RW249 - Bubble Boy

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • Temperature records in Seattle (Geography)
  • People not liking the sound of certain words, Cellar Door, Crisco Kid (Attitude and Opinion)
  • The news being terrible these days (Factoids)
  • Calling it Ukraine without the ”the” (Geography)
  • John watching The Muppet Show with his daughter, Simon and Garfunkel, Shelley Duvall (Movies)
  • How John and Aimee Mann met over Twitter, the early days of Twitter (Music)
  • The greatest Brit Pop song of all time, Oasis, Bitter Sweet Symphony, Jarvis Cocker influencing Sean Nelson (Music)

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

  • Should John be engaged in politics and run for office again? (Politics)
  • Characteristics of the Western United States (Geography)

The show title refers to the 2001 movie with that name that is easily confused with the movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble from 1976.

John clicked on the link and didn't notice the start button and sat there for a while wondering why he was just talking to dead air, but he made it, and that is what counts!

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

Temperature records in Seattle (RW249)

It is cold in Seattle and set a record yesterday at 22 degrees (-5°C) with snow on the ground, but not intentional snow, God didn’t say: ”Let it snow!”, but there was just some condensation in the air that had no other choice but to turn to snow and fall. The humidity in Seattle averages at around 98% and the air is mostly water, but it doesn't register as humidity because it is generally not in the context of cold or warm. When it is cold it is just clammy and when it is warm it is a warm embrace, but you don't notice how moist it is, which is a word that many people don’t like. There are so many grosser words like entrails or Haggis, both for what it stands for and how it sounds.

People not liking the sound of certain words, Cellar Door, Crisco Kid (RW249)

John Vanderslice had an album called Cellar Door. His name is Dutch and van in Dutch is like von in German, it is aristocratic, so Vanderslice is ”Van der Slice”. He has an album called Cellar Door because he claims that it is one of the most beautiful sounding phrases in the English language. John doesn’t think so, he doesn’t like it, he would rather hear ”moist”

The New York Times John has an article all about this, and it says:

The fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkin, who is also a philologist, […] mentioned the idea of Cellar Door’s special beauty in a speech in 1955 and is often given credit for it. Other supposed authors abound, the story is tangled, but Tolkien, at least, can be ruled out as the originator. He was, after all, just eleven years old in 1903 when a curious novel called Gee-Boy, which also alludes to the aesthetic properties of Cellar Door, was published by Shakespeare scholar Cyrus Lauron Hooper. Hooper’s narrator writes of the title character: “He even grew to like sounds unassociated with their meaning, and once made a list of the words he loved most, as doubloon, squadron, thatch, fanfare […], Sphinx, pimpernel, Caliban, Setebos, Carib, susurro, torquet, Jungfrau.” […]

John thinks Squadron is a wonderful word! Didn’t they talk about Cellar Door in Donnie Darko? You can count on Dan to make a Donnie Darko reference. He is in a constant state of suppressing a Donnie Darko reference, just like the Hulk is always a little angry, which is how Bruce keeps him under control, Dan is always suppressing a Lebowski, Donnie Darko, 1986 Jeff Goldblum The Fly, or The Shining reference. John was reading about The Shining yesterday.

The news being terrible these days (RW249)

This is the second Donnie Darko reference John has seen today, which on Omnibus they call the Baader-Meinhof Syndrome (see OM311). He was researching The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, the John Travolta television movie pf 1976. Dan always conflates that one with The Crisco Kid, a documentary about a ten year old boy with a crippling skin disease. There is an article that came out in The New York Times in 1981: 10-year old Boy Dies after a lifelong fight against a rare disease that says:

At the age of 10, Michael Hammond was finally going to start school this week. But Michael, who had to be covered with vegetable shortening each day to ease the pain of his rare skin disease, died before he had the chance.

Michael’s skin was so fragile that a touch could cause infection and a hug was out of the question. His mother once said she feared that he would not know he was loved.

But the boy, the subject of much public attention, told a reporter last year: ’’Lots of people love me,’’ adding, with a grin, ’’I love everybody.’’

Michael suffered from epidermolysis bullosa, an inherited, incurable disease that caused blisters and sores to erupt on his body. Nurses nicknamed him the ’’Crisco Kid’’ because of the only treatment that helped: two cans of the vegetable shortening applied daily to his skin.

