Music

Fun Facts

At age 24, when we applied for a job as a used car salesman (Employment History), his band practiced on Tuesdays and Thursdays (RL238).

John would never play two sets a night, unless you pay him $30.000. Playing two sets is for chumps, unless one of the sets was an early all-ages or in-store show. The kids are the adults of tomorrow. They will be eternally grateful, they will become your fans, they will become Hollywood film directors and then they will use your music in their big phantasy opera and you will become rich and famous. (RW13)

Whistling and singing in public (RW63)

Dan noticed that nobody is singing aloud anymore while walking through the city and the only place Dan ever hears people whistling is in the bathroom. The current generations don't even whistle to call a taxi anymore. John takes the whistling habit of his uncle Cal as a license to explore melodies as he puttered around, like when he is out for walks or out in a field, telling a little story for himself. For certain jazzy songs, he would not even whistle the main theme, but the horn- or trumpet sub-theme which he always finds quite interesting. The Long Winters records contain sub-themes as well. At times he will whistle a Beatles song or maybe he will try to whistle the highest or lowest note he could get. But he would not go into a bathroom and whistle, because he is pee-shy. This is mainly a male problem, because the women have their own enclosure and do not pee as a public performance. On the other hand, some women might be chatty in the bathroom while others are not.

The first song John ever sang out loud as an adult was Chattanooga Choo Choo. Most of those Big Band songs are instrumental or have lyrics that are never performed. If there would be somebody coming along on the streets while he was singing, he would get embarrassed and stop. If someone would go the other way recognizing him, he would maybe even act out a scene from a musical, grab them and spin them around, which prompted him to tell some stories of creating some magic in every-day life. While dancing with them and singing to them whispering while on a date. Sometimes, the date even responded very well and it turned into a slow-dance.

John’s collection of guitars (RW84)

John once worked at Emerald City Guitars, a store that had a lot of cheap guitars, like 1960s Japanese-made copies of an American guitars. 1960s Epiphones were regarded lesser than Gibsons and 1970s Fender guitars were pretty widely regarded as poorly made, low status guitars. Nobody thought a 1976 Stratocaster was a good guitar and 1982 Stratocasters weren’t worth anything. They were all cheap, but if 50 of them pass through your hands, you discover that one of them is actually a great instrument. The people making those guitars were not set out to make garbage instruments, but they were trying to make good playable things, it is just that they were not artisanal crafts people. On the other hand, the people making guitars in Japan in the 1960s compared to the people making guitars in Mexico now were actually crafts people and were making great guitars.

Those 1970s Fenders are now super-expensive, because newer ones aren’t even as good as those. John collected guitars like a Maestro or Lyle or Univox or some other guitar that in 1998 was considered a $150-$300 guitar, but he would pick the ones that were good, although they were not worth anything. As a result, John has a pretty interesting collection of Harmony’s and Höfner’s and Lyle’s, guitars that at least then were not worth anything, but they are all great. It would just be crazy to get rid of them! The guitars aren’t the problem, but every guitar has a guitar case and if you have the guitars out to use, you have a bigger box that has to rest somewhere else, so John has a closet with 30 guitar cases that he really would like to use for something else.

John's white whale guitar (RW16)

John really wants to have a guitar called Gibson ES-350T that is very hard to get. It originally cost $3000 at a time when John bought guitars for $300. There were two versions: The bottom bout on the original was very round, sensual and feminie, while the later one had a very sharp bout that came to a point. John is only interested in the first version. He has a lot of regrets about the guitar equipment he didn't buy. Even if he would have been able to buy it for $3000 when it came out, there were other $3000 guitars that would have been a better investment. A listener had one time offered John to give him this guitar as a gift if he would use it to finish his album, but he couldn't accept the gift and couldn't guarantee that he would actually finish the album. Dan suggested to crowdfund it, but John heavily rejects that. Those guitars cost now thousands of dollars.

