RW119 - The Jeff Spicoli Years

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • Having pictures of your childhood (Objects)
  • John’s glasses (Style)

The show title refers to the years 1981-1983 with a particular style of clothes and glasses.

The Blue Angles are in town and they like to fly pretty low over John’s house. One could hear them shortly at some point during the podcast.

Dan likes how John sounds. His daughter is in the podcast studio with him, standing in parade rest, staring at the computer, but as he started talking about her, she ran away into the other room and closed the door.

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

Having pictures of your childhood (RW119)

There was a period when every time Dan took out his phone his kids would say ”Take a video! Take a picture!”, but now they are saying ”You are not recording this, are you?” John’s dad famously always wanted to put John in the photograph and John always joked that even if an UFO would arrive, he would ask John to get in front of the UFO.

There are tons of pictures of John reluctantly standing in front of something. His dad was a terrible photographer on top of that and most of them were out of focus or backlit, so John got a lot of terrible photos from the 1970s. Dan only has like 8 photos of himself between the ages of 4 and 20. John is pretty sure that there is not a single photograph of him between the ages of 17 and 24, but he wishes to have pictures just to see how bad it was. Those were tough years, but not a damn picture in the whole bunch, or at least John doesn’t posses them and they are in other people’s desk drawers or in the garbage.

John’s glasses (RW119)

John has lots of different pairs of glasses and he changes them around a lot. Like Dan, he needs them to see well and he is not just wearing them as an affectation. When John gets glasses at a thrift store, he will not wear somebody else’s prescription, but his prescription is not compatible with anything. He has a pretty dramatic astigmatism and his eyeballs are flat, so he can’t wear contacts. He tried for weeks with these people the last time he was there and they couldn’t get it any better.

John’s got his first pair of glasses in the summer before 9th grade. There was a wall of frames at the optometrist and choices were made by the people around him because he was a child. He had basically Jeffrey Dahmer glasses, early 1980s metal square-ish framed with little pads for the bridge of the nose that you could swap out. They were uncomfortable because this was before the advent of lightweight plastic lenses. John wore them but he didn’t like them.

Losing his glasses in Circle Hot Springs

That summer John went up to Arctic Circle Hot Springs, working at the gold mine as an errant boy. On a hot July day he was at the little general store, leaning into the ice cream cooler to get a popsicle and because the glasses kept slipping off, he took them off, put them on the side so he could get his head into the cooler to find the right popsicle and he forgot them there. Later on he traced it back and ran back to the store, but they were gone. This was a town of 180 people, so who knows where they went! It might have been that he only went back a long time later, because he didn’t like those glasses and didn’t miss them immediately.

One afternoon John was sitting around the hotel of Circle Hot Springs which was the center of the action, a true frontier hotel with swinging doors. He was reading a copy of Life magazine that had an advertisement for something adult like cigarettes or Bourbon with a bunch of very glamorous people in tuxedos standing around. One of the people was a tall blond man wearing tortoise shell glasses. John had never seen something so sophisticated and so East Coast old money preppy as those tortoise shell glasses.

He recognized them immediately as being all those things, because he had seen news photographs of McGeorge Bundy doing some political thing and he knew what preppies looked like. John zoomed in on these glasses, because they were big, not like 1950s style, but there was something modern about them. This was a very early sighting of what would become the most popular glasses style in America in the early 1980s: Very large, round tortoise shell glasses frames that would became ubiquitous, but in 1981, no-one had ever seen them before, at least not in Alaska.

Special-order tortoise shell glasses

His mom was disappointed that John had lost his glasses and they went back to the optometrist, but they didn’t have the style John wanted and in an example of standing up for himself at that young age, he made them get their catalogs out, they flipped through them and they found these tortoise shell glasses. He knew the brand, the size and everything about them and they special-ordered them for John.

