RW88 - A Leaping Wolverine

This week, Dan and John talk about

The show title refers to how John called Dan in the conversation when they talked about recording podcasts face-to-face.

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

John's daughter (RW88)

John's daughter has a very strong personally and had it since she was a little kid. She has always seen her dad on stage and has felt from the very beginning that she belongs on stage as well. John is is parades sometimes, because he is not only in show-business, but he is also part of the civic live in his city and there are not just opportunities, but sometimes even responsibilities to be in large parades. His daughter thinks that she is a necessary part of the local parade scene in the summer as well. When she goes to somebody else’s concert, she will find her way onto the stage somehow. She went to a kid’s birthday party the other day and her mother sent John a photograph of that other girl opening a present and Marla was standing right over her shoulder. Everybody is looking at the birthday girl, but John’s daughter is right there, because whatever that energy is that everybody is directing with their eyes, she wants even the reflected glow of it.

Approaching John in public (RW88)

Sometimes he goes to the podcasting festivals, but he is mostly just wandering around, looking available or sometimes looking unavailable. Most of the time, John is available and is happy if you go up to him and say #Supertrain. The only times when he is not available it will be evident, because he will be walking with a purpose and starring straight ahead, or he will be visibly mad. A lot of people are shy to approach somebody when they are with their kids and John normally would agree with that conventional wisdom, but John’s daughter loves when people come up to him. She likes meeting new people and talking to people. When John is at a podcast festival, he is talking to people, but he doesn’t know which ones are other podcasters, which ones are fans, and which ones are producers. He has learned to identify the McElroy brothers, because they are very hard to miss. He knows Dan and he knows a dozen or so people on site who are broadcasters as well.

Bananas (RW88)

John eats green bananas, meaning he likes them more green-yellow than brown-yellow. He doesn’t eat bananas often enough and when he buys 7 bananas he can’t have them on the counter if they are already brown when they arrive. Recently he tried to put them in the refrigerator, but he keeps a very cold refrigerator and the bananas will not only be green, but also half-frozen, which is not a good system.

Teaching Plato (RW88)

If John would teach Semiotics at the local university, which he would never ever do, he would be talking about the world of ideas every single day for many hours and afterwards he would have to go back to his office and read Semiotics-texts, which he doesn’t want to do. Teaching Plato for three hours every day on the other hand would be super-fun and talking to Dan and Merlin on a podcast is even easier than that. There are experts who have a PhD on a certain slice of Plato, because the purpose of a PhD is not to become a general expert of every aspect of a thing, but to focus ever more narrowly on an idea. Your thesis is never a general survey of a thing. The kind of knowledge about Plato that a class of undergraduates would benefit from is a general encompassing knowledge of Plato and how his works fit into the Western tradition, which is not antithetical to being a PhD, but the skill-sets are different. PhDs are research-people. You can just read Plato, because all we have is a finite number of texts in very conversational writing. All you have to do is read them and understand them and know how they fit into the larger project. John could teach a class now, but if you gave him a month to prepare, he’d teach a hell of a class or 15 classes! He would need to have a PhD in order to be qualified to teach at the university and that is not how his life turned out. He knows a lot of people with advanced degrees in the classics and they are all weirdos. It is the same thing being a sex-therapist. Therapists who focus on sex and sexual health are all weirdos, because it almost goes without saying that if you want to engage with people about their sex-lives when you are 20 years old and are picking a career for yourself, most people don’t pick that as their dream-job unless they are already thinking about stuff in a different way than your average person. It’s not like a surgeon, where 80% of people just want to do the most difficult thing.