Famous instruments and equipment and their historical value (RL247)

Many famous instruments of all the great players have been stolen and missing over the course of musical history. Jaco Pastorius's famous bass was just missing, for example. Key instruments in the moments of music get stolen out of the back of a venue and the question is if musicians even bring their famous instruments on tour. If Brian May would bring his original guitar on the road, there would probably be three people who's only job is to make sure that this guitar is fine at all times. Clapton took Blackie and Billy Gibbons took Pearly Gates with him. Those guys do use those instruments still. Sting plays his 1952 Telecaster bass. Prince had this famous telecaster with the leopard spot pick guards. Keith Richards can probably bring whatever he wants because he got a whole force around him. But he would throw a 1959 Les Paul into a band saw because who the fuck cares? The instruments of the Stones kind of came and went.

John looked online at guys who collected old The Who amplifiers. A company called Sound City had made some custom heads for Pete Townshend. They later became Hiwatt and continued to supply custom heads to Pete all through the early to mid 1970:s. Some of those amps simply got sold in a garage sale. Some guys had bought an amp in a pawn shop and when they turned it over it had The Who stenciled on it. Turns out, this was one of 9 amps that Pete Townshend used over the course of the 1970:s. That kind of thing happens all the time, as it seems! Abbey Road sold the mellotron from Sgt. Pepper and all the custom built red six recording consoles. Lenny Kravitz owned one of them. It is a thing that gets talked about when you sit down in a recording studio, John has recorded through a board that was used by Bob Marley for one of his first albums. Things didn't matter to people in the same way back then.

When John started touring during the late 1990:s / early 2000:s, radio stations in the US were starting to go digital. CDs had supplanted LPs and carts (similar to an 8-track tape) and it was all going to computers. A lot of those stations had custom-built amplifiers and compressors, whole walls full of beautiful gear made by Ampeg in the 1950:s or by Universal Audio and other now valuable outboard gear. They were just pulling that stuff out and throwing it in the dumpster. The people working in the radio stations were not part of the community that is trading 1176:s. John was walking through the college radio station in UC Davis and their whole hallway had been full of what had been their old studio and it seemed that somebody would just come with a pickup and wheeling it away.

There have always been people who recognized George Washington's swords and that they mean something. We have several of his swords still. If people had always thought like we think now, we would have every pair of John Adams's socks. Assigning such a tremendous value on ephemera might have started in the 1980:s, but most of it has been lost in time. In the 1960:s, a rock-poster from the 1950:s didn't mean that much. We don't have Genghis Khan's stirrups either.

In the world of comic books there is a process called grading, where you send your book to an organization that evaluates it and encases it in a slab of plastic, it is called blocking. Sure, if you have one of the first Supermans, then you want to take care of it, but how many of your comics to you want in a slab of plastic?

How to fret a G chord (RL242)

In music John catches himself all the time doing things he learned in his early days when he learned the guitar. In April 2017 he asked Ted Leo, Aimee Man, Jonathan Coulton and some others: How do you fret an open G chord? He got back 7 different answers, starting a huge discussion between people who have been playing guitar for 30 years. The main bone of contention was: Do you include the extra D on the B-string? Ted plays the D in the G every time. John always plays the low G on the E-string in his C chords. The reason for asking this question in the first place was that he became self-conscious about fretting his G in the old cowboy-day-one-of-guitar lessons way and it felt unsophisticated all of a sudden. Jonathan Coulton has this whole philosophy of a G-chord, involving muting strings with the fat parts of his finger, keeping the chord wide open so he can do all those Jackson Browne twingity twangities with his other fingers. He plays the G chord basically with his pinky on the top and his thumb on the bottom, which was very controversial, but he had that smug Yale music degree thing.

Waltz #2 (RL125)