This is way worse than saying the word moist over and over.

There was a guy the other day that ate some old Chinese food and had to have his legs amputated.

John has started reading the news, he is very curious about the invasion of Ukraine, but unfortunately the news is garbage. He got an email that said: ”As a journalist we would like you to fill out this survey of journalists that we are conducting here for the RAND Corporation or the Pew Society or something.” It was some journalism watchdog group and John decided to fill out this half-hour long survey. ”How do you feel about the state of journalism today?” and he really ripped them a new one!

The news is actually three lines: 1) Putin invades Ukraine, 2) something something coronavirus, and then 3) it immediately starts into ”baby boy found in a freezer in Arkansas, mother kept in a dark closet with handcuffs on, husband arrested”, and even worse: ”Florida man sets himself on fire!” That is the rest of the news, page after page of it, and one of the events was: ”College kid eats old Chinese food, perfect storm of infection causes his entire body to shut down, he has both his legs amputated and all his fingers, but he survived due to a miracle team.” and John just feels so much better having read it.

John was reading about The Boy in the Plastic Bubble who was a real boy that had a complete failure of his immune system such that any exposure to anything could have caused him to get an infection and die, and in fact he did only live to be twelve years old. There was a TV movie starring John Travolta in the 1970s, and incredibly there was a comedy movie called Bubble Boy starring Jake Gyllenhaal that came out the same year as Donnie Darko and the Studios thought that Donnie Darko was garbage and it was going to be a straight to video movie, but Bubble Boy was going to make him a star.

They gave Donnie Darko a limited release and it became a cult classic, and Bubble Boy was a critical and commercial disaster, almost torpedoing Jake Gyllenhaal's career. This is an example of a thing that John pilloried in his journalism survey: ”Why is this news? This so does not qualify as news! How did this even end up here? How am I even looking at it?” They try and tailor his newsfeed to him and every time Keith Richard says anything it is front page news: ”Keith Richard farted in a glass!” There is also never a reason for John to know what Ted Nugent said!

Calling it Ukraine without the ”the” (RW249)

John read two articles about Ukraine, minus the "the”. It is very salient to the current problem because the Russians would love us to call it The Ukraine because it means that it is a region of the greater Russo sphere of influence, like the desert, the Appalachians, or the Mississippi Basin. If you put a ”the” in front of it it takes away its nationhood and makes it just a region of something else. The reason we call it The Ukraine is that during the Soviet Union era it was just a part of Soviet Russia and we called it The Soviet Union, it was an affect of a knowledge of the geography of Europe, meaning the Ukrainian Plateau or the Great Plains.

When they became an independent nation, they were not ”the” anymore, but they were Ukraine, a country like Poland. It was very hard for John to relearn, like it took his mom a long time to not say Rhodesia because she had spend 40 years saying Rhodesia until all of a sudden there was no more Rhodesia. It is hard to do, just as it is going to be hard for John to refer to the Confederate States of America once they are reestablished, instead of just saying The South.

John started getting letters from people in Ukraine saying: ”Please don't say The Ukraine!” and he beat it out of himself because he did understand that an independent Ukraine is important, and also: If you are trying to establish the nationhood of your people, you don't want people in the west saying things like ”Hahaha, The Ukraine, a subset of Russia!”

John watching The Muppet Show with his daughter, Simon and Garfunkel, Shelley Duvall (RW249)

They were watching the Paul Simon episode of The Muppet Show and they ate it up. At the end John wanted to surprise his daughter and found a picture of Paul Simon on his wedding day to Carrie Fisher and they had a wonderful laugh about the fact that he was married to Princess Leia. Looking at The Muppet Show with Paul Simon, the last thing you think is: ”This guy is going to marry Princess Leia!” Then John was on a Paul Simon deep dive and discovered that in the 1970s he was in a two year long live-in relationship with Shelley Duvall.

Dan always had a thing for young Shelley Duvall despite the Popeye movie, but everything else that she was in as a young person was pretty outstanding. She was not really meant to be thought of as a sex symbol in a lot of the roles that she was cast in, but for people who think she is cute that is just how it is going to be. She is very cute in Brewster McCloud.

