RW51 - The Grease on the Windshield

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • Mount Alyeska (Geography)
  • John podcasting from his office and needing a new computer (Podcasting)
  • Christmas shopping with John’s daughter (Family)
  • Following the InfoSec crowd on Twitter (Internet and Social Media)
  • Unfollowing journalists after the 2016 election (Internet and Social Media)
  • Gun ownership (Attitude and Opinion)
  • Stand-up comedy is the new Rock'n'Roll (Music)
  • Buying your way into the show business (Music)
  • Greetings from listener Shanon (Currents)
  • Mariah Carey lip-syncing fail at New Years Eve (Music)
  • Bands running click tracks (Music)
  • The second guitar player behind the curtain (Music)
  • Vintage Effect Pedals (Music)
  • Comedians playing in huge arenas (Music)
  • As good as it is going to get in show business (Music)
  • John’s friendship with Duff McKagan (Music)
  • How Guns’n’s Roses and Jane’s Addiction killed Hair Metal (Music)

The show title refers to the reductionist mentality and the focus on efficiency that is like grease on the windshield that prevents you from seeing clearly what you should actually be doing.

The show starts with John laughing very hysterically.

Happy new year!

It is very icy in Seattle and has been for a while. There are 5-6 inches of snow in John's yard while nobody else in Seattle has any snow at all. The other day, his truck was completely covered in snow such that he was sending out those big clouds of snow smoke while driving on the Freeway. Every other car on the road was completely dry and it seemed like he was transported from another universe! Because it is freezing, John needed to scrape ice off his truck in the morning and the truck took 40 minutes to warm up. John’s house is 365 ft above sea level last time he checked with an app on his phone. Dan tries a random app and is at 810 ft, but he is also in a building.

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

Mount Alyeska (RW51)

When John was growing up, they quite often went to Mount Alyeska, a ski resort at sea level. This is very unusual because most ski resorts happen in mountains and most mountains are not close to the ocean. When you ski down Mount Alyeska, you can ski down all the way to the ocean if you got a good run at it. The mountain itself was only 3200 ft, which seemed crazy to a lot of skiers, because they don’t even start skiing until 9000 ft.

John podcasting from his office and needing a new computer (RW51)

John is very excited podcasting from his office because he has not podcasted or broadcasted from there for months. He has been traveling all over the place using his collapsible setup and he has used it even from his house. It feels great to be at the office again and Dan confirms that John sounds great!

John is podcasting from a Macintosh computer from 2010/2011 and he feels pretty strongly that it is not going to work for much longer. Nothing works on it because he cannot update the software. It won’t support Flash plugins either, but John considers that a gift. The writing is on the wall for this machine which means John needs to do the difficult work to buy a new computer.

When he visits the Apple store, he walks around and puts his hand on every single thing in the store. He asks 40 questions of the nice people in the polo shirts and he generally has at least one personal friend or close personal friend who works at the Apple store. John is keeping people from their other work and at the end of the day he has reduced it down to four possible options, but he makes no decisions and stays away for a month. John is not ready to abandon the Apple line, but nobody seems happy with them anymore. He doesn’t know enough about the topic to be happy or sad, but he was sad when they took away the DVD-reader.

Dan understands John's point and confirms that there is currently not much from Apple he would want to buy. They continue to talk about the current state of affairs of Apple hardware. Dan just sold his Mac Pro because he wanted to get his son a nice PC for playing games. There wasn’t really anything from Apple he wanted to get for this money and he still has a laptop from 2013.

Christmas shopping with John’s daughter (RW51)

In December of 2016, John took his daughter Christmas shopping because she is at an age where she needs to buy presents for her people, although she doesn’t know yet what money is and John will be her money. He was full of dread going to the shopping center during Christmas time and doing the death march from store to store, not knowing what to do. When John shops at Costco, he insists on going up and down every row, looking at everything and Dan agrees with him, but nobody wants to go shopping with John anymore.

John budgeted 11 hours for this trip, took his daughter to the mall and didn’t even know where to start. She looked across the mall to a little store, pointed at something on a mannequin in the front window and said that this would be perfect for person X. They walked over and John agreed that this would indeed be perfect for that person, they even had it in the right size. His daughter was already on the next thing and he was chasing her down the mall with the bag and the receipt. She walked into another store where she was sure that she would find something for person Y. She found the right aisle and there were 80 things of the category of things she wanted to look at, she pointed at a thing and ”That’s the one!”. Yes, it was the one. John wondered if she shouldn’t look at every one of them and contrast and compare them, but she thought that it was perfect and she was already moving.