Four years ago, John borrowed a car from a friend that he is still driving today. There is one of her mixtape-CDs in the stereo, but John never figured out where the CD changer was, so all he listened to in the car over the last 4 years is this one mixtape. The firs song is Waltz #2 by Elliott Smith and the second song is terrible. You can tell that she wanted to come back into a better mood, but it is so terrible that John has never listened to the rest of the mixtape. He gets in the car, turns on the stereo, listens to Waltz #2, sometimes he listens to it again and then he turns the stereo back off. He has been doing that for 4 years. When John gets into the car in the morning and has a lot of things to do that day, he listens to that 3,5 minute song and he is kind of useless for the rest of the day. Another problem is that John finds it a perfect work, meaning when he comes to his destination he asks himself what the point of anything is. The song concludes with cellos and John imagines that when they recorded it, the whole band was in a room, á la Pet Sounds, and there were these six cellos sitting there waiting until the very end to play their part. If Merlin would record an album on a cassette and there was room at the end, sometimes he would do a little mix, but during the end of the cassette era he would just record his favorite song on repeat and then he would listen to Minor Threat's Out of Step 11 times in a row. John interjects that there are 20-second snippets of My Bloody Valentine that he could listen on repeat for eternity, but he wouldn't get anything done, because he would just disappear in the music.

Bands breaking up and coming back together (RW65)

A lot of John's peers from is musical career have previously announced they are going to break up, like the LCD Soundsystem, who had their "Last Show Ever" at the Madison Square Garden in 2011. In 2015, they put the band back together and had another go at it. John was so offended by it, because if you want to take a break for 3 years, just take a break! Don't do an emotional last show.

Eric Johnson, a friend of John, has a band called The Fruit Bats and was at some point about to break up the band. John recommended him not to, but rather release a solo album. His friend insisted that he needed the closure and did a public breakup with a Last Tour Ever, started his new career and continued to tour as a solo act. It is very hard to start over like that. On one of their first tours, The Long Winters were the support band of Ken Stringfellows solo tour. They were his backup band and they were opened the show, meaning they were playing two shows a night. Ken had just come off the final ever Posies tour and toured with Jon Auer playing acoustic Posies shows. They were selling 1000 tickets hand over fist a night and Ken wanted to follow this up with his solo record and reap this harvest. They had high expectations for this kind of ticket sales, but some nights there were only 20 people in the room and it was a pretty bumpy road. After that Eric put The Fruit Bats back together, because he didn't have success with his solo tour. As John was saying: he should never have broken up with the Fruit Bats in the first place.

AM radio stations and Frank Sinatra (RL184)

John's truck is a 1979 GMC Suburban, doubling down on the vintage GMC theme together with his GMC RV. The truck has an AM radio with only one speaker in the middle of the dash. The one station he can listen to is the Big Band program of KIXI. As the big band generation died, the old remaining people were the silent generation born in the 30:s, before the Baby Boomers and after the Greatest Generation. They don't have a name, but they had the worst musical taste ever. KIXI is playing a lot of Frank Sinatra, a national teen heartthrob. Back in the late 1980:s, Merlin got a funny album by Frank Sinatra that had been recorded during the time when musicians went on strike in the 1940s, so all the songs have some weird a cappella background singing. At that time Frank Sinatra was a wash-up. His career had been on the skids in his 30:s, then he went to jail, he was an American hero, but he was a horrible person. His estate is the reason why we have more careful control placed on the IP of dead people, lobbied by Tina Sinatra who ran his empire since his death in the 1990s. This is the music John can hear in the truck, so he generally leaves the radio off.

John keeps seeing those pictures of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Bob Marley, John Lennon and Roy Orbison all playing pool, called "Legends" by Chris Consani. It looks a bit like Dogs Playing Poker, often printed on an aluminum mirror. The grouping is like the ultimate Travelling Wilburys, a musical fan-fic. What would James Dean do in that band? Play the drums?

Recorded music (RL159)

When John listens to the AM radio station KIXI in the car, it often sends him into a reverie because they are playing the Big Band music his father loved. Most people alive today have never lived a day without recorded music and it is easy for us to not understand how new it still is. John’s dad was the first generation who could listen over and over to the original recordings that made up their culture. The music John’s dad’s dad loved was from 1913 and it was all sheet music which required people to play it on the piano. John is only the second generation in the history of his family to have recorded music, which also means that he is the first generation that is able to listen to his father’s music after he died.