John thought they turned out spectacular: Plastic frame glasses that sat directly on your face without those bridge pads. Everyone else in school was wearing those Jeffrey Dahmer glasses that you would wear if you were an Electrical Engineer, because that was just the style at the time and plastic framed glasses were completely out in 1981-1983.

As John showed up at school, the glasses alone were a scandal. People were flabbergasted, asking him what those were and what he was doing. Back then, style was very restrictive. People dressed a certain way and there were only small categories, because otherwise you would make a clear statement of who you were as a human being. You couldn’t deviate an awful lot without attracting a lot of attention.

Because John was a 9th grader, these glasses created quite a stir and he was very proud of them because he felt he knew something that they didn’t. He was the only guy in these glasses for quite a while that year, because it was the Jeff Spicoli years when people were wearing Van’s, Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax T-shirts and Vuarnets were coming in. John was rocking a whole different vibe! He loved to be the only guy who was doing a thing. He was also the only guy in Alaska who had a Vespa and he just loved that!

Others eventually copying John's style

Later the following year John was walking down the hall and met a kid in big round tortoise shell glasses. He was just dumbstruck. How could this kid look at himself in the mirror, biting John’s rhyme so blatantly? It was like it would have said ”My name is John Roderick” on his hat. John still reacts when somebody copies someone else's thing hook, line and sinker.

When Interpol came out, they were just a copy of Joy Division, how can they do that and not be ashamed of themselves? They had a ton of good songs, they were interesting and intriguing, but more importantly, they were performing for a whole new audience of people who had never heard of Joy Division. When Silver Sun Pickups came out, they were a copy of the Smashing Pumpkins and somebody already had that sound. They did a good job of it, they made good songs and people loved them. The fact that they sounded like The Smashing Pumpkins didn’t matter to anybody, but John was appalled!

John was so appalled by this kid and he was a sophomore at that point while this person was a freshman! They were a stylish young person, but their style was not complete and whole. During the first month of 10th grade, those glasses were all of a sudden popping up everywhere. John’s very good friend Tony Hyne actually said something like ”Do you mean wearing those glasses? Are those on purpose or was there a mistake made?” and John replied ”You know so little, and yet you act like you know so much”, but a year later Tony was wearing them as well.

People referencing the wrong thing

For a month, John stood there like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, yelling ”All is well, remain calm!”, trying to keep the crowd from running him over. John was just like ”You guys stop this! You don’t know what you are doing and what you are referencing!” He had a pit in his stomach because his secret society was getting blown open and Walmarted. The glasses didn’t even look that good on him, but he liked them so much that he stood his ground for another year while the whole world was wearing them.

There were two types of glasses: If you were a lady working in an office, you would wear those metal framed glasses where the temple went into the bottom of the lens. They came out and drooped down instead of going up. It was the awfullest style of all times, but everybody else was wearing those round plastic glasses because that was the era where prep became mainstream fashion and everybody was dressing prep now. Preppy Handbook and Ralph Lauren was our global style!

John remembered the first time he went into a Kinko’s and everybody was wearing a blue button-down shirt that said Kinko’s on it. He was appalled, because a blue button-down shirt was an Oxford Cloth shirt that communicated a certain thing and was about something. Now that doesn’t even make any sense anymore, because blue Oxford Cloth shirts are the universal uniform of people working in white-collar service jobs.

Discovering rectangular John Lennon glasses

Later John walked into an optometrist to get a new pair of glasses and he was so dismayed by the fact that every cool thing he ever wanted was ruined. As he was sitting there at the little desk, he saw that they had a little cabinet with a bunch of little gold round John Lennon glasses. One of the pairs was rectangular, which had John never seen before. This was the mid-1980s, the start of the real 1960s Hippie revival.

The optometrist said that these weren’t for sale, but it was just her cabinet of hilarious old glasses frames she had found in the basement. John said he really wanted those rectangular ones and she sold them to John for $25. If the big round tortoise shell glasses looked terrible on John, these looked particularly terrible on him, but he didn’t care, because this pair of glasses was like singing out in the world. He wore them for the better part of 9 months, but they weren’t sturdy and they broke.

