RL364 - Why Are You a Bad Boy?

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: The costume is telling you what to think, referring to John seeing a re-envisioning of the Nutcracker with performers of all different sizes and body shapes and in some cases the costume was the thing that was telling you what role they played, not their body.

The show title refers to John already telling himself things when he was 4 years old, like he first time anybody asked him why he was a bad boy he was wondering about why he was a bad boy.

The show starts with a short clip from a live concert with somebody screaming ”I want to know: How many people are here that can take the taste of alcohol?”

Merlin is smiling because it makes him sound friendly, a trick he learned from his mother who was in real estate. John says that the same works in singing it really translates to the quality of the recording, which is why Eddie Vedder always has this crazy grimace because he is getting the smile sound without smiling. They say it takes fewer muscles to smile, but Merlin never really tracked that down. People say a lot of things!

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Things that are its own reward, brushing your teeth (RL364)

Being happy is is own reward. We do stuff to be happy, that is why we go to the movies or buy ourselves a new pair of sweats, but if you were happy on your way there you would already be happy. Happiness is its own reward, just like for example exercise, maybe kindness or cunilingus.

We brush our teeth, although Merlin skips it a lot, and in some sense we do it for others, but mostly we do it for ourselves. Merlin doesn’t brush his teeth very much, sometimes he just wets the brush in case his wife checks. His daughter is the hypocrisy police in every conceivable way who is looking for every loophole and Merlin gets suckered into it, unless friend of the show John Siracusa who just says: ”Because we are the parents and that is the rule!” Merlin usually comes up with some kind of liberal kuck reason for why that is.

John is in the Siracusa family of saying that things are arbitrary. Life is arbitrary and arbitrariness is its own reward. Brutality is its own reward, maybe more things are than Merlin realized. The kinds of things that are not its own reward are anything to do with computers and anything to do with bills.

Not going to see arts as much as you would want, dreading things that don’t require anything (RL364)

John is really trying to interrogate the dread of doing things even when the things are fun and don’t require anything. Tomorrow John will be interviewing a choreographer of the name of Mark Morris who had a Mark Morris Dance Group in New York City, he is a spectacular choreographer and John was asked to be his interlocutor at an event for his book, but last night John went to the ballet called The Hard Nut, a re-envisioning of the nutcracker suite set in 1968 in a suburban house. It didn’t require anything of John to go to this, he just had to go down there and sit and watch, but as the hour approached he was more and more almost at the level of having a stomach ache that he has to do this. What was the matter? Going to the ballet is its own reward!

John went to the ballet and the thing is he wants to go to some kind of cool enriching event all the time, having enrichment as a component of his life, watch what other people make, find and consume magic, but the feeling of just rather not doing it, and bartleby everything. You never get the feeling that Bartleby had any anxiety, it didn’t seem when he closed the door that he was sitting there with a knot in his stomach, but he just preferred not to and he was very honest about it. In that Dr. Manhattan-like way he becomes inscrutable to his manager because the manager can’t get a reason out of him and that makes it all the more frustrating. Merlin would prefer not to do almost everything.

John is going to California this week, but not to the good parts, but to LA. It is just a 3-day junket, there is nothing really required of him, but everything is required of course. He doesn’t really feel dread, but also if it didn’t happen and he woke up and it was all cancelled he would be super-fine with it, and that just isn’t how one smiles into the microphone. Merlin says it would be nice to have a cest (?) for novelty, change, travel and these kinds of things instead of a feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Merlin goes through this all the time because his wife whom he loves for 20 years likes to do things and she loves to plan things, but Merlin doesn’t like thinking about things, planning things, or doing things. The funny part is that a vast percentage of the time Merlin ends up smiling into the mic. She will say: ”We are going on a hike today!” - ”Really? There is a new season of Steven Universe, can’t we just watch TV all day?” - ”Nope, we are going hiking!” and it is only a 2-digit minute trip, just to Marinn or something like that, and Merlin ends up having a great time.

