RL407 - A Constellation of Pushbacks

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John was either a dork or a goober, referring to John looking like that in more pictures from the last 35 years than the ones in which he looked cool.

The show title refers to something John said in the early part of the episode that wasn’t noted down.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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.

John fighting with the force (RL407)

It is pretty early and John did only go to sleep at 5am for no reason and now it is too early to wake up. Maybe Midi-chlorians, he is pretty high up regarding those. Merlin thinks that John could wield the powers of the force with an almost singular level of focus, but he didn’t get into his training when he was young. At Merlin’s college they would have called John a non-traditional student, which is a way of saying: Older than you are supposed to be for Jedi school. Those students are often the best because they really want it and are always the hardest working and they are probably paying for it out of their own pocket. They are not the kind of people who take a third short story class and not do the reading.

The Midi-chlorians are very kinetic and keep John up by rattling around in his blood, and through the power of the force you can hear millions of souls screaming when you are lying in bed. It is a bit like having too much coffee.

John having a new coffee-maker (RL407)

John’s family has a new coffee maker and somehow it makes the coffee stronger with fewer grounds. The heat of the water could differ. You are not supposed to boil the water but have it just below it. How many degrees is boiling? 1000? One Kelvin? Merlin has never met him! Merlin claims that 1 Kelvin is the number of Calories that you burn over one breakfast, and a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to boil one drop of water.

Merlin has no problem with Celsius when talking about food, he could get used to that, but he could never get used to Celsius when it comes to room temperature because that is silly. It has not enough numbers. What does it even mean when it is 17 degrees? When John was a kid it was 17 all the time, but it had a different meaning. John feels like both he and Merlin are like Dan Benjamin right now. What would happen if you took Dan Benjamin and gave him Dan Benjamin to talk to?

Merlin doing second sleep (RL407)

Merlin started doing a thing, not bifurcated sleep, but something like that, where he falls asleep on the couch watching TV, usually YouTube videos, and then he wakes up usually between 2-5am. He decided not to let it bother him, though, which is one of his favorite phrases. Colonial people used to wake up in the middle of the night, do sex stuff or take a walk or write in their commonplace book or go trackhorn (?) their hat and then you go back to bed (see Omnibus entry about second sleep OM93) Merlin will be awake for a while, eat some leftovers, stand by the heater for a minute and go to bed, which is really nice.

Because of all kinds of things and because of #privilege, he doesn’t have to be up at the ass-crack, but he couldn’t have done that when he had a job where he had to be at 8am or when he had to be at school at 7:15am. You have to adapt!

John maybe having sleep apnea (RL407)

John is very adaptable when it comes to his sleep patterns because in any situation he can make it work. He could do this show on 0 hours of sleep or 24 hours of sleep, he could do it in the rain, he could do it on a train. At times he has recorded from far-flung locales with some cobbled-together microphone setup. The problem is that over time these things catch up to him.

His doctors and his girlfriends have over the years agreed on a handful of crucial things, and for the last 10 years they both believed that John has sleep apnea. Just like when they both agreed on Bipolar and all the way back when they both agreed on ADHD, John didn’t want to hear it and he wanted to ignore it for as long as possible. John was ignoring his Bipolar for between 20-30 years, he didn’t want to take pills, he didn’t want to be fixed, he didn’t want to anything.

Sleep apnea is just the latest. Being Bipolar is not embarrassing, but sleep apnea is, and John doesn’t want to wear a little machine at night. Merlin thinks that for a typical person, a man of his age, he is not very hung up on as many of the things that other people get hung up on. Every time somebody makes fun of somebody for ”getting old”, Merlin is always thinking of: ”What is the alternative?” He takes he aches and pains, he takes straining his back leaning over to pick up a spoon, because it is better than the alternative. If he were being a bit sappy, which he is not, there are a lot of people in his life he wished got to be a bit older.

Merlin is sure it would be fine if he got the mask and the machine, but something, maybe pride, makes him resistant to the path that he is nearly certain will lead him to a machine and a mask in order to sleep. There are other times when he just would want to be on oxygen, like his grandfather because during the night he sometimes pulls his face open in order to get more nostril-opening because he has terrible sinuses and he is always snorting, but maybe he is just not getting enough oxygen which makes his heart beat more which induces anxiety.

