RW220 - The Dangerous Thing

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to teenagers who lost a year during quarantine eventually getting together playing music and thinking that they invented Punk Rock.

”I can hear you!” - ”I can hear you!” - ”That is fantastic!” in the famous words of George W. Bush standing on the smoldering rubble of the 9/11 World Trade Center crash pile. ”I can hear you!”, he said famously in a moment of incredible statesmanship, and the country fell in love with him and after that he couldn't fail and he never did.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

Why are people moving to Florida? (RW220)

Dan was still in Florida when that happened, but let's not talk about it! John’s friend Nicole from Tampa lived in Seattle for many years until she eventually reached her absolute limit in Seattle and moved back to Tampa and reports all the time that she has never been happier, the people in the Northwest are so unfriendly, everyone is so depressed, she couldn't live here another day, and now she is back in Florida where she belongs and she is an East Coast person right until she dies. She texts this all the time in a gloating voice, she is a bit of a fun gloater.

Gonzaga lost the basketball game recently and she knows that John went to Gonzaga, but also that he doesn’t really care about the Final Four and probably didn't even know it was happening, but she said: ”Hey, I bet a bunch of money on the game and I like you to reach out to your friends who went to Gonzaga and tell them in their face that I just won $500 on Gonzaga getting its ass kicked, nobody down here gives a shit, but I really want to rub it in somebody's face, so will you please rub it in your college friends’ face for me?”

”It is 1am, are you serious? Do you not have anything else going on?” - ”I just really need this right now!” and John texted a bunch of his sports friends and said: ”Hey, my ex-girlfriend down in Florida really wants you guys to know that she she bet against you and she won $500, so anyway: suck it!” and they were all super mad: ”You were right to break up with her, man! She sounds like a total…” - ”You are not wrong!” She is very Florida and John thinks of her when he thinks of Florida.

A lot of people really love Florida, and Dan will go on record and say that there are a lot of things that are great about Florida, but none of those things make him want to live there. They are wonderful things to do, but it is rare that he goes to a place on a vacation and says: ”This is where I want to live. I want to live in this place!” It happened a few times. It happened in Austin, it happened in North Carolina, he grew up in Philly and always wanted to stay there, but never when he visited Florida did he really think: ”This is where I want to be!” Definitely when he visited Colorado he thinks: ”Maybe not right now, but eventually I sure would like to wind up here!” and as much as he loved Portland he never felt: ”Yeah, I want to live here!” because Austin has everything Portland has and more.

People in Portland are not as aggressively Portland as they were even five years ago and John thinks Dan might get away with that comment and not get a ton of letters. Dan has never been to Seattle, which is a disappointment, but John doesn’t think Dan will come to Seattle and say: ”Where have you been all my life?”

Dan is struck by people who go to Florida and they say: ”Yeah, this is what I have been wanting!” Everything that was the promise of Florida is gone now. Dan’s grandparents moved there in the late 1970s when they had retired, they wanted to be in the warmth, they were tired of living in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and cold places, they just wanted something easy. Back in those days, especially where they went, which of course was Boca Raton, it was idyllic, it was beautiful, everything was manicured, the palm trees were tall and beautiful and it looked like beautiful pictures of really expensive parts of Los Angeles where the wealthiest of the wealthy live, but it wasn't expensive.

The whole thing was that it was not expensive. You could buy land there, you could get big houses, you could get condos right on the beach, which is what Dan’s grandparents wound up in, and it was all very affordable and it was easy living. There was a phenomenon called snowbirds, which are people who are maybe not fully retired, but may were retired, and they relocate to South Florida when it gets cold wherever it is that they live in the wintertime.

There was a huge influx of people, vividly growing more in the early 1980s, people from places like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, the Northeast for the most part, and they would come and visit and they might rent a condo, they might have a second property there, and all of a sudden it would get congested and there would be traffic and there would be lots of delays and there would be lots of bridge openings and other things, which made it unbearable because it went from being a really chill town where you didn't have to wait in lots of lines and the food was really good and things were cool to just too many people on these tiny little roads.

Now that is the way it is all the time because there are 10 times more people than there were years ago, but it wasn't really ever ready for that. The areas where Dan’s family used to live were essentially right up to the edge of the Everglades, they were 20 minutes from the beach, which was ridiculous and his friends who lived much closer thought that they were in the middle of nowhere. Now it isn't even considered Delray or West Boca anymore, it is considered a really prime close-to-the-beach area and now there are 20-40 minutes further out in those directions.