Paul Simon is 5’3” (160cm) and Shelley Duvall is 5’9” (175 cm)! The other day, as he was unpacking boxes in his basement, John found an enormous coffee table book about Studio 54 with the whole story from when they were building it out all the way to the end with wonderful pictures. There is a picture of Shelley Duvall dancing with Paul Simon and she is not just tall, but willowy which makes her look even taller than she is. Paul at 5’3” is diminutive for a man, he was very self-conscious about it, and he looks smaller than he is because he is grimacing, but they were in a love relationship.

They obviously loved each other very much, their size is irrelevant, but Paul was very conscious of it because there were pictures around the world. John looked at the Simon and Garfunkel pictures, and his whole life he had assumed that Art Garfunkel was 6’5” (195 cm) and that was what made it funny. Paul Simon was little and Art Garfunkel was this giant of a man. Sean Nelson is 6’5” (195 cm) and John is 6’3” (190 cm), he didn’t tower over John, but he looked a lot like Artie and it was always the joke every band he was in: He towered over everybody else in Harvey Danger and he had the big shock of hair.

One time John was close to Art Garfunkel who was standing next to Mayor Bloomberg who is not that tall, and Artie wasn't that tall. John was just far enough away from him that he didn't put it all together and he is older now, but last night he wondered: ”Wait a minute! Is Art Garfunkel 6’5”?” (195 cm) It turned out he is 5’9” (175 cm), he is not even that tall! He only was able to see over the top of Paul's head because Paul is 5’3” (160 cm) and Artie rubbed Paul's nose in it! John couldn't get his head around it: From the time he was five years old, because they had that record on 8-track tape and it had their picture on the cover, he had it in his mind that Paul Simon was a regular sized, maybe slightly diminutive person and Artie was this grotesque giant, but Artie could be wearing a top hat and John could still look over it.

Of course John got off on a Shelley Duvall kick. Sometimes he looks for pictures of movie stars when they were at their young prime, maybe not their creative peak, but there is always a picture of them, like the picture of Clint Eastwood when he is talking on the phone and he looks like a surfer. John was looking at pictures of Shelley Duvall and then of course you end up at The Shining and then unfortunately she lost the plot somewhere.

A week ago Dan was just reading about Shelley Duvall. She went on the Doctor Phil show and it was very clear through this interview that she was not in her right mind. He got a lot of bad press about it because they were saying that he sensationalized someone's mental illness. Dan didn't get that from the interview when he saw it, he saw Dr. Phil being Dr. Phil interviewing someone who used to be a famous actress and who now has mental problems and he was legitimately interested in helping her and in understanding her and learning more about her. It didn't seem that he needed the vilification that he received from it. She was not in a good place.

Normal people assume that if they were an actor in the 1970s they must be super-rich now and they have no problems and they are fine, but in reality people can be at poverty level even if they were famous. Finding out that she wasn't doing great bummed Dan out because he liked her work so much as a youngster. She didn't have that thing where as she got older she dropped out of Hollywood because she couldn't get work, but she was working as a producer and making all kinds of things happen and then she was just: ”I am out!”

How John and Aimee Mann met over Twitter, the early days of Twitter (RW249)

One time John was performing in Central Park with Aimee Mann, doing Simon and Garfunkel covers, and Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and the Mayor were there. It was a big deal, it was the first time Amy and John ever did anything (see RL275, TB27).

John had met Aimee backstage at a show when he covered one of her songs and it turned out afterwards that she was in the venue. It was at the Largo (in Los Angeles), John was opening for Ben Gibbard’s record called One Fast Move Or I’m Gone with Jay Ferrar from Sunville that they wrote using Jack Kerouac lyrics, which was good only because Ben is good at writing songs and Jay is good at singing them.

John was doing this whole tour, it was a bad tour, frankly, and John was playing a Aimee Mann cover because Largo is a place that she was famous for performing at, and as he got off the stage the guy that runs Largo comes running up and is like: ”Amy is here and saw your tune!” - ”Oh, fuck!” with cold sweat because he had fucked it up, it was a little out of his range and he hadn’t transposed it. After the show she came backstage and said: ”You fucked up my song!” - ”Yeah, I totally did!” She was with Michael Penn who was also intimidating for John. Then she said: ”No, it was great!” because it was pretty good.