In the case of the ballet, the nice thing about art is that we are not only talking about seeing Archers of Love and hope they will play Web in Front (John doesn’t think they are good and Merlin gets upset about John’s opinion) ”Stuck a pin in your backbone! … All I ever wanted was to be your spine” (lyrics Web in Front by Archers of Love). Going to see the ballet or Hamilton is something Merlin wanted to do forever and he was looking forward to it and he cried and it was great, but art doesn’t have to be a Yoko Ono level of confrontation and challenge. Going in and seeing someone else’s mise-en-scène with the proscenium and other art words, getting the full monty, go somewhere and it is a whole thing and you let yourself disappear into that and you remember you should do this at least once a month, be there for someone else’s art experience because this is what makes us special as humans.

The gulf between John’s philosophy and his practice is pretty wide and the widest part of it is right at the level of misanthropy. Every day he will make some comment to the effect that ”Everybody sucks!” and ”Fuck everything!” and on some level they do undeniably, but in the aggregate John believes that people are basically good and that the world is a hopeful place, things are improving and John trusts that people want things to be better. Misunderstanding is worse than almost anything outside of outright graft. John loves the people over the centuries who have fought hard about things, he has thought hard about things and that is not unique to him.

No longer telling yourself that people suck (RL364)

John’s feelings are all massively positive, he believes in space travel, he believes in technology, and he believes that technology is an expression of the good will, but on a practical day-to-day level John doesn’t give himself the power of trying to take that into his every day, he robs himself of the strength of these feelings by saying at every turn: ”Meh, it is fine! People suck! This sucks!”

By focusing and repeating or even enunciating that little shit John is stealing from himself the thing about his own life that is its own reward, which is the confidence that positive wins. What you do frequently is who you are, which is a quote by Eisenhower right before he invaded Japan, and whatever you do a lot and becomes automatic is who we are.

John said something on Twitter (dec 4th) about the kids his daughter knows who are not gender conforming in the classic way, and for so long that has been such a hot-button issue. The big pattern Merlin feels is: ”What have you been exposed to?” and ”What have you been exposed to a lot?” For kids this stuff is not complicated and it is shocking how much has changed, although we are not there yet. Little kids are not twisted up about this stuff in the way we are and have been. Their minds have not been habitually poisoned by decades of bullshit, but also: When you are exposed to gay people or trans people, or black people or Jewish people.

It just to be so rare to meet a couple of two different races, particularly a black person and a white person, but if that is a thing you see all the time it seems so silly to look at it any other way than they are just the same fucked-up terrible people as anybody else, but not because they are different races, but because you are exposed to it. If you are only exposed to yourself and your opinions or to other people who share that same opinion, the music goes round and you are not smiling into the mic anymore. Now whatever reckon you have about all these others is just constantly re-amplified. Whatever is going around in your mind that you habitually turn over and over is going to become a more and more entrenched opinion or reckon just because you haven’t gotten enough exposure to other things, not that you have to change your mind, but that is the downside of Merlin’s: ”I don’t want to go out!” Merlin should be exposed to other things, even if it is a tree or a trans person.

The thing John can’t measure is: How much is his present state actually a product of the 20-40 years of that conversation. You don’t perceive yourself to be made by yourself, but you perceive yourself to be made by your experiences of others, by your parents, by society, by culture. You perceive yourself in most ways as a passive… you have your integrity and yourself is constant and we are buffeted by everything outside. The pipes and wires in your brain are there to assure you that you have always been the same person and it will fight any attempt to alter that feeling. There is everything we have been telling ourselves for the last 40-odd years. John need to have been 4 years old when he started telling himself things. The first time somebody asked him ”Why are you a bad boy?” he was wondering why he was a bad boy. Who we are has to be in large part shaped by that conversation.