All of the allure, the mystique of what South Florida had to offer: the beautiful beaches, you could go on the beach and it wasn't packed with thousands of people, there was a bit of nature still, you could get great shells walking on the beach, you could see dolphins if you went out early enough, but all of that is gone and it is just as congested and busy and noisy and the people are very, very rude and the drivers are the worst and the roads are terrible. You still get some places that have good food and you still can go to the beach, but as you got closer to the ocean there was a slower pace that you felt and all of that is gone, all of that vibe that made Florida good. Sure, you can still go on a boat and ride on the Intracoastal Waterway, but you are going to be on there with the thousand other people who had the same idea. It isn't the cool, chill, fun place that Dan remembers it being. It is natural that things like that are going to happen, but the reasons that someone might have had to live in Florida before are harder to reach.

Dan can't imagine going to Florida now, getting off the plane, and having that bracing heat and humidity that just slams you, that you can take a shower and from the time it takes you to get out of your front door into your car you are already sweating, not because it is hot, but because of the humidity. It is a sauna out there! People are going to experience that and say: ”Yeah, this is what I want every day!” The humidity affects you in the wintertime, too. It is always 90%, which makes the cold, even when it is only in the 50s (10-15°C), a penetrating cold. 50 degrees in Florida is like 30 degrees (-1°C) in Austin. You just can't get warm!

What are people going there for? What are they doing there? Visiting. Yeah, you could do the beach, you can boat, you can eat out on the water somewhere, it is amazing. In central Florida you got Disney World, you got Miami Beach, you got South Beach, it is a great place for parties and hanging out and there are amazing restaurants and nightclubs and it is super international and there is culture in Miami, but unless you plan to really immerse yourself in that specific kind of community?

Who just goes and shows up in Florida and is like: ”Let’s just buy a track home in Oviedo! We are only 50 minutes away from the parks here, we can go once in a while! Tickets are $300, oh well, probably won't go to the parks, but there is a good Tijuana flats around the corner, and it does decent… well, it is not that good!” What are people there for? The hurricanes, tornadoes, humidity, heat, aggressive drivers, crime, strange laws, Florida man?

Are you there for the swap shop in Sunrise? That is where Dan used to buy all the cool ninja stuff when he was a kid. They actually sharpened the throwing stars there. He bought a butterfly knife at age 11. John knew some kids that sharpened their Shuriken, but he had no idea that you could buy them that way.

Everything Dan just said minus the humidity is the confusion he has about the state of Arizona. It is super hot, and John is not talking about the beautiful wilderness of Northern Arizona and he will give a broad exception to the city of Tucson, which is a much smaller Austin, there is a lot of culture, it is cool, and he will even go so far as to give an exception to the people living in the beautiful mid-century homes in Scottsdale.

Tucson used to have one of the world's craziest music stores that ever existed on the Earth. It took up a city block and it was very clear that no-one was interested in selling you anything and never had been. There was 50 years worth of stuff piled in the corners and no-one cared to even look through it. They always speculated that there were Stratocasters from the 1950s back there under a hay bale, but who would know because the guys up front there were selling Casio keyboards because they were something they could reach.

But on the main the people in the Golf-course-y Phoenix environments, the gated communities of Phoenix, and really anything to do with Phoenix: Why are there millions of people there? There are wonderful places in Phoenix, just like there are wonderful places in Houston, but John doesn’t know if there are any wonderful places in Boca Raton. There certainly are no wonderful places left in Fort Lauderdale. South Beach in Miami is a wonderful place, it is hilarious it is so wonderful.

Palm Springs being the winter-residence for Seattleites (RW220)

Palm Springs is in the news a lot in Seattle because Palm Springs feels and always has for decades like a place that Seattleites go in the same way that Florida is somewhere that people from Michigan go. John’s uncle and aunt moved to Palm Springs back in the 1980s and it used to be that in Palm Springs you could buy a super cool one story mid-century house with a pool and it had some rundown hotels and there were half a dozen steak restaurants that Frank Sinatra used to eat in, but the point was not that you went to Palm Springs for culture. The point was that you went there because it was hot and you had a swimming pool.

When they were in Hawaii earlier this year they had a swimming pool in the place where they were staying and John’s daughter woke up every morning and went immediately into the swimming pool until she was forced to get out, and she was only ever forced to get out because it was meal time or because they had some crazy mission to go on. John realized he is doing her a disservice as a parent in not living somewhere where they have a swimming pool. She would not care about toys, she would not care if they lived in a shack, but if there was a swimming pool out there she would be in it all day and she would never get tired of it. John understands that and he actually feels kind of bad that they live in a place where swimming pools are incredibly impractical.

