RL318 - The Best Chicken

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: John got the side-eye, referring to Craig Finn giving John the side-eye when they first met 10 years after John had written some mean line about him in a magazine.

The show title refers to John wondering which of the 10.000 chickens at Safeway would be the best chicken.

There is a playlist for this episode.

Merlin has problems talking today.

John owes apologies to so many people and he learned a long time ago that the people who owe him an apology don’t think they do. It seems like trying to fix the environment by not using straws, but there is a way bigger thing going on here. Let’s keep avoiding Nuclear Wars as long as we can.

Almost Happy New Year!

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

Getting the chocolate out of a squirty bottle (RL318)

The first thing John did this morning was having a spoon full of chocolate sauce out of a squirty bottle. He got to the end of the bottle last night and realized that he had another empty bottle sitting next to it that he kept because he was going to try and get the chocolate out. He turned the bottles upside down to get the chocolate to drip out onto a little tray during the night. This morning part of the chocolate had dripped out, but there was still lots in there and he got a teeny spoon to work the chocolate out, all with the acknowledgement that he set his alarm for 9:45am.

Merlin calls that a 10-second job, but John doesn’t like to microwave plastic. He actually thought ”What would Merlin do?”, which he does 15 times a day. In most cases he will put a blanket over his head and it works. He put the two bottles in the microwave for 10 seconds and ”Kapaow!” Merlin wonders if John ever worked in a restaurant where he had to mate or pair ketchup and make it go into a bottle. John used to do that at both the Red Robin and at Kell’s Irish Pub, all the great restaurants he used to work in. The rumor at Kell’s was that the owners were Orangemen who were repping being Catholics. They didn’t march a lot because marching in Seattle is about plastic six-packs killing the seagulls and not so much to assert your dominion. John didn’t like working there, it was a terrible job.

Supermarkets (RL318)

Fred Meyer is a store that has everything from lawn furniture to fresh bananas, like a Walgreens if it was good, but you can also get Levi’s. Merlin’s log line is: Walgreens is the place that almost has what you need.

Merlin’s Walgreens is a small neighborhood Walgreens like a City Target and John bought a cape there once which they have talked about a lot. The City Target close to John is three stories tall, but that is not what you want! You want to stand at the door and see all the way to infinity. If you don’t feel overwhelmed, then it is not a real Target. John also bought a container of rainbow-colored sharpies at Merlin’s Walgreens and they looked at a giant Sharper Image flask (see RL182) and laughed about it. Maybe Eric bought it, but John doesn’t have a ton of reason for a flask. Does reason really enter into it? John is an aesthete!

Fred Meyer is like a Kroger. Merlin does have neither of them. Kroger might be like a Best Mayonnaise / Hellmann’s Mayonnaise thing where it is about unions. There are also Jack in the Box vs Hardee’s and there is Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin, which will soon just be Boeing. Fred Meyer is an old brand in the Northwest that they all call Freddie’s, one of the things like Nordstrom where you are not supposed to put an ”s” on it, but they all for the longest time said ”Fred Meyer’s” or ”Nordstrom’s” because they remember when those things belonged to a man named Fred Meyer or a man named John Nordstrom.

When John was a little kid there was a Fred Meyer up the street from his house and it was the first store besides 7-Eleven that he went to on his own because he could ride his bike there. It was also the first place where he saw a barcode scanner, and the first place with a conveyer belt for your groceries, all these things! There was also a Fred Meyer across the street in Alaska, all before Kroger got involved. Merlin had a Kroger in Cincinnati, it is a big Midwest thing. Merlin’s best friend’s mom worked for Kroger.

Safeway is still their own jam. Ralphs is owned by Kroger and was founded by George Ralphs. Kroger was founded by Bernard Kroger. The founder of Safeway was ”Mr. Safeway who is my father” They serve a kind of food called Safeway Select, which is kind of contra-indicated and which John normally eschews because he feels like it is putting on airs, just call it ”generic”! They don’t have to have a better class of food, because nobody buys it. Whole Foods has the 365 brand, but the proliferation of organic brands is very difficult for John to parse. What qualifies a chicken to be organic? Merlin bets a lot of shit has been stepped on hard and they cut it with baking soda or with glass. Do you need an organic banana? Organic Banana were German!

Merlin continues to talk about the founders of different supermarkets like Albertsons which seems like Safeway with somebody else’s name. In 2015 they merged with Safeway. Pretty soon there will only be one chicken! There is Acme Markets, Shaw’s and Star Market, Vons, Tom Thumb, Randalls and Jewel-Osco, which Merlin thinks of as an Illinois-thing. John has been to many states 1000 times but has never had cause to go to a grocery store. Why would you go and get a chicken in Illinois? To take it back to your room? John wants spaghetti 5-Ways, but he is not going to get it at a grocery store.