John contrasts his reluctance to go to the ballet right now with those parts in his life when he had zero reluctance to go to the ballet, when he went to dance and theater all the time. Now he is quick to say that he didn’t have anything else going on, he was poor, he lived in the center of town, he didn’t have any responsibilities and he had access to the arts because he was a member of the arts community and could go to these things and it didn’t cost anything and he knew people in the production, so it was obvious why he was there, but what is not obvious is why he is now ”Oh, my God! I have to go to a dance!” It has to be 100% a product of 30 years of saying ”People suck!”

If you are talking with somebody at a party you both agree that everybody sucks and that is a way to jokingly make friends. The best way to bond with any person is to find something that both of you don’t like, which is really easy if you decide that it is everybody else. This has had a pernicious effect and John’s mind doesn’t want this to be true, but he has built himself partly out of these part and he doesn’t mean them, they started whimsically when he first started saying ”Right on!”, which is ridiculous and therefore he decided to say that all the time. Merlin makes an example how he greeted his audience when he performed with his band and that is funny until you start doing it all the time and it becomes like picking up a new curse word and then using it all the time without ever meaning to.

This is how Billie Joe Armstrong started singing a British accent. How else would you find out if people like cold gin? ”Yeah! Alright! Toronto!” God bless them! ”This comes from where venom comes from!”, ”I know it needs fucking strings!”, ”You got to sprinkle some fairy dust on it!”, Colonel Sanders saying: ”It is entirely different?”, all of these, John Wayne: ”I’m not talking for clapping!”, these are in Merlin’s head, the fucking Jerky Boys are in there! There is this whole sad theme park of things he never meant to learn, let alone quote! God knows how many emotions and how many responses are like that, how much what you look out of your eye ports and bring back into your mind and what room you put those perceptions in!

Consuming well-known pieces of culture instead of seeking something new (RL364)

Every new experience you have to put in some file cabinet somewhere and the more file cabinets you built, like ”Eddie Vedder Voice” and the older you get the number of places you have the energy or enthusiasm to file something gets greatly reduced. You go back to Steve Martin, you meet the girl and she says: ”Let’s go camping!” and you say: ”Sorry, we are closed!” That is us now, we have a file cabinet with only 4 folders to choose from and the fattest one is that this is bullshit and people suck.

In the movie Inside Out the little girl was driving herself from inside her brain and her memories were marbles and there is a scene with an endless field of dead memories that fall down into a wasteland and you can go find them and grab one, even though they are dead. John still has all these file cabinets inside from a long time ago about things that were amazing, but he just doesn’t want to make the trip down the stairs to find them, and he is just cramming everything in the five file cabinets that are right there in the alcove.

Merlin’s favorite novels are still A Confederacy of Dunces (by John Kennedy Toole) and Slaughterhouse-Five (by Kurt Vonnegut), those are the books he read the most and loved the most over his teen years plus, and it brings him back to reading Slaughterhouse-Five and listening to it on tape by James Franco. Merlin did not return to the library to find some extremely outlandish French specular fiction from the 19th century about time travel? No, he returned to the book he literally read the most! As soon as Merlin hears a Green Day song, it makes him want to go listen to Buzzcocks, for example the song Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve). Merlin couldn’t remember their name for a long time and was devastated about that.

The section of Slaughterhouse-Five where he is talking about the war and about his friend and about having operators in various cities, Merlin could probably recite this section because he has read and heard it so many times. A version read by the author is on Spotify. Familiarity the quest for the broken-in chair of emotions and memories is so much more attractive than leaving the house and seeing a different take on Tchaikovsky tonight.

When John saw The Hard Nut yesterday in the theater, as the lights go down and the curtain comes up he realized: John had never seen the nutcracker, Merlin didn’t either, although both their families go every year. No-one took John as a child. He has also never seen It’s a Wonderful Life (1946 movie), it just wasn’t a thing, although it surely was on TV so many times, but John was just skipping through the channels, looking for something else. John has never seen some of these iconic things! He has seen Fantasia, but he doesn’t know what the Nutcracker is, he just knows that there is a nutcracker in it and a sugarplum fairy and he knows half of the songs because they are part of the cultural patrimony.