John had never put her in a situation like that and although she always knows what she wants when it comes to food, for example, he was thoroughly impressed! John can be in a store for 4 hours and walk out without having bought a thing. They bought all of her Christmas presents in the span of 45 minutes. He had cancelled some appointments because he had to go on this dread march, but he was able to call the people back saying that he doesn’t need to cancel. His daughter was the picture of calm during the shopping tour and every person would received one of her presents found it perfect. They looked at John like ”Nicely done!”, but he had nothing to do with it and was standing there like a dumb talking wallet. He was even trying to argue with her about it because he didn’t believe she could make a decision so fast.

Following the InfoSec crowd on Twitter (RW51)

John doesn’t follow any journalists on Twitter anymore except one guy from the New York Times who is a listener of the podcast. The numerous editorialists and individual journalists John followed before are not giving him anything anymore and they are part of the problem, not the solution! Instead he is only following InfoSec nerds because there seems to be something going on in the InfoSec world. John used to be on 4Chan a lot and he used to read the hacker magazine 2600 back when it was just stapled together and looked like it had been photocopied at a color copier. John didn’t understand the computer-maths of it, but he liked the intrigue.

Now he follows the hackers and the Mr Robots and he gets what they doing. The ones who know how to speak to lay people explain their trail well enough when they are not cloak and dagger. Knowing that not everybody is building apps opened his mind a little bit and there is some super-interesting skullduggery happening. Keanu Reeves is not just rewriting the encryption and all of a sudden the vault door opens, but there is a lot of detective-ing and a lot of journalism all wrapped up into this weird InfoSec universe.

As you try to fit into this world of left and right, you figure out that you do have some grey area feelings about this or that, but we have somehow eliminated the ability to talk in the middle. The InfoSec people on the other hand are not interested in how the Democratic Socialist Party is going to transform the Democratic party. They are in the cyber-future already, which has a SciFi aspect to it: Control of information and control of access to information are bigger issues. How you use that data and how you utilize that access might not be their problem.

They are thinking more like military people who just want to secure the battle field or get the high ground. There is no top-down leadership, but it is like an insurgency-kind of mentality. Nobody is directing it, but everybody is thinking like a little general. How do I get in? How do I secure? How do I master the terrain? At the same time, everybody is also a mercenary: They are working for this person, then they get hired over here by those people. They are white hat, they are black hat. It is a weird flip of the traditional military hierarchy because all the soldiers aren’t working for anybody anymore. They are working for themselves.

It is not that John is trying to write an article for Wired Magazine or anything, but he is trying to parse it and is watching them at a distance, kind of how he used to lurk on 4Cha. He didn’t have two fucking ideas about what most of those conversations were, he just hoped he would never get doxed with 1000 pizza boxes.

Unfollowing journalists after the 2016 election (RW51)

John is actively unfollowing people after the 2016 presidential election. He realized that he didn’t know anything, although he had always thought he was pretty darn smart about stuff and knew a lot of things. Turns out he wasn’t! John immediately became super-impatient with people who continued to think that they knew all about stuff even though they had just been proven entirely wrong about everything. It is really easy for a lot of people to pivot and claim that the premises did not produce the end result they thought was going to happen and the election didn’t turn out the way they expected because of X. The popular vote is the thing that allows everybody to say that they were right all along. She actually won the popular vote and therefore they were right and can maintain their certitude in the face of the fact that none of us were right! During the campaign we were all continually amazed at what was happening, but none of us could have foreseen the world we are living in now.

John can’t keep reading editorials from people who had incorrect premises and who are condescendingly lecturing us about what we need to do next. John's own premises had not been correct either! He is not abandoning the political process - he is still listening - but he doesn’t want to read editorials from people who have not reflected enough, even though it is of course their job to jump right back in. If you are on the American Left, you are better staring at your shoes right now, wonderings how far back you need to go in your set of assumptions before you can find some solid ground where what you believe is close enough to what is true. The same is true for the American Right as well! Everybody needs to walk it back a little bit to find some solid ground. Right now we are walking knee-deep through marshmallow fluff and white bread!

The whole pretense of Libertarianism happens inevitably when you are 22 years old and you think you are only going to buy one color of shirt because then you don’t have to think about fashion and you can use that brain-power elsewhere. It is the same notion as Soilent: If you put all the nutrients you need into a beverage or into an astronaut pill that contains a whole turkey dinner, then you can spend more time sitting at your computer. Taking a break for dinner is what will make you better at doing computers later! You don’t get better at doing computers by just doing computers, but you get better by doing other things, too. Everyone needs some amount of well-roundedness of sleep, eat, and sex. The reductionist mentality that all we need to do is X and then all of our problems will be solved is like grease on the windshield and it infuriates John.