Every house in Palm Springs has a swimming pool, but what else is there to do? People are going to tell him that you could hike up the mountains, you could take the gondola up to the mountains, but: No! You can go over to Joshua Tree! All right, live in Joshua Tree then, but Joshua Tree is not a place to live unless you like welding trucks together to make a super truck or art truck, but John doesn’t want to make an art truck, he doesn’t want to live in Palm Desert, he doesn’t golf, he doesn’t want it to be so hot, but increasingly: Why live in Seattle?

Does John still need to live in Seattle? (RW220)

John used to live in Seattle because there were shows every night, there was great theater, he knew everybody, you could walk from place to place, it felt like a town you could really engage with, it was the right scale, it was just small enough that you could know everybody, but just big enough that you were continually meeting new people that you had no idea why you didn't know already. There are big universities there, it used to be a working class town and there was still amazing energy there that you don't get in a rich town.

Austin used to be like that. It felt like you could know everybody in Austin if you eliminated all those dumb dumbs at the college. Everybody else seemed all know each other. Now John wonders: ”Why do I live in Seattle again?” The city has moved on from him. Downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, they don't need him anymore, they are not interested in him and they got no reason to make any accommodation for him. His friends that are his age that are still living on Capitol Hill? You feel like they are just holding on to the window sill, still trying to do the same things they used to do, go to the same little small constellation of restaurants.

It is like people in their late 40s in Brooklyn or New York. They still have the physical memory of having been young and going out and being electric in the in the biggest city, but now they are in their middle age, they presumably got some kids or not, but they are just going to the same 8 places. They go to the same store, they go to the same bars, and they go to the same places. Once in a blue moon somebody invites them to something that they get up the gumption to do, but otherwise they have to navigate an incredibly difficult and exhausting clusterfuck every time they walk out their front door.

John has watched it happen to a dozen people: ”Why are we still living in New York? It was so great when I was 25!” Dan knows so many people that have moved from New York, and many people are leaving cities that were for so long a bastion for people to go to and to live and to tout as being the greatest place on earth. It was usually New York, a lot of the time it was San Francisco, and now people feel differently about it.

Dan only spent a little bit of time in Arizona, a little bit in Phenix and Scottsdale, and this was 15 years ago, and he thought it was beautiful, he was there at a nice time of year, it got nice and cool at night and you could have a fire pit and they had a lot of different things, there were mountains, it looked alien: ”Was it the desert? Was it a city? Is it not?” He definitely can see the allure of parts of Arizona. At one point when they were driving they were all of a sudden out in the desert, very close to where they had been in a city, and it seemed inhospitable.

Transforming the desert into a place where people live… Dan realized how dependent he is on the infrastructure here in Austin and Austin has lakes and they get rain and there are forests where animals live that you could hunt and live off of them if you needed to, but these places that are just in the desert and there is no real clear reason why there is a city where it is even! The same is true for Las Vegas.

John and Dan are both zeroing in on something. John can't account for this: His whole life he always had a list of a dozen places he wanted to live. It was always a truism that there wasn't a better place to live than Seattle, they all agreed that when you arrived in Seattle from wherever you had been, wherever you were bewitched, whatever town you just visited, where you were like: ”Oh, what am I doing? Why am I not living in Berlin or Austin or somewhere?” and then you arrived back in Seattle and just looking out the window as the plane came in you realized your folly and said: ”Oh, I live in the best place!”

John doesn’t think anything ever shook that belief in them until the rise of Portland in the mid-2000s. As Portland finally transformed itself from a sleazy little hippie redneck town… In 1998 it was just a town full of rednecks and hippies and it was sleazy. They laid the groundwork to transform it a long time before. They did smart urban planning in Portland where they didn't do it in a lot of other places and it bore fruit, but also: Portland was there as the culture turned and the culture said: ”Wait a minute! What about the smaller cities? What about the ones that have good transit? What about the ones that had some historical preservation and didn't tear down all of their Downtowns?” Portland was standing there with like a giant catcher's mitt.

Portland became so fun and good to be 22-25 in! Everywhere you looked there was a new store and they were selling ferns and you didn't even know that was a thing you could do. Turns out you can handcraft cat collars and that is enough to pay rent. It was the first time that Seattle thought: ”Well, wait a minute! Are we not the coolest place? Portland has got everything that is cool about Seattle, but it has 45% less bullshit!” Of course Portland filled up with bullshit so fast. They had a wonderful eight years and when you are wonderful the bullshit just flows in.

