RL60 - Writ in his boots

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: Unintentionally inspiring The Institutional Memory of Filson, referring to John introducing the Filson brand to a guy 20 years ago who didn’t know about it at all and who is now the institutional memory of Filson.

The show title refers to John seeing a man on the subway in New York with beautiful working boots and the whole story of this man was writ in his boots.

They started the show singing each other’s names. Merlin claimed he was singing a modal Jazz tune that John dismissed as maybe Moroccan Jazz, but not Aeolian because Aioli is the stuff you get on the side at a hipster restaurant. John thought an Aioli was a girl’s nipple (That would be an areola). Merlin gave John a bell, but stopped it after half a second, introducing the mini-ding.

Merlin dreamt about John last night and fell out of bed twice. John is the bee's knees and everyone is his friend in New York City.

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

Fast Food restaurants (RL60)

Merlin apologizes for being late and you can hear him eating KFC. He hates himself even thinking about it every time he walks by. John thinks about KFC chickens as coming through an HVAC tube. There is a thing called an electro sluice and Merlin imagines it being passed through that.

They have refined a certain kind of electricity over the years that can feed, kill, de-feather and just address the bird’s parts: Some kind of spinning fan blade in a tube, Willy Wonka is going through a psychedelic boat ride and a live chicken goes in and the fan blade debones it, de-feathers it and breads it. There was a little boy from Florida called Johnny Chicken in the original book who got a golden ticket. His name is Roald Dahl.

A library would say that you have to read to your child, but in a Kentucky Fried Chicken there is a big poster about how you need to introduce your child to chicken smell, pre-poultryism, or pre-masticated-chicken-teeth-land. Rubbing the spicy chicken on your child’s upper lip is like giving a dog a flat tennis ball full of peanut butter: The child will be driven mad! Merlin loves giving a dog peanut butter, it makes his week. Merlin’s dog sometimes will get Merlin’s chewing gum out of an ashtray at his house and there is nothing funnier than watching that. There was so much in that sentence and Merlin might have just got halfway into a Scott Walker song.

KFC is a court of last resort for Merlin. There are many restaurants like that in his neighborhood, like a Taco Bell which his friend Scott Simpson has simply dubbed ”Hell” It is a KFC/Taco Bell, but thank Christ there is no Pizza Hut component in that, because Pizza Hut is punishment. When Merlin was a kid they had a good juke box and cool red cups, their pizza was second to Shakey’s, but still pretty decent.

Merlin’s scout troop went to Pizza Hut one day and they had to take a tour behind the scenes as you did in Cincinnati in 1976/77. They made no attempt to hide the fact that the dough resided in an industrial garbage can with a lid and they would just stick their Pizza Hut hands right in there and grab a whole dingus of dough.

John only had a few occasions to have a Pizza Hut anything in the last 10 years. You see them at airports. They have one of these grass-seed disseminators or fertilizer disseminators with government margarine inside (Merlin saw those guys open for the circle jerks one time) and the whole back of a Pizza Hut must be 3 inches think of cold margarine. Back in the day you could still be a little bit artisanal about a chain restaurant and can you even imagine knowing that back then?

Merlin’s KFC is a black swan! He shouldn’t work ping pong, but he has no idea how that lady is still the manager of the place. She is a very plus-size African-American lady and she is a god-damn fucking first-class riot. She is super-loud and super-mad all the time, yelling at the employees. In the neighborhood English is the second language, including the Irish.

People come in there and ask what they have today and if the employees are not completely ready chapter and verse, they have to know their pieces and their size and style, like original or spicy, then she will read them the riot act and yell at them. Merlin likes her a lot! She has to deal with the chicken guy who comes in and eats the chickens. Every time Merlin goes in there he does hate himself inexplicably even more than usual and he instantly feels transported back to his childhood in Florida.

John’s childhood fast food restaurant is Arby’s, which is indefensible. He talked about the liquid beef a while back (see RL13), and every time the semi-truck backs up they unload 250 turkey-shaped cinderblocks of beef that look like the brain of a super-being in a pinkish-grey color. They thin-slice this frozen beef, flash-fly it and that is your Arby’s sandwich.