The optometrist still had this case of round John Lennon granny glasses and he got another one of these for $25. There was a time in the 1940s when that was the only kind of glasses there was. Those were the basic glasses until people were starting to wear plastic frames in the 1950s/1960s. When we look at a picture of Buddy Holly we think he is such a nerd because he has got those nerdy black glasses on, but at the time those were shockingly forward.

John wore those glasses for a long time. They didn’t look good on him either, but they were such a basic kind of glasses that they just blended into the world. John's long hair at the time fit together with them. It wasn’t a good look on him, but it passed as a look during a period of John’s life when he had abandoned trying to maintain a look. He was just too bedraggled and these glasses fit that vibe.

Practice glasses from the community college

One time John was laying down in a doorway because he was too drunk to make it down the street and he took his glasses off, put them on the step of this doorway and forgot them when he left. The next day they were gone, which is a reoccurring theme. After that John was walking around blind for a year, waving back at people down the street without having any idea whom he was waving at, but he didn’t have a job where he was required to be able to see.

John had a friend in the optometry program at Seattle Central community college and they needed to make practice glasses for people. They had a ton of old frames that had been donated and they were all the same plastic frames with black on the top and clear on the bottom, like 1960s Boeing engineer glasses, the ones that everybody is wearing in the movie JFK. Those were actually a pretty good look on him and John still has a couple of those pairs. Finally there was a vintage style that would fit somebody like John and gave him some definition. It was the time when John got his shit back together and had this extra mental energy to give a care about what he looked like.

Dan has dark hair and dark eyebrows and it would be too much for him.

Getting his first expensive pair of glasses

Wearing vintage glasses at the time, John would maybe see 2 people a day in the whole city coming down the road with frames that were interesting to him and they would see him. John would have impromptu-rendezvous with those in the know. He bubbled along in free glasses land, because the ones he wanted were also the ones that nobody else wanted.

John had now been clean and sober for a few years, he was getting his action together, he was looking sharp, he worked at a job where he met 1000 people a day and there were girls coming into John’s little newsstand pretending to look at magazines, but they were really there to see John or flirt with him. He was feeling pretty good about his whole top-to-bottom energy and decided he needed a new pair of glasses.

He decided to go to an optometrist, and not a bargain-basement one in Chinatown, but the nice optometrist in Fremont, called Eyes on Fremont. The woman who worked there had blue hair and cool glasses that were made for a German architect. Together they picked out some glasses that were sort of in his style, but modern.

She put lenses in them with some protective coating and some UV-protection and when John picked them up the bill was $350. John made only $900 a month! He couldn’t believe it! He walked out of there, looked at the other people down the street and wondered if they had all paid $350 for their glasses. These are the same people who buy new cars! How could they afford it? Why would you even want a new car? How could you buy a pair of glasses for this amount of money? John was flabbergasted! He walked around in his cool new glasses, but he just couldn’t believe it!

Those were the glasses John was wearing when he started at the Western State Hurricanes, which became the band that put him on the map and these were the glasses he was wearing when he got his first picture in the newspaper and they became his signature look. Sean Nelson had a pair of glasses that he wore in the Flagpole Sitta video and if he had them on out in public, he would get mobbed. If he took them off, he became invisible.

Everett True

The English music journalist Everett True famously took responsibility for breaking Nirvana in England, while it is arguable whether he had any effect. He says that he discovered Grunge, because Grunge got popular in the UK before it got popular in the US, kind of like with Jimmy Hendrix. When Grunge eventually became popular in the US, the English music press took credit for it, which is baloney, but that is how it went down.