Seattle got an inferiority complex right around then and at that point John always wanted to live in New York and he always wanted to live all these places, but gradually as he stopped really wanting to live in Seattle he also stopped wanting to live other places, although he hasn’t stopped wanting to live. He is not ready to stop living, he just doesn’t like anywhere! All the criticism that Dan just leveled on Florida, you can tweak the lens a little bit and that is true of everywhere!

When John first started to go to Los Angeles you could buy a house for what seemed like pennies, even compared to Seattle which at the time was not expensive. Even well into the early 2000s it seemed like weirdly inexpensive to live in Los Angeles. You could buy a really cool place, you could live in Venice Beach. As a Rock band it was weird because there was not a ton of Indie Rock culture and it didn't produce a ton of Indie bands, it wasn't where the energy was. Bands had to go there to play because that is where the music industry is, but ever since Hair Metal went away Los Angeles just wasn't the center of where cool music was being made and it seemed like a backwards move as a band to move there.

Watching Los Angeles go from a sprawling inexpensive working class city to being another impossible place to live where it is just impossible to afford a place, you have to be killing it to live there, and then it is also really hard to get around and it is full of monsters. Little by little, John confronts this every day now: He walks out and wonders: "Do I want to live here? Do I have enough dissatisfaction to put myself in motion? Am I dissatisfied? Yeah! Is it enough to put me in motion? No! Is that any way to live? No! Is that tone even a way to use this one life you have?”

Trying to solve that question: ”Is this about where I am living or is this about something else? Maybe! Why do I sound so wishy washy?” John doesn’t know what to do about it. He could make it a one question thing: ”I need a swimming pool for my kid and I am going to do what it takes to get a swimming pool and if that means that I have to leave Seattle and move to Swimming Pool Town USA and suffer all the indignities of living in a place where it is hot or where it is expensive or all these other things, just to do this one thing, just to perform this one service for my kid…”, but then he is like: ”Really? Are you going to change your whole life just for the swimming pool? Give her swim lessons! Take her to the YMCA! Not quite the same, but…”

But what is he protecting? What exact sacrifices? What would that entail? Leave Seattle where every time he points his nose at the city he shudders a little bit? Five years ago he couldn't have been more engaged in civic life of Seattle. King Neptune was only three years ago! He was everywhere, he had his foot in every pie, and every room he walked into, like his dad, he had to shake 20 hands. By 2019, before COVID, John was starting to orient himself away because there was the excitement of a move to the suburbs that had this middle-age promise.

John has been watching the Hemingway documentary on PBS by Ken Burns. At first he wasn't sure if he was going to make it through. There are 3 episodes, but each one is two hours long. He always loved Hemingway, his writing really influenced him, but he also was a liar, a blowhard, and a bully. The documentary started out as a hagiography at first: ”Look at him, he is something else, isn't he? There they are in Paris and it was pretty great and he is a little faithless and he keeps leaving his wife and he is a little bit of a faker, but boy he sure did knock it out!” By the end of the third episode you think: ”Wow, this is an American tragedy!” and the whole second half of this six hour thing is really brutal.

But when Hemingway was 47 years old he looked 65. They are all alcoholics and they are beat up and brutalized, but he died at 61 and when you see photographs of him as an older guy he looks 81. John made the move to the suburbs away from Seattle and the part of him that is: ”You chickened out! You should have stayed in the town!”, but the people who stayed in the town, every time they walk out they strap on their armor, not because the city is unsafe, but their emotional armor because they don't belong there anymore. A city that has the energy of Seattle, unless you are in Seattle because you are the director of a ballet company, when you are 50 years old and you are just bumping along, you are just in people's way.

To move to the suburbs and not have a plan to be in the suburbs and also killing it? That is a risk that you don't want to take. We all think we want a mountain cabin, but you get there and you realize: ”Oh shit, the only person I have out here is me, and that is who I was moving out here to get away with! How the hell did I get in here?”

Dan moving to North Carolina, having to be in a certain place to meet the right people (RW220)

Dan was moving to North Carolina when he had been in Florida for too long and he just wanted to change and he had visited North Carolina, had some friends there, had a big consulting thing that eventually turned into a really good job there, and he was just looking forward to the climate being different and to the beauty of North Carolina. The forest is beautiful and you can do so much there, there are the Outer Banks and whitewater rafting and mountain climbing and hiking and gorgeous trees and it was like really nice. Sometimes it even snows in the winter.

