RL337 - Reacharound Fave

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: You don’t need to post, referring to the fact that you don’t need to post everything that you are thinking about online.

The show title refers to replying to someone’s tweet without faving the original tweet first.

This episode had been pre-recorded on 2019-05-13.

They start the show singing their names. They are still in evergreen territory!

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

Game of Thrones (RL337)

Last night was the final episode of Game of Thrones and Merlin doesn’t want to talk about it, although it is on his list and he got an angle. The list is always there as a backboard, but they never need it because they have a lot to talk about and they are helping a lot of people. Game of Thrones, amirite? Wow! The ending of that was ”Whoo!” Can’t believe how quickly the characters moved around! They did things and they did other things and one part was surprising and the other part was like ”What?” People really fired up about stuff!

You don’t need to post (RL337)

John read a lot of hot takes and he didn’t like a single one of them, not even any of the cooler takes. There are a lot of takes! It is really okay not to post. You forget that people are going to be fine without your post and the really difficult part is that even you will be fine without the post. You don’t have to post! You don’t need to post! Even knowing that, it took Merlin a long time to actually stop posting. The greatest content that he can share with people at this point is what he didn’t say. John is learning it, too! It is maybe the most important.

John needed to put that on the internet right now //(John didn’t NEED to post this: John’s tweet), except he didn’t need to post it and although this is an evergreen episode people are going to be able to know when they have recorded it. John’s post was a meta-post, an ironical post about the post. ”Am I doing this right? Are we done with this joke already?” His post was like a hot-take, except dumb! Merlin can’t believe John actually did this and responded with just ”JOHN!”, which is such an Aimee Mann style tweet.

Matt Haughey faved John’s tweet, he was right there Johnny on the spot! Also webuiltthiscity, who is from San Francisco and a long-time fan. Her husband once got hit in the head with a Kazoo by Jonathan Rothman (see RW148) and Merlin was at that show in the Café du Nord. He wonders why people have to order complicated drinks there and why they can’t just get a beer. They have a one-bartender operation a lot of the time. If you don’t like beer, get a 7 and 7 or a Mojito, which is a Cuban drink that has a lot of parts to it.

Merlin is not going to post. Don Schaffner, the foot scientist at Rudgers (see FS108), liked Merlin’s reply before he liked John’s original tweet. Merlin sometimes responds to the tweet before he had the decency to do the reacharound fave, which you should really do out of consideration, and especially if you are doing a quote tweet you better reach around hard and really get in there! John sometimes forgets to fave a tweet, but if he is still thinking about it later he should really do it!

Bobby Sayers just faved John's tweet, Weight Rocket is in the mix, and Jessey Tipton as well. Dan Kennedy from The Moth faved John’s tweet and he replied with a funny tweet about the tweet. Also Spence Thud faved it.

Twitter recommended Merlin to follow Colin Meloy.

You don’t need to post, but you always need to post praise. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was just praise and not other things? No hot takes, just praise! John is doing a recombinant digitalis where he is bringing in a separate bit, not a hat on a hat, but bring in a hat and make a more handsome hat, like a wedding cake. He got the joke and was doubling down on it.

Snippet-sharing feature in Overcast (RL337)

The other day Marco Arment was listening to the Road Work program and took an excerpt of a good Dan response which he thought was funny. Marco wanted to give that zinger a bit of a signal boost and by doing that he is signal boosting the whole program. A bunch of people chimed in about the joke, about the post of the joke, and about the use of Overcast.

Some people were heaping praise on fact that Overcast can do this, other people said they couldn’t use this on their Android phone, other people didn’t want to subscribe to Overcast, they just wanted to buy it, but if a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass hopping. John also doesn’t like to subscribe to things and prefers to just buy them. Overcast is Marco’s eel, he knows about eels, but his eel is a generous lover.

Marco had not told anybody about this great new feature that allows you to select a segment of up to a minute using little drag handles. You export it as a movie and you can post that. His idea was that you should just be able to listen to a piece of a podcast that somebody thought was good because that is a great promotion for the freedom of the podcast. He had the Instagram platform in mind in particular where you can’t just post an audio. Merlin goes on to explain a bit more about this feature.