John knew a kid who worked at an Arby’s who said that if you left one of those frozen beef brains out of the freezer, it became a bag of meat liquid. There is no brain-shaped part of a cow except its brain, but this was a 20 pound (9 kg) thing that clearly was extruded from an old-fashioned cake-frosting machine and then flash-frozen.

When John drives past an Arby’s and the sign out front says ”5 Arby’s sandwiches for $5”, he turns into an 11 year old and has to go in, knowing that everything about it is wrong and he is going to be sorry. He can’t stop himself because it is a thing from childhood. In Hawaii they have figured out a way to make spam seem like a cultural imperative and they have to eat spam because it is their culture. They also have to act like it is good and they have to have fun with it and put pineapple slices on it. Arby’s is John's Hawaiian spam because he always gets a little Swiss cheese on it.

b) So disgusting and a) Merlin doesn’t want to know how John’s friend discovered that because the idea of taking a frozen beef and getting it to a point where it melts into liquid does not say a lot about the QA/QC of an Arby’s. Merlin’s girlfriend and his best friend in High School both worked at an Arby’s and that smell does not come off.

Merlin just listed things and said first b), then a) and John wonders what was up with that. Was he trying to subvert the dominant paradigm? The Greek probably have a name for it, like syllogism, but John doesn’t think it is that. There are names for most things that involve oratory, rhetoric and drama and there is a whole awesome Wikipedia page (maybe this one) of famous quotes and what those devices are called.

Merlin has an Arby’s near his house near the Lucky that they go to for groceries sometimes, they got a (Big 5) Sporting Goods store where Merlin’s daughter likes to go to, they got a Ross Dress for Less that he can see from their back window, it is all pretty close (1545 Sloat Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94132, USA). Merlin has only been there about 2-3 times, but first of all: Arby’s has gotten a little overwhelming.

Arby’s is an acronym or ”America’s Roast Beef, yes sir!” (see RL13) You can tell it is from a different time because it is polite. Today it would be Arbfu: "America’s Roast Beef, fuck you!" John was very offended when they changed "This can’t be yoghurt" (TCBY) to ”This country’s best yoghurt!” because some focus group thought that it had a negative undertone. Also TGIF’s used red-con to go back and make it ”TGI Friday’s”

Merlin's KFC/Taco Bell has greatly extended their product line into areas that they shouldn’t even be in. They have mushrooms now and fucking salads! If you go back in time and go into that Diner and ask for a Beef Steak with French Fries, you want to sound sensible. John will ask for Turkey Dinner every time. With Blue Plate Special you are going to be in good shape, the guy will say $0.15 and your dime will have Roosevelt on it.

Merlin got the Classic, the thing he always gets. Because of his personality and his problems, if he goes to Arby’s these days he over-orders because he thinks that he is not going to be back here soon. He will get Beef and Cheddar. John likes that, except it has an onion bun. John likes onions and he likes buns, but he doesn’t want an onion bun on his Beef and Cheddar. He doesn’t keep buns in the house unless he is going to have a barbecue. Merlin listens to that show a lot (What show? Guest appearance?) John doesn’t keep buns in the house. He has wieners, but no buns because he will get the buns fresh.

Reading books for your child (RL60)

John has not read any of the Willy Wonka books to his child yet because she is pre-literate. Merlin always felt like a dope for reading to his kid and he wondered how much was getting through. He thought it might help her getting into comics, distorting her mind. But then he saw a thing at the library with the steps you go through and one of the steps was called pre-literacy. He was very happy to find out that his reading was not just for being around books and interacting with books, but it turned out it can help your child with literacy. It seems obvious in retrospect.

The Greeks already knew everything (RL60)

The crazy and terrible thing about reading the Greeks is that you realize very quickly that they already thought of everything. They are already as smart as anybody was going to get 2500 years ago and everything we think we have invented since then is nothing new. They fucked every part of the buffalo, they took every little bit of information that they had access to and exhausted every resource for trying to figure out the world.

If there was a sudden collapse of civilization and electricity was gone and we were back to what we have in books to rebuild civilization, we would do a much shittier job than they did even with the books that they wrote in our hands. It would take us 500 years to learn to carve stone and we would have to start at the beginning. We would have to unlearn touch screens and hashtags and we would need to get back to caressing young men in a bath, which is how people are supposed to live. It is called mentoring!