Finding the best chicken (RL318)

Not very long John went to the Safeway and studied the organic stuff and it basically comes down to spooky action at a distance. Which chicken in this frozen food aisle is the least polluted chicken? John was surrounded by the carcasses of 10.000 chickens, some of which have been misused, some of which have been abused, some of which were sad, some of which were pumped full of terrible things, some of which were massacred and there is one chicken in this place that is the best chicken.

John doesn’t know how you measure the quality of a chicken’s life, but by process of elimination you can sure as shit know when it is not the best chicken. At some point in its life a real chicken had to pull an earth worm out of the ground and it had to have had that conflict, that frisson of ”Me vs this worm. I am going to get this worm or the worm is going to get away.” John wants a chicken to at least have had that experience.

Which chicken in that Safeway or that Krogers is that chicken? You are going through these bags that are organic, you got all the burritos with chicken in it and there are a lot of vehicles for delivering chicken. Where is the nicest chicken place? A lot of the time John ends up walking out of the store with no chicken because he cannot determine the best chicken in there. Is it the most expensive chicken? Merlin recommends John to try the spatchcock, he gets theirs from a place called Bi-Rite. Sometime at Safeway you can get a whole chicken in a bag and you think that at least that chicken is still whole and they didn’t throw into a meat grinder. Merlin thinks it is sitting in its toxic juices, marinading in sick.

Safeway Keurig cups (RL318)

Recently John’s mom got John's screwed-up Keurig running again. She de-lime-diseased it. Safeway had a sale on a big box of Starbucks Keurig cups and John picked one up and walked around the store with it in his shopping cart, going over to look at the cakes. He discovered a big display of Safeway Signature Keurig cups with 48 cups for less than 14 Starbucks cups and John put the Starbucks thing down and picked up the Signature, because he is not above Signature coffee, the top-of-the-shelf Safeway stuff. It was great, it was fine, it was as good as anything.

John went through all 48 Safeway Signature cups and was out of coffee. Although he got 5 bags of coffee beans lying around, among others a vacuum-sealed bag of Cuban coffee that his sister brought back from Cuba, he didn’t want to get the coffee maker down and start making coffee like a savage, but he wanted to use his cups. He was on his way to the Safeway, but didn’t make it there because he had something else to do at the other side of town and there was a Safeway as well, but he was on the wrong side of the street and would have to pull a U-turn and it would have been a weird thing with a couple of lane-changes and John is not that loyal, so he drove past it.

There was a Fred Meyer on John’s side of the street and he decided to go there instead because they surely have those things, too. There were Starbucks cups on sale in the Keurig cup aisle, but John also knew that there would be more cups for less somewhere further down this line and sure enough: There was a box of 48 Kroger Select Keurig cups on sale so that each cup of coffee was like $0.20.

Kroger cups are available in light roast, medium roast, and donut shop roast, which is supposed to be Dunkin Donuts, and the darkest of them is medium dark roast. John searched for dark roast but didn’t find any such that he was almost prepared to pay more for Starbucks just to get a dark roast because he thought he wouldn't like a medium dark roast. Eventually there was a lady who took medium dark roast and put it in her cart and her 10-year old son was talking to her about his fantasy football team and they seemed like people he could trust.

John bought the medium dark roast and this morning, right before this show and after he had a spoon full of chocolate, he made his first cup of Kroger medium dark roast and it was bad. It was the worst of both worlds and had this sour taste that coffee snobs think is good flavor, that tangy taste, the Arabica thing that just tastes off. Merlin’s wife will not allow that in the house and thinks it tastes cheap and John agrees. Mike Squires is all about coffee that tastes like fucking Skunk Glands, he thinks it is the good stuff and if you don’t like it you are a plebe, but John is a plebe then!

Now John got 46 cups of this sour coffee he has to get through, but the only people who regularly visit John are Ken Jennings who doesn’t drink coffee and Adam Pranica who always brings his own fancy coffee and if John offers him coffee, he is fine. The only reason that it goes by is that John can appreciate somebody not wanting a Keurig and Adam routinely brings John an egg-and-sausage breakfast sandwich, which is fucking A, and it is forgiven.