Which concert was fake? (RL337)

There is a bit called "Four Lies and a Truth" and John listed a bunch of concerts he had been to and asked people which one was fake:

1. Count Basie
2. Miley Cyrus
3. Slayer
4. Vanilla Ice
5. Ricky Scaggs
6. Smashing Pumpkins <— Fake

James Urbaniak replied within seconds (actually within 3 minutes): ”I’m going Smashing Pumpkins, you saw Vanilla Ice on a benefit bill.” He didn’t know that for a fact, but he knew it in his heart and soul. James is a friend of the show. One time they had a wonderful time in the lobby of a very weird hotel when Merlin had a terrible haircut in that photo. The hotel had a lot of problems, there were no TVs and the doors were very tall and thin.

A bunch of people lined up to say that Smashing Pumpkins was beneath John’s dignity and they were not wrong. John bets that in the early days, in the Sheela-Na-Gig era, Gish or Simese Dream were good and they put on a pretty good show, but John never saw them then and he also never saw Nirvana. John didn’t put that on the list because there were surely enough people who knew that already. For the same reason he didn’t put Primus on there because everybody knows he did see Primus (see RL323).

History of podcasting ads (RL337)

This is the golden age of podcasting. There will come a day when we all look back at this time and say: ”Wow, things were great then and now it is all screwed up!” Some people within the podcasting sphere like Marco (Arment) and Dan (Benjamin) are primarily motivated by making it better rather than making it worser for money. John wants to hear from Merlin who the people are who are making it better and who spend their time and energy, that they could potentially spend to ruin it and profit from it, fighting the good fight.

They still swim upstream before the corporate media overlords, the media middlemen, the Yes-dudes, and people trying to sell penile-enhancement drugs come in to the sphere, and they will be coming, John can see it! It is just like Game of Thrones: They have a dragon who uses fire that can cut through stone like a laser through cheese. John doesn’t quite understand what kind of fire works like a wrecking ball. There was the blue-spitting dragon in the last season that killed the big wall that was made of old vintage ice. The red keep is made of rocks! John didn’t need to post that.

Merlin has his own reasons why he likes podcasts the way they are now. He believes that podcasts got good and got somewhat widely accepted because they are free and independent and the free part made it good. Free as in beer, in speech and in independent. There is a RSS feed with audio attachments and every podcast player can play these, even on Android. When you are down in the stack close to the metal, as John Siracusa would say, it is not difficult or onerous to make a podcast and there are many good shows with terrible audio (John is sitting right here!). Merlin continues to explain why he likes podcasts the way they are.

The most popular player is Apple’s Podcasts app and Merlin congratulates Apple for having done it in the first place, but very importantly: Why have they not tried to find some way to put a cash register on it? They created a podcast directory that made it easy to find stuff and subscribe to it. You can get free apps with fewer features, you can pay, or you can get an eel.

Merlin recently talked about with John Gruber //(The Talk Show, episode 251 from 2019-05-15) for many hours about being able to draw a straight line between Steve Jobs and the technology that he wanted for himself. He wanted a Macintosh that would be great for everybody, but especially for him. Merlin doesn’t see podcasts as a passion project for Steve Jobs as a consumer, but it was an important way to extend interest in the iPod.

The people who are doing great with podcasts are the ones making the apps. If you listen at faster than 1x you are a monster, don’t do it! It is a secret shame, but some people are proud of it and say that Merlin sounds drunk at regular speed, but he probably was. The competition between different podcast players is very healthy. Marco has implemented a feature to skip silence (in Overcast), but John claims that they don’t have any silences on their program. If Merlin edited this show in any way they might do that, but Merlin wants to flip this thing around and get it out!

Podcasting is famously a somewhat opaque medium to get into and the same is true for TV as well: You can recommend things to people, like you can say: ”Really stick with Buffy because it gets better!” or ”If you don’t like the first couple of episodes of The Wire, don’t worry! When they get to the episode when they say Fuck a lot it is really good!” Merlin is totally off The Walking Dead and John never saw a single one. The first few seasons are very good. But now you have those features to share a little audio from a podcast and to the people who are doing this Merlin says: Thank you!