They Might Be Giants (RL60)

”Am I the only bee in your bonnet, make a little birdhouse” (lyrics Birdhouse In Your Soul by They Might Be Giants) is from one of Merlin’s all-time favorite songs. People don’t understand how important that song is, just as with They’ll Need a Crane. It is literally about a night light looking at a painting of a lighthouse, having self-esteem problems and wondering what it is capable of ”after killing Jason off and countless screaming argonauts” (from Birdhouse In Your Soul).

Somebody tweeted at John that his cover of Pet Name by They Might Be Giants is perhaps their favorite song ever. That is quite a statement and when they did that cover John did not feel that they got the acclaim that was their due. Merlin suggests John to do an Echo & Bunnymen and get a drum machine. Merlin is done sucking up to that guy.

When the grid goes down (RL60)

When Merlin was urinating this morning it occurred to him that if the grid went down, one of the problems would be that they wouldn’t have the Internet and Wikipedia at their ready access. A lot of people have gotten rid of their books, but John hasn’t! He is sitting in a room full of books and it smells like moths in there, but when the grid goes down this will be the repository of all important human knowledge.

John has the Live from New York: Saturday Night Live oral history and you don’t want to live in a future scape without that book. You are going to encounter Chevy Chase after the apocalypse and you need to be ready for that. If you don’t know that they exist, how can you be prepared? As in the Breakout-issue of The New Avengers (Vol. 1 from January 18th, 2006), what if the lights were going off slowly? What if we knew we had some access to the resources on the Internet, but only for a certain amount of time and we didn’t know how long? Where would we start to make sure we had what we needed, assuming we could print it out?

Bagels (RL60)

The first thing John will order at a bagel place is a sesame seed bagel and if they don’t have that, he will already be suspicious and go to poppy seed, but if they are out of poppy seed as well he will against his judgement get an everything bagel. If they are out of those then this transaction is over. An everything bagel is the most goyish bagel that you can possibly order.

Onion bagels should be sequestered to their own part of the store and they should come in their own bag. John does not want onion bun on his Beef & Cheddar, although he loves onion! Onion bagels should be like a gent magazines: Enjoy that by yourself, but don’t bring it to the conference room, because a) nobody likes a fucking onion bagel and b) it is going to stink up the room and the bag and it is going to screw up the bagel experience for everybody.

Don’t sit on an airplane and read FHM magazine! John does not want to see a guy on an airplane reading one of those magazines that is ostensibly about stereo equipment and men’s fashion, but is really about jacking off to Carmen Electra. On an airplane you should be required by law to have a copy of Vanity Fair, a magazine John does not subscribe to because every issue has one article that is really interesting to him and he really wants to read, but the rest just promulgates this middle-brow concept of what high class is. It is like the Olive Garden of periodicals and it perpetuates Tommy Hilfigerisation of America where the cheapest version of The Hamptons is smeared like government margarine across America and people say ”That is what I aspire to! I aspire to have no taste! I aspire to be a Nouveau Riche person who thinks that an interest in the Kennedys constitutes a person of culture. It is like calling yourself a Civil War buff.

Civil War buffs vs cosplay (RL60)

John has a pair of cream-colored calfskin gloves waiting to slap anyone across the face who calls themselves a Civil War buff because that is not a thing that you should describe yourself as. You should say so many things before you get to Civil War buff that you just never get to Civil War buff. John would call them cosplayers because he is becoming more and more enamored with this cosplay thing that is happening across America.

Cosplayer is an umbrella definition of 30% of Americans. When John is standing in the lobby of a Downtown office building and watches people come and go, fully half those people are cosplaying grey flannel business people. Merlin says that you could definitely travel back to 1978, roll joints on a Van Halen album and this would blow people out of the room: ”Listen man, a suit is just a modern suit of armor, except it is not protecting you against swords!”

Time travel (RL60)

This is one of John’s daydreams: He was a time traveller and he had two hours to prepare and bookmark as many pages in his iPhone as he could before traveling back in time to for example 1940. He needed to bookmark even things he didn't already know about that he would need access to. What would he put in his phone?