John’s podcasting setup (RW88)

John’s new podcasting studio is still under construction and he is recording in his old studio, meaning his bed. He has the old studio, the new studio, the private office and the bath to choose from. John also tries to build a mobile studio that fits inside a Filson briefcase. He likes to travel and get on the road, play music and just go places, but he doesn’t like to skip a show or do a make-up show. Today they are recording two episodes because Dan has to travel next week. This is an easy thing to do and he has been doing it with Merlin for years, but if John is really podcasting the shit out of things and is doing 24 podcasts, which apparently isn’t weird, the situation will be different. Dan recommends the Blue Raspberry Premium Mobile USB Microphone that can be mounted for example on a GorillaPod. That would allow you to attach your microphone to a pole, like a 2 hour parking pole and do your podcast from there. John wants to be able to sit in an airport and do a podcast when no-one around him is aware he is doing a podcast, because it would just look like he was having a phone call with somebody. John wants to try it out, get out into the world and put a little bit of himself out there. He wants to give a little bit of his time to the audience. John has embraced podcasting as a creative outlet. He has a handful of friends who he thinks should also do podcasts. Sean Nelson should absolutely do a podcast, but he claims that it is too late for him and the door is closed, which is ridiculous because we are still in the Wild West of podcasting. 90% of normal people John mentioned podcasting to used to not even know what he was talking about, but now most of them do. So go out, get a podcast, it doesn’t cost anything or take anything from your life, but for John it has only added things. Although he likes podcasts a lot, he is not really that deep into the podcasting culture.

Dan's podcast life (RW88)

Dan had a very difficult period of time when he was doing several podcasts a day, 5 days a week. He would start recording at 10:00, then do a break for lunch and record one or two more shows in the afternoon, plus he would edit them all and selling ads for all of them. It was exhausting and he shouldn’t have done it and now he would never try to do that again. He tries to do one or at most two a day and he has currently five regular shows (Quit, Back to Work, Unwound, Killing Time, Roadwork). Then he also has The Podcast Method and an interview show that he records whennever there is something interesting to talk about. Having a show a day is not typical. Marc Maron is not doing a show a day, because he doesn’t need to. There seem to be two categories of podcasters:

1. People who have one podcast: They are made out of two subgroups The ones where the whole world knows about it and they make a lot of money from it, and then almost everybody else who have a small number of listeners.
2. People who have more than one podcast: They are also made out of two subgroups: The ones where none of their podcasts are popular or well-known and those where some of their podcasts are okay and well-known. Dan has a lot of podcasts and a few of them are very popular, but the other ones are not.

If Dan had one podcast that would get a million downloads, he wouldn’t have a second podcast, because he would put 100% of his time and energy into making that one podcast even better. This is the same that Apple did when the iPhone became popular: Everything else is now just in support of the iPhone business. John still remembers when Apple didn’t even talk about making a phone and everybody was trying to sync their Apple notebooks with their LG phones and their Blackberries and everybody was wondering why Apple wouldn’t just make a phone. Ben Gibbert (from Death cab for cutie) was an early adopter of the iPhone and once he got so frustrated with it that he threw it out of a hotel room, which was a very Rock’n’Roll move, but then he bought a new one two days later, which was also a very Rock’n’Roll move.

Recording podcasts in person (RW88)

The reason why John is building a podcasting studio right now is that Ken Jennings wants to do the recordings for Omnibus in person. Dan agrees that he would never do the recording with John over Skype if he lived in Seattle. On the contrary, it never would have occurred to John to record in person because he has a rhythm of talking with Dan and a different rhythm of talking with Merlin, but there is still a rhythm. When he and Ken talked about the show, John suggested that he would help Ken to build a little podcasting studio in his house, which would be really easy because they live in the same town, but Ken insisted to be in the same room and he even offered to come to John’s house every time. So John decided to repurpose a corner of the room he used to shoot BB-guns in. There is still a drum-kit in the other corner. It turns out that it is really interesting to look at each other while you are recording. You can give each other signs if you want to change the topic, but you also make each other laugh and you can see mirth in the other person’s face. John would love to do Roadwork in person, but while doing Roderick on the Line live is fun, it is very difficult because Merlin doesn’t really want to be in the same room. Dan has had that experience when he was recording live with Merlin on a few occasions like at WWDC. Merlin probably can’t handle John’s energy, because John is one of those tornados that touches down and destroys a couple of trailer parks before he is off again bouncing across the land. Dan is not exactly a Jewish leprechaun, but a tight little leaping wolverine, tearing the necks out of other creatures!