A few years ago people realized that there was some money to be made from podcasts with ads and people started the onsie-twosie running ads. They got more popular and there was an emergence of the sponsors they know and love, like Squarespace (which was actually a sponsor this week, so Merlin dropped in the ad right here). The new kind of hybrid mattress is no longer a sponsor. But there was a problem of scale because you won’t get a hybrid car sponsorship for your little D&D show. Bigger ad companies work by buying at scale and they don’t want the onesie-twosie, so there was an emergence of middle-persons.

Back in the days John was not considered an early podcaster, it almost seemed like he was getting into this a bit late, but now it seems like he was very early. Merlin is legendarily an early podcaster and together with Scott Simpson and Lonely Sandwich (Adam Lisagor) he had the very classic program You Look Nice Today with a lot of problematic bits that everyone should just go back and get under their belt. They were in that space before anybody was making any money on it. Today it is still hard to make money! The middle-persons arriving wasn’t terrible, but it was a little bit like signing with a label. You agree to terms that may not be too onerous…

In the past they had relationships with their advertisers, like the one who does not have a new kind of hybrid mattress and Squarespace which hosts people and several others who were there in the early days. Max Temkin was doing advertisements for a while (Cards Against Humanity), but then the middlemen arrived and although they had the same ads they were getting paid half as much. These middle-people increasingly turned into big platform companies because if you have a platform that includes an app you can do more invasive tracking of how people listen to the show.

This went to a new level only in the last year or so as big players with big wallets have arrived. They are letting you sign up for a service and it is just weird. It is not strictly a ”Meh!” thing or a money thing, but there are so many ways that you can try to do the commons. Now we have slightly abandoned this idea because that guy was a Nazi, but you are going to screw up that thing that everybody likes, you are peeing in the water fountain, and Merlin doesn’t want that to happen.

The good people are building upon the independence of this medium and they are helping more people get to it in a way that helps everybody. The axis forces (?) are arriving truly as Jonathan Comes Lately to figure out a way to put a cash register on something they are not even that interested in. It starts with promoting episodes of other things in the feed and pretty soon all those little codicils that seemed like no big deal a few years ago are coming into play. For example they will re-host your podcast and you don’t get actual statistics that you can give to a sponsor. You agreed to it and signed it because you thought there was a limo full of hand jobs. They do dynamic ad-insertion and then the Overcast links don’t work anymore.

John signing a major label deal with his new podcasts (RL337)

John has also talked about this in the Patreon Bonus content of RW130.

The game is afoot and things are changing a little bit in John’s world. 1.5 years ago he felt that maybe… (… he could make more money from podcasting by adding new shows). He has friends who have great humble shows that people have affinity with. People say all the time: "If you don’t listen to Roderick on the Line, here is the one to start with!" Wow! Really? How is anybody who is not already listening to this program going to listen to Uncle Licky (see RL36) and come out with anything other than the need to slowly walk into a pond?

Some of those same friends also have big programs where the listenership consists not just of people who would like to spend a weekend in a cabin with you, but they are other people and none of us will ever know. They are out there making Quinoa and they are driving different kinds of cars. John was always a little envious of those programs, not a ton envious, just like he was always envious of The Decemberists' sales of their Her Majesty The Decemberists record and then increasingly all their other records. John was a little covetous of the audience of some other shows.

Therefore John ventured into new ventures and it was very much like signing a record contract: He would like to have a show with some appeal to an audience of people whom he might never know. This program has quite a few listeners in the sciences and people who have been to XOXO, but you can’t do an entire show with people who have been to XOXO. They have a lot of listeners who are makers, but also people in Latvia. John wanted a different kind of show and he signed a major label record deal and it has proved to be extremely problematic over time. John rarely pulls his punches, he is like Bruce Lee and can do it from one inch away and send them tumbling, like Uma Therman in a coffin.