Everett True really wore that crown and in 1998, 10 years later, he got hired as the music editor of The Stranger and moved to Seattle. The style of this crusty British sycophantic music writer was that the things he liked were the only good things and if you liked anything else you were an idiot. It was really not in the style of Seattle! His arrival coincident with the first show of the Western State Hurricanes and the first time John was in the newspaper was in an article written by this guy.

The article said that he went to see this new band that everybody was talking about and it was terrible. The songs were terrible, the singer was terrible, and he had a stupid haircut and stupid glasses on. If this is the kind of music that this town likes, then you are all idiots! John wrote a letter to the paper and they went back and forth. Pretty soon he was writing a bad article about the Western State Hurricanes in every issue of The Stranger for 6 straight months and it made them popular.

That year 1998 was pretty fun. Nobody likes to get articles written about themselves that say that you are dumb and your band is dumb, but they were also writing about John every single week and after a while John was kind of in on the joke. When he said that John’s glasses were dumb, John had to go and look at them in the mirror in a different light and while they were kind of dumb, it was not in the way he meant. They were dumb because John got them at Eyes on Fremont and paid $350 for them.

Glasses from the thrift store with lenses from Group Health

This was not who John was. He had always been in thrift stores, it was always how he dressed, and this one time there was a bin full of old people’s glasses. If you are super-poor, maybe you can go to the thrift store and try on 15 pairs and maybe you get lucky and find something close. John was pawing through these things and it was a freaking goldmine with the best kinds of old-fashioned glasses frames with all these American Optical and Rodenstock and Bausch & Lomb!

John bought those things for $0.50 and started building a collection. He would take them to Group Health hospital and have them put a pair of lenses in for $50 at the time. He was just wearing the first pair of glasses he got made by them around the house. The prescription isn’t good anymore, but it still kind of functions because he was already 30 at this point and his eyes had already gone to their first plateau of whackadoodle. Now John is on the 3rd plateau.

These glasses were all metal in kind of on aviator style, made by Stettson or Sergio Valente. They were really cool heavy metal frames and the lenses were still a little heavy back then. They looked terrible on John because they were light-gold, which was the wrong color, but John had gone through the trouble to have these made and so he wore them for a while. The problem is that if you put them on before you have your lenses put in, you can’t really see whether they look good or not. He liked what they looked like in his hands and so he thought they looked good on him.

By that point, John had so many pairs of plastic horned-rim shop glasses and Wayfarers that the next pair he took to group health was a pair of your regular green plastic safety glasses, but without the side shields. For $50 he walked out and it was ”kapow!” These were the frames that looked good on him and belonged to him! He had 25 pairs already just waiting to get turned into his prescription and he had arrived, he had found his thing! Whenever he had $50, he took another pair down to the hospital and got them made into glasses.

The Indie Rock optometrist

Then The Long Winters started and John's picture started to show up in magazines. He was wearing 3 or 4 different glasses to his concerts and pretty early on around 2002, he got an email from somebody who had noticed that John was wearing a different pair of vintage glasses in every picture. This was exactly what John was hoping would happen, especially if this email had been from a really pretty 26 year old girl who worked as a librarian somewhere, but it was from an optometrist in Yakima.

The optometrist was a big fan of the band and offered John to make some glasses for him, which was even better than it being a beautiful 26-year old librarian! It was like John had walked into some Richie Rich room where there was a gumball-machine full of jewels, so he agreed. The guy had emailed John to meet him up at a show at Berbati’s Pan in Portland because this was the time where people would drive 5 hours to see their favorite band.

His name was Dan and he was not much older than John. In his trunk he had a case with 5 pairs of glasses that were all John's prescription and of a certain style he had imagined for John. A lot of them were big plastic and square, but John had learned that square didn’t look that good on him, because it is just not the shape for his face. Only some horned-rim glasses worked for him while others looked bad. But here were these free glasses and John felt like he could do it because it was so weird and bad looking that he could just make this his look.