You end up in 1940 dressed in your dumb schlubby modern clothes, your haircut is weird, you have no money, and people on the street are going to immediately look at you and say that there is something wrong with you. You have to establish credibility first so that somebody is going to get you dinner. You need contemporary civility and be able to approach somebody, including finding your forebears. John’s dad was alive in 1940, but he was not a lawyer yet. He was a Navy cadet spilling coffee on his pants.

John knows where his grandmother lived in 1940. He would knock on her door and say ”Hello Marie-Luise Rochester, I am a relative of yours!” - ”Really? Well, come in!” and John will talk a little bit about his family, he will tell her that he is her cousin, some relative that he vaguely remembers that she would know that is ambiguous enough that she will not going to be able to check, like uncle Ralph’s second cousin once removed. She will feel obligated to let John stay in the guest room for a night or two, but then he will be on his own, trying to establish a new life in 1940 with what he knows is about to happen.

The question is not only what his historical obligations were, but also how he will provide a living for himself in that time with what he knows what is about to transpire, without being a war profiteer and without going to a gambling house and betting the $10 he got together on the fact that the Japanese are going to bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7th. How do you ethically live in the past with the knowledge you have of the future and with his iPhone? You could still plug it into an outlet in 1940, but there would be no Internet, just what you had loaded into the thing previously.

In September 1940 the war in Europe was raging, but America was taking an isolationist stance, the Japanese were moving into Manchuria, Stalin made a separate peace with Hitler, Bob Hope was hilarious, Orson Welles was irrelevant. John imagines time traveling happening in place. The house he is sitting in right now existed in 1940 and all of a sudden he would be sitting in the same room, but the house would belong to somebody else and unfortunately he is right now in a green-striped shirt, his underwear and a pair of house slippers that are made by UGG. The time travel is going to happen in two hours and he will have that amount of time to load up his phone, put some pants on, and get a pair of glasses that look like they are from 1940.

Think about somebody showing up at your house right now and saying ”Hello Merlin Mann, you are well-versed in Science Fiction, let me tell you a story: I am your descendent from the future, I have come here, I know the following intimate details about you” and he says two or three things that Merlin’s great-grandson might plausibly know, but that are still intimate details. Then he says ”Tomorrow Carly Rae Jepsen is going to die of emphysema” and then it happens.

This was just a name that popped into John’s head that he reads on the Internet sometimes and that he doesn’t research. Merlin is going to be ”Okay, sure, come into the anteroom and talk a little more about myself” and pretty soon everything this person says is going to sound like bullshit because they are going to say ”In 10 more years you are going to become a widely known Internet celebrity” How could you verify that? Everything he is going to tell you about yourself in the past could just be that he researched it on the Internet really well.

John spends a lot of time imagining himself walking down the street in 1940 in his UGGs with his historically inappropriate glasses, thinking how he is going to walk into a Diner and tell the guy something that is going to make him give John a turkey dinner without becoming a war profiteer? The natural place to start is with your family, but is that something you should do? Should you go to your great-grandmother’s house?

Based on reading some pulp fiction, Merlin suggests meeting a floozy who maybe had a Laudanum problem, but that would be a fancy society lady, maybe somebody from a Preston Sturges film, somebody who should have been an heiress, the daughter of somebody powerful who is the black sheep. If you were to get in good with her, you might to be able to bring her around. Like in the famous William Powell movie where he poses as a hobo: In a lot of the films of the time, like from Frank Capra, that kind of thing happens. You are going to spook some people no matter what.

Merlin’s plan is to convince somebody in the past to believe that he is from the future. First you need relationships, but you also need credibility and not seem like a cook. 1940 is pre-female orgasm. John doesn’t think a woman ever had an orgasm before the Kinsey Report. They had accidental organisms, but they thought that is was some kind of consumption from horse-back riding or they slid down the banister. It was before mechanical dryers, it was a wash board and that is a much different orgasm.

Women were lying down on fainting couches, wondering what was going on with them, and you could arrive and tell them a magic secret, like ”Do you want to see what I can do?”, which would gain you entrance to the confidence of a rich society lady who maybe had a Laudanum addiction, if you could get through the petticoats.

Merlin thinks John is answering his own question! He needs to come in and seem like a reliable coxman who is willing to cut some wood. He would cut a rakish figure and say ”Listen, I know that my glasses seem to be made out of a mysterious substance that looks a little bit like tortoise shells, and my slippers are inexplicably complicated.” Merlin says that John's slippers are a fucking non-starter and he needed to get some Brogues!