John also feels that a lack of air in the night might cause him to deteriorate or die faster. When his daughter was little she had trouble breathing at night and John would sit next to her bed and stop breathing. They took her to the doctor who was laughing at them because this child had the biggest adenoids she had ever seen, which is enlarged lymphatic tissue between the back of the nose and the throat. Also her tonsils were big, so they suggested to just take the tonsils and the adenoids out. If this was 1975 they were already be gone because everybody had to have their tonsils out, except John and Merlin.

John was very resistant to the idea of "elective surgery” because he still doesn’t have his tonsils out and got his wisdom teeth out not until some fateful day in his fucking 40s that he doesn’t want to go into, but he was so nervous about her at night, he used to go in there and sit on a chair and watch her sleep, being on the verge of worry, and ever since she had her tonsils and her adenoids out she sleep on her back, she breathes clear and clean, and her breath has never stopped. John probably has very big adenoids himself! Maybe it is why they can’t whistle with their fingers (see RL407).

It is probably why John can hear his voice changing into his dad’s voice every day. His sister has been coming over a lot since the quarantine because she is in their bubble, and probably twice a day she laughs because John sounds just like their dad, which she means as a compliment, but it is not a compliment for John to start sounding like dad. It was just the way you phrased it and the thing you said and the way it sounded.

Nobody likes being told they sound just like their parent and if he told her that she sounded like their mom, that would mean between them that she sounded really heartless and cruel. She would go in his closet and stomp on his toys, and saying that would mean: ”Have a little compassion!” John only means it in the best possible way and he says it with love. It wouldn’t bother his mom if she would ever hear that, but she keeps a running list of all the times he has been wrong and she would tell him that he is wrong about that among other things.

John can feel his adenoids in his nose, just waiting to shut off the air, but then you hear stories that at his age to have a Tonsillectomy with an Adenoidectomy, his recovery time would be 6 years. He would lay in bed in constant pain, living on strawberry milkshakes, for between 6 months and 6 years, and John does not want a surgery like that because his body doesn’t heal. His kid was up and rolling in 4 days and she had the cutest little raspy Kathleen Turner voice for 4-5 days, which was so cute and they made so many tape recordings of her saying ”a bastic of breakdast” and John is playing them for himself right now.

If John went to a sleep center where he laid in bed in front of a plaid glass window where people in lab coats would be watching him through the window he would have a lot of stickers on me and cables all around and he can’t even go to sleep at 5am in his own room with blackout curtains. If he somehow managed to do that anyway, he would ”wake up” in the morning or afternoon and they would say: ”Ha! You have sleep apnea, brother! You woke up 45 times!” and they would make him watch a video of himself sleeping, or it would be like a drunk driving video where they show people with sleep apnea dead wrapped around a phone pole. ”I have never woken up a dead man!” John doesn’t want any of this. ”I do not want it, Sam I am!”

If John had a machine like the one that The Royal Tenenbaums put into the attic, how is he going to pretend that he is a young, vital, active man in his early 50s that still has a lot of appeal in the world? Especially if something were to come along where John ended up staying over at somebody’s house after a cup of coffee and he were to end up spooning, he would have to say: ”Hang on, I got to bounce because I have a suitcase full of electronics that help me breathe at night. BRB!”

John looking like a dork more often than he is looking cool (RL407)

John has always been interested in style, clothes and glasses as well as interesting practices, like home haircutting and sometimes he has a mustache. He is interested in clothes at the level of them being artifacts and collectibles. When he buys an article of clothing it has to have a couple of stories running. Since he was in his early teens and started buying clothes for himself, the article of clothing had to resonate. And yet, if you look at pictures of John over the last 35 years, the percentage of that time where he looked like a dork or a goober is so much larger than the rare moments where he actually looked cool.