During those years when John was being photographed a lot he was often wearing those big, chunky square framed tortoise shell plastic glasses. Dan was very much into tints and put some interesting tints on some of them. John was committed in his mind that those things, although they didn’t look good on him, were forward and that he was onto something! Dan had made these for him and he was going to embrace that concept.

It was a thing that a lot of people in Seattle had: It was a reaction against vanity. Everybody was extremely vane and conscious of their look, but at the same time willing to work against it in service of a philosophy, which was anti-vanity. You wear something dumb or something you know looks bad on you as a way of deflating the part of you that is trying to look cool, like a triple-whammy of cool. You are cool because you are wearing a thing that is uncool in a way that is meant to be cool as a reaction to cool.

Looking back on these photographs, those glasses did not look good at him. They would surely look good at somebody else, like Henry Kissinger or a North Korean scientist. They might even look good on a French politician from the 1960s, but on John they just didn’t frame his face very well. Dan kept making John glasses, he had an eclectic collection, and sometimes he would send him glasses that were the coolest things John had ever seen. He sent him a pair of big West German shooting glasses that he had put a rainbow tint on with red/yellow/orange top to bottom. John wore those every chance he got. He would encourage Dan about some horn-rimmed ones or tortoise shell ones and Dan would find them and send them to John.

Recording music videos with the wrong glasses

The Long Winters made two music videos: One for Blue Diamonds where John is wearing cool glasses made by a friend of his here in Seattle. The second one where they spent all the money on is the Fire Island, AK music video and in that one John was wearing the dumbest glasses.

He had the cool glasses with him on the trip, but when he got out to the shoot he realized that he had forgotten them in the hotel and while they could have driven back for 25 minutes each way, he was in that state of mind of anti-vanity and he just wore his other glasses to make a statement against looking cool. Now John feels like he really looks bad in this video. He shouldn’t have shaved his beard and he should have worn his cool glasses and maybe that video would not make him wince in terror whenever he sees it, knowing that that is the most expensive video they made. Everybody else looks great, but John blew it.

Losing many pairs of glasses

By 2007 or 2008 John had 40 pairs of glasses in his prescription and every time he would walk out the door he would pick a different pair and he would never wear the same pair twice. He loved some of them and others he didn’t love. A couple of those Dan had made for him were ludicrous, but John wore them out because he had them. From 2007-2015 Dan kept every once in a while sending John a pair of glasses in the mail and sometimes he got it incredibly right and sometimes he just wanted him to try some that he had found, just for laughs.

During the last couple of years, a lot of these glasses have gone missing. John’s prescription changed over the years, but he would keep Dan updated and the 40 pairs he had were in groups of 5 or 6 from the oldest ones until the most recent ones. It wouldn’t keep him from wearing the old ones. Things weren’t very crisp, but his eyes had already plummeted by the time John was 30 and once they had gone bad, they were trashed and continued to decline, but not anywhere close to what they had done.

The glasses continued going missing, especially a lot of the good ones. John has lost like 10 pairs and those had been his favorite pairs. Where are they going and who would want them? He thought for a while that he had left a pair in the car and some car prowler took them one after the other, but that seems very unlikely. Maybe they fell in the back of the couch and John gave that couch away, but he remembers reaching down into the cushions for precisely that reason. Maybe he is going to open up a suitcase at one point and find 7 pairs of glasses that he had forgotten, although John actually went through the suitcases.

John wonders whether Millennial Girlfriend took 5 pairs on her way out the door and threw them in the garbage when they broke up, which sounds like bit much just to mess with John, but now he is walking around with a feeling of of great perturbation. Are there great glasses waiting in his house somewhere that he doesn’t know? It is absolutely a mystery and John thinks about it all the time. He still has lots of glasses around and when he reaches for a pair he is thinking that maybe one day he will reach down and find that wonderful pair that is lost.