John's dad could have listened to his mother play El Cóndor Pasa or Fat Li´l Feller Wid His Mammy´s Eyes (by Paul Robeson), but he wouldn’t ever have been able to hear the music as his father heard it. John can listen to the exact same records that his dad heard and experience it through that first membrane of distance and nostalgia. John had listened to this music while he was sitting at his dad’s feet and his dad had been nostalgic for his youth while it was still alive and while it was still current. Now John is nostalgic for his dad’s youth and John can still hear what it sounded like. We have entered a new, unprecedented iteration of memory in human experience.

When we look back in time we have this impermeable barrier somewhere before writing was invented. We can go back to the Sumerian culture, we can go back to the Egypt and Etruscan civilization, but at a certain point we hit that wall before writing. The vast majority of history is invisible to us except for some tools and some marks left on the land. Right now we are at another one of those thresholds and it is already difficult for us to look back before the time of recording when people hardly left a record. There are some books of Napoleon at Waterloo, but only a select group of people ever wrote a book. There is some sheet music, but how can we know how the music was once played?

We are right now just at the beginning of the era where everyone is recording and everything is being documented. The radio was new when John's dad was a kid and he didn’t have to make the transition to a world of recorded music as his father had to. There is something magical about those early recordings, but also something so fragile. When John is listening to a piece of music from 1940, he is feeling it on behalf of his own youth at his dad’s feet and he is feeling it on behalf of his dad's youth that was transmitted to him. When his daughter will be a middle-aged woman, that music and these memories will have been transferred to her through three generations, translated and garbled and diluted, with some aspects of it intensified. We are creating a new kind of collective memory where the actual, original recording will persist and 10 generations from now, people will still be able to hear that Benny Goodman recording. The question is if that secondary, footnoted information will come along the way, like what this music meant to certain people in their past.

John Philip Sousa was a very strong critic of recorded music. He was one of many who said that recorded music will put musicians out of business. How would they make money if they couldn’t play live for people anymore? It turned out to be an evolution and things have changed. People before John’s father could only appreciate music in the room. By the time his father came around, that experience was still available, but they could also record it. Still, music was not on demand yet. You could wait for a song to come on the radio or you could spend money on a jukebox when you went out for pizza. In those days, you might have had one photo of your great-grandfather that you really didn’t want to lose. Maybe you could make a copy, but you had the photo and it was the photo. Now we have thousands of photos we can look at any time we want. How will the whole medium evolve for generations to come?

Merlin remembers listening to Hank Williams with his dad. It was on an 8-track that broke by the time he had died. Merlin could continue to experience that music, but he didn’t have that artifact anymore. It wasn’t like his dad's watch or that one photo, but it was more easily replaceable. When Merlin plays with his daughter in the backyard, he always puts Hank Williams on.

For Merlin’s and John’s parents, music was an investment. You would buy a Time Life collection of songs with the top-hits of the 1960s, because it was an inexpensive way to get it and then you would take care of that. Even that is already a weird bastardization of how people listened to music before, where they would sit down and listen to an opera or to Beethoven’s 5th. How will the experience of music be any different in the post-streaming age? When John's and Merlin's kids will listen to Benny Goodman, will it just be a remix? Will they sit down and listen to the album that Sing Sing Sing is on from 1937? It is entirely possible that they will be hearing the original recording of Benny Goodman and simultaneously hearing the remixes of it and simultaneously be churning on all the information about Benny Goodman. They will have access to all the information! They might listen to it and may have way more access to it than we do, but they might no longer have the emotional or personal connection to it.

Microphone technique and music recording (RL244)

The voice of a sportscaster makes the same sound as if the person is angrily yelling at somebody. It evokes the same emotion. You can't talk like that naturally, because you would wreck your voice. How did Bobcat Goldthwait do it all those years? Merlin uses the radio host Alex Jones as an example, who has a very low and grinding voice in real life, but he sounds bigger and growlier when they record him. John suspects that this due to mega-compression. He had talked to a radio DJ recently who was on an interview on KEXP. The KEXP DJ set the compression on himself super-slammed, making him always sound a little bit louder and a little bit better than the guest. John's friend recognized the effect and used it to his advantage by talking very quietly so the compressor would grab onto his voice and make him the louder of the two, effectively gaming the system.