That is a cool sweater, those are cool pants, but you cut your hair the night before and it looks like a Prince Valiant, or those are cool glasses that would be really cool on an 1980s rapper, but they are not cool on him right now, or that is a cool sweater and you loved it so much that you tried to ignore the fact that it was 2” too short. Sometimes he put 4 elements together that absolutely went together in his mind, and absolutely were cool, but not on stage at that moment in that town, it were extremely cool if he was Don Corleone and he was dying of DDT in his garden, but not super-cool at the Irving Plaza (venue in New York City).

Every time John sets out to cut his hair he thinks that this is the time he is going to do a miraculous job, but he cut his hair recently and did another botch job. What is the point of being a life-long aficionado of clothes and style if not to look cool most of the time? The thing about Tim Gunn is, plaid or no plaid: His clothes are tailored, but he does not change his hair and beard, which means his face always looks the same and he is only changing one aspect, which is his clothes, whereas John changes all aspects sometimes from day to day: ”Hey, today he is a helicopter!” Yesterday he was a research librarian at Yale in the 1920s and today he is a biplane pilot in a barn storming act and the next day he is Mothman. There is no through-line and there is no haircut that is going to cover all those bases. Over the top of it there is a curly stooge wig.

For example there are some photographs of Merlin in his 20s where he just looks really cool. He might not have thought that at the time, but looking back you think: ”Now, there is a cool kid in his 20s!” If you look back at pictures of John in his 20s, not the ones where he looks super-baked, sitting on the kitchen floor, eating scabetti, but the ones where he is in a band, this is a cool guy, his band is the coolest band in town right now and his bangs are 1.5” above his eyebrows, he is wearing a pukka-shell necklace and his shirt is falling off because it is two sizes too big. All of that was intentional! John was thinking that he was communicating a style that was posited against what was cool: ”You know what is cool? Being against cool!”, but that is not true.

John’s peak moments like his music video for the song Fire Island, AK, which was the first time they had a budget to make a music video, John flew himself and the band across the country to film it in Upstate New York, and all of his bandmates look cool in that video but John’s hair doesn’t even look like he used a Flowbee, but it looks like he used an HVAC-cleaner. What was he even going for? John hated that video the moment it arrived!

One time they played a wonderful show in a Ratskeller in Vienna, back when they used to play 3-hour shows and they would cover Stairway to Heaven and all this crazy stuff, the crowd was great, but they played the Fire Island music video on a loop behind them the entire time. Somebody even came up after the show and asked what that was about because it was not a very good music video and John looked a lot better in person, but it wasn’t their choice. Usually he would ask them from the stage to stop doing that, but this time he didn’t.

Who could have predicted that Normcore would ever have been a thing? It is young people dressing in the worst possible clothes. Lately Millenniums have been posting pictures of themselves in Hot Topic clothes with super-big pants and nose rings and their hair too short and clipped with a bunch of barrettes in them. John remembers when everybody was a raver, but to post those pictures and be like: ”I am a grown up now and remember this hilarious and great time?” - ”At least you were a member of a society!” You might have been listening to Limp Bizkit or worst, but you were part of a time.

Maybe 25 years from now when all the kids are wearing vintage glasses that were handed out by the California Department of Prisons, like: ”Oh man, this is the look! We all have bowl haircuts and are wearing prison glasses!”, John will be an old man saying: ”Look at this picture of me! This is 1994 and I was dressed like the guy in prison who works in the laundry!” and they will say: ”Wow, you are the only one from your time that was that far ahead!”

Merlin wonders how John feels about this. He does it because of the process, even if sometimes the product is not exactly right. He could just go to The Gap and ask for clothes that fit, but that is not the same thing as choosing the uniform of the day and cutting his own hair so it accommodates his CPAP. Hitler originally had the mustache so he could wear a gas mask.

Both The New Pornographers and The Mountain Goats have great songwriters at the helm, they have tremendous individuality of perspective, both have great unique sound, and neither of them has a frontman that you look at and thing: ”Wow! Cool!”. Spoon and The National both have very unique sounds, incredible music, great songwriters, but their frontmen are super-cool looking. The frontman of Spoon (Britt Daniel) never did not look cool. He is thing guy, a very cool dresser, and when he comes into a club, even if he is not playing, the light goes and shines on him. He also looks like he is only there for a little while. He doesn’t come to your show and settles in and is there closing down the bar at 2am, but he shows up two songs into your set, he leans against the pole in the back and at the end of the show you look for him, but he is gone.