But here is the thing: You have your iPhone that will make you look like a wizard, but also make you look like a witch. You don’t have the Internet, but it is a little tiny black box where you push a button and all of a sudden a photograph or a little video-game appears. You could find Richard Feynman at the University of Washington in some kind of mechanical engineering department, you could show him the iPhone and he would wonder what the fuck that was and who the fuck you are! ”Exactly, buy me a turkey dinner and we can talk about this!”

You could find out what groundbreaking thing nerds were about to make, like ”Hey, that is a real challenging problem you got!” and then you would show him the formula or the finished product and only he would be able to understand how much that was a thing. Feynman is a bad example, so is Fermi, but you would have to establish a list of all the atomic scientists on their way to America. You also have to make a second list of all the simple-minded floozies of Seattle who never had an orgasm.

If John travelled back to 1978 he would have no trouble establishing his credibility, because he would go right to Mike Anthony and say ”I’m the ghost of Jack Daniel’s bass future. Don’t do that douchebag thing where you play an open A and pump your first!” John would walk into the first head-shop and say ”Ready dudes? Put ice in your bong!” Mic-drop! Boom! Mind blown! That’s right, nobody had thought of that before the early 1980s. Historically there has never been a group as open to improvement as people in the 1970s who did too many drugs. Did they have 64 oz (2 l) bottles of pop in 1978? You would probably have to go out and buy four 16 oz bottles because they didn’t even have plastic bottles of pop yet.

That means you could not use a 2 liter bottle with the bottom cut off as a hash bong. You submerge it in water, put a bowl of tin foil on top of it with little holes in, you put a big block of hash on the top, you light it and you pull the bottle out of the water. That creates suction, filling the bottle full of super-intense dope smoke. Then you take the bowl off, put your mouth over the bottle and push it down into the water. It hyper-impells the dope-smoke into your lungs and you are baked. No-one had invented that in 1978 and you could be a God among men. The problem of course is that John doesn’t smoke pot anymore now and Merlin will have to teach him so much about multiverses.

Meeting the institutional memory of Filson (RL60)

John was at the Filson store, the waxy pants place (see RL56), and he had the most amazing experience that he is still trying to parse. John has a friend who works at the store and Merlin’s name came up. There was also another guy who is the institutional memory of Filson and who has been working there for 15 years and knows everything about the company. You can show him a Filson garment that was made any time in the last 100 years and he can tell you when it was made.

He can ID any Filson thing and he knows all the history and all the legends. He claimed to know John and claimed to have worked at a pizza parlor 20 years ago. John did work at a pizza parlor called Pagliacci Pizza 20 years ago where they used to make the sauce in a 50 gallon garbage can with literally a canoe paddle. It is the crying clown with the pointy hat stirring sauce in a garbage can with a boat paddle, sleep tight!

John’s friend got the guy from the back, he was bald with a grey beard and if John had passed him on the street he wouldn’t have recognized him, but as he looked him in the eyes he did recognize him as the guy he knew 20 years ago. He was a young mod and he is the kid who introduced John to My Bloody Valentine when he was 20 and John was 22. He was standing in front of John, dressed head to toe in Filson wool wax canvas, he was grey and bald, but he was still this kid. They looked at each other and were like ”Hello! I haven’t seen you in 20 years!” and all the staff at Filson started gathering around them.

The guy, the institutional memory of Filson, turned to his colleagues and said that the first Filson garment he ever saw or was ever aware of was shown to him by John Roderick in 1992. John was wearing a jacket and he asked John if that was a Pendleton, but John looked at him like he was stupid, like ”You don’t know about Filson? What are you? Some fucking kind of idiot?” and John proceeded to explain to him what Filson was. One year later he got a job at the Filson store and has been working there ever since. John literally changed his life! He also became an Alaskan adventure guide and spends 4 months a year in Alaska guiding people in the back country and the rest of the year here at Filson. He is out there in the shit testing that stuff out and has been ever since.

