RL448 - A Little Bit of Fire

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Brad Gillis (Music)
  • John having hippies in his ravine (New House)
  • Lea Thompson vs Elisabeth Shue vs Mary Stuart Masterson, 1980s John Hughes movies, Some Kind of Wonderful (Movies)
  • Age gaps being more and less significant, dating older/younger people (Aging)
  • Everything had changed when John came back from his walk across Europe (The Big Walk)
  • Babe the Blue Ox, a plentitude of great local bands in the 1990s (Music)
  • Are you living the right life? Living in a neighborhood where there are a lot of kids to play with (Early Days)
  • John’s basement flooded after he unplugged the sump pump, his Rock posters getting destroyed (Currents)
  • Sleep hygiene, getting a CPAP machine, getting into the right sleep rhythm after the holidays, watching 30 Rock (Sleep)

The problem: John lost his movie rights, referring to John bringing Harold and Maude to his High School movie night and was never again allowed to choose a movie for the rest of High School.

The show title refers to the house in the movie Synecdoche New York that is always a little bit on fire and that Merlin uses as a metaphor for John’s smoke alarm in his stoner house that beeped every 30 seconds for a solid year.

John starts the show singing Merlin’s name in the usual way and Merlin replies with singing John’s name to Masters of the Universe. They continue ”Here comes the Merlin Mann!” - ”Here comes the John again!” Merlin even takes his guitar and strums the song he is thinking about because John thought it was a funeral march. John wanted to join Merlin, but that doesn’t work because of Skype syncing issues. He eventually chimes in, but their guitars are extremely out of tune. They play around for quite some time.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

Brad Gillis (RL448)

Crazy Train (by Ozzy Osbourne) is one of Brad Gillis adjacent song where the shitty music video involves train tracks. Brad was playing on the Live one while Randy (Rhodes, Merlin calls him Randall) was playing on the Ridge (Ridge Farm Studio?), and Gillis also plays the lesser of the two solos on Don’t Tell Me You Love Me (Lay Your World on Me).

John met Brad Gillis in a bar in Mill Valley California one time. He is the nicest guy and lives there.

Merlin recommends that if you are a widely regarded lead guitar player from Birmingham, then don’t work in a sheet metal factory like Tony Iommi (from Black Sabbath).

Todd Rundgren always had a Marin vibe (Marin Civic Center), they get a wine dad vibe, just like Jackson Browne, which sounds like a euphemism, but just barely: ”I got to see Jackson Browne. It is called a load out!”

Merlin didn’t come up to Marin (Marin Civic Center) when John played at Bob Weir’s Magic House because he doesn’t like crossing a bridge, but he saw him in Oakland with the vampire guy (Ken Stringfellow) and his wife dodged a bullet that night (see RL3).

John having hippies in his ravine (RL448)

John has a ravine full of hippies, which is a collective noun like a murder of crows, and they are having the time of their life tearing it up on this rainy day. This morning the hippies kept screaming and it is like: ”Clarisse, you can hear the hippies screaming!”, but John doesn’t know where they are now.

Lea Thompson vs Elisabeth Shue vs Mary Stuart Masterson, 1980s John Hughes movies, Some Kind of Wonderful (RL448)

Lea Thompson reminds Merlin of Elisabeth Shue who is very good in The Boys on Amazon Prime. Lea is the mom in Back to the Future, and Elisabeth Shue was in Adventures in Babysitting and Leaving Las Vegas. John had never seen Some Kind of Wonderful (with Lea Thompson), but he was recently forced to watch it. The other blonde is the Wilson Philips (?)2 girls, she was not in there, but should have been. It was the other girl with the Pixie Cut, but John did not like that Pixie Cut. Merlin finds her adorable, Mary Stuart Masterson (who was also in Some Kind of Wonderful), who is one of the 3-name actresses like Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio or NPR’s Carol Anne Clark-Kelly who has 4 first names and she is having fun with it.