The InfoSec crowd is genuinely non-partisan and they are even agnostic to a degree of international politics. They don’t like Assange because they think he is a limp dick or a fraud. John has no deep understanding of the ethical universe within the larger InfoSec argument, but he knows there is one and he is peering in from outside, trying to figure out what the sides are and who the teams are. It is a new kind of geopolitics. John spent his whole life in a bicameral world where his people were Democrats and they didn’t like Republicans. Democrats cared about the little guy while Republicans only cared about money. That is the world John grew up in when he was a kid. Then Republicans started to become synonymous with evangelicals and it wasn’t as easy anymore to just say that they are all East Coast business people who only care about money while Democrats are trying to build dams and give people jobs.

By the late 1980s, Republicans wanted to turn back time. They pretended they were concerned with the little guy, but they were lying to him and telling him that they can restore him to the social place his grandfather had, whereas the Democrats were trying to build a big tend for every kind of person. The story had morphed a little bit since John was a little kid. Democrats cared about people in all different sizes, shapes and colors and they were trying to make a more equitable culture that was a true melting pot. Republicans didn’t want that, but they wanted to cling to the way things had been. Still, it was a world of these and those. Early in the Reagan administration as John became more sophisticated, he understood that there was a wide wide world out there that you couldn’t pigeon-hole and that wasn’t just a black and white situation. It is a continual evolution.

Gun ownership (RW51)

These times John finds it very hard to say he is a gun owner. He believes that the 2nd amendment is an anachronism, that they had no way of knowing about assault rifles, but he also believes that it is there for a reason. There is nothing in the constitution than John is ready to X out with a red pen and so he had to chart his own course for the gun situation. He doesn’t believe in unrestricted gun ownership, but instead you should have to earn a license and renew your license and register your guns. He also thinks that owning guns isn’t that big of a deal. He understands the statistics that if you have a gun in your house, it is 1000 times more likely that there is going to be a gun death, but he doesn’t hyperventilate about guns. In the rest of the country, guns are just lying all over the ground. In Texas you have to step over a gun to get into the grocery store. Guns are the toys for people out there and they like playing with their guns. When John was a little kid, all he did is play guns and the red-staters still like to play guns, it is not that big of a deal. In John’s little liberal bubble the only valid opinion is to restrict the ownership of guns as much as possible. No one thinks that they can get rid of guns, but nobody is ever enthused to hear John say that he owns some guns, it just puts a casé apall (??) on the cocktail party.

Stand-up comedy is the new Rock'n'Roll (RW51)

John has started to unfollow some comedians because they are not fucking funny either! He is tired of hearing comedians! John questions if comedians are even funny to begin with. He is not going to see their show if they are in town on a Saturday night because he is not looking to be entertained that way. On the other hand he puts on shows himself and counts on people going to shows. He also doesn’t want to lose the connection to the world of shows, both going to and doing. Stand-up comedy is excruciating, but if you go in with a very low threshold of expectation, you will have a great time. Every 3rd joke doesn’t really work and at a lot of comedy shows there is not a single joke in the entire night that works.

Go to alternative comedy shows in a really small room with 50 people where 35 of them are also comedians or significant others! The comedian gets on stage and says ”On my way over here I saw a dog and I said: What’s up, dog!” and everybody in the audience laughs hysterically (Dan put a clip of John laughing hysterically at the very beginning of the episode). That was not a joke and your laughter is conspicuously, uncomfortably inappropriate to the point that the audience members are ruining it even more, but John will go see it.

Some comedians are super funny and they are great gifts to the world. During the last 5 years or so, stand-up comedy has become the new Rock'n'Roll. Nobody wants to pick up a guitar and be a Rock musician anymore, but everybody wants to be a stand-up comedian. The problem is that most people aren’t funny. They are just not funny! They just don’t understand it, and they don’t understand that they are not funny. They like the look of being a comedian, they like the type, they think it is easy and they are making the world a worse place, but that was also true of all the people who were picking up guitars 20 years ago.

Buying your way into the show business (RW51)

It is often the kids who have enough money to pick up a guitar and spend five years with a band. Then they will try to get shows the same way you are and they are putting out records the same way you are. Because they have enough money, they can put out a record that sounds good and they can have clothes that look good when they are on stage. They are fit looking and sow doubt in everyone else. Every once in a while you get someone who even makes it somewhere, but they are not inspired and they don’t have to worry what will happen after their time as a Rock musician is through. They have a real soft landing somewhere, they are going to take care of the family business and they never struggle. John thinks those guys should just get out of the way because there are people who really want this and who are motivated by talent and by tremendous mental illness, people who are not just tourists in the scene and who are not doing this because it seems cute.

