RL351 - Recursive Homunculus

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Merlin watching the English parliament on live stream (Merlin Mann)
  • John is not excited about anything in general (Attitude and Opinion)
  • Having conversations with strangers (Attitude and Opinion)
  • Brexit (Politics)
  • John changing his look for all important photo shoots (Career)
  • John’s band coming up in recommendations in Spotify (Career)
  • Spotify recommendations and monthly listens (Music)
  • Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, John visiting a show (Music)

The Problem: John is trying to carve a path, which might refer to the sound guy of Coldplay.

the show title is currently unknown.

They start the show singing each other’s names.

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

Merlin watching the English parliament on live stream (RL351)

Merlin is watching the English parliament and it is fucking on, it is lit! If you are broken inside you can stream it on your computing device at parliamentlive.tv or through YouTube. Merlin likes everything about the way they yell at each other and throw their shoes and stuff. There was some business about the head of the House of Commons Rees-Mogg laying down on the bench. He is a piece of work!

Merlin knows all those guys by name now, this is his new D&D! He has so many fucking tabs open and for the first time since it was released he opened Tweetdeck and he is so online with the house of parliament! He is learning about the queen’s speech and the State Opening of Parliament, about the difference between the Honourable and the Right Honourable, and he is reading about the Yellowhammer report, which is very important.

John wonders if Merlin is "no-deal" or "deal", but Merlin just says he is very concerned about the Proroguing (Prorogation of the parliament) because Boris Johnson wants to prorogue for 5 weeks. What about the Irish Backdoor? The whole thing comes down to Ireland! Merlin is cribbing a lot of work of other people here, including CGP Grey, because there is no solution where Ireland is okay.

Merlin has so many tabs open because he felt like he opened the last third of a random Tolkien book to discover that a cricket game was happening. He is confused, but fascinated. He is looking up so many things. It is so fun to watch!

Americans often say that there should be a third party and they step up all the time, but actually having a third party would require that you had a parliament rather than a congress. This is what you get: A bunch of fancy lads and ladies chasing around!

Merlin’s understanding is that the reason this system generally works is that there is a 1:1 relationship of ”You got control of parliament” and the election of the prime minister, but now there is a cock-up because a lot of people didn’t understand what was going to happen with the Brexit and they voted for it because they don’t like brown people or they were afraid they are not going to get their cheese or their Colitis (Ulcerosa) medicine.

John is not excited about anything in general (RL351)

John’s weeks and days are defined by excitement and what he is excited about. Every time Merlin gets on the phone with him he is talking about what he is excited about! No, ”excited” is not a very good descriptor of John's emotions, but maybe he is wrong: Maybe he does feel love, but just doesn’t understand it? If Merlin says ”green”, it is not that John sees blue, but he doesn’t see the same green. He is also not a fan. Maybe we are living in a giant’s fingernail? How would you know? How could you know? Our fingernails have giants in them, too. It is giants all the way down!

Having conversations with strangers (RL351)

When you talk to someone, especially a stranger in the alps, it is nice to tease out what they are excited about because everyone becomes more interested when they are engaged in something they are excited about instead of having to walk through the usual low-key significations about how much money you make, which is exhausting.

John is not excited about things. That is him in a nutshell. He loves to interview people a lot. It is one of the ways he learns and makes it through social situations and how he passes the time. He likes to learn what they are excited about, he likes to learn more about their worlds. Other people interest him, but he doesn’t especially like to be interviewed in that same way unless he is being interviewed by a truly gifted person or by someone with a genuine interest in him personally.

Merlin doesn’t think he is that interesting, except in so far that there are things he is excited about. He doesn’t necessarily want to reminisce about some shared nostalgic past unless that becomes the fun thing. When he needs to pick up his kid sometimes he doesn’t like to drive a car and gets into the Lyft and unlike John he would rather have 15 minutes to himself to listen to a podcast that he is excited about. Sometimes he will even tell the driver that he has to listen to this for his work, but sometimes he will hear them talking anyway and within a couple of blocks he will know if he is going to have to talk to this person. At that point he will pivot hard and throw himself completely into the conversation.