Chris Cornell of Soundgarden made almost no sound at all while singing. On the record it sounds like he is killing it, but he is moving very little air. He was churning through monitor guys because they needed to bring up his vocals in the monitors and had a hard time letting him hear himself properly. John was wondering for a long time if maybe Kurt Cobain wasn't singing that loud, or if maybe nobody did! Maybe John was an idiot who didn't understand how microphones work and was just working harder, not smarter! John was always capable of making as much noise as it sounded like and he was screaming into those microphones, but maybe he didn't have to? At the end of each shows he was laying on the floor panting, even when he was 20. He could just have turned up the knobs! Merlin wonders if you have to be very self-sufficient in order to be able to sing with a quiet technique, because you have to rely on a very good sound-guy and every venue is different, while if you sing like John did, you can almost do without monitors.

There are often streetcars passing by Merlin's office while he is recording. He wonders if a cardioid or super-cardioid microphone would help suppressing the background noise. The cardioid describes the directionality of the microphone, because you don't want you mic to pick up everything in the room. It makes a difference how far away you are from the microphone and if you talk into the front or into the side. You might also use a noise gate to filter out the streetcar, but that might sound really weird if it is not set up very nicely. Merlin is currently using a Shure Beta 87A, while John is currently on his Beecaster, staged on a giant coffee table book about the history of the Brooks Brothers company, a venerable manufacturer of suits. They discover that the type of microphone they are talking about is spelled cardioid, not cartoid as Merlin kept saying. John talks about techniques how you can improve your sound, like high-pass and low-pass filters, things that work exactly as the name suggests as they pass high or low frequencies. You always use at least some of them in professional recordings, because there is sonic information that is below the level of a recognizable note, meaning you can't hear it, but it still takes up a lot of space in the recording. You don't want a kick drum that is unlimited low, because there is a lot of garbage in the corners of the sound spectrum that you don't want. Even way up high there is a hiss that clouds your sound and is causing you disharmony. The inaudible noise will harmonically resonate with things that you can hear. Sound is this crazy thing where you can make the room sound like it is a different room by virtue of how much of the things that you are not consciously hearing you will put into the recording.

Merlin mentions a YouTube-video about Sugar Ray’s Vintage Recording Studio which recreated every aspect conceivable about the Sun Studio setup from the 1950:s. The video looks into the best way to do a Bill Monroe-style one-mic setup to record a whole band vs what you can do with two or more microphones. You put certain instruments this far away and in that spot so they only get picked up by that area of the mic. Nowadays when we mix a stereo setup, we put the drums and the bass in the middle, you typically pan the guitars wide, like this guitar over here, that guitar over there. You will mix the lead vocals in the middle and spread the harmony vocals, you will put the piano halfway on the right and a little bit on the left. The worst offenders are drum recordings where the drums are mixed stereophonically and the fills start in one ear and move to your other ear. On "The Commander Thinks Aloud" the situation was different, because they did 6 full recordings of Matt Chamberlain's drum set with one microphone and arranged each of them in the stereo field. The first album by the Ramones had the bass only on one side which is very distracting, because the bass has gravity and pulls your ear. The Beatles were mostly recorded in mono and when they finally made stereo mixes from those mono recordings, they put the drums over here and the bass over there. George Martin was a real genius and those mixes are really fascinating to listen to.

Making a record off of Kickstarter (RL244)

During the time when John was touring extensively, he would sometimes be away for 6 weeks and after he had payed everybody in the end, he would have $2000 left. You fund everything out of your own pocket, you hope the van doesn't explode and the system promises you that if you do that enough then the word will get out and you will make $1 million. For 6 years John went all around the world, played his songs for people in all those different places, seeing all those things. He had an awesome time together, made really good friends and loved feeling like a citizens of the world. But had he played only a single show in Seattle, he would have made more money than that entire tour. He got payed in experience and that gets old after a while. Even if you only look at the American tours: Chicago, Boston, New York, West Virginia, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Those were the lucrative shows. Everything else was fucking gas money. If he had just flown to those 8 cities, they would have made just the same. The Presidents were able to tour on a scale, drop in for a Saturday night show in front of a really big audience. They could fly to Stockholm, make $40.000 and fly home. To them it was spending 30 hours and they each get $15.000. Even that ended up to be too much work for them. John didn't have that option.

