Harvey Danger

Dinner with Sean Nelson

At one night after he was back from his Big Walk through Europe, John dropped off a friend on 19th Avenue in Seattle. A bunch of people he knew from the Rock scene were milling around out front. They greeted him and invited him to the premiere of Harvey Dangers new music video world premiere party. John was not at all into it and did not want to go in there, socialize with all those people and watch the new music video that would depress him. But Sean Nelson, the singer of Harvey Danger, looked over to John and beckoned to him because he wanted to talk to him and have lunch together. He had some ideas he wanted to run by. Sean was one of the editors of The Stranger and a known voice in town even before his band had become famous. John agreed.

They went to Morton's Steak House and had one of those once-in-a-lifetime effortless conversations. John was 31, Sean was probably 26 and he had an intellect that was real, combined with an extensive knowledge and a really good hang on anything cultural. John felt like he had discovered someone who understood him more completely than even the people he thought were his peers. Both walked out content and they decided to meet regularly for steak and cigarettes, because it suddenly felt very important. The problem of having a generalists mind is that you never feel fully understood or fully in conversation with other people, because you always have to modify your conversation to the other person's world view.

This weekly lunch with Sean felt light and very exciting after having realized that The Big Walk didn't really give him anything. Once (in the dark time before podcasts) he brought a tape recorder and he thought they could transcribe it like My Dinner with Andre, just not as boring.

Getting hired by the band

One day John's good friend Mike Squires asked John if he could play the piano. Mike was known as the guitarrist in Duff McKagans band Loaded, but at the time he was playing in the Nevada Bachelors and was part of the same small music scene as The Western State Hurricanes. John didn't really know much more than where the notes are and a few simple chords. Mike had been asked by Harvey Danger to be the second guitar and they had asked if John could play the piano and he had told them that he could. Harvey Danger had a record that was delayed in a label shake-up, the follow-up record to the big record, and they were heading on tour and they need two extra utility guys to flesh out the sound. John said Yes.

John was scheduled to rehearse two days later, so he spent a few days trying to move his fingers around and going from Cmaj to Gmaj without having to count. Harvey Danger's lead guitar player Jeff Lin is a classically trained pianist and said right away: "You don't know how to play the piano at all", but John countered that he didn't know the guitar either, but he had learned. Sean really wanted to have him in the band and John was a likeable guy. He could sing backing vocals which was an asset and Sean wanted an ally, a sergeant at arms maybe, which was weird for John in hindsight because he doesn't think of himself as someone's consigliere, but he has still filled that role for people over the years: Someone who isn't a full member of the organisation but just a friend who travels along because it seems fun to have him around. John is in that role sometimes with Hodgman. He normally sees himself as the star, but usually he ends up in that role. This was the first instance. They were going to pay him and he was on stage every night, but his job was just to hang around.

John as the bass player

The band went on tour and John followed Sean to all the radio shows as a band member of Harvey Danger. Sean was so sick of talking to morning zoo DJs, he would instead bring John as his own conversationalist to all those situations and would talk to him on air. Sometimes when they would play acoustic on air, Sean would play the guitar and John would sing.

Towards the end of the tour in October of 2000, their bass player Aaron Huffman got really sick and had to go to the hospital. They were on their way to California to be on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborns, but Aaron couldn't make it and had to fly back to Seattle to go to the hospital. The others looked at John and asked if he could play the bass. He had never played the electric bass, had never held it in his hands. But he was confident and said "Yeah, it's like a big guitar" So they took the bass out and John was sitting in the back of the plane with his headphones on and practiced the song Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo. He continued playing in the limo from the airport to the hotel, because he was going to be on national TV playing an instrument he had never played before, so he was frantic and on the next day he had blisters on all his fingers.

They played a song they had never rehearsed with John on the bass, but adrenaline brought them through. After the show they said: "Well yeah, we have the rest of this tour to finish, our next gig is in Buffalo in two days, can you learn all the songs?" The bass lines were quite advanced and not just bass notes, so John's piano knowledge of the songs did not simply translate to the bass. He went back to the hotel, learned all the songs on the flight and on the bus to Buffalo. They went to stage and played the whole set. He wouldn't want to hear a recording of it, but he was playing the base in Harvey Danger for the rest of the tour. This was a huge confidence boost for John, because he always thought music was a magical sorcery. Here he was, having learned two whole new instruments.

The end of Harvey Danger

At the end of the tour, he had saved all the money he had made, around $10.000 dollars and he had learned how to play the piano and the bass. As the tour was ending, it was evident that the label did not support the new album and the band had somehow ran it's course, so it felt like the end and Sean was looking for a new ting to do.

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