Some Kind of Wonderful is a John Hughes movie from the 1980s, but John had never seen it because he was just a little too old for it. It was the same for Merlin and Breakfast Club, he was 6 months too old for that, and he had almost graduated already and thought it was ridiculous and took itself too seriously. He loved that guy, of course, the bully who gets the horns. He gets assaulted by a real gorilla in Trading Places (??? Doesn’t make sense). He is a great 1980s-heavy, like a William Atherton. Merlin never saw St. Elmo’s Fire because he knew it wasn’t for him. It was supposedly for college people, but it had a saxophone in it in 1985, played by Rob Lowe who had a roach clip earring.

Merlin loved Pretty in Pink, but it was awkward because he went to see it with a platonic lady friend and ex-girlfriend whom he was supposed to take to the prom, but didn’t and there was that prom scene in that. Breakfast Club came out in the middle of John’s Junior year and it was a pitch right down the middle for him. It is about the uncertain future and there were other movies who weren’t so on the nose about that like Harold and Maude.

John and his friends in High School used to have a movie night where one of them would rent a VHS tape and John brought Harold and Maude at some point. Kevin, Kelly, Eric, Rick, Mary were all there, not Sonja, but Tamy. Halfway through the movie it was such a downer, not what anybody wanted, they wanted a movie where they could laugh or kiss each other. It resulted in John losing his movie rights for the rest of High School and when it came around to him again they would say: ”Nope!” They used to say ”Harold and Maude!” to him every time he did something that they thought was dumb to provoke him.

Merlin can’t get his kid to fucking put down the phone and watch a normal thing, let alone a moody one about a guy who is a Jesus figure. Bud Cort (Walter Edward Cox) was also the father in But I’m a Cheerleader, which is a big household hit and Merlin hopes he can leverage some Bud Cort energy. John thinks that Harold and Maude was not the right hill to die on, but he would die on the hill of Being There. Merlin named his dog John C. Gardener.

On New Year’s Eve 1985/86 all of Merlin’s friends were depressed and they were into being depressed and they were a little bit existential, but they were also Woodie Allen fans and that was the night they learned the Ricky Nelson had died in a plane crash and it was the night when Merlin’s friend Bob brought in the Woody Allen movie Broadway Danny Rose, which might be even less entertaining than Harold and Maude.

Some Kind of Wonderful was the one for John that he didn’t see because he was over, and the person he was with was 2 years younger and the movie was resonant to them. It is a ménage à trois movie and it has the blonde girl in it (Lea Thompson) and Eric Stoltz who was supposed to become Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Lea Thompson just the year before almost walked away with Red Dawn.

Age gaps being more and less significant, dating older/younger people (RL448)

They talk about kids that were born 1-2 years before or after your own kid and what that means for their interests. Sometimes that almost feels like a different generation, although it goes away by teen years and then it becomes significant again. When John was 25 he thought that people who dated 22-year-olds were creeps. Merlin had a 14-year old classmate in 8th grade who was widely believed to have a 19-year old boyfriend, which meant that she was probably really cool, but from the POV of a 25 year old? What are you doing? That is so gross!

Everything had changed when John came back from his walk across Europe (RL448)

Every girlfriend John had was 0,5-1 years older than him until he turned 30. When he was dating Laurell he was 27 and she was 29, which was scandalous, but she was very sophisticated and it looked good on John. In 1999 when the Western State Hurricanes broke up he should have quit music and gotten a job. He was 30 years old and he had been part of the 1990s scene and he had just been 2 years too young to actually be Grunge, he was there for the birth of Indie. The kids in all the other bands were 23 years old, like Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse.

The following year every single person of John’s music scene that was his age or older was out. All the bands that were big in the clubs in 1995/96 were gone by 2001 and got replaced by new kids that had been raised in DIY, and John hadn’t, he was raised in DUI, which meant that you start Sub Pop and then become as big as the bigs, or you become a little big. They did not intend to make a career out of making their own T-shirts.