This was an example about what was great about Twitter at the time in the early 2010s. The next day she tweeted at him and because it was early Twitter he tweeted back at her and pretty soon they were tweeting at each other and then pretty soon they were DMing and then she gave him her number and they were texting and then they were friends. A few weeks later she said: ”I got invited to do this Simon and Garfunkel tribute in Central Park. Do you want to do a song with me?” - ”Well, yeah!” - ”Great!” John had been playing The Only Living Boy in New York for years, he flew to New York, they played the song, he introduced her that night to Hodgman and Jonathan Coulton, and now she and Jonathan, over the course of a few years, established a collaboration, he wrote a couple of songs on her record, she has been on the JoCo Cruise for six years now.

John would never have gotten to know her if it weren't for Twitter. He met people backstage all the time, but he is not going to get their number and they are not going to ask for his, but they never saw each other again. He met John Doe or David Byrne, but they didn’t exchange phone numbers, and he didn’t with Aimee either except for Twitter. Those were wonderful times, the halcyon days!

The greatest Brit Pop song of all time, Oasis, Bitter Sweet Symphony, Jarvis Cocker influencing Sean Nelson (RW249)

John was doing a little bit of Brit Pop reading the other day, although he doesn’t really follow the Brit Pop trades that closely. He was reading some non-news item and somebody made a tossed-off reference to Don't Look Back in Anger, which was a big hit for Oasis, but John never liked Oasis and he doesn’t know if he could pick that song out of a haystack. He did a little Don't Look Back in Anger looking around and it had been voted by some bunch of dumb clocks at the NME one of the greatest British songs ever.

There is a huge gap between American and British music fans that most of the time you are not aware of because we all love David Bowie and we all loved Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and lots of bands and singers. Everyone loves Adele, there is not a living soul that doesn't, but people in Britain like Blur and people in America have never heard of Blur. Nobody in America has heard of Robbie Williams. Of course there are lots of American bands that no-one in England cares about.

One time Bon Jovi made a real point to tour in the UK and promote his records, probably his record company played a big role in it, during his heyday, and Van Halen made no attempt to penetrate the United Kingdom. Maybe they didn't understand the Southern California music?

John read an interview with Billy Idol’s guitar player, a guy he knows really well, and he keeps trying to say Billy Cox, but it is not Billy Cox who played with Jimi Hendrix (John can’t remember Steve Stevens’ name). He played on a Michael Jackson track on some tune from the Smooth Criminal era and at one point Michael Jackson did a spot-on impression of David Lee Roth and Steve couldn't believe he was the only person in the world that was standing in this moment watching Michael Jackson do an extended David Lee Roth impression. It made John spend the rest of the day imagining Michael Jackson doing David Lee Roth.

Van Halen didn't tour in England and in the early 1980s when they were arguably the biggest band in America they opened for Bon Jovi in the UK and to this day Bon Jovi is an enormous Stadium rock act in the UK and Van Halen gets no love. The same is true over here for a lot of those Brit Pop bands. John listened to Don't Look Back in Anger and it is the mushiest pile of wet oats that you could put on an album. Admittedly the first half of the chorus is a good key change and John can see why this was on the radio, but everything else about it, the tempo, the lyrical content, the verse melodies, the whole attitude of it, just exemplifies what John finds objectionable about Oasis, which is: Everything!

John doesn’t hate them, but in honor of Mark Lanegan, who recently passed and who also hated Oasis or the Gallaghers, or at least the one Gallagher, John is going to plant a flag today. That was the number one Brit Pop song? The number one Brit Pop song is clearly Common People by Pulp, the only greatest Brit pop song. John watched the video of Common People and although the mix of Common People is very 1990s it still stands as a great song.

Then John noticed that Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger was clearly very influenced by Jarvis Cocker, and he knew that, but he had never watched the video closely enough to realize that a lot of Sean's mannerisms in his own music videos show many indications that Sean watched the Common People video 1000 times because Jarvis Cocker has an effortless lanky grace and the whole tone of Common People is so perfect because Jarvis is very elegant. You would look at him and say he is posh, he has all the elements that would make a person posh, but the sentiment of the song is very working class.