Podcast fan sites (RL318)

Now that John has branched out into other podcasts instead of just this little safe space between him and Merlin, people yell at him all the time about his pronunciation of things. He thinks of himself as an articulate person, but every single week somebody takes some issue with the way he says something. To Merlin it seems like John would get a lot of feedback on his jokey war movie podcast from people who have a beef more with the war part than the movie part.

David Rees spent a lifetime studying how to sharpen a pencil and wrote a book about it, but unlike him people get mad at you if you don’t know all the minutia of the tiny little thing that they know about. The other show, Omnibus, has a whole thread going with the words that John says wrong. Omnibus and Roadwork do not have a Reddit, but Friendly Fire and Roderick on the Line both have people talking about it on Reddit, except the Roderick on the Line people only go on there once a year.

A lot of people have contacted them over the years and have asked about some kind of external fan organization for this program, but Merlin has mixed feelings. There is one super-nice guy who has done a clone of Wikipedia to annotate certain episodes and Merlin is grateful he has done that. Merlin just assumes that people don’t talk about them at all. Enjoy the show quietly! Don’t play it too loud! Listen all the way through at 1x! Don’t talk about it!

Tweet-ups (RL318)

John has done quite a few Tweet-ups, often last minute when he would be at a park-bench for the next 45 minutes. He did that once in Boulder Colorado in the middle of the day and a couple of people came and said "Hi!" It was great! Merlin did that once in Brighton, England when he was on the same stage as ABBA for Eurovision in 1974 to sing Waterloo. John knows that stage. Merlin's talk didn't go very well, he was trying something different and his host, this really nice guy Jeremy, told him about the stage before he was going out there. Merlin was making a lot of jokes about Helvetica and he could feel the hand of Björn from ABBA through the decades. He is an unabashed and un-ironic ABBA fan. John doesn’t like to do tweetups, but he does them sometimes because he feels he should give something back. Is he the George HW Bush of meet-ups?

One time John did a tour where he rented a Mustang and drove around trying to hit all the corners of Florida, which is a square-shaped state. He was in Tampa and St. Petersburg and he did a tweet-up right down the center of Downtown St. Petersburg in some Hipster bar. It was a lively time and a big success. John was walking around the bar, shaking hands with everybody. There had been a big event and there were a lot of nice people.

John realized that this was a Hipster bar. Their meet-up had started at 7pm and by 9pm John was getting ready to leave to go to his Motel and sit and watch TV in his underwear. As he stuck his hand out to a Hipster dude who looked like a Roderick on the Line fan, he realized that this was just a drunk Hipster asshole and this was his regular bar. He was like ”Why would I want to shake your hand?” and he was super-annoyed by all these other hipsters in his bar he didn’t know, and why were they laughing? It is called narcissism of minor differences and hipsters turn on each other, they are rough! John was sorry because he didn’t mean to be friendly.

Street names of St. Petersburg (RL318)

St. Petersburg names their streets very confusingly with have numbers that go up and numbers that go down. There is a Central Avenue and it moves out in parallel lines on either side. There are 16 different streets called Orange, at least where Merlin lived. Introducing 9-1-1 in that area was rough because they had to tell the people in trailer parks that their fruit street names weren’t going to fly and they needed something besides ”Orange”. They couldn’t have all oranges and some of the people had to not be orange. But because it was Florida, everybody was like ”Fuck you!”

Merlin meeting John Doe (RL318)

Merlin once introduced himself to John Doe and it went categorically very bad because he was super-drunk. Merlin has a flavor of super-version where he is kind of introverted and kind of extroverted. It was also the name of the original cable company in John’s town (actually Super Vision) Merlin was in Portland with a friend and met John Doe at The Bottom of the Hill. He re-met him later in a sober environment because he is a friend of a friend and he was absolutely one of the nicest people ever and he seems genuinely interested in whatever your bullshit is. He is a real good sport and was super-nice to Merlin’s daughter on several occasions.

Merlin has introduced himself to a lot of people when he was drunk and it has not gone well a lot. John never did that because when he was drinking the whole thing was ”I don’t care who you are” and the biggest response famouses ever got was a sneer. John was a dick.

Merlin meeting Colin Meloy (RL318)

Merlin once introduced himself to Colin Meloy in a bar in Portland and that did not go well at all. His friend had gone to the bathroom and Merlin was pretty sure that guy he saw was Colin Meloy. Merlin made the categorical error of saying something like he was a friend of John Roderick. Colin might have called him gauche, but he can’t remember. It didn’t go great and he didn’t comport himself well. Colin was very ivy league about it which comes back to Noblesse Oblige. If you went to the University of Montana you have every right! You learn to be very earnest with other people when you had hits like the Barrymen’s Bowman, The Pirate’s Regret, or any of these early EPs like Fairy Wing, Listerine, Privateer, those are Guided by Voices records (John is making fun of The Decemberists that all their songs are about pirates, see RL26)!