John always used to have a real suspicion of Jon Spencer and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a very cool band from the early 1990s. Jon was this beautiful guy who also had a band called Boss Hog together with his beautiful room mate. The whole culture and that whole little gang around him were all beautiful and they were all beautifully on heroin. They were riding motorcycles up the stairs of their warehouse loft in New York City and they were multi-purpose role models to a generation of people who thought that being beautiful was also some kind of punk. Jon Spencer’s music sounded like the blues had exploded, but they were huge! They would come out to Seattle and they weren't mainstream, but it was huge within the cool kids. He was a love interest and the sexy bad boy of a scene where everybody was wearing a loser T-shirt. At the time, John stood in the back of the room and his reaction was ”Ugh! You are too pretty! Too pretty and too rich!” There is no way you can afford to ride a motorcycle up the stairs of a Soho loft and do heroine by making this kind of dumb blues music.

The Beastie Boys and The Strokes were rich kids as well. Those are two examples of cool New York City bands who had parents in the entertainment business who were rich as fuck . The Beastie Boys ended up changing the universe, but in the very early days they wanted to be in Hip Hop and they were actually on the street in Hip Hop shows. Money allowed them to presume they were cool when they were 14 years old. They didn’t have any doubt, because money removes doubt. The same was true for The Strokes. The music of both these bands is amazing and John is not holding the money against them, but people who don’t have money and who are 24 years old just like The Strokes are measuring themselves and their own accomplishments against those bands, wondering why the hell they are just working at a coffee cart while The Strokes are so great. How did they do it?

You have to take into consideration that it is easier for some people because they had the money. Even if your ideas and their ideas were the same, it is easier way up the stream, because they have the luxury to sit around. The biggest luxury is assuming that you belong, which is what people talk about now when they talk about privilege. People with privilege are starting out with the assumption that they belong and their ideas are good, while the rest of us start with no assumption or with the assumption that we are going to be rejected, which creates an obstacle that you have to get over before you even lift the pencil for the first time. A lot of times, we don’t give this obstacle proper weight when we look at our own lives and ask ourselves what we had to overcome.

We think we didn’t have to overcome anything, but in reality we had to overcome a lot, the biggest obstacle being ”Am I welcome?” A lot of people in art and in business see the fact that they feel unwelcome as a motivator and they are going to kick down the door, but that is not true for most people! Most people don’t want to kick down the door! They want somebody to open the door and for somebody to say ”Come on in!” Money provides that opportunity. If Jon Spencer was as good as everybody said he was, we would all be listening to Jon Spencer now. Maybe he is listening to this show and is going to DM John saying ”Hey, man! Why are you so mean?” John envied all the amazing sex parties that Jon was having in his giant drafty NYC warehouse while John was paying $325 a month for an apartment with a bathroom down the hall.

Greetings from listener Shanon (RW51)

Dan had a message for John: "Shanon says hi!" She was in the Mighty Fine Burgers with her significant other on Sunday night. As Dan was walking in and she was walking out they happened to meet in the airlock. She said ”Dan Benjamin!” and Dan said ”Yes!” and they talked for a while. She knows John from the cruises and although John knows 50 Shanons, men and women, even in Texas he knows 4 Shannons, when Dan said ”From the cruise”, John has a much clearer picture of the Shanon and her male friend. They tweeted to Dan and said some nice things on Twitter as well. (FIND THOSE TWEETS!) It is amazing how small the world is and even in a country with 350 million people, a body meets a body coming through the rye.

Mariah Carey lip-syncing fail at New Years Eve (RW51)

There is an understood rule that Dan and John will make every show and every topic timeless so it will be just as relevant 100 years from now, but now they are taking a step away from that rule and will be talking about a current event: Mariah Carey was supposed to perform at Times Square on New Years Eve, but there was a problem with the background track that she was supposed to be lip-syncing to. She walked around on stage complaining about how things weren’t going well. As she moved on to the second piece she was supposed to do, the background track was playing, but something else was wrong. She walked around with the microphone projected away from her face with her voice singing the song coming from the loudspeakers.