Lord knows what the whole scene with the guy from The National (Matt Berninger) is about! John doesn’t get them, but everybody around him is super into them. He stood next to him several times, including at a wedding, and you go: ”Well, if there is one thing he got, he is extremely cool!” He would be cool even if he wasn’t in a band, but if he was just on a bus.

In every single photo and publicity picture of John in his musical career he looks like somebody who took all of the style of the 20th century and put it into a food processor and then came out the other side and thought: ”Huh, maybe I will shave half of my face today because it is photo day?” The frontmen of The New Pornographers and The Mountain Goats were not handsome or presented themselves as handsome, but it didn’t affect them because their songwriting was so good, but in John’s case the band would have done better if he had been a little cooler looking. If he had one look. His coolest look was when his hair was a little longer and shaggier, and his beard was in a managed fashion, like his Blue Diamonds John Lennon look.

The hair was medium length, he had a little mustache and the tickling of a bond beard. If he had just left it like that and had just gone to somebody once every two months and paid whatever it costs to keep this look! Every other man in the world finds a thing that works and just leaves it at this. Merlin lets his hair go and the he cuts it, which means that over the course of 6-9 months he is either Crazy Hair Merlin or Less Crazy Hair Merlin. During the pandemic times this was an interesting kink.

There was a very long period up through 2018/19 where his hair was just growing until he finally got a haircut, and he had really adopted to the number 2 all over lifestyle. Right now he is due again because he looks like a kid who has seen one TV special about Punk Rock and now has a hasty Sting look because he doesn’t have time for a full Sting. It feels long even though it is not long. He could just ask his lady friend any given Saturday night to do his hair and 15 minutes later he would have a haircut that is good for two months. It is not as cool as John cutting his own hair, but she does a pretty good job and his daughter gets to help out.

There is the Andy Griffith haircut where you get a haircut 2-3 times a week because you have nothing better to do in Mayberry, you can got to Mount Pilot and pay a little more, but you walk out with a haircut that looks great. That kind of haircut that looks good the moment when you leave does not age well and is not the best haircut 2 weeks later. For 8 years Merlin’s hair going crazy was a whole Flickr bit called Merlin’s Awkward Hair Odyssey, which was always fun. Merlin’s hair is the kind of hair that no matter what it is doing looks like a cool and maybe crazy person’s hair, so it was really a bit because his whole take on it was that this hair looked terrible and everybody else’s take was that this hair looks great.

John thing has always been that he looks cool and you just don’t get it, but now he is thinking that maybe he hasn’t been cool at all this whole time, and his attitude was super-weird and really meant that he looked cool, but nobody got it, and what is ”looking cool” when nobody gets it? You want to look cool and only for some cool people to get it, but in John’s case he will look in the mirror and think he is not cool because he has the same cool-dysmorphia than Merlin has. Merlin looks cool to John, but Merlin himself doesn’t think so. They have a self-image of what they like to look like.

In Merlin’s case it might be a form of PTSD. His hair is fine, and that only matters because the haircuts of their youth were not about fine hair, but they were about being able to do a Shaun Cassidy feathered thing or being able to do a Vinnie Barbarino long thing, to have fun, curly big hair, although people who have that often hate it because we always want the thing that we don’t have, which we learned from Silence of the Lambs, or as Morrissey said: ”I want the one I can’t have and it’s driving me mad” (song by The Smiths).

Merlin’s ex Rachel had the most amazing hair, a thicket of Jewess curls, but she had to really deal with it and you couldn’t get your hand out of that hair. She did a lot with it, but she kind of hated it and Merlin would really like it. In the 1970s people would iron their hair to look like Jan Brady (from The Brady Bunch, played by Eve Plumb).

In the mid-to-late 1980s when John was in college, at a time when he should have been peak cool, he had long hair parted it in the middle, which is not where his hair parts, but he never used a blow dryer, and he wore wool German Army pants that he got from a Army Navy surplus store and a leather motorcycle jacket and a blue Oxford Cloth shirt with a reptile. It sounds cool right now, but it is not. In the late 1980s when all glasses looked a certain way he went to an optometrist and they had a display case of glasses from the 1950s, like ”look at these old things!” and John asked to buy those and got them for $10 while all the other glasses cost $250 and he had hacked the world.