20 years ago John watched a lot of people go into contracts with major entertainment companies and later on they had different experiences. Maybe the guy who signed you got fired or moved to a different desk and nobody remembered you anymore. He gave you $75.000 to make a record, but the guy sitting at his desk now has never heard of you and doesn’t like the record and that record ends up on a shelf that you never see again and never have access to, next to the Kiss Solo Albums. The tape has decayed now, it is degraded and your record is gone. That was 20 years ago!

For 1.5 years John has been trying to be an independent person, and this was the problem in the record days, too: ”Hey, major company, we are friends! You guys took me to dinner that time. We are doing this as a thing for the world and because we love this kind of thing and you guys love it too! I know, isn’t that right?” - ”Absolutely!” You do not hire a business manager who came up in grocery, but you hire a business manager who is in entertainment and who is in Rock’n’Roll and who wanted to be there. Nobody came to prison and said: ”Here is a jobs program! Who wants to be in Rock’n’Roll?”, but these are people who came up in the clubs.

Now it has just arrived at a place where people at one side of the equation are talking about podcasting as though it is a good thing and the other is talking about it like it is content to be promulgated in exchange for money. John wanted it to be promulgated in exchange for money, but not to the expense of it being a good thing. Tough talk! It has been a year and a half of very tough times and here we are!

John saw this in the Rock days as well: Somebody comes to you with a contract where success is presumed and you are negotiating the contact with the thought in mind to get the best possible terms once your things is extremely successful. It is going to be a hit record and we need to hammer out who gets the money. You want to get the best terms possible because you don’t want to lose a penny of the money once it starts rolling in. What the contract actually is for is to protect you if it isn’t a huge success, but a moderate success. No-one wants to talk about that when you are sitting in front of the contract, because the people on the other side are trying to convince you that if you sign with them it is going to be a huge success.

Then you have a moderate success that would have been a pretty great success or even an enormous success if you had remained independent, but by the terms of the big wallets it is just a moderate success because they are shooting for the fences every time they swing a bat, and if your ball doesn’t get to the fences they are not interesting in picking up singles and doubles. You signed a contract where a moderate success is actually a failure, but you weren’t thinking about it and didn’t look for anything in the contract that says that the big wallets are obligated to try to make the thing a success beyond just the initial roll-out.

Sub-pop put out 50 records a year, but they only supported three of them, and it was not Zumpano or the Scud Mountain Boys. They were waiting for a Postal Service and for a Band of Horses. It is a lot like venture capital! The rest of the bands that came out and made amazing records and were psyched to be on Sub-pop found themselves in a van in Daton, Ohio and they couldn’t get anybody on the phone anymore because everybody was working on the Postal Service record.

When you start doing a podcast you think: ”Why don’t I make a super-interesting podcast with my friend that is fun to do?” and they are saying: ”Well, when this is a 500.000 download podcast…”, but you don’t counter: ”What if this is a 50-75.000 download podcast? How am I protected over here?” - ”Don’t worry about that! You are going to be earning hundreds of millions of dollars!” You have to say ”Wow, wait a minute! Let’s say I make a Zumpano record. Am I going to be able to get anybody on the phone?” You don’t ever think to ensure that the company is obligated to try.

It doesn’t cost Sub-pop anything to ignore the Zumpano record, but it costs Zumpano everything. Sub-pop is not a skeezy label, but there are numerous examples in the past where even after you have gotten the big success, if that next one is not a dinger, it is like Tom Petty says: ”I don’t hear a single!” and you are going to get a different response.

Merlin heard about a 1990s Michael Jackson album that was a guaranteed hit machine. Thriller was disruptive in innumerable ways and almost every song was a successful single, Bad had done well, but the latest Michael Jackson did not immediately go to number one. For anybody else to have accomplished that would have been a bananas level of success!

You know you have arrived when Weird Al makes a parody of you. The marketing and promotional stuff that went into that! It is certainly true for movies today: If it is anything but a number one record we have failed and we are already under water because of what it cost to make this album, before even getting to the incredible deal Michael Jackson probably had.