John having 4 regular podcasts (RW88)

John is about to become a multi-podcaster, even more than what he currently is. He has Roderick on the Line, which is the original John Roderick podcast and he has Roadwork, which is the one that they are recording right now. John is about to start Omnibus with Ken Jennings which is coming out in December of 2017. Doing 3 podcasts is still not one a day, but for a long time John had not done a thing a day. It seems like a lot! He can think of being on tour and playing in a different town every night which is all-encompassing, but it is always different.

To take it up a notch, John even has a 4th podcast in the pipeline. It is called Friendly Fire with Adam Pranika and Ben Harrisson, two of his nerd friends that he once had introduced to one another and who then started a very successful Star Trek podcast called ”The Greatest Generation”. About a year ago, Adam and Ben came to John and wanted to do a podcast, but it took them a year to get it up and going and now that it is going, also Omnibus with Ken Jennings is going. Omnibus will come out on the How Stuff Works network and it is going to get a big "Tada!" Friendly Fire will come out on the Maximum Fun network. The three of them will be watching old war movies and will talk about them. This is John’s bread and butter! They will talk about them as films and John will talk about them how well or poorly they describe war in general and whatever war that they are about in particular. John isn’t looking for continuity, like those are the wrong buttons on that uniform, but he is definitely mad when an A6 Texan is repainted as a Japanese Zero, although he knows you have to do it sometimes. It doesn’t to have be old war movie, but it can be any war movie. John also wants to examine the cultural context of the time the movie was made. The description of this show almost the strongest anti-aphrodisiac and sex-repellent you can imagine, it is like pouring salpeter into your soup!

Friendly Fire is nothing like Roadwork or Roderick on the Line and it is nothing like Omnibus, which will be a deep-dive into all the esoterica that John and Ken each know. Those are different esoterica, but with quite a bit of overlap. John is interested in things that Ken doesn’t know and the other way around, but they each have enough knowledge of general things that if he wants to talk about Tesseracts, John can get in there, he knows the world around it and can ask salient questions. None of those shows are the same and they won’t take away from each other. There will be a certain audience overlap, but that is not going to be a limiting factor for John personally.

Adam Pranika and Ben Harrisson both do not have any broadcasting history, but they are filmmakers and behind-the-scenes guys and would come to those podcast festivals just as fans. John initially met Adam as an early and very strong fan of The Long Winters. There is always this cultural divide as a musician, because those people are your fans, not your friends, even when you know them as friends. Adam is the rare individual who through persistence and because he is a lovely person penetrated the 4th wall and became an actual friend of John's over many years. Ben was the AV-guy at N-Gadget and has grown over time to really adore The Long Winters. John introduced both of them because they were both tools and have probably a lot to say to each other. Then they started this dumb thing about this dumb show where they would watch an episode and talk about it. John does not take any credit for their success, because doing a podcast about Star Trek is humiliating and John doesn’t want anything to do with it. It should be a gross embarrassment to those two and it probably is!

When Adam and Ben first came to John and wanted to do a podcast, his answer was "Sure!" People say stuff like that: Let’s start a band! Let’s move to Hawaii together! and his first answer to that stuff is always ”Sure!” because he knows that most of those things will die on the vine. It is only the rare occasion that John says ”Sure!” to something and it proceeds all the way to the point of making a choice. At that point you can still say No and it is not a binding contract. It only becomes a problem if somebody asks John if he would play the opening of their new art museum and he says ”Sure!” and then the art museum actually opens and he has to play the opening. Saying ”maybe” is just mealy-mouth. Tom Chaplin of Keane asked John this spring if he would write a song together for a Christmas album and John said ”Sure!”, but then John didn’t do it and Tom wasn’t going to chase him about it. John wishes he would have written a song for this album, because he likes Tom and he likes the idea of co-writing songs, but he didn’t do it because it is hard to write Christmas songs and it was furthermore supposed to be about New York and John didn’t have anything to say about that. Tom wasn’t looking for a funny song either, because Keane's music is fairly earnest.