The were nuts, the were octagonal and all those things, and they were in this case for a reason because nobody wanted those anymore. This was supposed to be a case of whimsy, but John was putting those together with army pants. It is like wearing John Fluvoeg shoes and it is another thing to wear full-on clown shoes, but even that stuff, there was always a burlesque element of people wearing kooky stuff, they had nipple clamps or something, but John was over there going skiing before the wars.

Merlin was watching Apocalypse Now the other night and he was thinking that Harrison Ford really had a run! In the wonderful scene in the trailer where they are giving him the shrimp and he is not doing well he was just standing in the background, but talk about bangs! What about the Extreme Prejudice guy? That guy has crazy short bangs! Harrison Ford’s glasses are boss and Merlin likes the whole package, his fatigues with the giant-ass pockets that he got in 1960s. You should pick somebody as a model and lean into that, but at that point you are just doing cosplay.

You got your George Clooney’s and your Harrison Fords. George Clooney came out the other day, saying that he uses a Flowbee, but those guys are just handsome. Harrison Ford could wear every outfit John has worn for the last 30 years and people would maybe wonder what was going on with him, but they wouldn’t say: ”That guy looks like a dork!”

Maybe they would think he looked like a character in Blade Runner. John is one of the people in the street scenes in Blade Runner with a Devo helmet and some Run D.M.C. glasses and a jacket made out of tennis rackets. Merlin thinks that E. B. Farnum (William Sanderson) looks cool. He is wearing a helmet that a Fred Flintstone character would wear, but it turns out it is actually a turtle. Daryl Hannah obvious likes what he is cooking up. He got a jacket made out of one of those collapsible tubed that kids like to play with, like a Slinky, except it has fabric around it.

John was dressed like that as well, but he was at the Crocodile Café and everybody else was in R.E.M. He has a kind of dysmorphia where he doesn’t like what he sees when he looks at himself, but there is another voice in his head telling him not to worry about it. He looks dumb, but it is super-cool actually. Then he goes out into the world and people wondering what the deal is with the guy who is wearing three sleeping bags until someone tells them that he is in a band, but then they assume that the band must sound like early Talking Heads trough Kraftwerk, although it is just an Indie Pop band with strummy guitars.

Merlin thinks it would be assumed that John was in a German band or something that The Elfman Brothers aren’t doing anymore. He would be the Pete Best of Oingo Boingo, but not from the Nothing Bad Ever Happens To Me era, but much earlier, like the Forbidden Zone era. Alternatively John could be in early Split Enz where they dress like marionettes. They were pretty fucking cool! Neil was cool early on, but John thinks they are short because they live on plantains (type of banana).

Artists that look congruent to their sound, but The Long Winters failing to do that (RL407)

If Missy Elliott’s music sounded like Destiny’s Child, you would go: ”What?” She is wearing garbage bags, but if she would be singing: ”Pay my bills, pay my automobiles!” (from the song Bills, Bills, Bills by Destiny’s Child) it is not going to connect. Missy Elliott sounds like Missy Elliot and she looks like Missy Elliot. That is the problem! John doesn’t look like how he sounds. Miles Davis looks like he sounds like Miles Davis. Colin Meloy looks like he sounds like Colin Meloy. Sometimes he is wearing a circus tent. The Decemberists look like they sound like.

John first met Chris (Funk) from the Decemberists in The Blackbird in Portland, which had a capacity of fewer than 100 people, including those standing on stage. Chris was brand-new in the band at the time and he dressed Hip Hop because he was coming out of that scene. He was wearing a baseball hat sideways that said Stussy on it in rhinestones, and there was an incongruity to him as part of their look. He didn’t look like a pirate at all. During the 20 years that John has known them he has always waited for Chris Funk to put down his mandolin, step forward, they wheel out two turntables and he starts scratching.