The first two Aerosmith records didn’t sell anything because Columbia was busy pushing Bruce Springsteen. Nobody liked them and people thought they were a cheap Rolling Stones knock-off: ”Aerosmith is a good and original band. Unfortunately all the stuff that is good isn’t original and all the stuff that is original isn’t good!” Somehow they did not get dropped by the label and they made two big records and put them out. They didn’t click and they were running up a big tab in feather boas alone.

Meanwhile Bruce Springsteen was over here with a big floppy hat, singing about Rosalita who wants to come and light his fire. Aerosmith put out the Toys in the Attic record and everybody went bananas for it. Then Dream On (from their first record) went up the charts. Somebody at that label in a sta-pressed suit believed in these kids, but those kind of people don’t exist anymore and have not for a long time. The concentration of capital like there was then does no longer exist, but now capital is very diffused and everybody is just looking for the fast return.

Merlin recommends the podcast Hit Parade. The host is such a charts and music nerd and he thoroughly researches an interesting week on the Billboard charts where something interesting happened or changed. His first episode was the history of Red Red Wine. Merlin knew that it was a Neil Diamond song, but what a crazy god-damn racket! John thinks it is a terrible song and he hopes he will never hear it again, but just by Merlin having said the words he is going to be lying in bed two days from now and hear this absolutely terrible UB40 version of it. The one with Chrissie Hynde singing backup vocals was so ubiquitous for whatever reason.

John wants to be able to do a thing that he likes with his friends that is fun and moderately successful. He no longer wants to shoot his arrows at the sun, he no longer wants to run a 4-minute miles, he doesn’t want to light his cigar with $100 bills, he doesn’t even care about the fact that he has two cars which are both about to catch on fire at any time. For instance, John has done Roderick on the Line for a long time and it is just a fun thing that they do. There is Road Work over there and this guy over here, and this guy says ”No soup…” and what they say now is: ”This guy says no soup”, they don’t even inflect it. You can have white sauce on a garbage can lid (”White sauce? Not a problem!”).

It doesn't seem impossible because John did that with his Long Winters records. They are not flying off the shelves, but they continue to generate a small amount of money, which is also true for the Nada Surf records and a lot of records on small, independent labels where they had good deals and didn’t spend a lot of money trying to shoot their arrows at the moon.

Merlin was listening to the Proximity Effect, he even tweeted about it, and it was probably hugely disappointing to whoever it was, because it didn’t have that one hit on it. There was somebody at that label, and John knows a thing or two about them, who wanted to make good things, and whether he was kidding himself or not, he said: ”I’m super-proud of that record! I’m glad we put it out! It did great!” and wanting it to be any better would be foolish. That is not how you get venture capital!

Rich people squandering their possibilities (RL337)

John said the other day on Twitter: "90% of the people screaming about late stage capitalism ARE late stage capitalism." and he didn’t even need to post this. He got 10 really angry follow-up tweets from Millennials who took it to be a criticism of them. He didn’t mention them by name, but he referenced a common trope that they believed was about them, and the people who replied thought that John was speaking about them personally. They got very mad of being called out personally for this thing by a guy they don’t know and have never met and who is not talking about them at all.

In the one before that John said: ”No one needs a $47m home. I think a $29m home should suffice for all but the biggest families.”, which is funny on a couple of levels and will take a second to build. You go: ”Hmm!” and then you go: ”Oh, haha!” It is not meant to be anything other than that. It is how John feels about Venture Capitalist: They have a $29 million house and for whatever reason it is not enough and they want a $47 million house.

What John doesn’t understand is that if you had enough money even for a $29 house, you could buy a dirigible and put a king-size bed in the back, hire a captain, maybe a couple of crew, and just take a tour of the United States. No-one has done that, but why not? The kid who came up with SnapChat was just some rich kid and he immediately inhabited the role of crazy tech entrepreneur. He is 26 years old and he is walking around in cashmere T-Shirts for $1800 that just look like a T-Shirt. "Okay, you are the guy!" He is a man of the people and he is buying all of Venice Beach.