Then John went on the Walk Across Europe and when he came back he hadn’t really changed very much, but he stepped back into a world where all of the bands he knew were gone, all the people he knew had gotten jobs over the space of a long weekend, and everybody was now 24-25 years old and he was 31. He got into Harvey Danger in 2000 and those guys were all 6 years younger than him. They had been big in 1998 with Flagpole Sitta.

John should have gone the other way and he should be working at Amazon now. This is why 1997 didn’t happen, the only thing that came out in 1997 was OK Computer (by Radiohead), the rest of it was 311 and Five Doors Down (actually 3 Doors Down), but none of that stuff exists.

He left at the last minute of his scene and it seemed like the world was going on and everybody else was going to be the same, but when he came back he was the same and everybody else was different, which is a Johnny Michell-esque concept. John was the one who did the crazy thing while everybody else stayed at home and slouched into Bethlehem. John was the Silver Surver who did the sick kickflips.

The other day John realized that his walk seemed like a big adventure and it seemed like a manic period, but he was totally depressed the whole time and he was forced out of bed each morning by the voice in his head that said: ”Move, you lazy ass!” and you would either go South or East and he would go until he found a river and he would tack (sailing term) until he found a bridge and so on. And when he came back all the bands were gone, his city was gone! There was a whole new generation of kids in too-tight T-shirts, wearing pegged pants again, and all the bootcut jeans people were gone.

There wasn’t any other job for John if not a musician. What would he be? A college professor?

Merlin wonders if the impulse of walking across Europe is at all chemically similar to running for city council, and John always wanted to think so, but looking back at his creative years… John should have put a band together with Laurell, she was 29 and he was 27 and she could play the drums. When he saw The White Stripes for the first time he thought that he had already had that idea before: He and Laurell used to sit in the basement and jam. She wasn’t a great drummer, but personality goes a long way and she had so much personality!

Babe the Blue Ox, a plentitude of great local bands in the 1990s (RL448)

Babe the Blue Ox came through Tallahassee all the time and Merlin found them an amazing three-piece with a lot of personality and character and a girl just ripping it on drums. They came through Seattle right when the Western State Hurricanes started to become a thing and they were all at The Crocodile to see Babe the Blue Ox. The place wasn’t packed, but they were a national act or a touring band. Merlin can’t keep a straight conversation together and mentions Archers of Loaf, Black Flag, Minutemen that were so fucking good and so electric, like Sebadoh or Babe the Blue Ox, but they all ended up selling only 10.000 copies of their record and every single one of them started a Brian Eno cover band

John really loved Babe the Blue Ox and thought they had so much personality. John pulled a Merlin Mann and went up to them after the show and asked them if they had a place to crash tonight, which they hadn’t. John had a huge warehouse loft on Capitol Hill and invited them to come, which they did and they spent the night with John in his loft. It was the only time John ever took a band home and put them up. One of the girls in the band, maybe the bass player, made out with John’s bass player. They were a Rock band and they knew another Rock band, and for the rest of the year they were name-checking them whenever the opportunity arose.

Merlin made a playlist the other night. These were Merlin’s formative years, and also of Chris Walla, they knew all these bands and they really changed who they were. Merlin always thought he had pretty good taste and sensibility in music, but this was the first time as an adult-ish young person where he felt he was begin wonderfully outpaced by the ambition and execution of a lot of music around him. There is a cover band called Jeteye in Tampa. The very first show Merlin ever saw when he moved 1991 was The Young Fresh Fellows.

The Young Fresh Fellows were one of the first alternative bands that John ever saw. He took them out and got them stoned after the show. Merlin really misses college for the easy conviviality and the easy access to people and friends. You just see your friends all the time and there was never a need to make a plan unless you had to buy tickets for something. He misses that from a social standpoint and he misses the mid 1990s from a music standpoint.