John never relies on a pre-recorded audio track during his performances, but there seem to be people who do, especially in some categories of pop music that include elaborate dance numbers where it would be essentially impossible to dance and move in a choreographed way while also singing at the same time. Then you have other people like Adele who are great singers, who are there to sing and who are singing without any dancing. Their performance is their voice! John was on tour once with a band who was running background tracks and he was talking to their monitor guy during a show, saying that it would make him really insecure to get up there and be reliant on it. It is astonishing how many layers of redundancy they have to ensure that it never crashes. If something like that happens to Mariah Carey it almost feels like it is industrial sabotage, which is exactly what her people accusing the producers of, but the question is whom it would benefit.

Mariah Carey is inarguably one of the great voices of our time in her genre. She is no longer doing elaborate dance shows, but she is just standing there belting it out. The whole point of her big show for New Years Eve is that it is not a concert, but it is a big event. There is a puppet show beforehand and there is a juggler afterwards. Mariah Carey is getting $750.000 or $1.5 million an sing God Bless America. Her camp is probably used to running tracks on everything she does because, just as The Edge has three people down there playing his effect pedals, the human voice can only go so far to sound super-huge in a room. There are a ton of tracks going on and like all modern records in her genre, her records are drenched in Vocoder sound.

The Vocoder became ubiquitous in RnB several years ago and hearing an RnB artist who isn’t vocoding really stands out. Sometimes it is used thicker and sometimes thinner, but you can always hear it. The Vocoder is changing the sine wave of the notes you are making to make them ”in tune”. You can play a vocoder like an instrument, too. John has no idea how many effects Mariah has on her albums to make her feel that she can’t get up there and do otherwise. What astonishes him in a moment like this is that Mariah has been living in a world where she got divorced from the essence of what she does. Some of her peers, like Christina Aguilera, are maybe a little bit closer to the ground and they might have done something really differently in this moment.

As an entertainer, the second that the stuff doesn’t work and Mariah stands up there like ”Are you guys fucking kidding me right now?”, you should remember what you are there to do. If it was John, or if he were her advisor an hour before the show, he would tell her that if anything goes wrong, wave your hand, say ”Stop it! Don’t push another button!” and then stand up there and do an a cappella rendition of God Bless America. She is a singer, that is the thing she does!

Dan always thought that Mariah Carey was in the category of artists with a really great voice who actually show up and sing. John says that she is, but she has forgotten something or she has lost her way. She needed to go back to church. It was New Years Eve. If the thing breaks, you remember who you are and you sing Auld Lang Syne. You are a hero giving the people exactly what they came for, which is straight up Mariah Carey. She has forgotten that she is also playing to people like you and me. We didn’t watch the show and she isn’t thinking of us as her audience, but she is thinking of all the 22-year old girls out there who hear the big show.

Bands running click tracks (RW51)

When a band is running click tracks, it means that they have computers as a big part of the show and they have a person or more sitting at a bank of computers while the drummer has headphones or an earpiece. The songs and the setlist are queued up and you start to play to the metronome in the click track. The drums are live, the guitars are live and the vocals are live, but the low end information of the song that is on the record, which is a big part of how you physically respond to the music, like all the synthy stuff, all the sound effects and in some cases the bass, is coming from a computer. As a lay person, you see the singer jumping around and you see the guitar player and the drummer on stage, but you are not aware of how much of the wash of music is being played by computers.

Even on a small scale you know not to be running tracks off of one computer, but you have many layers of redundancy to ensure that it never crashes and you got to have tested this 100 times. John was talking to a monitor guy once who had been Duran Duran’s front-of-house guy in the early 1980s. Even though he was 55 years old, he still wears his hair in a Duran Duran flock-of-seagulls hairspray kind of way. He told John that they used to run backing tracks for Duran Duran concerts off of 2-inch tape using Ampex machines that they brought on tour with them. They would play the tape and the band would play along.

They encountered real problems when they would go out on those super-hot summer festival shows, because at a certain temperature, the hot weather would actually stretch the tape such that the tracks would get slower and the pitch would slightly change so that all of a sudden none of the instruments were in tune with the backing tracks. It used to drive them crazy and there was one show in particular where the intonation was so bad that it was a real embarrassment. You could not tune most of the instruments to the backing track as the show was going down. John was astonished to learn that bands were playing to tape that far back, or maybe he shouldn’t be. We are far over the bridge now!

John went to Bonnaroo one time and watched a folky band where the bass was on tape and he couldn’t watch it. Hire a freaking bass player! However much money you are paying a guy to run this on the computer, just pay the same money to someone to play the bass. John doesn’t see why having the bass on tape is an advantage. He used to have really strong feelings about this whole topic and he used to not like it when he would see Indy Rock bands with backing tracks as part of their thing. Even if John was on the Tonight Show and lost his voice and this would be his shot, he cannot imagine a scenario where his fans wouldn’t reject him and anybody else would like that better.