The ballet was a funny re-envisioning of the Nutcracker with jokes in it. Some of the humor is broad, but some of it is referential humor to things that people know about the Nutcracker and the audience was laughing and John was sitting there, engaged and enjoying it, understanding the broad humor… there are people of a lot of different sizes and body shapes in it, they are not ballerinas, and with some people you are just not sure, it is the costume that is telling you what to think, not their body. The hat makes you understand the character. John was learning how much he didn’t know about this iconic thing and he did not get why the audience just laughed, and he liked it!

Also the language of dance is an artistic language that John barely knows the grammar. If he watches a movie, looks at a painting, reads a book or a play, listens to music he has a pretty good grasp on the language that is being used, even if he doesn’t get every reference to everything, but he can look at a painting and give you a critical appraisal of it. It was really fun for John and the level of appreciation he had was like: ”Wow, that was tricky!” and then he was watching them do things that looked simple, asking himself: ”Is this simple?”

One time John saw some legendary performance of Butoh from Japan that came to Seattle for some reason. It is a style of dance that is super slow and super heavy. At first he was wondering when they were going to start dancing, but as he sat there impatiently and zoomed in at what was happening he was all of a sudden transfixed because it was so otherworldly.

Last night there were dances that were obviously amazing because it was a spectacle with 40 people on stage moving really fast, doing incredible leaps, but there were other moments with just one or two people on stage moving slowly, doing other things, and obviously John couldn’t do it, but he was trying to find out what was amazing about it. It was the type of thing that used to happen to him all the time. He would go out and be blown away by something he didn’t know he didn’t know. Where along the way he decided that he knew everything already or that ”Oh, I have to go to another dance thing!”… he doesn’t know enough about dance to be bored by it!

Also: John doesn’t know anything about painting and how is he sitting in a gallery, going: ”Nope! Nope! Nope!” He is having an emotional reaction and that is what art is about and he should sit and be with those, which is why he is there, but he is there as much to look at a painting and go: ”No!” as you are to say: ”Yes!” That ”No!” is not because you are blasé or you are dismissing it, but you are having a feeling about it and that is the reason John goes to do things and that is a positive, it is its own reward.

It is to retain and regain the positivity that is profoundly in John. If he is on the beach and turns over a rock and there is a crab under there, he has no critical voice and there is no part of him saying: ”Hmm, another crab!”, but he is down on his knees, like: ”Go, crab, go!” A worm in the dirt will transfix him for 20 minutes, but somehow he is over classical music? How to get back to that?

Not everybody should be an artist (RL364)

There are people right around John pouring their hearts into stuff, although there is so much bad art and there are so many people pouring their hearts into things who shouldn’t have gotten jobs and who should have been discouraged at an early age. Somebody should have tested them in primary school and gently guided them towards a lifetime of servitude and toil. There are a lot of people making art who could be doing a lot of important work elsewhere. John doesn’t think they should stop making art and grab an oar on a Roman war barge, but they should be doing something else with the energy that they are pouring into their art or to their mindfulness retreat.

Guidance counselors doing a bad job (RL364)

This should be a government service, like in England there are jobs programs to help you find the right kind of job. Almost all the advice Merlin got from guidance counselors in High School was uniformly empirically terrible and discouraging in a non-positive way. Their advice to people who had been beaten by life was always to join the Air Force, that was the extend of their advice. John thinks Merlin would have been great in the Air Force.

There was a time when the Marines were trying very heavily to recruit him because he was doing very well on the ASVAB, to the point in 1985 where the Marine guy would drive his car to Merlin’s house and picked him up to come in and watch movies at the recruitment station and drink coffee. ”I never seen a grown man naked!” Merlin remembers being very hooked up on coffee with the Marines, but also: ”Yeah, my friend Ricky recently joined the Air Force” - ”You should try that individual to buy some oil rags to keep the ants off his candy ass!”