Are you living the right life? Living in a neighborhood where there are a lot of kids to play with (RL448)

John sometimes asks himself if he is living the right life or if there is another one that he should have been living. The other day he was talking to his mom about her childhood and he asked her what her favorite movie was when she was a kid. Of course it was everything with Roy Rogers, she loved him and when he married Dale Evans she was really disappointed. She also liked Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan. John wondered if when she played with other kids in the neighborhood if she would play Roy Rogers cowboys and Indians or if they would play Tarzan, but she said she didn’t play with other kids.

John had just been to her town in North-West Ohio in August and she showed him the neighborhood, the route she would take to town or to elementary school and he could picture it very well. She just said it so matter-of-factly that she never played with other kids. John moved to the suburbs partly because they wanted their daughter to have the experience that he had as a kid, that there were kids all over and you just go out the door in the summer and you play. It turned out that their neighborhood does not have that and she is like John’s mom, she is an avid reader, and although she is a very social person she has gradually settled into a life where her books and her fantasies are her main companions. John was kind of the same, except he had kids all around him all the time and he could opt in or opt out.

There were many instances where a kid would come to the door and say: ”Hey, can John come out and play?” and John’s mom would look in his room and he would wave her off: ”No! No, no, no, no, no!” because he was doing something, he was making spells, he was reanimating a dead frog.

In that context there are a lot of other lives…

The first time John visited Greece he was sitting in a ramshackle rattle-trap hotel at the water on Corfu, looking out the window, and there were bronzed young teen Greek kids doing the cliché things like diving in the ocean, wearing almost nothing, and even 100 years ago they wouldn’t have been wearing anything, and this is how JFK Jr grew up and as John was looking out the window he was thinking that this is also a life, but one that is very different from his. It is a situation where your relative poverty is completely mitigated by the fact that you have the ocean of the ancients around you, which is very different from growing up in the Bronx where you don’t have any money and also you don’t have the world’s greatest ocean.

It is a midlife crisis thing to think that John could choose a life rather than continue to live in this one. He has been talking to a lot of friends about this. When he thinks of a simple life, which he doesn’t currently have, although he doesn’t have an overcomplicated life. Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it is easy.

John’s basement flooded after he unplugged the sump pump, his Rock posters getting destroyed (RL448)

One of their good friends of all the great shows Jochen, who lives in Sweden now although he is a German, posted somewhere or sent John a letter in that German style where they are not mincing words and they don’t even have a filter for rude, and he said that in the first 5-6 years of Roderick on the Line you were telling interesting stories about when you were interesting, and recently you just have been thinking about your life a lot in a way that is a lot more boring, something to the effect of: ”You ran out of interesting stories!” John is not fighting any buffalo, but there is Half & Half he has to get, which is not exactly as interesting.

The other day John’s basement flooded, and this story is for Jochen, talking not being interesting anymore: John has a sump pump to keep the water off the floor… and it is like those smoke detectors that have a 9V-battery even though they are hard-wired into the house and it is just a backup battery, but they suck battery power faster than a battery-powered one. John once lived in a stoner house where the smoke detector beeped for a solid year every 30 seconds and none of them could hear it anymore because they were all drug addicts and nobody wanted to deal with it, while any visitor to the house were sitting on the edge of the couch. It was like the house in Synecdoche New York that is always just a little bit on fire.

The sump pump had a little outboard gizmo in case there was a power outage, but in two years it has run through three 9V batteries and it will just sit down there and beep, so John unplugged it to get rid of the beeps because he can’t keep putting 9V’s in this, and then they had an atmospheric river and the next day there were 2 inches (5 cm) of water in the basement. Talk about an interesting story! On one hand there is Dead Rubber Girl in the Closet (see RL21), but on the other hand there are 2 inches of water in his basement floor. There is your Roderick on the Line! John is not 40 anymore, not even 45, and life catches up on you!

The sump pump detects water and turns on and it works in combination with a French drain, a drain that runs outside along the front of the house that collects the water, puts it in the sump pump, and then the sump pump pumps it out, but John had turned the sump pump off and it no longer pumped the water out of the house. When he turned it on again it immediately pumped it all out.