He was telling his aunt about it and she was like: ”It is the same everywhere! Wherever you go it is the same. You are still be going to the grocery store, you still have to do laundry, you still have to get your car washed, you still have to get your air conditioner fixed. Wherever you go it is the same!” - ”That sucks! Thanks for being such a downer!” - ”It is true!” She is right in some regards, but she is also very wrong. She is right in the sense of wherever you go, there you are. But she is wrong in that many times you move somewhere you have job opportunities that you never have before, or you meet people that never would have existed where you were coming from, or as it used to be: You had to live in San Francisco if you wanted to do a startup that wasn't a media specific startup. If you were doing anything else San Francisco is where you had to be. Now you can be anywhere.

Even just being in a place like San Francisco or New York or for that matter Austin, which is where all the companies are relocating to from California, that really matters! If you say to someone: ”I have a startup!” - ”Oh really? Where are you based?” - ”Indiana!” - ”Oh, cool! Well, good luck!”, but if you tell them: ”San Francisco!” - ”Well, that makes sense!”, or when you say: ”Austin!” - ”That's cool!” The perception of that matters. If you took an identical company, same people, same everything, and said that you are based in Indiana or Austin you are going to get funded if you are in Austin before you are going to get funded in Indiana, for the most part.

That is changing and it shouldn't be that way, but it still is. The fact that you are surrounded in some cities by like-minded people was the biggest thing for Dan when he showed up in Austin. You could go to the coffee shop and hear strangers talking about things that until that very moment he never heard anyone talking about except himself, and he was talking to people who were not where he was, like people who were in San Francisco. There is that vibe of a place.

John wouldn't have been a musician or had a career in music if he hadn't been in Seattle. It is reasonable to go somewhere when you are 25 or 20 to pursue a dream and John didn't come to Seattle to be a musician, he came to Seattle because he ended up in Seattle and then he followed his nose and became a musician because that was what was happening there and he had enough inclination toward it already because it had an element of writing to it, it wasn't like bodybuilding, it was a thing that had many elements that were smart, it was still during an era when they looked to musicians as their cultural leaders and it was maybe artistically the most fruitful place.

Even though it wasn't what he set out when he left the warm embrace of his family and set out into the world. He didn't think: ”All I want is to be is a musician!”, but he did think: ”I want to be in the culture! I want to be part of the conversation! I want to influence and affect the conversation!” and he still does, although very differently now. One of the things that is wonderful about the Internet is that you can affect the world in a very granular way and actually it is 1000 points of light: If there was a mapping program where every person listening to this program appeared on the globe as one little light, there would be concentrations, clusters of light in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boca Raton, but then you would see all these lights in Scandinavia and a lot of them in England, although spread all over Great Britain, and then all around the world, all these crazy little lights.

For Omnibus they got a letter yesterday from someone in Chile who said: ”I just wanted you to know that you have a listener down here!” and he is not the only one, probably. It is wonderful and different from needing to be in Seattle because that is where Indie Rock was, and it is very different also from happening to be in Seattle and happening to become an Indie Rocker because: Why not? A big part of what influenced John was that he saw so many shows and so many of them were bad that he felt: ”I could do this! If these guys can do this, if that band can play here on a Thursday night, then I can put a band together that can play here on a Thursday night. You got to be kidding me!”

Then of course when you do it you realize it is a lot harder and nothing is inevitable. You don't just think: ”I am smarter than these guys, so I am just going to step in!” because that is true of everything: If you looked at 500 startups and went: ”Those people are dorks and that startup is stupid!”, but it is so different to actually put your own thing together and step in and shoulder those dorks out of the way.

It is very hard for John to go back and remember how he did have so much determination and perseverance and pluck? He doesn’t think of himself as having any of those characteristics, but he was younger.

John’s coworker Jason from The Off-Ramp not wanting to book John’s band at Moe’s (RW220)

He had a ”friend” (in gargantuan, ironic quotation marks because he was the least friendly friend a person could have), his name was Jason and he worked with him at The Off-Ramp, his first job, and he was beautiful, one of the dark-haired, a little chubby, but beautiful men that are cherubic and angelic, with dark eyebrows and long curly dark hair and he had an attitude of not only was everything dumb, but he was just exhausted by interacting with other people. Women loved him and it was infuriating!