John meeting Michael Stipe for the first time (RL318)

John used to work at a News Stand (see Employment History) back when the band R.E.M. was very popular, it was a store that was either busy or not busy, and when it was busy there was a line out the door because everybody wanted to buy the New York Times or everybody wanted to get a pack of cigarettes or everybody wanted a stick of gum or something, in the middle of the day. Once there was a big line of people and John was ringing them up because he can use a cash register and make quick ”How are you doing” banter with dozens of people, having a good old time.

A little tiny man came in who would fit into a PEZ dispenser and as John looked down at him he realized it was Michael Stipe. He was like ”They airbrushed my face!” (backside of the album Eponymous) and John said ”Box cars are pulling out of town!” (lyrics Carnival of Sorts), ”The power lines have floaters so the airplanes won’t get snagged!” (lyrics Driver 8). John asked him ”Oh, what brings you to town?” - ”Just working on some stuff” - ”Really, are you guys going to do anything?”, making sure not to allude to anything musical like "playing a show". He gave John a winky little smile and John was smiling at him. They went ”See you later, catch you on the flip side” and he was out into the world.

No-one in the store had recognized him. Part of John wanted to shout ”Hey guys, you know who that was?”, but he didn’t and was just enjoying the moment. They had a little bubble because nobody else in the store knew it was him and he did a very good job of celebrity-make-yourself-invisible game. He had his shoulders hunched a little bit and he was great at moving his head in such a way that he was giving just enough profile to whoever was around him so that nobody could quite see him.

It was the first time John met Michael Stipe and he carries it with him to this day. If people would ask him what his top five celebrity encounters were, he would say ”That first time I met Michael Stipe”. John met him 100 times since and Michael Stipe is a genius at standing in a room and vibrating at a frequency that makes him become invisible. He does actually seem to shrink in size when surrounded by an increasing number of people. Backstage in Atlanta he was surrounded by all of these people who wanted a fucking piece of him and he shrunk 8 inches (20 cm).

Once John watched him walk through one of those fancy soap stores in Vancouver where they serve soap like food, John doesn’t remember why he was here. Michael Stipe walked in the door and did a circuit of the store, not looking for soap, but he might have been talking on the phone. He went all the way around, not moving fast, but just kind of moving, he kept moving and got out of the way, he had somebody behind him that was probably a body guard, they walked around the store and went out the door. Nobody noticed it was him and the only reason John noticed him was because he was in a soap store and didn’t know what he was doing there.

Courtney Love coming to John’s news stand (RL318)

John alluded to this story in RL178, this happened in 1997.

One time Courtney Love came into John's News Stand with two assistants and they went around the store, found any magazine that had a picture of Courtney Love in it and brought them all up to the front. ”Does she know we can see what she is doing?” There was no-one else in the store, it was late at night and it was just John, Courtney Love and her two friends. They spread out around the store and were shouting at each other, like ”Oh my God, you are in Vogue Paris” - ”OMG, no way!” and they were laughing and having a very conspicuous time, performing for John and one another.

John being the magazine store guy, he of course knew every magazine in the store and knew which ones had Courtney Love in it. He told them ”Don’t forget Uncut! You are also on the back page of Model Train Enthusiast!” in a voice that was basically a Kurt Cobain impression. Amazingly they brought all the magazines to the front. John would have expected that they would just leave them all on the floor and don’t buy anything. John would love to see the closet where she has collected all the magazines with her picture in it, because it would be a big closet.

Edward Norton (RL318)

Courtney Love was pretty good in that Larry Flynt movie (The People vs. Larry Flynt) and got a lot of press. John likes this movie because it has his once-upon-a-time-favorite actor Edward Norton who was the voice of their generation (see short mention in RL252 in Cars). He was also in the Jail movie of the same year (Primal Fear), in the Woody Allen dancing movie (Everyone Says I Love You) and in the Fight Club movie. When John saw him in the Larry Flynt movie, he thought that this actor resembles him in his generation, whereas Courtney Love was just ”Yeah, I know her”

Ricky Skaggs (RL318)

One time when John was leaving Bonnaroo, Ricky Skaggs’ tourbus hit a guy on drugs who ran across the freeway in the middle of the night. It happened right in front of John but he didn’t actually see it. It is like in Dragnet, ”The sky is green and I am a tree” It is worse than the Mosquitos on Gilligan’s Island and worse than Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s ”Miss Gorightly! Once again, I must protest!” (lyrics). That has not aged super-duper well. He was playing a Japanese and it was done so: ping pong.