Some time in 2005 Filson was sold to a group of investors headed by some douchebag from Ralph Lauren who tried to turn it into a national brand. They fired all the old people, they tried to Northfacifie it, they tried to off-shore the construction of the stuff to China, all the stuff that was terrible. Then someone came in, bought Filson back and re-established making all the equipment in Seattle again.

They have a manufacturing plant in the back of the store and they make all that shit right there. This kid was one of the only survivors who was there through the whole thing. He is the source of the knowledge of what makes Filson to what it is today, and he only knows about Filson because 20 years ago John made him feel like a dumb-ass for not knowing what the brand of the jacket he was wearing was, which was already a 20 year old jacket.

John was standing in a weird time warp vortex. What if he never existed? John is buying Filson gear and worships the last brand that is being made right, and yet somehow he played a shaping role in the fact that it even exists like it does now. John went home and played with himself. Before Merlin knew John, he had a copy of John's first record album. It is clear from the many letters that people have sent to John that he is a first-class bullshitter who has ruined a lot of people’s lives, but does it even occur to him the influence he has on people on a given day?

That butterfly effect can be so small! John was only 22 years old and had no idea that his Filson story and his Alaskan bravado combined would change the course of somebody's life from being a mod rocker kid to becoming an Alaskan hunting guide.

If Merlin would be thinking about that a lot, playing with himself or otherwise, it would freak him out a little bit! Peter Shaffer, "Moments snap together like magnets", you don’t know who you are going to influence! John certainly didn’t wake up in 1991 and thought that he was going to make somebody feel bad about his jacket. It is that crazy butterfly effect that is true of every single person in the world: You cannot know how that little encounter on the bus may transform the world!

One of the things that The Institutional Memory of Filson said to John is that not very long ago Johnny Marr (guitarist of The Smiths) came in and he bought $2000 worth of Filson clothes. Not withstanding John’s feelings on The Smiths, Johnny Marr is unbelievable, and now John knows that he is walking around somewhere completely waterproof.

The guy with Cordovan boots on the New York subway (RL60)

One time John was on the subway in New York and was enamored with the Cordovan boots of a guy across him, a 60 year old middle-aged working-class black guy who was wearing work boots that were the most gorgeous thing that John had ever seen in his life. John was staring at these boots! The guy was just riding the subway back and forth to work, but John could see in these boots that he cared about them.

John had never seen a thing as fucking foxy as these god-damn boots, and he couldn’t stop looking at them. The guy could see that John was looking at his boots and John couldn’t keep his gaze because he was so in awe of what these boots were saying about this guy, the meticulous care that he has put into these boots that he has clearly had for 28 years.

He looked at John with so much kindness in his eyes and John looked away like a young girl. When he looked back at the guy, he was looking at him still, and John looked down at his boots and gave him a respectful nod, like ”I see your boots!” and he knew what was happening and gave John a nod like a fucking Buddha, like ”That’s right, yes!” and John looked away and was blushing. This man knew more about things than John did, and you could see it in these god-damn boots.

They got to the next stop and John had to get off the subway. He couldn’t be on the car with him because it was too heavy. John turned around, gave the guy a little bow, like ”I seed to you this subway car, I am not worthy to be on this train”, the door closed and off he went into the tunnel. John doesn’t know what this guy does, but he is some mechanic who works with his hands. Someone had seen him in the world, he knew that he had been seen, and John doesn't know if he was used to being seen that way.

He works with some guys who know him, he travels the subway and to most people he is just one more New York guy on the subway, but John saw him! Who knows whether he took that knowledge that he had now been recognized into that subway tunnel and on to the rest of his day and the rest of his life? John doesn’t know whether being recognized in that way activated his powers in a different light. He surely doesn’t get that a lot! He surely gets people who are ”Oh, nice boots!”, but to recognize that those boots were communicating something about him? John had never seen a story of a man writ in his boots like that one encounter. That is not a boot you can buy, but that is a boot you have to make.

You have a moment like that on the subway, like ”I see you, I know that you are bigger than you let on!” and the guy gets down the road and says ”Wait a minute! That kid is right! I’m bigger than I let on! The thing about me that is big is recognizable to people and the problem is that most people don’t see it, not that I am not actually that big!”