John had been sorting through all of his Rock posters for a long time and they were all stacked on the floor and all of them were completely submerged. John is not somebody who believes in signs or that this was meant to be, but he does believe that when something happens, this is what happened, that is the new truth. All the way back to when he had the office down in the immigration building (see [Packages), the one with the birds outside, he had these Rock posters stacked up and was wondering what he was going to do with these posters, all the way back to before he ran for city council, the one constant in his life had been: ”What do I do with these posters?” For a while in 2013 he was going to buy a flat file from a guy. Now the decision has been made for him in part by the flood and the lack of a 9V battery.

A lot of these posters, which he might have strapped to his back like the stick farmer on Led Zeppelin IV and all the naked kids climbing up the side of the mountain, he would have been both the man with the sticks, the bundle of sticks, the bundle of hiss, and he would have also been the naked kids climbing up the mountain with these stupid Decemberists posters that he really just wanted to burn in effigy, and now the wave came in through he French train, past the non-operating sump pump, and removed all those posters from contention. They all went soggy wet into the bin and now John wonders if he should be living in Greece, jumping off the side of a rock. These posters were a sea anchor, like in that Robert Redford movie where you throw the sea anchor out and it pulls you off the shipping container. Merlin talks about the Wuwei philosophy in China.

One of the key elements is: It could have been worse because there were a lot of things down there that didn’t get destroyed, it is almost like a warning shot. All the guitars were 5 inches above the water line!

Sleep hygiene, getting a CPAP machine, getting into the right sleep rhythm after the holidays, watching 30 Rock (RL448)

The other crazy thing: John has been talking about sleep problems for years and it has been awful. He couldn’t think straight on his shows anymore, he kept forgetting what he was talking about, everything hurt, and he got a CPAP machine and tried to use it and the problem was that the primary issue was that John has a hard time going and getting to sleep, he stays up until 6am. His thinking was that maybe he didn’t want to go to sleep because he thought he was dying the whole time and with a CPAP machine sleep would be restful. When they did the tests on him he only had 6 apnea events, which was just borderline to where they will do a CPAP because there are people with 100-200 events. Imagine choking 100 times a night and you are not even aware of it unless your spouse tells you! Merlin slept on the couch last night because he was too God-damn loud.

John used this CPAP machine for 3 weeks and when he laid in bed he was still unable to go to sleep, but he was also wearing a Baron Harkonnen (Vladimir Harkonnen from Dune) mask, really unable to go to sleep. It wasn’t even uncomfortable and he got used to it, but he still didn’t like to go to sleep and there were now four more things in the way: A sound, a feeling, a restriction, and he just didn’t go to sleep. He developed a cough and stopped using the machine until the cough would go away, he was using the humidifier function and it was probably filling him up, and in the lead-up to the holidays he was going to sleep at 8am, sleeping until 2pm, he was walking around in a daze, falling down, sleeping on the couch in the afternoon, watching nine 30 Rock episodes in a row, hoping that Tina Fey would lay him down, he was absolutely out of control.

At a certain point John thought he would just stay up all night and rock on through like when he would get jetlagged, but that just resulted in him staying up until 4pm and hitting a Mondo Wall (?), collapse, and sleep from 4-11pm. He was off the rails! It was the sleep cycle of a serial killer. But right around Christmas, when they were sitting there, opening presents, John had not been to sleep for 35 hours, he was so exhausted he couldn’t keep his eyes open, and suddenly he hit the jackpot and he fell asleep at midnight and woke up at 6:30am.

That day he stayed up until 10pm, he was falling asleep on his feet, and he went to bed and woke up at 6am, and for the last 2 weeks John has been going to bed between 10pm-12am and has been waking up between 6-7am and he would sit down at the computer and write 1500 words a day, staying awake all day, not taking a nap in he afternoon, and he had the experience when he had already done a bunch of stuff and when he looked at the clock it was 9:30am. He does more before breakfast than the Army does all day, and it is going to make the 1960s look like the 1920s.