The 3rd and the 4th podcasts were conceived around the same time around the end of 2016, two nascent podcasts that are not anything like each other burbled up out of the slime that is most people and all things! Over the course of an entire year, both of those burbling nascent ideas took their time until they turned into anything, like two golems that John found in the attics of two separate synagogues in Prague. He had business in both of them, he found a golem in each of the attics and it took a long time to animate each of them, because you are supposed to write the true name of God under its tongue! Over time those two golems began to shake, rattle and roll and then John found himself in a very complicated situation, because he had two nascencies that were about to become realities.

The problem is that you can’t launch two podcasts at the same time if you currently only have two podcasts! If John was television’s Dan Benjamin and would sit on top of Old Smokey (song!), he could start two new podcasts at the same time and no-one would bat an eye. It seems that Merlin starts a new podcast every week and a half, but in John’s case, starting a new podcast is a big deal, let alone two. He is a bit worried of being overexposed and that people will roll their eyes because 4 podcasts could be too many podcasts. There is just not enough time in the day to listen to all of his stuff. It’s not that John doesn’t want to be a Dan Benjamin, in fact he does want to be a tall Dan Benjamin that isn’t worried about lights in his neighborhood and doesn’t go to the doctor 4 times a week. From his inside and his internal life, he does not find i taxing to do 4 podcasts. Recording a podcast with Dan and Merlin is just talking to his friends for 1,5 hours a day over a coffee, which isn’t difficult. John doesn’t mind talking, on the contrary, it keeps his mind flexible! He doesn’t do any preparation or any post-production either.

Dan is not worried about launching two podcasts at the same time, but the fact that John is doing four shows in total is going to be more the topic of discussion. Dan is concerned that John, a man of leisure, will not be able to keep up with the kind of demanding schedule that a 4-hour a week commitment would become. It might even be 2 hours a day, which sounds like a lot, but looking at the world and how it is run, people usually work more than 2 hours a day, every day. They tote that barge, they lift that bale, they get a little drunk, they land i jail (lyrics) and people in a lot of jobs would agree that they really only doing two hours of work every day. Dan disagrees, because it has been around 20 years since John worked in an office and a large portion of their listeners might be doing more than 2 hours of work every day, but he agrees that there are a lot of distractions in an office. How many times a day are people checking their emails? Yes, they might be ”work-related”, but that is the key phrase here. People are mostly trapped at work, just like you are trapped at school. You are sitting in meetings for two hours listening to somebody reading the screen of their PowerPoint presentation and how much of that is really ”working”? You could just read a single page, you don’t have to be in this room and let this person read it to you, that’s bananas! People will say that they were working, but they were not working really with their minds. Even coders are often doing a lot of busy work, like going from here to there in this code and they know what they have to do, but they just have to get there, filling in the blanks that are in their mind. If A then B, derp derp derp, you are not solving problems all day! Dan has never thought about it that way, but writing code is a lot like being JD Salinger. Dan thinks that all this is a good thing for John and he is excited for him. It gets him back into a stream.

It is very engaging for John to be interacting with an audience and he realized that when he was a kid, he certainly didn’t imagine being a Rock star. It didn’t occur to him being a musician until he was in his 20s, he didn’t sit and practice the guitar 6 hours a day when he was 14, not at all! He practiced the Tennis racket (used as a guitar) more than he practiced the guitar, and was even playing Tennis more than he practiced the guitar, because he was pretty good at Tennis. He didn’t want to be a journalist, because it had too much responsibility in terms of finding the actual truth rather than just writing your opinion about it. John wanted to be a pundit, because that is a great job: You get to know all about stuff and be patiently listening and have empathy for other people’s positions, but then you get to express your own opinion about stuff. You are in the media, you are a performer, but you don’t have to put on spangles and you don’t have to dance. You are also not a talk-show host sitting behind a desk and fane interest in actors, which John cannot do for very long, because actors are not themselves interesting. But John never knew how to become a pundit. How do you become George Will or William F. Buckley? For those two guys, the prerequisite was to be born a rich asshole. John wanted to be Dave Berry, like everybody of his generation, but you can’t just be Dave Berry or Douglas Adams. Those guys are themselves, they are like Steven King. Somehow he is tumbling into finally being a pundit which he wanted to be since he was 10.

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