The second guitar player behind the curtain (RW51)

In the early 2000s John did a stadium-tour and he saw one of the other bands who were famous at the time several times on that tour. They were a big 4-piece Rock band in the year 2000 with numbers in their name: A bass player, a guitar player, a drummer and a lead guy. They had another guitarist on stage with them behind a curtain. Standing on the side of the stage, John watched him most of the show sitting on a stool playing a guitar with his amplifier mic’ed right next to him and he was playing all the interesting parts, the cool stuff that is around the main melody. It was before computers were reliable enough. In 2000, nobody in the music business would have gone on stage relying on a computer as a member of the band. They just crashed too much!

The band wanted this extra music played, but they didn’t like the optics of having another member of the band because they were known as these 4 guys. It was astonishing and it was cause for lots of LOLs. At a festival stage with 10 bands playing where every other band consists of the people you would see on stage while this band comes out with a flashy show, but also with a guy sitting on a stool behind the curtain. It is like Wizard of Oz level duplicity. Only a few years later, that guy behind the curtain was gone and replaced by a G3 or three G3’s. That kind of deception has always been part of putting on a big show.

Vintage Effect Pedals (RW51)

The Edge of U2 uses vintage effects pedals as part of his live rig which is an industry that employs a lot of people. When you click a button on the pedal board on stage, it routes the signal off-stage to the actual vintage effects pedal that is kept in a case somewhere. What makes it crazy is that the sounds of all those vintage effects pedals have effectively been modeled by computers and vintage effects pedals themselves are very delicate. They are very prone to break and they are very unpredictable. When they heat up, they sound differently from when they are cold. When sending the signal from a guitar to a pedal board and then long-distance to a pedal off-stage and to the amplifier, every inch of that cabling degrades the signal of the guitar. There are a couple of musicians, and The Edge from U2 and David Gilmour from Pink Floyd are two examples, who have spent lots of money building those elaborate rack systems where all those pedals are actually there.

The Edge has probably a team of three people living under the stage who’s job it is to maintain his room of vintage pedals, sounds and tones. Some of it is probably digital now, but they are down there stepping on his stomp boxes for him. Even if The Edge is way out there on the cat walk, his flangers and delays are all very synced because there are people who’s exclusive job it is to turn the levers and spin the giant wheels in order to make The Edge’s guitar sounds like it does. The guitar is going through compressors and there is a lot of magic. All this is in a different category than sound reinforcement where a person at the sound board is moving faders. You could say that playing those effects is also playing an instrument in a way or it is an aspect of playing that instrument.

Comedians playing in huge arenas (RW51)

Comedians can't lip-sync their stuff, but John is pretty sure that big comedians on tour are using a laugh track, augmenting laughter by laughter over the speakers. It might be more common than we know! If you hear laughter, you are encouraged to laugh more. John has been to some stadium comedy shows without any laughter in the speakers and it is weird! Flight of the Conchords just toured, for example. They are amazing and hilarious, but when they are playing to 12.000 people, laughter just does not have the same contagion than in a 500 person club, because it requires that neighborliness. Flight of the Conchords still thinks of themselves as a small couple of guys from New Zealand just making some fun and they are not broadcasting laughter, but they are hilarious and everybody in the place is loving it, but there is just that little bit of distance.

Eugene Mirman opened for Flight of the Conchords. His comedy is also extremely funny, but sometimes he plays on the edge of surreal and does not just clearly give you one joke after the other. A lot of thinking goes into appreciating him! He is performing really well, landing his stuff and in a smaller room, even a 1000-person room, he would be slaying, but the perception of not hearing ruckus laughter makes you go ”Oh, these jokes aren’t working”. John talked to him after the show and Eugene confirmed that it is weird to play those big rooms or to play out in a field, because you don’t get the feedback to feel like you are doing a good job. Steve Martin was headlining amphitheaters in the 1970s. He was doing stadium shows bigger than Led Zeppelin and of course he was on cocaine. John doesn’t know how it sounds like when 50.000 people all laugh at once, but it is pretty weird.

As good as it is going to get in show business (RW51)

A lot of times in show business you don’t realize when things are as good as they are going to get. You do what you have set out to do and because of the nature of ambition, you don’t realize that you already did it and you are already there when you are in that moment when it feels great and you feel that you are on the way to achieving your dream. It isn’t going to get any better than this, which is not bad and you should be happy and recognize that anything further you add is just a complication. If you are a solo artist playing to 1200-seat rooms, it is very hard to look around and recognize this 1200-seat room as the peak. It is where the Pet Shop Boys play now, it is where you are on your way up and it is where you are after your career has settled back down.