Carl Newman (RL318)

Merlin sent John a ”5 musicians to whom I have drunkenly introduced myself” list, one of which is Carl Newman. He is an extremely nice guy and their encounter at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco was very awkward. Merlin has given up on being friends with Carl Newman and doesn’t think he can make it work. He just wanted him to know that he is loved, but that crushes people. Merlin still listens to Zumpano.

The others on the list are John Doe, Bobbin Mill and Sharky (Laguan) from Creeper Lagoon. Merlin’s problem with all these stories is that he always has an anecdote. With the band Loess he wanted to compliment her on her cover of the Small Factory song Valentine. He also talked to Brett Netson, the bass guy on the first album (Ultimate Alternative Wavers) about trying to stop taking heroin. Merlin felt really bad for him.

John has rolled up on Doug Martsch (from Built to Spill) so many times. He is like talking to a log that hates you. He has no twinkle and he gives you no little smile. John went up to him like ”Hello, I’m John, we know a lot of people in common”, like 1000. He has the same producer Phil Ek than John had for his Western State Hurricanes cassette, but John and Phil Ek had a falling-out a long time ago and Phil is mad at John for some dumb reason.

John just wanted him to reply with one of two things: ”Hey man, how is it going?”, ”Oh what’s up?” or the best possible would be ”What’s up, John? Hey, I like those Long Winters records!” John and Merlin re-enact the best possible conversation. John loved all of his records until they got weird in the mid-2000s, but Built to Spill were the 1990s to him! He would tell people from other states about them and they hadn’t even heard of it or they would say that they sound like the Flaming Lips, but they don’t sound anything like the Flaming Lips and John would get into arguments with people, like the guy from Babe the Blue Ox. Babe the Blue Ox were good and Merlin was a super-fan in an era of some truly great power trios. There were a lot of really fucking good three-person bands. Fiddlehead stayed at Merlin’s house one time.

John’s first Carl Newman story is that somebody came up to him in The Bowery Ballroom at a Long Winters show and told him that Carl Newman was here who apparently was a fan of the band! Subsequent interactions with him were great until there was some kind of Twitter thing where Rock ’n’ Roll people picked sides and John is not sure why. It involved Jon Wurster somehow, who is very problematic to John at least. Merlin bets John got in a fight with Neko Case, who unsurprisingly does not like John. She was a big fan of one of John’s ex-girlfriends who ended up not being a big fan of John. Her road manager has a lot of experience with John and she was getting a lot of information about him when he wasn’t there to explain it and say like ”Well, but you know… sure, yes,…, but also” John is not sure if that affects Carl Newman that much.

John was at a wedding with Jon Wurster one time and he did not dane to say Hello, because there had been a thing that was initiated by him and he wanted John to be like ”Hey, what’s up, man?”, but John didn’t think so, "Talk to the hand!" He is in Superchunk and in The Mountain Goats, although The Mountain Goats stretches the definition of ”band”.

Citizen Cope (RL318)

John got yelled at one time when he played a show with Citizen Cope at the Mercury Lounge in New York. Meshell Ndegeocello was Cope's bass player for some reason at that show. John was a big fan of her, he told her that she was amazing and that he was a fan, and she was the nicest person and ”Oh, thank you so much!” and she took John over and had a conversation with him. Cope was really fuzzy about what was going on throughout the whole soundcheck and he was talking to his people like ”Can you notch the 4K and take out 11-12 and put in…”, just bitching at everybody. John went to watch the show and Cope talked in a low rapper voice, not at all how he talked before, like blackmouth, almost Mushmouth, and John couldn’t believe it and Cope became an instant enemy of him forever. Once time John said something caddy about him and his manager wrote him ”How dare you speak ill of another musician, have you no class, sir?” and everyone's premise should be ”Good Luck to all bands!”

John realized that 98% of all musicians pursue that dictum and do not talk shit about other bands, because the critics are on this side of the wall and the musicians are on that side and never the twain shall meet. If you meet a critic in the world, you should spit on their shoes. If you see Third Eye Blind having another guitar player behind the curtain (see RW51) who is actually good, say nothing!