His job was to sit at the door and take people's tickets, which is an incredibly powerful job in a Rock club because every single person that comes to the show has to not just walk past you, but interact with you somewhat and he is the one that can say: ”No, not you! Sorry! The show is sold out!”, but it is not his responsibility to enforce anything because if he says something he just waves his hand in the air and some security guard comes over and actually deals with the person. Jason graduated over the years after they both left the employ of that club into the booking side and ended up working as a booking agent for a new club called Neumos, at the time Moe’s Moroccan Café (probably spelled Moe’s Mo’ Rockin’ Cafe).

Moe’s was the new Capitol Hill Rock Club and Jason was not the chief booker, but the other Booker. He and John knew each other, they had worked together, they had jammed together even, and John would go to the club and that the time their office was down in the basement and they hadn't dug it out, but it was dirt floors down there. You would walk on planks that they laid down in the dirt that took you to an underground room that did have a floor and there were computers in there and that is where their booking office was. It was crazy.

That whole thing has been dug out now and is its own separate club in the basement of this bar, but at the time you had to duck to avoid hitting the pipes. John would sit in a chair and would say: ”Jason, you got to book my band at Moe’s!” and Jason would say: ”Yeah, I just don't hear it. I don't think that you are ready!” - ”We made a demo tape, we are a band as good as anybody. Just give us a shot. Give us a chance!” - ”Yeah, I am looking at the calendar and I just don't see any of these bills that you would fit into!”

Day after day, week after week: ”You and I are friends. What the hell is our relationship worth to either of us if you don't book my band in your club? What are you talking about? This is exactly how the music industry is supposed to work! I know you from a thing, I have this thing, you turned into that thing, now I come to you and you give me a show. That is the whole point!” and he thought the point was that he stood between John and the show because he was 25 and feeling his oats and he was an important guy now he thought, and keeping John from the show was his place. He thought his job was to book Pavement to play the show.

And yet, as much as John hated it and hated him he never stopped and he kept putting his feet up on his desk and saying: ”You got to book me!” Person to person Jason didn't have anything over John. John wasn't polite to him, he didn't try to make him his friend, he wasn't a nice person to him, just in business he had this advantage. Nowadays? If John went somewhere and they were like: ”Yeah, sorry!” he would say: ”I will never play your club and one day you will choke on it!” He started to have that attitude, but he didn't when he was 25.

Musicians being able to record everything remotely (RW220)

John doesn’t need to live anywhere now to accomplish… Nothing that he has in mind for the next 20 years of his life requires that he be any particular place. It just requires that he has space to work. He honestly could do it from a mountain cabin.

A long time ago Dan interviewed MC Frontalot, John knows him quite well and appeared on one of his tracks, and he was talking about how he had just finished this album and how he had collaborated with these different people and what was amazing is that they have done it all in different places. None of them had ever been in the same room when they were doing this stuff, and Dan was blown away by that. Of course it makes sense, you ship someone the track and they sing and record their own track and send it back to you.

In Dan’s imagination as a non-band member and non-recording-musician-person he still likes to think that the band is jamming together in the same room and they got their different instruments miced up like the closing scene of the Jim Morrison movie (probably The Doors) and the stories you read about Led Zeppelin when they rented that old house and Jimmy Page would put the microphone down the hall to get this eerie sound from the guitar he was using the bow on, that kind of stuff. In reality people could even record most of their tracks separately, can't they?

It boils down to a click track. When Jimmy Page and John Bonham (from Led Zeppelin) were writing Kashmir they didn’t start with a metronome in Bonham's headphones and it was essential that they be there with each other. John laid down the piano track for Commander Thinks Aloud and then they had the drummer Matt Chamberlain, come in to play on the record and he listened to John’s piano playing and John was playing to a click track and he was like: ”Oh my God, you really needed me here! You should have played this track to me playing the drums because you are bad at playing to a click track and if you and I were here looking at each other and you and I were playing together I could have influenced your piano part with the drums I was playing and you could have played a much better piano!” and he is a musician that can talk that way to other people and John was like: ”Yes, sir!”

If you are playing to a click track everybody is in time with each other. it is just a question of: Are you capable of getting a groove to a click? Most people aren't and if you are in the room with each other you can catch a groove with each other, even if the drummer is playing to a click track in his headphones, even if everybody has a click track, which they probably shouldn't, you are playing with each other, you are looking at each other, and you find the emotion in the music.