A lot of the advice John got from guidance counselors… he and Merlin grew up in a time when all of the text books were leftovers from a period when they were still trying to beat the Russians to the moon. Merlin had a mandatory government class in 12th grade called: ”Comparative government: Americanism vs Communism (AvC)”, ”Who is our Karl Marx?” - ”Johnny Appleseed: Mr. America!” (played by Jimmy Stewart), but that whole ”Abandon your dreams!” thing was thought as being positive because it was built out of the remnants of the idea that everybody could do better than their parents and you were always going to be able to retire at 55.

There was the idea in the 1950s and 1960s was that you could be a manual laborer in a union who earned the income of a relatively successful dentist. As an African-American in Detroit in the 1950s you could get a fully middle-class house-buying income with benefits and retirement as a manual laborer, which sounds unbelievable to kids today who do spreadsheets all day and can’t afford rent.

What the guidance counselors said to Merlin and John was: ”Kill your dreams!”, but we are in a different world now. Some of the people John admires the most are the ones who say: ”I like building and I just build things and the making-a-living-from-it comes!” You have to hustle in whatever you are doing. Then there are the people who just never walked into the whole universe of: ”You have to take French if you are in a college preparatory path!”, all these courses you have to take for college and there are so many distribution requirements and if you don’t adhere to this very well-defined path you have to talk to the guidance counselor about what Plan B is going to be, about joining the Air Force and keep the ants off your ass.

In their mind they were helping you with a path that was practical, realistic and doable. Somewhere along the way there was the idea that we are all artist and we are all gifted. One of the main things that differentiates the American thing from the communisms is that everyone’s individuality in America is our most important quality, our uniqueness. John and Merlin have laughed about this idea since the beginning of their podcast. During one period they talked a lot about the rise of the people who were making artisanal things. They haven’t said ”artis-anal” in four years, but they used to say it all the time. It is up there with ”interrogate” at this point with having achieved escape velocity from their particular sphere and people who never met them are saying it.

Things that last (RL364)

John is not sure whether it really has percolated into the culture at large, but it feels that way, the idea in 2014 that it really made sense to spend a lot of money on one jacket that you wore for the rest of your life rather than buy a new Chinese jacket every year. It was a philosophy that people were really trying to grapple with. Should they pay $300 for a coat that they are going to wear forever or did they want to go to the Nordstrom rack and buy a garbage jacket every season? Plenty of their listeners have a life that is their life knife and they are wearing shoes that they got specifically because they can be resoled, whether or not they will ever do that.

Somewhere in that philosophy and mentality is a dissemination of a different attitude toward work, not just becoming a craftsperson… that is what John admires so much about chefs: In a way chefs and dancers… when a chef makes a meal and you eat it, it is gone. You don’t go pop in the video tape and watch it again, and if you did it would not be the same than eating it. Unlike John or someone who is working on an app right now and who in some ways believes that the work they are doing is going to live forever or at least is important and matters in some way beyond its moment of creation. If you are a cook, your food is only hot for 5 minutes, it is ephemeral.

Very big artist who will disappear in just a few decades, artists being lumped together (RL364)

Why isn’t that more thought of as more true of all work? Merlin and John came up in a time when the work they admired was (Herman) Melville or Saul Bellow, but it was all thought of as stuff that was going to last. It was going to resonate, it was going to be meaningful, but 30 years from now no-one is going to remember Eric Clapton and that is crazy! Leila might come on in a playlist and nobody knows, but when was the last time anybody talked about Jelly Roll Morton? Merlin feels that way about Billy Murray (singer) from the early part of the 20th century. He was on everything, he was huge, an Irish tenor, he was the Adele of his time, everybody loved him, but when Merlin says his name right now, everybody things he means the guy from Caddyshack (Bill Murray).

The huge musicians of the 1920s that we remember are Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, but who remembers Fletcher Henderson or Cliff Edwards? These were big artists! The same in the 1960s: Who is talking about Oscar Peterson? Oscar Peterson, Charles Mingus, Felonious Munk, Richard Thompson: Go spend fucking half a day on Spotify listening to their shit and you are going to have shivers!