Bob Wolff (RL318)

Merlin thinks that Bob Wolff (?) is surely nice, but talking to him is probably a little bit like talking to a manual about Fortan: At one point he can just go ”beep boop”. He seems like he is nice in the sense that he doesn’t want to hurt anybody and his memoirs are a good book. John doesn’t think that Black Francis would be very fun to talk to, but better than Frank Black (that is the same person, member of the Pixies). John just saw them play Come On Pilgrim all the way through.

Billy Joel, artists meaning different things in different regions (RL318)

Billy Joel means something different to people from Long Island or New Jersey than to people on the West Coast, which is true for many artists. The first time John came to New York and somebody was talking to him about Jerry Garcia (from the Grateful Dead, a West Coast band), John wondered what they were talking about because the Grateful Dead didn’t belong to them because they were from where John was. They told John that there were more deadheads in New York than anywhere in the world and John could not fathom it.

What do they even do with deadness over here in New York? It doesn’t belong here! Whenever John meets somebody in Washington who is really into Billy Joel, he wonders if they grew up on the East Coast or if they have learned about him from someone from the East Coast. It would be rare that a modern person would get into Billy Joel at age 29. Some of it is great, although corny. Allentown is a really good Pop-jam and an indictment of the decline of the American industry, while 9 to 5 (by Dolly Parton) is a union song. What a way to make a living! John thinks that 9 to 5 and A Day in the Life (by The Beatles) are two versions of the same song.

LCD Soundsystem, turning somebody else's knob (RL318)

This was the problem John had with LCD Soundsystem: Where the fuck did they come from? What the hell? Why were they selling out the Madison Square Garden? John was watching the LCD Soundsystem one time from the side of the stage and the guy did the thing where he would say ”Can I get a little more guitar?” and the producer would reach down to touch the knob and you would say ”I’m sitting right here, I saw that you did not touch that knob, or at least you didn’t move it!” and the producer would be ”Oh, no, I just turned up the guitar” - ”You didn’t! I’m sitting right here!”

And so he walked back in the middle of the show and adjusted a knob on the bass-player’s amp. That was the craziest thing John had ever seen, it was great theater because you don’t go adjust somebody’s knob. It was his way of saying that he was in 100% control of what was happening on this stage and everyone here was doing what he told them, because they can even change their shit. John would never do that because Eric Corsan would hit him so hard with his bass, he would kick him right off the stage.

John also wouldn’t stop the van when somebody had to pee, because you don’t get to pee when they were on their way into Detroit. You pee back at the beginning, not when they are in combat mode. If John had said to Eric ”What the fuck about your bass?” it would be like walking into somebody’s underpants.

The National (RL318)

The other day John was at (Nabil’s) wedding and got introduced to the lead-singer of The National (Matt Berninger). There was a lot of stuff John could have said to him about the friends they had in common, but he was not going to pretend that he liked The National. Matt was wearing an Ascot (tie) and on stage he seemed very quiet and reserved, but he was one of those sextroverts who looked like the king of the party and he met John like John was one of the waiters ”Oh, hey! Nice to meet you!” John wished Matt would have said ”Hey, big fan!”, but he didn’t.

Craig Finn (RL318)

Around the year 2000 John knew (he didn’t want to say ”dated”) a girl from Milwaukee who had been a super-big Lifter Puller fan but he didn’t know what that was. She had an ironic little hatchett man juggalo tattoo (see RW79 in Juggalos), and although John doubted that a tattoo can be ironic, she didn’t seem to be a juggalette in any way, shape or form. Maybe things are different in Milwaukee?

As The Hold Steady came out later she contacted John to tell him that it was the guy from Lifter Puller and John listened to it. They became very popular very fast with people like Merlin Mann. John was writing for CMJ and they hired him to got to Bonnaroo and write about the festival. All he had was a T9 phone, so he was writing all his articles in T9 (see RW82) while sitting in the audience. Somehow he also had the technology to send it to them from his phone.

John walked over to watch The Hold Steady and he was already mad because of the girl with the juggalo tattoo who liked Lifter Puller and because they were getting really good press, the same press that Colin Meloy got, which is ”These guys are the smartest band on the scene with lots of smarty smart lyrics and only smart people like them and they are smart” John has always hated those bands because they were stealing all the accolades that he was feeling belonged to him.

Watching The Hold Steady

John watched them and found that they sounded like Bruce Springsteen, but everybody got crazy, which felt like an East Coast thing. Mr Guy was jumping around, doing his thing and nobody in the band looked like a Rock star or even a musician, they just looked like a bunch of people. Merlins says that the keyboard player (Franz Nicolay) totally looks like a musician because he has a mustache, which is the biggest indictment. In Interpol the bass player is a goth and feels like he is a musician in a different band than the other guys because the other guys just look like a jam band.