The guy nodded at John like the fucking Buddha! He knows, but he might not know that other people can see him. John is not even sure if it is a good thing that he saw John. Maybe the awareness that he is visible to the world in that way was a ripple in the force somehow? John chooses not to think about it and trusts that the guy has the capacity and capability to use that power for good, because he seemed like a good wizard.

We should notice each other more, narcissism (RL60)

Merlin says that John should give himself credit for having changed many people’s life and John replies that his knowledge about the female orgasm has definitely changed people’s lives. ”You are going to save a lot of time, frustration and chafing, you shouldn’t go fracking where there is no gas, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We know how this is done! Let’s just settle down, everybody breathe, easy there, you are feeling your oats, mallets, think about what we have done, let’s lower the lights!”

One of the powers that we can exercise with one another is the power of recognition when we see someone in the world who is taking great care about a certain aspect of themselves or who is interacting with the world in a way that is more profound than other people are aware of in the small spaces that we share with one another. John has always felt an obligation to acknowledge these things to the other person and he can not pass somebody who has taken the time and energy to tailor themselves, someone who does a small kindness on the streets that no-one else noticed, or someone who has a certain way of walking off the curb into the street that is more elegant than the moment necessitated.

John pays attention to these things overtly. He spends so much time on the street bowing to people and congratulating them that it impedes his progress through the city and it takes him an extra 30 minutes to get anywhere. When he sees somebody who is even just walking around and looking at the second story of buildings, noticing the cornices, he pays them the compliment of noticing it. It is a thing we can all do more of. Not only ”Nice shoes!”, but ”Aha, I see your shoes!”

No-one doesn’t appreciate being told that they look beautiful today. It is the easiest compliment to pay and you can say it as you pass someone on the street, like ”You look great today!” and you just keep going, there is nothing creepy about that. If you walk past a 70 year old mate wearing a suit and walking with a cane and you tell him that he looks great today, sir, there is no downside to that! The same is true about a 24 year old woman who looks great. You can pay her that compliment! This world that we are living in where paying a woman a compliment on the street is some kind of objectifying colonization of her is a crazy upside-down world.

Merlin continues to give more examples to make John’s point. Every once in a while John will stop and say ”Madame, your décolletage is raising a volcanic feeling in the mountain of a man that I am!” and then he says ”Are you familiar with the female orgasm? Is that a thing you have experienced first-hand?”

There is so much we have lost because it feels fancy. We have told ourselves over and over that narcissism means loving oneself, but it is unbecoming and all of our narcissism is directed at hating ourselves. Because we hate ourselves the fact that we are spending all day thinking only about ourselves is somehow not narcissistic because it is directed into this blackness. Having lived in a culture in the Northwest where for 10 years hating oneself was basically the only acceptable creative reaction you could have to the world, John realized that of the two he would much rather have people love themselves! The route to thinking about other people comes through loving yourself rather than hating yourself.

John has watched so many people, artist and otherwise, go down a death spiral of self-hate where they became the most narcissistic, the least lovable, the least likeable, and the least useful people because they got consumed with their own failings, and John is guilty of this himself. It changes with generations and one of the reasons people John’s age are so mad at 21 year olds is that a lot of them seem to be having fun.

It is a generation that maybe is going to turn the tide and be frivolous and onanistic, and that is as valid a form of self-obsession as any of the boo-hoo-hooing of the Grunge era! What could be more narcissistic than criticizing someone for not hating themselves in the same way that you do? That is why John thinks that Punk Rock is bullshit (John’s famous article is from 3 months after this episode has been recorded!) Merlin was not going to write that down!

Merlin says that loving yourself and accepting yourself are two different things. As Morrissey has told us: ”Why can’t you accept yourself?” (lyrics Accept Yourself by The Smiths).

The Smiths (RL60)

Johnny Marr was living in Portland for a while when he was in Modest Mouse and he used to play with Billy Bragg, too. Merlin wonders if John ever pulls out his (Gibson ES-)330 and tries to play Johnny Marr’s parts? Merlin thinks that John is a really good guitar player and he doesn’t understand how John plays Shapes, especially live. Johnny Marr parts are a lot more complicated than it seems. He is covering a lot of ground with some crazy picking and open strings. Just play the beginning of This Charming Man and try to make it sound right! It is the Peter Buck method of ”I’m not doing anything, but I am actually doing everything.”