The people who can play a 1200-seat room 20 years after their career began can do it because they did play 25.000-seaters for a while. John would like it if you could spend 10 years just playing 1200-seaters, because the amount of money and the amount of other stuff like fame that comes from an exponential growth also brings an exponential amount of heartache with it.

When Dan was in college, he worked at an indoor venue called The Arena with acts coming through that weren’t huge, like Extreme (”More Than Words”), or Damn Yankees, the band that Ted Nugent was in for a while in the 1990s. The biggest concert Dan ever saw was Guns’n’Roses at the Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami with upwards of 50.000 people on New Years Eve 1989/1990. It was a real Rock ’n’ Roll show. They didn’t just sound like the album, but they were doing it differently and they had fun with it. If you are playing to a track it will be the exact same thing every single night. You are not even really singing, but you are just stomping around the stage in the same way, pretending to sing. How unfulfilling would that be?

John’s friendship with Duff McKagan (RW51)

John is pretty good friends with Duff McKagan from Guns’n’Roses. They are even related to one another and have known each other for a long time. Duff is a Seattle guy and goes back in the local music scene long before Guns’n’Roses. He played drums in the Fastbacks and there are a lot of people who know him. Duff started writing a column for the Seattle Weekly early 2010, right around the time when John was doing the same. They had three regular columnists in the music section, each writing a weekly column: John, Krist Novoselic and Duff McKagan. Duff’s was about his thoughts of life in the world, Krist was writing more specifically about political stuff and John wrote his column about whatever the fuck he thought about writing at 2am the night before it was due.

One time Duff walked over to John at an event and told him that he loved his column and that it was a privilege to write beside him on the masthead. It was a generous gesture and Duff didn’t just waltz off, but they kept talking. John had heard about Duff for a long time and everybody likes and admires him. In talking to him, John realized that he is a guy who is really natively smart. He had lived his whole life in Rock ’n’ Roll and in Punk Rock where "smart" isn’t really the number one thing people are looking for. Nobody got ahead in Rock ’n’ Roll because they were smart. Duff is a bass player and he was a heavy partier from a young age. Neither one of those things were made easier by being smart. There aren’t a lot of jokes about the super-smart bass player and being a drug addict and being smart didn’t help one another either.

Duff is a curious mind who has been through a lot. He is a smart, generous and kind person, but everywhere he goes he is assumed to be a dumb drunk bass player. He is so accustomed to being treated in a certain way by the world outside his immediate circle and he really loved writing this column for the Seattle Weekly because it was a chance to show off this other side of himself. He got his degree from Seattle University while he was on tour with Velvet Revolver. He would come back and go to class and then go out and tour through Germany. John and Duff struck off a friendship, because they knew each other from the writing and they had all these friends in common in music. When you share an orbit with somebody already, it is really easy to solidify a friendship with a lot of connections. You will be standing at an event talking and a person who knows you both will walk over and all of a sudden it is another route that connects you to everybody in a way. The more everybody knows each other, the more rooted everybody becomes.

A few years ago John was backstage at a Slayer concert and Duff came over and greeted him with ”Hey, cousin!”, because he had just found out that they had become cousins when Duff's brother married John’s brother’s wife’s sister. He was so thrilled and John was also thrilled even though he can barely describe the process. It was just another LOL! They stay in touch with each other and text sometimes and John really admires him!

If you look at a picture of Guns’n’Roses from 1989 and point at the person who is most likely going to be fit, together, happy, fully alive and writing books in 2015, you are not going to single out Duff McKagan out of that photograph. They all look pretty thrashed and Duff looks among the most thrashed. He could have died 1000 times, but now when you look at him, he looks like he is carved out of mahogany.

John was at the huge 2016 Guns’n’Roses stadium show. John doesn't know how much Axl Rose, God love him, is art-directing the show, but all the video stuff playing behind the band and a lot of the art direction is not very good. AC/DC is pretty good about putting together big video productions with smiling skulls, spinning playing cards and women in bikinis, but when Guns’n’Roses was trying to do it, it seemed weird. The band was playing the shit out of their instruments and Duff was up there playing his bass like he were in a club. They couldn’t arrive at a contract with Izzy Stradlin and have instead hired a different second guitar player who was smoking it during the many moments they gave him to shine. They tipped their hat to him over and over during the show.

