers also produced Umm-Bop by Hanson. Merlin found that girl really cute, but it was totally a dude, which was very awkward. Hanson is an example of three brothers where one of them was really pretty, one of them was not pretty at all, and one of them was just cute. They had a condensed Osmonds situation going on, like some kind of a terrible genetic experiment, which is true of the Jacksons, too! Not all of them were beautiful. If you look at Hanson now, you will find that the one that was awkward looking has really grown into his looks. They look like the BeeGees now and the one that was beautiful has also grown into just being a normal guy. One should go back to child Hanson and tell them not to sweat it, because everybody grows into what they're going to grow into.

John’s Vespa (RL303)

The other day John was riding his Vespa which he had owned since he was 15 years old. Over the years it had been everywhere: First he left it in Alaska but when his mom moved to Seattle he brought it down and rode it around Seattle for a while. Then it kind of quit working and he put it under the stairs in the basement of her house. It got covered with blankets and other things got stacked on top of it and for a while it lived down there under a pile of guitar cases.

John knew it was there, but he was spending all his time playing guitar. Eventually he pulled it out and ran it again. When he bought his own house it was running for a while and they had many great years together until it stopped running again. John is not a great maintainer of his things and when something runs out of gas or gets a flat tire, he often just throws a blanket over it. They have lived together for 34 years and John knows all kinds of people who are not even that old!

The Vespa got rust on it and looks like shit now because John beat it up over the years, but it is still running and John is still running. It would never have occurred to John at 15 years old that he would still have that Vespa at 50 and that he would have taken such poor care of it. John never bought a really nice Vespa, but he just managed to keep this one running.

Going back and meeting yourself as a teenager (RL303)

If your young self could see you now it would be hard to communicate to them what exactly you are. It would take an hour and a half for John’s younger self to even understand what he is! Merlin had this conversation at length with his friend John Siracusa who seems to stipulate that the hardest part is going to be the proving that you are the you from the future. If you can prove that, everything else falls into place, although having a middle aged man talking to a teenager is weird. John thinks you could prove that very quickly because you know things about yourself that no one else could ever possibly know. If you have thought about your childhood at all you know what those things would be.

Even if you are standing there as a 5 foot (150 cm) tall woman with a white afro, you are looking enough like you are related to yourself, like an uncle or a missing dad or something, but it is because you are you! You were trying to conjure an orb on the way home from school and you walk up to young John and say: ”See! Here's your orb! Somebody should make you a 3/4 scale Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and because it is 3/4 scale, you wouldn't need a driver's license for it. It is a loophole!", which was some Richie Rich idea John had (see RL252). That child would have said he never told anybody about that.

You should just sit that person down and tell them that they are going to be fine and everything is going to be fine. Things aren't going to be bad! You are not a senator, but that is cool! So many things were on the wrong side of the line between looser and okay, which is so confusing. You never got rich, you are not that important, but you are fine. Boy that would be the hardest pill for a teen to swallow. It’s not like you didn't get married and you live in a house on the hill with your dead mother, either. You are a member of the world and your mom is still alive, so that is not applicable. We are running a motel, but so what?

While John was growing up there were many perfectly fine and reasonable jobs and outcomes that he was either taught were not enough or that he determined were not enough. He eliminated whole swathes of being a perfectly fine valid human being from contention! Driving a truck for example is a perfectly great job and frankly, John would have been great at it and life would have been a lot better if he had just spent some years driving a truck. It is right up what he should have done for a period, but he couldn't have conceived of it at that age.

Merlin thinks that the single hardest thing to talk somebody out of is social anxiety. He would not have a single fucking thing to say to his young self that would have saved that one. Just like when people are trying to talk about other people's depression, the solutions they offer are always useless because they ignore the basic reality of what the thing is! It is something that John really had to continue to learn over and over. There are social anxieties that you hadn't considered and that debilitate people in ways that you hadn't imagined. The world is sympathetic or not, depending on where you're standing in the world. They have effects that can be invisible or weird. You are aware of it at a deep level and every time you know it turns out okay, so you can do it this time and be assured that it will turn out okay, but that still doesn't help!

Saying "No!" and being Santa at the North Pole (RL303)

When Merlin was an adult he arrived at a place where he realized he was not going to do the things anymore that he didn’t like to do because they caused him anxiety. It is difficult to work hard and not do known-good things in the pursuit of something that is not actually a good thing. Merlin started to say "No!" to things when everybody was like ”What? You can't say no to that! You have to answer all your e-mail today!”

John’s mom did a similar thing: She retired from work at 65, which was pretty young by today's standards and she said she was not ever going to dress for anybody else anymore and she was not going to go do things she doesn’t want to do. She was not going to go to people's cocktail parties just because they were her neighbors. Although she likes them and sees them all the time, she doesn’t want to go to their party! She has never been happier and she lived the last 20 years of her life as absolutely the happiest person in the world.

John is still wrestling with it, because he still says "Yes!" to things that he has no interest in doing and that will cause him pain. He had a thing earlier this year (see RL297) where they offered him something as a big favor to him, but he was going to prep and do all the stuff and he didn't want to do it. His mom asked him why he was agreeing to do something that was already causing him problems and he should just tell them "No!" Maybe it would make them sad and what if they won't ask him again? What if this turns into something that he couldn't have imagined? What if he ends up leaving this event and getting into a sleigh that takes him to the North Pole and it turns out he was Santa all along?

She replied that John wouldn’t even like being Santa and she was right. Parts of being Santa would be cool, but it would be a lot of responsibility. Elves are probably hard to deal with and they are probably fucking super horny! It is the Anime problem or the Olympic Village problem: You work all day basically as a slave labor, making toys and at night you're going to do some finger banging. Between Elves that would be fine, but what happens if Santa gets involved? Santa is the law at the North Pole! Would the Elves call him Santa? John thinks they would! Merlin watched Addams Family Values last night and he felt uncomfortable about how they were trying to set up Uncle Fester with the new Nanny, but that's nothing compared to the shit Santa would get away with when that giant belt buckle gets undone! The name Santa is just a anagram for daddy. Santa daddy!

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