Musicians inspiring many shitty bands (RL60)

Bruce Springsteen burns and shreds, he is not a technical, but he is cleaner than Jimmy Page. He can maybe not do Prince-style, but he can do some serious pull-offs and bends and shit when he wants to. He approached becoming a Rock musician with a single-minded sense of purpose. He was the Ben Franklin of working-men Rock, he knew where he was going! Also: The holocaust of working-men Rock that we are living in now is a product of Bruce Springsteen, John does agree with that 100%.

The holocaust of people who write and perform their own songs is the holocaust of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles and Neil Young. They are b) amazing and a) responsible for so much shitty music that they did not create. They are the four writers of the apocalypse! Between Buffy Sainte-Marie, maybe Joan Baez, but definitely Joni Mitchell, how many shitty trilling folk songs have come out?

John realizes that and lives in constant fear that he is going to go out the door and some woman with blond hair is going to sing a folk song at him. How many shitty bands have started because of My Bloody Valentine? John has stood at the foot of the stage and watched dozens of shitty bands. Let’s play a game called ”I turn off your pedals and we will see what you sound like”

The guy with the semi-circle of pedals (RL60)

One time a guy came to audition for The Western State Hurricanes who was a cool-looking dude, a super-cool kid, with a really cool Les Paul. First he set up his AC-30 amp and then he set up his pedals in a semi-circle around himself. John was standing there with his Rickenbacker and his one RAT pedal. Every one of his pedals had a 9V battery, they were not on a board, but he set every one of them up individually in a perfect 3/4 semi-circle of pedals around himself. It was something like 24 effects pedal, and he kept adjusting the radius as he went.

John said ”That is a lot of pedals!” - ”Every one of them does a different thing and I season to taste and use them as color!” John was thinking ”Wow” at a time when he had never touched the volume or tone knob on his guitar for any other purpose than to make sure they were turned all the way up. At a certain point he even put duct tape across all the knobs on his guitar so that he couldn’t touch them. They were just all the way up and he never made any adjustments of any kind to any of his gear, he just set all of it on 11 and then flew with it.

Maybe this guy knew how pedals and knobs work and the reason he had four delay pedals was that every one of them was set to a different thing? Maybe he was the edge and was going to pull out something you have never heard before? They started playing the first song Unsalted Butter, not the Long Winters version, but the Western State Hurricanes version which was more Rock’n’Roll, but still a tune with a bouncing little melody.

This guy started to play the rhythm part and within 45 seconds he had found a reason to turn on every pedal. As they came to the end of the song he was just ripping John’s face off ”Well, that was interesting! Why don’t we move on and try something that is a little bit softer and more melodic and with a cleaner tone” and they started play Through With Love or some song that got a pretty bouncy beat and is very cordal.

Within 45 seconds he was back at making noise. The entire rehearsal went like this. He seasoned to taste, which meant all 21 pedals on at all times, but at the end of every song he turned every one of them off. Somehow the launch pad of starting the tune and hitting each pedal was his tone. John really didn’t think that this was going to work.

Charles Bissell, who’s They Might Be Giants cover of They’ll Need a Crane is pretty great, is literally pedal boy and he does magic with that stuff and what he does is very unusual. It is not to everybody’s taste, although it is one of Merlin’s favorite bands. But if Charles has a Stratocaster directly plugged into a Fender Twin, he makes it sound incredible. He is a guitar teacher and he plays like one, his playing is impeccable and he plays shit that Merlin would never tell anybody in their first 5 years of guitar playing to play. They only people who are allowed to do that are Charles and Eddie Van Halen, no-one else is allowed to do that ever!

John did it sometimes when he was really thrusting his pants zipper at the people in the front row of the audience. Merlin watched the recording of The (Western State) Hurricanes on that TV show when John was doing Nora as the show closer and John’s glasses would fly across the stage at some point and halfway through the song everybody else in the band would go to the outside edge of the stage and cower behind their amps because they knew that John was about to become a cyclone.

That was at a time when John had stopped drinking and doing drugs, but he had still a tremendous kinetic energy inside him that only came out in Rock’n’Roll as a kind of violent explosion of clothes: Everything came off and John was like the guys in Wasabi, the naked gay guy.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License