John wrote on his T9 phone: ”The band looks like a bunch of guys at an office party who figured out that five of them all played an instrument in college and they threw a band together and the funny guy from the office raps out of the employee handbook”, which he thought was funny, and it was back in the time when John didn’t care about being mean. John sent his text to CMJ and of course they boldfaced it in one of those pullquotes over to the side because a) it was hillarious, and b) not 100% wrong.

Very shortly after that John realized that one day he is going to be in a room with The Hold Steady because they are culturally not that far apart and this is not a thing they can possibly have avoided seeing. At that point in John’s life he saw everything everybody wrote about him and they were not so big that they would not see what people were writing about them. John hoped that they would think it was funny, but he feared not.

Over the years John was sure that they were still mad at him. It was that kind of choosing-sides vibe where John used to feel he was on the same side as The New Pornographers, but then something happened with Neko Case and now John feels like Carl Newman doesn’t fave his stuff like he used to, and although he responded to something the other day, there is something missing in his attention. He has also become very political and he is Canadian and they are all radicalized up there. The Hold Steady were right over there across the street a step and a half away from John, they were peering at him out from their curtains, they outnumber him and they put on a little bit of ”we are some tough kids from Milwaukee”.

First contact at The Last Waltz

A month ago John was at the Last Waltz show in Port Chester New York playing the Neil Diamond character. The show is put on by his friend Raimee (?) from San Francisco. There is a cast of people who are in it every year, like Nels Cline or Eric Johnson from the Fruit Bats, but there are also rotating cast like somebody from Dr. Dog or from some band that is popular now that John hasn’t heard of yet, like Parkington Sisters. It is not a surprise that Mojo Nixon or Elvis Perkins are on. It is a big clusterfuck of people, it is really fun, everybody is groovy, it is a big groovy show, and John was standing there backstage when Craig Finn walked by, looking at him out of the corner of his eye.

John pulled out the piece of paper and realized that Craig Finn was on the show this year and "Why did I not read any of the emails?", which is a thing he says all the time, and now it had happened. Craig Finn walked by again and gave John the side-eye big time. ”Fuck, he knows!” and he has been waiting for this day. John also brought Jonathan Coulton to the show. Every year John is spending Thanksgiving with him, but he has never come to the show because he is always busy making gravy. John didn't think that Jonathan would be of any help because he probably doesn’t know who The Hold Steady are, but he was helping like ”I’m not looking at him, is he looking at me?” - ”He is definitely looking at you!”

When Craig Finn went up one staircase in the venue John made a point to go up the other staircase. What kind of showdown was this going to be? They were both middle-aged and that thing about reading out of the employee binder was 10-15 years ago, it was 2005 or 2006. If it was John, he would still be steaming and he would still be mad. They were walking around and doing the show and Craig Finn did one of the first songs and John watched him and it was great and John was feeling terrible.

At one point John went down a staircase and all of a sudden - worst fear - Craig Finn came around the corner and went up the same staircase. They were both alone and there was no avoiding and Craig started off ”Hey! Are you John?” - ”Hey! Craig! Hi! Hello!” - ”Hey! Are you still in Seattle?” He knew more, he had some facts, John wasn’t sure if he was from Milwaukee - ”Yes, I’m in Seattle!” - ”Nice to finally meet you!” - ”So funny that we never met before” - ”I know, right! You are sober, right?” he knew facts - ”I am.” - ”I was just wondering…” He was laying out some ground. He did a little bit of a Dan Harmon on John, keeping it going as long as he could, and John was definitely worried that he was going to say ”So what shows exactly do you like?” (see RL125)

John was really careful not to say ”I’m a super-big fan!” He was tip-toeing around, trying to say ”I totally know who you are and I totally have been dreading this and they gave me $50 and I was writing on a T9 phone, but I want to be your friend, I want to be nice, I am sorry I was every mean, I used to be mean, actually I am still mean, but I never think about the consequences” They were standing there, leaning against the wall, people were coming up and down the stairs and they were kind of in the way because they were having a congenial conversation.

Craig said ”I always wanted to ask you some questions!” and he started asking John normal-ish questions. He was treating this event as two lead singers of two popular bands from a certain time, one of whom, him, was more popular, but he did the thing that Carl Newman did to John, which is ”Yes, I’m a big star, but I’m actually a fan of what you do!” Well, none of them are technically big stars, a big star is Drake, and they are all just in the primordial soup, but from within that, the difference between selling 50.000 records and 150.000 records is a big deal. Also, the people who like those bands like them a lot. The people who like the Mountain Goats are weirdos, but there are a lot of them, and they are deep in it. Merlin is one of those, but he is a weirdo for a lot of reasons.