This time the driver was asking Merlin about school because his daughter is going to come here from the Philippines together with his wife and she speaks Tagalog and is about to learn English. Merlin was learning about the challenges and transitions of having a 6th-grader and it was fantastic! He did what he could to say what he does and doesn’t know about the San Francisco unified school district and their rules for lottery in getting into schools, but mostly he was fascinated.

Merlin loves hearing about the food and he asked the driver if there was a place around here that has the food he liked. Now that is not an interview, but a conversation and they had a lot to talk about. He was not quizzing Merlin about backdoor income and status questions, which he despises, but they were talking about public schools. It is rare to have a conversation where both parties have things to contribute and there is no sense of one person not knowing how to contribute, where there is no agenda and nobody is trying to get anywhere.

Recently Merlin took a Lyft for his monthly visit with his shrink, which is an 11-minute ride. He knew pretty early on that this trip was going to be a conversation and he was going to need to go all-in on this. It started out really simple, they were talking about global warming and the guy sounded really smart about it. Merlin doesn’t know a lot about it, but it is misleading to just think about if it got warmer this year because it is really about Physics and that is what people don’t understand. That really set him off and he was going into a whole thing about Physics and Coriolis. He seemed to know a lot about it, but he was not an engineer. He was a natural healer and he understands a lot about energy.

By the time they got to Parnassus (hospital in San Francisco) he was telling Merlin about how the water in your body has electrons that can line up in a certain way and that love can universally be brought together as a form of Physics. Merlin told him that if he could give the guy seven stars he would! The guy was swinging at the fences, but sometimes an agenda can be a very interesting conversation. Merlin was just saying that he finds it wild that they don’t get the same summer they used to get here and it is becoming less extreme, but that let to the discussion about the Physics, the electrons, the water and the healing. The driver was really excited!

If Merlin treads into somebody’s religion or worldview it is no longer really a conversation because you are not going to challenge him on his believes and he is establishing the terms of the conversation around his world view. John has always admired people who always put themselves in situations like that. He is not one of them because if a person starts telling him that global warming has a connection to love via the electrons in one’s body, John will go into interview mode and he will want to know all about this. He wants to know where they are coming from and what their story is.

If a person has combined a lot of different things into a world view then John wants to find out what the things were in their original form, where this person got their education, where they got these ideas, and what the process was by which they combined them into this worldview.

John has met people who are never not themselves and who never go into Chat Show Interviewer mode, but they will go into challenge mode and say: ”Wait a minute, this is science and that is not!” What John admires about them is that they do it in a way that is not alienating. The other person is not on their back-foot, defending themselves, it is not a fight.

John puts that in the same category as the guy he met so many years ago where John said: ”When he is down in the South I always pick up the local accent in order to make everybody feel more comfortable” and the guy said that he always talks the same way and everywhere he goes he is fine. People like him just fine and they are comfortable, even though he talks to them in his regional Brooklyn dialect. John realized the guy was always being himself everywhere he went and had enough confidence in himself and who he was that he didn’t need to chin that up for other people.

A talk show interviewer doesn’t have his own opinions, but he is just there. Merlin brings up Dick Cavett and Phil Donahue as good examples. Merlin has told the story of a guy who got the poop out of his garage (see RL348) and it was a little frustrating that the guy was talking too much. Ordinarily and in the right circumstances he would be totally in for that, but it was a Sunday night before a school day and his Pho had arrived.

Merlin appreciated the Atman and Brahman conversation to a point, but could you do that while you are getting the poop out? It wasn’t that fun because he had such a strong agenda and it was difficult to have anything to add. Merlin couldn’t even add his bar-talk about mindfulness to it, because the guy kept redirecting it to his thing, which made it not fun, like being stuck with somebody who is really into a 1970s British comic book series that you have never read and that is what the conversation is going to be for 42 minutes.