One time John was standing at the Paradiso in Amsterdam and during a show of a big American band, and a very pretty Dutch girl who was a little drunk came up to John and said: ”I know who you are!” - ”I don’t think you do!” - ”I know exactly who you are and I am a big fan!” - ”I suspect that you think I am someone else because typically in the Netherlands out fans look like they work in Den Haag as prosecutors for the European Court! They do not look like you, super-cute Dutch girl who is at an Indie Rock show!” She never said who she thought John was, but she was playing a game. ”I am going to walk up to you and speak English!” was the first part so prove that she knew he was not Dutch, but he was an American who was in a band.

When John caught his reflection in the mirror he suspected she thought he was Colin Meloy. John is a foot taller than Colin Meloy and he was wearing medieval armor at the time, but he did look like Colin Meloy in that moment because that was the era where Colin and Ben Gibbard and all those guys were trying to look like John when he was cool. John was so seldom cool, but there were some moments when people thought: ”Oh, that is the look now? Well, okay then!” and they took those looks from him and ran with them and it became the Colin Meloy look.

Those were Decemberists fans, they are everywhere you go in the world. John’s band never opened for them in Europe. There was a time when you looked at the bill for the month at the Paradiso in Amsterdam it was just Indie Rock bands from Portland, Seattle, and Brooklyn because that sound was very popular in Europe. John Flansburgh called it Treble-Kicking Indie Rock, which is a sound that Merlin also likes.

Most of the time The Long Winters looked like a Rush cover band that never ever played a show, fronted by a J.F. Sebastian from Blade Runner with the personality of Penn from Penn & Teller, which sounds terrible! There was no cohesion or theme! Instead they should have looked like Dexys Midnight Runners. If they had all gotten on stage with overalls on and John had a beret and a dirty white T-shirt, that would have made perfect sense for their sound.

Merlin would be in that band and he would happily cosplay a girl from Dexys Midnight Runners. He has watched Ted Leo doing a performance of Come On Eileen where everybody is in a costume, it was fun! John can only go full (Kevin) Rowland for maybe one day. He walked out of the house looking like Dexys Midnight Runners many times, but then he went to band practice where everybody else looked like they worked at Game Stop. Poor old Johnnie Ray!

Jangle-Rock, Glen Matlock (RL407)

Someone sent Merlin an amazing compilation of the most jangly Jangle-Rock bands from the mid-1980s, it is almost too much Jangle, like Pretty Persuasion (song by R.E.M.). R.E.M. claim they have never heard of The Beatles, which means they never would have gotten thrown out of the Sex Pistols (reference to Glen Matlock being thrown out of the Sex Pistols because he allegedly liked The Beatles, but that was not true) and they wouldn’t have had Edie (Brickell?) come sample (?). Glen Matlock got a raw deal, they treated him terribly! Merlin showed his kid the Bill Grundy Interview (song by Sex Pistols), which is when Glen was still in the band. He got thrown out not because he liked The Beatles, but because he wanted to wake up in the morning.

Mank (movie) (RL407)

The other night Merlin was watching Mank and he asked his kid if she recognized that guy (Gary Oldman), as Snape from Harry Potter, but she claimed it was not Snape (played by Alan Rickman), and it was in fact Sirius Black, the guy from Bellatrix Lestrange. Then Merlin had to pop up lots of screens, including the trailer for Sid and Nancy (starring Gary Oldman). He has very similar hair in Mank than he has in The Fifth Element, which is fun.

Everybody was talking about Mank on Twitter, so John wanted to watch it when his sister was there, but she has a very different taste and the first thing she said was: ”Is this movie in black & white?” There was a title card saying: ”Screenwriting for the Orson Welles movie about the Hearst guy” (Citizen Kane is about William Randolph Hearst) and she said: ”I can’t watch this! This is a movies for you and your friends where you just chuckle at references!” She wanted a movie that was fun and John had to turn it off because he was getting too much pushback.

Instead he forced her to watch The Goodbye Girl with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, but she thought it was divorce porn from the 1970s, which is what you get if you don’t want to watch Mank. You get Fleetwood Mack, but as a movie, and [[[you get what you get and you don’t get upset |you don’t get upset]].

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