John and Craig talked for a while without any tensions and it felt just like John had bumped into the lead singer of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, whom he also met at a thing and he had also said something mean about them and they still became super-tight, almost stay-in-touch level of tight. They talked and somebody had to go on stage and they pointed fingers at each other and ”Let’s catch up later!” John went out and did his thing and was thinking the whole time when the other shoe was going to drop and when Craig Finn was going to Harmon him and catch him in something.

Over the course of the day they bumped into each other six more times and each time was even friendlier. Toward the end of the night they had sequestered themselves in a corner with some heavy-duty conversation on what it is like to suffer. Eventually Craig asked John for his number and suggested they should collaborate on something some time. John liked Craig a lot, he is a super-smart and super-sensitive guy and he was ready to go deep, which is rare. John was thinking ”You are paying me all this respect! Is this actually a case where you thought that was a funny line or did you not see it? Are you actually a Long Winters fan?

Throughout the whole conversation Craig was dropping some flattering knowledge in a way that you do when you want to flatter somebody you like. John was at the point where he was wondering if they were friends, because he was into it and was fine to be friends. He gave him the phone number, there was a convivial hug of fraternity, a promise to keep in touch, all the things, and there was never a Harmon and no shoe ever dropped.

When John was at home he googled ”Best Hold Steady Lyrics” because everybody loves their lyrics and John had come into this blind. He was reading the lyrics without any musical context and without listening to the songs and they are very good! There is a lot going on, there is a lot of suffering in those songs and there is a ton of hurt.

Texting him two weeks later

About a week later Craig Finn played with Ben Gibbard at a Frightened Rabbit funeral service in New York City. Ben was good friends with the Frightened Rabbit guys, he was hit hard by his suicide and they had texted about it at the time. What was Craig Finn’s connection? They had also played together and had made pals. John was now in a situation where Craig Finn was a playing a show with his friend Ben Gibbard and felt like he has to send a text to his new friend who’s phone number he has. He was going to initiate this contact right now and it was going to be about their mutual love of Scott Hutchison and about ”Hey, you are about to hang out with a buddy of mine, why don’t you do a Merlin Mann, walk up to Colin Meloy and drunkenly say John Roderick to him and see if you get the high-hat” John was taking a risk here!

John texted Craig Finn and he was way out on a limb. He was threading 50 needles into a ”Hey man!” text, saying ”It was good finally meeting you at the Last Waltz! I hope we can stay in touch. I see you are playing a show with my friend Ted Leo!” John went deep on the other side and referenced Ted Leo instead of Ben Gibbard. Ted Leo is great, in spite of all the things. John continued ”The three of us in a room would have some things to talk about for sure” and Craig replied with a super-fine and super-agreeable but also slightly terse ”Yes so great to meet U!!!” (with no comma after "yes" and "U" instead of "you") and John is not sure what that means. He surely was busy or something, but John didn’t know what to say next, so he didn’t say anything and that is where they are now.

John doesn’t think that a person who wanted to collaborate on something now has become mean. He could have just been a good-time Charly in the moment, no shade no lemonade, and he is not committed to a whole big thing, but was just having fun. John feels like the fact that Craig was walking past him multiple times, scoping him out, means that he had a complicated relationship with this exchange. He didn’t just walk over and ”Hey! I’m a big fan!”, but there was a lot going on beforehand. He might have been conflict-averse and this whole event where they were friends and got all close was just his version of dealing with it.

If John would meet his bully and the person was nice, John would be like ”Okay, then nice! Then we do nice!” Craig didn’t know whether John was a permanent dick or whether he was just writing something funny on his T9 phone and didn’t really know or care about anything. John thinks he knows and remembers those remarks and he was being polite, but John doesn’t know how much of it was politeness and how much everything he knew about John was genuinely a result of knowing things about somebody that you know things about. John knows things about all kinds of people.

It is going to take John a long time to figure it out, he is not just going to ask Craig about it. He might also text John at some point, saying ”Hey, I’m making a record, do you want to come and rap the middle eight”, like ”Yo, yo, notch the 4K, yo, yo, these cables are directional! Pow, zapadidoo” - ”I’m John Roderick, come to town, my USB is always upside down” - ”Why doesn’t Skype load like it should, why is my computer made of wood?”

This episode has been very stressful for Merlin.

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