Imagine picking up Neil deGrasse Tyson in a Lyft, that would not be fun! John saw him one time in Manhattan when John was in a car and looked out the window and Tyson was standing there on the sidewalk, waiting for somebody to pick him up. It all happened too fast and John couldn’t roll the window down and shout for him. Merlin wants to contrast him to somebody like Bill Nighy or Adam Savage. Adam Savage is a genuinely curious man and after he had a surgery he can now hear quite well.

John and Merlin have tagged along to go to Adam Savage's place. He is a very nice man and he is vaguely aware of Merlin. One time they ran into him at a store in town and Merlin introduced his kid and he was really nice. "He is the guy who makes the R2D2 and the light sabers and has the TV show we like!" He could not have been any nicer! That is the guy Merlin wants in a cab! Or Merlin’s acquaintance Kevin Kelly who is endlessly curious and will take in so much information. They are listening and they are asking questions, they will not just drop info-bombs on you!

Merlin wants to be smart and useful like a Border Collie: "Give me something to herd!" It is nice to feel useful, and it is also useful to feel nice. You can make yourself useful if you have an open heart. You are going to a party? Bring ice! That is not complicated! Don’t ask if you should take the trash out, but ask where you should take this trash or figure it out. It is probably the garage or the side, that is where everybody takes their trash. But like they say in Free to Be… You and Me: ”Some kinds of help is the help that helping is all about, but some kind of help are the help that we all can do without!” (poem Helping by Shel Silverstein), so you want to make sure you are being useful in being useful.

In this present-day world you can be forgiven for feeling like even if you don’t remember the name of someone that Neil deGrasse Tyson and John know in common, like a Joel McHale (see All the Great Shows), you do have a feeling that if you are stuck together on an elevator you might get into a conversation because you share a relationship with somebody that neither of you knows very well. John didn’t have time at the side of the road to yell all that out, and he also didn’t know whether he knows Joel McHale. It could also be that woman who knows all the stuff about LA. Ain’t she cute? Was he on that show? No, Merlin was trying to do a call-back (Gillian Jacobs, see RL125).

Brexit (RL351)

John thinks there is not going to be a no-deal Brexit, but they will have to come up with a deal. It feels like they must because the consequences are very serious, it will never be the same and it is going to be hard to go back. Merlin runs up against this problem of understanding motivation. In the US he looks at somebody like Jeff Sessions or Mitch McConnell: With Jeff Sessions it is sometimes useful to just assume he just wants to be racist things all the time, but it is hard to understand Mitch McConnell, although Merlin tries to think how he thinks and wants to be sympathetic to what it is like when he is in his moments of repose, and Merlin is up against it.

Looking at Britain Merlin wonders why those guys want to do this so much and they clearly don’t care about getting a deal. If October 31st comes and they don’t have some understanding with the EU about stuff like trade it is going to be bad for everybody, especially people in Britain. Then you got the Irish problem. Merlin doesn’t understand the motivation of that, apart from wanting to watch the world burn, but that can't be purely it. Are they corrupted by some outside influence that makes them that way? Is it purely ideological? Merlin doesn’t understand the motivation apart from just purely trying to win, and that is so fascinating to him!

Because it is happening in the United Kingdom John and Merlin don't know the players or the stakes. It is boiled down to a single event, the Brexit itself, which is like a focal point, although it has tendrils in every aspect of UK society and European economics. They can look over there and they do not understand what the side you tend not to agree with is doing and why they are doing it, to learn more and not rush to judgement. A lot of what happens in the world comes down to a combination of a materialist and a tribal argument. But that the ”Watch the world burn!” argument, really? You burn down the world just to see your team win?

It is much harder to say within our own world: ”I don’t understand what my opponents are motivated by and I would like to know more!”, like: ”If this goes great for you, what will the outcome be? How will you know this has gone great?” The thing over there obviously has other components. They have Haggis they have to think about. A lot of the people in Remain enjoy Haggis. Are they going to lose Scotland? Scotland would like to stay and then they were made to go and now maybe they are going to go.