He woke up this morning without an alarm at 8am, and Merlin was sitting there, pushing and delaying, because he thought John was probably not even awake yet, but John already went out rollerblading around the neighborhood, leaving little boxes of sugar cookies on his neighbors’ doorsteps, and it feels regular - knock on wood! And it turns out: If John writes 1500 words in a day he feels like he accomplished something and he gets a little attaboy and he didn’t even have to steal that time from anywhere. He hadn’t felt a feeling of daily accomplishment in years where every day he did a thing.

Now he starts to feel tired at 10:30pm where normally he would be leaning into the first of nine 30 Rock episodes and now he is sitting on the couch with his daughter’s mother / partner who has decided together with his sister that they were watching The Man in the High Castle for some reason, which they claimed was his type of show, but it was 10:30pm and he was tired and not even Nazis could keep him awake. It also feels like he is not missing anything, he has never missed anything except writing 1500 words at 8am, and right now that feels sustainable because he got up at 8am, he has already done some stuff, and he is going to stay up until 11pm when he starts to feel tired.

John didn’t watch 30 Rock in the 2000s, he didn’t even have a TV, and he started to watch it on Amazon, but then they took it away and put it over somewhere else where he was also able to see it. He also didn’t watch Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live because he didn’t even have a TV, and he didn’t know anything about any of these people. The sense of humor in that show is very Generation X, there is a lot of irony and a lot of stuff that wouldn’t fly now, but that actually is funny. Merlin thinks it was a God-damn shame to take out Jenna (Maroney) in Black Face.

John watched the entire series, a thing he had only ever done with The Sopranos and The Wire, and he was doing it alone, it was his private moment in the bathtub, his little weird special time capsule that made him not feel gaslit, but made him remember when he enjoyed things, it reminded him of ”Does anybody remember laughter?”, the characters are all so wonderful and he loved everything about it.

A few weeks ago he came to the end and after the last episode he was walking around for a couple days, missing his 30 Rock friends and he tried to watch Seinfeld, but he didn’t want those friends. He told his daughter’s mother / partner about the situation and asked her if he could just start watching it again and she said: ”How many of your fans have listened to every Roderick on the Line more than once?” - ”A lot!” - ”You can! You are allowed!” John hadn’t realized this was a thing, and he made some toast, drew a bath, put his computer on the toilet, and it turned out he didn’t even remember anything from the first episodes that he had watched 2 years before at the beginning of the pandemic.

John still feels a little fragile about it, he had never mentioned it since he started, because it felt a little dirty anyway watching a Sitcom. At one point he started telling friends that he was watching 30 Rock, and it was like he had said he was doing hot yoga, but he wanted that reaction because then he could make his case that 30 Rock is really good. It was like when Merlin told people he was watching Rome. John watched that at the Nada Surf house when he stayed there for two weeks and Ira had it on DVD. Merlin couldn’t stand that guy on Grey’s Anatomy, which his family hate-watches, the Trainspotting guy, and he liked him so much in Rome that he started liking him in Grey’s Anatomy.

There is no 30 Rock spin-off that John wouldn’t somewhat approve of. John told Christopher Frizzelle, the guy who runs his book club, that what he needed to do was not to read Moby Dick, but to watch 30 Rock.

John started it over, he is not even halfway through season 1 yet, and he is doling them out to himself like little bonbons. Merlin loves all of this and didn’t not expect it today.

When John wakes up in the morning the sun is just peeking through the trees, he is up at first light, and he gets some coffee, sits at the computer to see what happens. Merlin recommends John to do some phone-it-in Walter Matthau style Calisthenics with tiny little weights, butter-maker style, like a Pee-wee Herman workout, that is all his can handle right now. His daughter was trying to show him some yoga moves and he said: ”You want to see a yoga move? Throw those balled-up little socks there in front of me! Now watch me try to pick them up!” and he made groaning noises as if he couldn’t reach them.

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