John has played with a few musicians where they had so much groove to contribute that it was impossible to play with them without getting into a marvelous place where you are just like: ”I can't believe how well I am playing, and it is because I am playing with this person that has so much music in them!” You know where the rhythm is and you are not responsible for creating this groove, but that is handed off to these people that are better than John and he is just responsible for doing his part here.

That is why you play with each other and are in the room with each other, but most modern musicians use the word Groove, it means a thing, but it doesn't mean the same thing. If everybody is playing to their own click track and sending the music in, you can all be very precise, you can all be in in the pocket and the computer can smooth over little variations, but you are getting is a thing that sounds right and it sounds good, you are getting contemporary music, but whatever that swing is is impossible.

The average listener would not be able to say what was missing. Pop music continues to be very popular, made entirely on computers where the voices have all been manipulated, no-one was in the room, and most of the instruments were made synthetically. It still sounds fun and good and fine, but when you put it up against Be My Baby (by The Ronettes) or the Dock of the Bay (by Otis Redding) or something, you are just like: ”Whoa, what is happening? Why do I feel this way now?”

When John first met MC Frontalot he was very popular then, he was one of the first nerd rappers, and they were with a bunch of musicians backstage, there is a kind of language that you use of each other when you are just meeting and there is a component of: ”Here we are again, backstage at another venue that smells vaguely of bleach and boy, look at this basket of energy bars and one bottle of Five-Buck Chuck!” In the course of that conversation there was a little bit of back and forth and John said: ”Well, I have been in 1000 of these and that is how we get where we are!” and Frontalot said: ”The first show I ever played had 800 people at it!” - ”What do you mean?” - ”I had never played a show, but I put some music up on the Internet, it became popular, and then I realized I needed to book a show, and so I booked a show and it had 800 people at it!” (see CS28, RW53)

At the time it was just like: ”What?” John didn't understand. This was early on in the Jonathan Coulton years where that is basically what happened to him: He put his music on the Internet and then was like: ”I guess I should book some shows, people are asking me to book some shows!” and did a tour of the United States and played 1800 seat venues everywhere with an acoustic guitar and a T-shirt. John doesn't understand why he ever put a band together or did anything different, he should have just done that: Toured the world with a T-shirt and an acoustic guitar, which is all of our dream, frankly, it is just not your dream if that is what you are doing. Then your dream is always to have a Rock band and be Led Zeppelin.

Frontalot had never played night after night for 25 people, he had never gone on tour, he had never been at a coffee shop in Arlington, Virginia where they scooted the tables over to the side so that you could set up your gear and play for a bunch of kids in Sub Pop hats. He just put some music up on the Internet and it connected with people and then he played his first live show. It was the reverse order. Most people never played 800 people. If you can play 800 people, you are doing great, that is incredible in your hometown, let alone anywhere else! That was when John knew it wasn't the same anymore, and that was over a decade ago.

The Song Exploder episode, how Matt Chamberlain saved John’s piano track (RW220)

John tells the story on that Song Exploder episode (see The Commander Thinks Aloud), which is one of the only podcasts he has ever listened to because so many people commented how much they enjoyed it that eventually he said: ”I am going to listen to that!”

At the time Hrishi had never recorded an episode of Song Exploder live, it was always done either in a studio with the other person or over the phone, but never in front of a live audience. At the time John was doing shows at The Rendezvous all the time and when Hrishi wanted to do a live show John suggested the venue, it was the right size and he had an audience that comes there already. They recorded it live in an hour plus in the theater that he then cut down to be a 20 minute episode. John did want to listen to it because he didn't understand how Hrishi could have edited this hour-long conversation in half and in listening to it he realized he has a tremendous gift. He edits himself completely out of it, you barely hear his voice, you don't hear his questions, he is a great editor and he made an incredibly tight show. Listening to it John was moved and thought Hrishi had made a piece of art in taking their conversation and turning it into what he turned it into.

Matt Chamberlain's gift was that he had the ability to listen to John’s wonky and square and un-groovy piano part and play around it and impart groove to it. John watched him do it and he said to Tucker Martine, the producer: ”Okay, play it for me with the click track!” and he listened to it and played along a couple of times, tried to do it, and he was like: ”No, that is not going to work!” and what he meant was that the click was over here. He was used to playing to clicks, he could do that, and John was so square, meaning unhip against the click track, that it wasn't possible for him to play with them both in. So he said: ”Turn the click off!” and he listened to just John’s part and he got John’s ”vibe”, figured out what he was doing and then started to play the drums to his thing.