John is someone who wants to watch the world burn and the idea of it all coming unravelled over there is exciting. Let the French and the Germans bang it out because they are not really friendly with each other! They had a nice little run here as a planet, a couple of decades, a little interregnum where all the murders, catastrophes and cataclysms were more or less at bay, where there were no epic battle scenes except in movies. Maybe that is all coming to an end and we will look back at the 1990s and the 2000s and say: ”Wow, people were really worried about bands! They made the 1960s look like the 1920s!”

John changing his look for all important photo shoots (RL351)

Merlin stumbled over the photo of John with the big glasses and the orange curtain in the back. John had more hair in real life than that picture made it look like because he had an Indie Rock comb-over. It was a very regrettable photo-shoot! John has a handful of regrets: In the chorus of Skies Open he resolved to the G when he should have resolved to the E, and that photoshoot. Because it cost a lot of money they all felt obligated to use those photos to promote the entire record cycle, but of the 1000 photos that were taken that day not one of them is a good representation of what they looked like as a band or what John looked like as a person.

If Merlin saw that photo in the wild, he would assume John was English. If John saw that photo in the wild he would not like that band without even having listened to them for a second. Merlin thinks John looks like a Travis or a Jarvis or an Ian. He has that weird Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters look, but what he forgot was that Caine didn't look very handsome in that movie and John didn’t have a lot of backstory to understand why that dork was considered as a leading man.

Only later John realized that Caine was considered handsome because he had some residual handsome from The Man Who Would Be King. They imprinted on Alfie and you could put glasses and a weird haircut on him and people would still find him handsome, whereas if you saw him for the first time that way you would not like him and find him weird-looking.

John thought he was so handsome that he could wear a bowl haircut and some big glasses and that will be cute. Merlin screwed up that kind of category error so many times, he was trying to be Fonzie in 1978, but he didn’t look anything like Fonzie. When he put vaseline in his hair his mom was very upset. People didn’t know what John looked like enough that he could start playing with what he looked liked in band photos, but he should have just tried to look as good as he could. It is not that difficult if you don’t wake up that morning and decide to style yourself in a way that you never otherwise do, just for these photos.

A lot of times John was wearing two shirts, which wasn’t even a prep thing, but a chubby thing. He used to shave his face right before a photo shoot even though he wore a beard 11.5 months out of the year, but before a big show or a photo shoot he would shave for some reason, he doesn’t even remember why. He had started wearing a beard all the time in 1994, but whenever it was time to go to a special event he would shave. Maybe it was from another generation and he felt he should clean up nice for this?

One year when John was chubby and had braces they played at the Sasquatch! Music Festival and John had shaved the day before, which often looked rash-y like a bumpy scallop. Why not have your beard, which is how he looked all the time? Maybe the Sasquatch! thing was the final straw as he saw those pictures and didn’t like what he looked like without a beard and he decided to never do it again. He is definitely going to shave sometimes to show his daughter that he has a facer under there, he likes to wear a mustache for a little while sometimes, but eventually he will grow the beard back. It is very unfortunate!

John had also shaved right before the music video for Fire Island and he doesn’t look like that guy in Fire Island! Merlin thinks that in Blue Diamonds John has a Lennon 1967 look, which is a great look with a funny hat, round tinted glasses and a porno mustache. John doesn’t like that photoshoot with the orange background and he doesn’t like the fact that those were the photos most people saw of them. It should be him in his cape smoking a cigar on the playground. John didn’t have a beard there, but Merlin captured something essential about him, it was a magical night that was so fun!

John’s band coming up in recommendations in Spotify (RL351)

On Sundays Merlin often listens to music and he tries not to look at his phone too much. He usually begins Sundays by listening to the Genesis-album Duke. There are a lot of good songs on that album, he has a lot of heartbreak and he uses the word ”Tonight” a lot. Yesterday Merlin was listening to the Nevada Bachelors, on John’s recommendation, and they are pretty darn good!