John is often having the conversation with Ted Leo that neither of them is fully in the Indie Rock canon. They are a subset of a subset. Bands that will define John’s era, like The Shins, The Decemberists, The New Pornographers, Death Cab in a way defines it to the point that they are almost outside of it, but John always aspired to be at the level of The New Pornographers, but he never will and when you extrapolate that to the popular music that defined him growing up, which is of course the music of the 1960-70-80s, the idea that somewhere along the line The Beatles and the Stones will be the shorthand for John and Merlin’s entire lives in the same way that Merlin’s daughter things that anything that is old is the 1990s, 1960s and 1970s and there is no sense how it all came out.

It wasn’t that long ago! The music John’s mom listened to, when was the last time Vaughn Monroe came on? Her generation is in between Big Band Jazz and Cool Jazz, of course she didn’t listen to Rock music because she thrived on being a grown-up and be seen as a grown-up and the last thing she would do was listen to this ridiculous teeny bopper music from New England. The Nat King Cole Trio was a huge deal when he went solo and was very controversial because he did Pop stuff and people got mad at him.

Everybody still knows Bing Crosby because of White Christmas, but do they know how huge he was? What decade was Sinatra really popular in? He had two or arguably three acts in his career, but there is this sorting algorithm where we end up with The Beatles and the Stones that are probably really right on. The Beatles are our idea of what a good Rock band is and the Stones refuse to go away and are Rock music to people.

Merlin and John could sit here and name 10 classical composers, but what they don’t realize and are not informed enough to know is that those 10 classical composers represent 400 years of classical music and we think of them as more or less contemporaries of one another. Haendel and Beethoven and Rachmaninov and Mozart. From Bach (1685-1750) to Ives (1874-1954) to Debussy (1862-1918) is 200-300 years. When our own time is condensed in the same way, like Louis Armstrong and The Beatles. In Merlin’s area there is one radio station for classical music and it plays all the music with violins and oboes at 88.9, that is what he knows about classical music. More subtly there is the greatest hits of the 1960s, 70s, 80s and beyond, KFUK. What? Merlin has extremely strong opinions about every R.E.M. album, let alone if The Zombies really fit in with The Cranberries singing a song about zombies!

It all gets to this idea that there was something about Merlin and John’s time in particular, and it is still present, where it is not just that every person thought they were special, but what was considered success was that you made something or contributed to something that persevered, that was part of the tower we were building to the moon or of the new future. It is an 18th century idea that anybody is ever going to read these books beyond the popular market for them this year. You would be writing a book that people would continue to study many years later. We are so down on disposable culture now, when really all culture is disposable ultimately.

Past short periods seeming to last forever in retrospect (RL364)

When John thought about the 1950s, from our perspective having being born after the 1950s, they are locked in time and in that sense they lasted forever when they were happening. It was the 1950s forever when it was the 1950s. If you were living in the 1950s you had the time to experience all the 1950s, to have been into Marilyn Monroe and also to have been into Jazz and reading The New Yorker and living in a Levittown and also being a pioneer in Alaska, driving a big car with fins, but also being contemptuous of big cars with fins.

We spent so much time thinking about he 1950s and processing them that it is hard to imagine that some of those things that are now eternal about the 1950s only lasted for a couple of months. Think about the Summer of Love! It was 3 months of 1967. From ”There is some cool cats hanging out and smoking weed” to ”Heroin is destroying the community” was less than a summer, you had basically a good 6 weeks and it was a lot of date rape and heroin. We have been talking about he Summer of Love ever since and it continued in our minds until Disco. The influence of that, all through the self-actualization stuff, all the hippie stuff and the sons-and-daughters-of-hippie stuff and the grandchildren of hippie stuff, up to the revival in 1988 when the harmonic conversion stuff was happening and Tie-Dye got popular again. It was one thing that was interesting for a few weeks once.