Everybody understood that to try to rerecord at this point with John playing the piano live with him was going to be an exercise in futility, partly because the piano and the drums were in the same room and there just wasn't going to be a way to isolate the piano, it would have quadrupled their work, so he was just like: ”Yeah okay, I think I can do this!” and he said it like a cosmetic surgeon who was like: ”I can try to fix your overbite, but no guarantees!” and he basically played around John’s piano and has enough of an ear that he could he could hear John’s pulsation and anticipate where he was going to land and cover for him, for lack of a better term, and cup his rhythm in his own better vibe. He did it by playing a little bit ahead or a little bit behind, depending on where John was.

These days John wouldn't even know where to start. There will always be musicians that have that because it is a combination of lots and lots and lots of practice, but it is the kind of practice that you only are inspired to do if you have a gift. If you are gifted like he is or like Joe Russo is on the drums then you practice and practice and practice, it is not a thing that you could get if you didn't have the gift but practiced. You could never practice your way into that gift, just like you could never practice your way into being an Olympic gymnast. You have to be an incredible gymnast, you have to have an incredible body for the sport and then practice and practice.

There will always be musicians like that and maybe the modern world is better for them because they have access to so many more opportunities. They can sit in their home studio and play to other people's wanky tracks and send the track off and that is their job.

Dan seeing Guns ’N Roses at New Years Eve in 1989 (RW220)

Dan is the one person in the world who doesn't remember their first rock concert. He has seen so many of them, but John hardly believes him! He remembers going to the Guns ’N Roses concert on New Year's Eve 1989-90 at what was then called Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami (see RW13). It was a full house, probably 40.000 people, one of these insane mostly-full concerts and it was New Year's Eve and they had fireworks when they played Paradise City, but that was not his first concert and he doesn't really remember what the first concert was.

In college he worked at the UCF Arena (see RW170) because at the time Orlando did not have any really good separate venues for a lot of the acts to come in. There was the big stadium venue and then there was the smaller one, which was the UCF arena. Dan got a job there as an usher, specifically so that he could see concerts for free and he saw dozens of really great concerts, everyone from Extreme to Vince Gill to more graduations than he could imagine having ever seen, but he can't remember what his very first one was.

Seeing Guns ’N Roses in 1989 is a pretty good story. Dan was there with his buddy Paul, he had a lazy eye, and one time they were driving on the highway at 2am somewhere on I-95 and there was a hood of a car on the ground on the street and they were driving closer and closer to it and he was heading right for it and Dan thought that he must be messing around and must be seeing that when they were getting closer with no-one else on the road for miles, but he ran right over the damn thing. He had a gold 1979 Pontiac Trans Am, although 1978 is better.

Teenagers losing a very important year to the quarantine (RW220)

When the quarantine is finally over there is going to be a generation of kids between 16 and 20 who just lost a very important year. His daughter lost a year between 9 and 10 and when she is 20 she will barely remember it and she actually had a year between 9 and 10 when she got to see her parents every day, day in and day out, and the benefit of that probably outweighs the loss of a year of social development like everybody her age, but they will catch up, they are going to get back to school, they are going to get right back into it. What they had as a family was an incredibly great year, they got to really be together at a time when that was still something that she wanted or didn't know she wanted.

For kids between 15 and 19 it was an important year of their teenage life. Every one of those years is irreplaceable! You learn so much and it all changes so fast. Those kids are going to come back to the world measurably changed, mostly in ways that they will remember and that have done hard damage to them because they missed out on whatever, their first dance, their first kiss, their first all the things all the time. Another thing that is missing is that a lot of those kids missed out on their first live show because somewhere in those teenage years is the first time that you and your friends go to see a concert together.

This generation of kids that never had their first concert are going to have their first concert one day and even though people are getting vaccinated now the music industry is not exactly opening back up, maybe this summer we will start to see big shows again, but there is going to be a resurgence of Rock music. Rock music has been on the decline for a while, it putters along in the background, but it is not the focus and hasn't been for several years.

You are going to have a bunch of kids for whom even the idea of getting together and playing music together is going to feel a little transgressive because: ”We are not wearing masks, we are in a small room, we are rocking out, and then we are going to play a show and all the other kids are going to be there!” It is the same thing about doing drugs, and the drugs are going to be that they are all in a room together, that is the dangerous thing, and they are going to rediscover Punk Rock, or they are going to think they invented it themselves. That is what all the young people think. Every group of kids eventually invents Kickball.

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