Merlin is a huge fan of the ”Fans also like” section for each band in Spotify, which brings you music that is taste-wise algorithmically similar, and John was right up there with Nevada Bachelors: Sunset Valley, The Long Winters, Creeper Lagoon, Beulah, Harvey Danger. Merlin comes upon John frequently because John comes up from The Posies direction.

Spotify recommendations and monthly listens (RL351)

Merlin keeps getting pointed to Love Battery a lot and from that he jumps to other things, which makes it feel like some important node. It was Jason Finn’s first band. Because of the way the Fastbacks go through drummers you are eventually going to play drums in the Fastbacks. The problem with that algorithm is that a lot of them were local Also-Ran bands and for The Long Winters to be conjured with those bands is not a compliment, really. John can’t tell how algorithms work in terms of being insulting.

Lately Merlin has been on a mid-tempo Power Pop thing and has been exploring that a little bit. It would have been cool if the algorithms would have recommended The Long Winters to people listening to Spoon, but how many people have listened to Nevada Bachelors on Spotify this month? Maybe seven? The statistic says there were 282 monthly listens.

Merlin has been listening to Tony Molina, a Power Pop guy who had 315 listeners. The Fucking Champs got 1500 and The Long Winters had 78633, which is pretty good because it has been a long time since John released a new product. Cinnamon is their top song, It’s a Departure is number 3, and number 2 is The Commander Thinks Aloud. Teaspoon had 190 listens and it means different things at different times. Shapes with 161 listens is a good song. Merlin came upon John's music, that is all he wanted to say.

Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, John visiting a show (RL351)

Merlin is excited about music, he loves music, and sometimes it saves him, not in the way R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü saved him in 1985, but in the sense that he needs to get off Twitter, put down the podcasts for a little while and follow his nose into some music that will please him. Yesterday he listened to a lot of Roxy Music.

Most people forget how weird they can be which owes to the fact that they were so often so weird and so ahead of time. There is a weird phenomenon where they sound like they are covering someone else’s song, even when they are doing epochal and important songs. More Than This is one of the great songs and something about that little phrase is in Merlin’s DNA, but it is a little thin as a recording.

John went to see Bryan Ferry (from Roxy Music) this week whose melodic sensibility feels like he is making it up as he goes. It is meandering and he doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to give you a hook, but it is music to have sex on. (David) Bowie adapting a tone like that is much more assured while with Bryan Ferry it feels more like a tentative first draft. Even classic songs like Virginia Plain or Over You are a little wandery about the performance.

Merlin thinks they are so weird because they are playing saxophones and stuff! They often chose to go to a chord that was not the chord that most people would have chosen. Sometimes a pretty jazzy chord is the jump-off point to another series of chords. Bryan Ferry is wandering around picking pedals off a giant flower with his Greatcoat blowing in the wind and he is singing what comes to mind. There are an awful lot of chords rotating around, the crop-circles are there and some other stuff, like the guy from Rocky Horror Picture show.

When John is washing the dishes he has the tendency to sing for himself, jazzing it up, ad-libbing with some chords happening in his imaginarium, but when Bryan Ferry pulls out the hits, they are big strong hits. At the show that John saw there was a very enthusiastic and engaged audience. John was there because a listener to All the Great Shows was the backline guy on stage taking care of the gear and he asked if John wanted to come. John got a couple of wonderful tickets, he took a musician friend.

They met before the show and hung out on the sidewalk. He was a British fellow about John’s age and he told John a very amusing anecdote where he was on tour with Coldplay in Central Park in New York City. There were 10 people on stage making music and it is very complicated. There was a keyboard problem where they had everything set up and it was working great, but all of a sudden this keyboard would just make strange sounds and then it went off and didn’t do anything.

They changed everything, all the cables, they even had another keyboard, but it was kaputt. Their listener was running around trying to fix it and it turned out later that it had something to do with the raise of the sun that created a One Infinite Loop at the terminal and short-circuited something in this crucial keyboard.