Moving on

Dan ended up making glasses for a lot of Seattle Indie Rockers and he has moved on from John. He was their Indie Rock optometrist, just like there is an Indie Rock doctor named John who comes to all the shows. He is a big cheese doctor down in Olympia and all through the 2000s he went to every Indie Rock show, every Indie Rocker knew him and if you needed help, you just called the Indie Rock doctor. Dan has not sent John very many glasses lately and John has been buying some pairs here and there.

He is still searching for the same vintage style in thrift stores like he used to, but those frames are not there anymore. They became fashionable and there are people running vintage stores who search thrift stores to take the cool stuff and resell it for more. They started getting all the glasses, because those people are there at 8am when the store opens. The other day John found a pair of flawless Vuarnets from the mid-1980s at the Goodwill. They had recognized them and had put them in a special case for $15, but John pays $15 for a pair of Vuarnets or Ray Bans. In a vintage store or online you could almost pay what you would have paid if they were brand-new.

John started to make a little pile of them and he plans to send them to Dan to get his prescription put in them, but he has never actually done it. Like selling his stuff on eBay, he has thought about it for a long time. He has met Dan a couple of times where they were exchanging a pair, but he has never just sent him 5 pairs.

John emailed Dan last night, telling him that he wants to send him these glasses, but he also got a pair of horn-rimmed 1960s ladies glasses that fit his daughter perfectly. All the other kids in her elementary school have these corny brightly-color plastic glasses that you would give a kid because the idea is that kids can’t be responsible and can't wear delicate glasses. People put their kids in those stupid looking glasses that almost look like swimming goggles. They are pink or yellow or something as a way of trying to confuse the kid into thinking that they are cool, but they are not cool and every kid knows that. Having spent years and years wearing rectangular glasses that looked bad on him, all of these plastic yellow framed glasses are all rectangular and they look terrible on every kid.

John’s daughter wears her horn-rimmed glasses voluntarily and unless most of the costumes she would put on, she would put them on in the morning and wear them all day. Her first word after Mama was Glasses, because she used to reach up and pull John’s glasses down. Now John asked Dan to be on the lookout for vintage ladies horn-rimmed frames that they might turn into glasses for his kid so he doesn’t have to wear these dumb frames made by Nanny-state opticians and put on their faces by parents who just don’t care and are not trying.

This morning this email came back as undeliverable and the address that John had been using for 15 years was just gone. John texted his brother Bart who lives in Yakima and who knows Dan because Dan had decided halfway through his career as an optometrist that he was also going to be a musician and he started working on a record of his own compositions. He had met Bart who plays 7 nights a week in Yakima and so Bart ended up playing piano on Dan’s album. Bart sent John Dan’s new email address at his business is called (Precision Optical &) Yakima Sunglasses. This all happened this morning, which is why all this stuff is so fresh in John’s mind.

Always searching for the next thing in style

John can no longer live in a world where he is wearing glasses that look bad on him, because life is too short and he has so many glasses that he can just pick the ones that look good on him and send them to Dan. At one point he was asking on Twitter if we are at the stage with 3D-printing where you could scan in your perfect pair of glasses and 3D-print an identical pair out of new material, but the consensus seems to be that we are not yet there, because the plastic wouldn’t be strong enough. On one hand they are 3D-printing guns, but on the other hand we are still not able to just make a pair of glasses.

That is the thing about style: John never rests, but he is always searching for something else, not for the perfect thing, but for the next thing, the evolution of it, because otherwise style becomes static and you find a thing that works and just chose that from then on, which is also a thing. You see men who wear their hair the same way their whole lives or men who grow a mustache when they are 21 and they always keep the same mustache for the rest of their life. They figure out what they look like, they figure out what works, they don’t want to think about it anymore and they just go with it.

John appreciates that, particularly if you find a thing that is actually handsome, but to limit the way he presents himself would deprive John of a whole extra voice and a whole extra way of expressing his feelings. There is no perfect pairs of glasses, but John is always looking for the one that makes him feel pleasure when he puts it on his face.

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