The people in the United Kingdom love to bag on posh people, even though they somewhat worship posh people and they love to elevate the working class, even though the working class is an enormous pain in the ass and they love more than anything somebody that looks and acts posh but is working class, or looks and acts working class and is posh like the Beastie Boys. Jarvis Cocker was swanning in this music video and he got effeminate hand gestures, but there is irony in it and John could see that this song connected with Sean not just because of Jarvis Cocker's swanning elegance, but also because how do you capture that lightning in a bottle?

”I am beautiful and I am talking about other beautiful people with a sneering smugness, but it is also really compressed and subtle.” Jarvis Cocker could be at a party as he describes in the song and totally pass, also awarding himself the little badge of being a working class guy. It is Brit Pop’s finest moment!

Except: All of a sudden in regards to being the best song of Brit Pop it was coming in contention with Bitter Sweet Symphony (by The Verve), which had that famous story that the sample that drives the song was taken from an orchestral cover record of Rolling Stone songs and The Verve got permission to use the sample, but they didn't get permission to cover the Stones. That only came up after the record had been released and the Stones’ evil manager Allen Klein, said to The Verve and their record label: ”You don't have permission to do this cover, you are either going to give us 100% of the songwriting royalties or you got to take it out. We are going to squash it!” while the record was just shooting up the charts.

Like dumbasses the Verve and their management team didn't play chicken with him. They were like: ”Okay! 100% of the songwriting royalties!” It is such bullshit! There is no sample of the Stones on there! Mick and Keith spent 20 years getting all the songwriting royalties that would have made Richard Ashcroft a millionaire and Richard Ashcroft would be living on an aircraft carrier now that was covered in velvet, because that is one of the great songs of the 1990s, but it all went to Mick and Keith, and Ashcroft was such an English: ”Oh, I don't care! It doesn't matter to me!”, he just blithely agreed to these terrible terms because he was too cool to stand up for himself.

John was reading along this non-news, meanwhile the Russians are invading Ukraine, bombs are going off in Kiev, and John was like: ”Tell me more, Richard Ashcroft, about how you were too cool to get your money!” and apparently just the other year the Stones finally turned over the songwriting royalties to Richard Ashcroft after 20+ years and John doesn’t think they gave him all the money back, but from here on out every time they play this song at a Bachelor party he will get his £0.02. It is still going to make him rich because that song is everywhere.

As John was reading about Shelley Duvall living in her truck in West Texas he was also thinking about Richard Ashcroft. Is he living in his truck somewhere? Then he looked up what Jarvis Cocker has been doing, and he has a weekly radio show. Dan was just wondering the other day how Tom Waits is living. John read some other non-news about Tom Waits and his wife. There is a thing about people that have had success that it is often not enough. If you took all the money John made in music, it is not as much as he has made in podcasting and the first five years that he was in podcasting he worked for free, which is weird. Think about all the bands that weren't as big as The Long Winters, and then think about all the bands that are bigger than The Long Winters but didn't have any songs on the TV!

When The New Pornographers go out and tour it is probably because they need the money. When Bob Dylan goes out it is not because he needs the money. Pulp was filling stadiums, at least in the UK, but he has a weekly radio show now, that can't pay very much. Joe Rogan is worth however many millions or got some big deal from Spotify, but most people on the radio are just making some money. It is just a job.

There was a weird side article where apparently Jarvis Cocker dated Chloë Sevigny at some point and she said that she thought that Pop stars were way more famous than movie stars or any kind of star. She thought that Pop stars had a different kind of fame because their fans were more passionate about them than any other kind of star. She said that driving around in the UK with Jarvis Cocker freaked her out because kids would run along behind the car and that was not the kind of fame she wanted, and she used that to explain why she makes quirky movies.

Anywhere in London right now if Jarvis Cocker walks in the room everybody knows him, but he is not living on a velvet aircraft carrier. Although John doesn’t know. You can be a big star in the UK and sell fewer records than a third-tier country star in the US just because of the number of people. The UK got 60 million people. There are 60 million people in Los Angeles at least! 60 million people, that is just one neighborhood in Mexico city.


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