In Roxy Music there are several keyboards on stage and they could get away with not having one of them, but the keyboard is very important in Coldplay because Chris Martin, the lead person in Coldplay, plays the keyboard. The show was being simulcast live around the world and there were 60 Million people in Korea standing in a giant square, watching it on a huge TV and Jodie Foster and all this other stuff.

They were about to go live when that happened. He was running around Central Park and there were 50 Million people there because that is what happens sometimes. He was back at the soundboard and he had to get up to the stage, but he never got the keyboard to work and Chris Martin went up there with a guitar in the last minute.

Musicians sometimes tell a story to one another about a person in the music business that you expect to be a pain in the ass and the point of the story is that they are not. You hear these about Tom Hanks sometimes and in the music business the famous story is Christina Aguilera who is the first one to arrive and last one to leave and she works her ass off.

At this point nobody would have blamed Chris Martin for freaking out on everybody because they were a multi-million-dollar enterprise that was going on a live simulcast, but he got up there with an acoustic guitar at the very last minute, he said on simulcast: ”Hello people of the world!” and ”I am going to play guitar on this, we didn’t rehearse this! Hope you enjoy it!”

He did a bang-up job of getting up there with a different instrument, he made it happen and played all the hits. It is a really nice story about a guy that you hope to like and that you don’t want to find out is a bad guy who is scuttling on the bottom of the sea like a crab. We don’t need another story about somebody who is a dick because we got plenty of those.

The point of the story being told was that their listener was racing from the soundboard to the front of the stage, but he couldn’t race because there were tens of thousands of people in his way. In New York people know how to make a path, but they also don’t. Roadies typically just push people out of the way because they have somewhere to go and they are working here, but he is not that kind of guy.

As he was pushing through the crowd he was shouting ”Keep moving or get out of the way!” and he apologized that he got it wrong all those years ago. Merlin thinks it is not un-useful even with the ”or”. If he had said: ”Keep moving and get out of the way” in that situation, it would have been confusing to people because a lot of them are not music, and he was saying that if you don’t want to keep moving, then get out of the way, which is reasonable at a concert while it is not in a supermarket.

He came upon a large cluster of people who would not move. He couldn’t get through and he couldn’t get around although he was shouting in his charming British accent, and as he looked closer he saw that Michelle Obama and Joe Biden were there, too, maybe also Jodie Foster, and he was only feet from them and shouting at them: ”Keep moving or get out of the way” Of course she had a retinue of security and the reason they were not moving was that they were like: ”You keep moving or get out of the way!” It was a nice story and it came by way of a Roxy Music connection that John now has. John didn’t get to meet Bryan Ferry and their listener apologized that Bryan was in a mood, but John hadn’t expected anyway that Brian was going to want to meet him. It would have been a lot to ask.

John was very excited about Bryan Ferry’s saxophone player. Bryan Ferry has been doing this for a long time and has gotten everything out of it that there is to get out of it. What else is there to get? He probably already felt that way in 1988 because he was born in 1945, so he is concurrent with The Beatles and he is 73 years old. He was 20 years old in 1965, he has seen a lot, he was 30 years old in 1975, think about that! He was 40 years old in 1985 and he did seem like a gentleman. Merlin says that the Avalon video with the falcon was on a lot, even more than More than This.

At 73 years old he is out there scrapping, he moves with a lot of grace, but there was a little shimmy because you can’t help it. Merlin thinks there wasn’t a dry knicker in the house. Are we allowed to use that word? Merlin is talking about pants, about lady-pants, Ladytron (song by Roxy Music) There is a band who got their name from that Roxy Music song.

Merlin is a huge fan and apparently the only person in the world who still loves Roy Wood. He is not against a woodwind, but he thinks they need to be used with care and caution. There is a lot of saxophone. Phil Manzanera is playing guitar and he is the guy musically in the band who is big into songwriting. Ray Manzarek from The Doors is the greatest bass player in Rock. There is one guy who plays a pretty squinky sax a lot of the time and Brian Eno was doing arpeggios and tubular Bells for a little while.

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