You go to the McDonalds at the end of the pan-handle in San Francisco, it is still utterly blighted, there are teen runaways and drug addicts like in 1967. Haight Ashbury is by turns a tourist attraction and an urban blight. San Francisco can be so expensive and so rung out, but right up there persists an environment that doesn’t even exist in college communities anymore. Where is there still a place where there are acid casualties? Merlin recommends to visit the Twitter headquarters: It is interesting to be standing under the Twitter sign and see so many people sleeping on the street next to human shit. That is the corner that represents San Francisco so nicely!

How do we ever get it into our heads that what we make only matters now? Anything we do that isn’t its own reward… what is its own reward? Everything has to be! What else are we doing? Merlin and John are not stacking up acorns for the winter, and if they do it had better be its own reward. Andy Goldsworthy already has that covered, he is an artist who makes art out of what he finds at a location in nature and it is quite striking! For Merlin, that kind of thing is writing show notes for some of his podcasts, which takes 5-60 minutes and is for a very small audience, most people don’t even know it exists.

Creating art still being magical to John (RL364)

Think about Jonathan Coulton’s song every week, that launched his deal. He is a lot different than John is, and Flansburgh is like that, too: They are not precious about their work. Flansburgh’s attitude is always about the future, about what he is writing now. If he writes something and he doesn’t like it he throws it away and he doesn’t mourn. the time and the work and the genius that went into it. Coulton is less like that, but is is a crafts person who thinks of the things he is making as things he is making. Even his early songs were beautiful pieces of furniture, the way they fit together.

Because John’s creative process remained magical to him, he never got a set of tools in a little tool roll that he would unroll and wonder which awl he was going to use today, but every time he sat down to make a new thing he was in a loin cloth again, like at the start of every level of Minecraft you have to make a bench. Part of that magic was the thought that maybe this time he would completely reinvent music or rewrite Louie Louie.

Jonathan has a degree in music and he knows what the pieces and parts are and he sits down to write a song, but John has no idea what happens in his mind. Flansburgh has written so many songs for so long, he also sits down, but John doesn’t know what his tool roll looks like and which one he reaches for first. John just picks up the thing and hits it. On the one hand that keeps it magical, but it also makes it always scary, like a demonic possession, or that could be the last song he would ever write. When he sits down and tries to conjure up Pan’s Labyrinth, he is also thinking that the standard is to make a song that people will listen to for decades.

Flansburgh doesn’t necessarily have that, but people will listen to their music for decades. The Fingertips suite for example is something Merlin would never come up with in a million years because the amount of effort that went into creating each one of those very few second long songs, it is such a beautiful slice of 1960s Girl Pop. The irony on top of it that Merlin still has those songs in his fucking head and they ended up being eternal and canonical to him and they probably didn’t intend it that way. ”Kick you in the head, I will kick you in the head!”

Chris Ballew, long-time listener of the show, puts up a new Caspar Babypants record every year. He has a big philosophy attached to his creative process, but a lot of it he reverse engineers. He can describe it to you as a thought-out system, he can tell you what he is doing, but that is all after the fact! He is doing what he is doing and afterwards he comes up with a system to describe it that makes it seem like the system was operating. He may use oblique strategies or something, he has a toolkit that he unrolls and has access to these handled instrument, but the lack of preciousness in the sense that the making of this music is its own reward in some way. Performing it is gratifying to him, but he is not going back to the 5th Caspar Babypants record, saying that it is the 10th anniversary and he is going to play it all the way through, there is absolutely none of that self-mythologizing or it is probably rather self-nostaligizing, something John really does a lot.

If we are really living in a world where product is king or content is king, you can make a new thing every day, and we make content every day, but if John just went… (he gets a guitar and starts strumming it randomly) he could put that right out. Merlin thinks what John just did had a bit of Spanish Punk Rock to it, which is John’s Billie Joe Armstrong influence. ”Spanish Punk Rock esta bullshit!”

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