Why doesn’t he cash out and sell his thing to somebody? He could buy a dirigible, he could have a replica of the Hindenburg, except instead of swastikas it would have peace-signs or smiley faces, and he could park it off the coast of Santa Monica and just idle there for a year. Everyone in Los Angeles would have to confront the fact! The best $1800 T-Shirt is that everyone in Los Angeles is looking at your fucking dirigible all day. Just fly over Los Angeles at 1 mph!

Albums that were made from cocaine (RL337)

Many of the great records were basically made entirely of cocaine and many of them got or stayed successful because of the role of cocaine. There is an episode of WKRP where Johnny Fever gets the album from an A&R guy and it got the record in it and a bag of cocaine falls out (probably this one called Johnny Comes Back). Some albums were not only made of cocaine, but were much like a Zeppelin supported by cocaine.

We like to think of Peter Gabriel as one of the good artists. Normally when you think of the question what records were made of cocaine you think of Cherry Pie by Warrant where you feel like the record is bad and the band is bad and you can disparage them further by saying that it was cocaine-made. We also know that there are some really great Neil Young albums that were made under the influence of cocaine.

Heroin is not better than cocaine, but we like an awful lot of albums that were made under the influence of heroin. Shock The Monkey (by Peter Gabriel) was made out of cocaine. It does have have a certain big cocaine energy to it and is very erratic. John is not saying it was made of cocaine, he doesn’t have any first-hand experience, but it is a record that we like. What if all the Kate Bush records were made from cocaine and were sold by cocaine? John is not saying that is what happened, but what if? It is not just Warrant’s Cherry Pie, but also some beloved albums, like The Colour of Spring by Talk Talk. They are like a Scritti Politti and they are a better band than everybody thinks who made a couple of amazing albums.

There was an awful lot of cocaine and it was not regarded as a vice. Things that used to be okay are not okay anymore, as you see a lot in Rock’n’Roll. Nobody is really mad about cocaine, they are not saying it used to be good and now it is bad, which they tried to do in the 1980s, but they are saying that other things used to be okay and now they are bad and nobody even really seems to care about cocaine.

Merlin keeps failing utterly at trying to come up with examples of this and irrespective of the cocaine consumed during the making, writing and fornicating of the album, he keeps falling short. For example Hall & Oates were amazing. Cocaine does not preclude amazing and Merlin doesn’t want to tar them with this. For example Every Time You Go Away by Paul Young was written by Daryl Hall and might have been propped up by a little bag in the sleeve. Pino Palladino was the fretless bass player on that.

There is so much cocaine, it even goes onto the future! John is not going to say the name of one of Merlin’s favorite bands, The Posies, but there was cocaine later. John has noticed that we go in cycles from Rock’n’Roll to Dance Music back to Rock’n’Roll, which has happened several times during his career. Merlin sang the song Gloria by Laura Branigan earlier from 1982, which is totally a Disco song. New Order is a Disco band, even Modest Mouse is kind of a Disco band. We alternate between those two things and when the world goes into Dance bands you got cocaine.

When the world goes back into Rock’n’Roll where the guys are wearing big hats and feather boas, people are into downers like pills and junk. Maybe it is just coming from Afghanistan and there have been a couple of down years and so Americans listen to Dance music, John doesn’t know supply from demand, but he has seen it happen here in Seattle where everybody was a junkie and suddenly everybody was a tweaker. ”How did that happen? Weren’t we all junkies? I guess we are tweakers! Oh, no!” You just go Round and Round (song by Ratt), which is totally a cocaine album.

Merlin saw them open for Billy Squire. John saw them open for Ronnie James Dio. The librarian at Merlin’s daughter’s school looks like Ronnie James Dio. She is kind of little. Friend of the show Mike Squires just had Vivian Campbell on his fantastic YouTube series (actually Instagram series) Couch Riffs who was playing ZZ Top on his couch. He played on Last in Line, on Rainbow In The Dark (by Dio), and he is in currently in Def Leppard. Mike did not ask him about cocaine because Mike is a member of the Rock’n’Roll fraternity and there are things they don’t talk about. It is omertà, you know what always brings me down!

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