At their level they could have been up there just phoning it in, playing the tracks, and snoozing their way through it, but they are a bunch of guys in their 50s who are still having a really good time playing live Rock. John didn’t detect anything that wasn’t being made by them on the stage, which includes Axl sitting down at the freaking piano for six songs. The only flaw in that Guns’n’Roses show was that John had willfully blocked out the fact that they had ever made Use Your Illusion I and II or any other music after that. He realized why he lost interest in the recorded music of Guns’n’Roses, because it is just a bunch of ballads with no melodies. Dan was a very big Guns’n’Roses fan and they were the primary reason why he learned to play guitar, or maybe secondary to Led Zeppelin.

How Guns’n’s Roses and Jane’s Addiction killed Hair Metal (RW51)

At the time, Rock ’n’ Roll had lost its way, everything had a lot of synthesizers, and people were playing those Yngwie Malmsteen scales as if classical music and Heavy Metal were supposed to be some kind of symbiosis. That music had become unlovable and everybody from John’s community was turning toward Metallica, deciding that this is where Metal lived now that nobody was playing hard rock anymore.

Then Guns’n’Roses came around playing with Rock attitude in Blues scale. They were tougher than Aerosmith had been in 1975 and it was like ”Thank you! Rock has survived!” When Grunge came and toppled the garbage, Nirvana was not culturally an extension of Guns’n’Roses, but Guns’n’Roses had already done to Hair Metal what everybody credits Nirvana having done to Hair Metal. In the Rock story, Hair Metal was this gross, bloated, creepy thing that survived right up until the moment when Smells Like Teen Spirit hit the radio. There are stories of guys from Winger, Nelson or whoever else marching into their record company office asking about their royalty cheques because nobody would return their phone calls. One of the bands happened to walk into the offices at Capital right at the moment as their photograph was being taken down off the wall in the atrium of the label and replaced with a photograph of Alice in Chains. There was that sea-change feeling! Most Rock music fans hated those Hair Metal bands at the time, but there was a feeling that this was just what we had to do and this was just where Rock was.

The famous precursor to Pearl Jam up in the North West was Andrew Wood from Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone. Mother Love Bone was the band from Seattle that was supposed to get big right before Grunge happened. It included Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament (two guys from Pearl Jam), Bruce Fairweather, Greg Gilmore and Andrew Wood. Bruce Fairweather was a big local Seattle musician and a well-known guy from around. Greg Gilmore had been in a band with Duff McKagan (called 10 Minute Warning) and in a band called Skin Yard who were very influential on John. These are late-1980s bands before Grunge were hard metal Punk. Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had been in a band called Green River with Mark Arm and Steve Turner who became Mudhoney. There is no bigger gap between two bands than there is between Mudhoney and Pearl Jam. They don’t sound anything alike, their attitudes are not anything alike, and their approaches to life were very different, but two guys from the one band and two guys from the other band used to be in a band together. That is the weird thing about Seattle.

Mother Love Bone was the Seattle version of a Hair Metal band, yet they were wearing velvet paisley floppy hats and basketball shorts. Andrew Wood, the star child of the Seattle music scene, died of a heroin overdose before Mother Love Band got big and Alice in Chains became the first Seattle band who had a hit on the radio. It was cool to hear their song Man in the Box on big radio knowing that it was coming from Downtown. Had Mother Love Bone jumped up at that moment as well, we would be talking about Grunge in a very different way, because it would have been reinforced that there were a little bit more beards in Grunge. They were a little bit rougher around the edges, but they were still an extension of Hair Metal. Mother Love Bone not surviving opened up room for Nirvana to be the biggest thing that happened. Soundgarden could have pretended to be an extension of Hair Metal, but Pearl Jam made no attempt to not be. By that point in time you wore ripped jeans, but Pearl Jam could still have been a Hair Metal band.

John always wanted it to be acknowledged that the bands who drove a stake into the heart of Hair Metal were actually Guns’n’Roses and Jane’s Addiction, but it is never remembered like that now. There was Hair Metal, then Guns’n’Roses brought blues and drugs back into Rock and Jane’s Addiction made it weird, fucked up and scary. If you look at the fashion on the earliest pictures of Guns’n’Roses and Jane’s Addiction, both have tons of hairspray in their hair, but the music was more freaky. By 1990, both of those bands had become more tripped out. It would have paved the way for Mother Love Bone and it did pave the way for Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. It allowed for bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana to even have somebody at a record company paying attention to them, because if Jane’s Addiction worked, maybe these weirdos will work as well? Unfortunately, John can’t go back and rewrite the history books.

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