Ted Leo just got $160.000 in a Kickstarter for a record that is already done. This is better than hoping that the economy for streaming gets better within the next 10 years. "When I Pretend to Fall" came out in 2003. Between 2003 and now John has the exact data how many dollars that record has made him in total, from the first one he sold out of the back of a truck to a girl in Milwaukee, to the download that probably happened right this day. If you think about the successful versions of Kickstarter and Patreon, he could make that kind of money from those funding sources exclusively. Making $160.000 on Kickstarter is more money than what Ted Leo would have made putting that album out on a label and touring it for 2 years. Of course, there is no guarantee that your Kickstarter will be successful, but it is really possible. Maybe you make $11.000 dollars and have to sell the albums out the back of your car. Even if Ted's album is already done, he of course has some fulfillments to do, like play piano in their living room, or give them his car, or donate sperm to a sperm bank of their choice. John should put that in his Kickstarter. For $10.000 I will give you two vials of sperm. I will come to your house, go into your bathroom for 15 minutes and then I will give you a coke can full of sperm.

Limitations of releasing music on vinyl (RW39)

When you wanted to put 10 songs on a record in the olden days, you had to cope with the limitations of a 12-inch vinyl album. In order for the music to sound good, you want big fat grooves in the vinyl! If you put more music on there, the grooves have to be thinner and thinner in order to add all this extra tunige. At a certain point the grooves are too thin to have any musical fidelity and the needle will start to bounce out of it because it is too shallow. The optimal amount of music is about 22 minutes per side and only with the advent of CDs could you start making those hour long albums. The Long Winters record "When I pretend to fall" was available on CD, but it required two entire 12-inch records to reproduce it in vinyl. John always wanted all of his albums be available on vinyl.

Back in 2001 John told his record label to get some vinyl of his first album made, because there were still vinyl manufacturing plants and you could still get vinyl made cheaply and quickly. The label's attitude was that vinyl was dying and only the nerdiest of nerds still played records. He could either spend $5000 on vanity vinyl or spend the money elsewhere to promote the album. This was a terrible Sophie's choice! Then they took him downstairs, showed him 15 crates of John Vanderslice vinyl and told him that they sold 100 of these, but made 1000 of them, which was a real bummer. John agreed to make vinyl "one day" and he actually did make vinyl one day. All the Long Winters records are available on vinyl! Nowadays the vinyl infrastructure is gone and if you want to make vinyl, you have to turn your album in 9 months ahead of time because there are very few places that still press vinyl records, one of them is in the Czech Republic. All that machinery has been junked.

It is the same problem with elementary schools: In the 1950s they built all those mid-century modern neighborhoods and put an elementary school right in the middle of it because they were selling these houses to veterans from WWII who were coming home and having kids. By the 1990s the only people who lived in those neighborhoods were 86 years old and the elementary schools had 6 kids in them, so the city shut down these defunct elementary schools at precisely the moment when mid-30-year-old families decided that mid-century homes were cool and all the 86 year olds died. Suddenly all these houses in neighborhoods where old people were carefully cutting their hedges into balls and dinosaurs, Anaheiming their neighborhoods, were sold to young families and there was demand for this moth-balled elementary school. The city had to spend all this money to reactivate the elementary schools five years later, a thing that happens time and time again!

The same happened to vinyl just at the moment when people fond out that vinyl was the only way to listen to music and Hipsterism expanded so much that it became a mainstream way of living life. Once you take a vinyl plant and throw it into the recycling, you can't just go make another one! So here we are with 9 months of lead time. Back in the day, The Beatles finished Sgt Pepper on November 13th and the release date was January 4th. Now you are looking at a release date 1 year from now except if you are looking at a pure digital release, but John's audience wants vinyl.

Pleasing the critics or pleasing the fans? (RL246)

It is very difficult to remain famous and at the same time be respected by the music critics. Harvey Danger for example was motivated by a desire to be respected by the music critics much more than they were by the desire to be internationally famous. That pressure really took their toll on them. John's pals Death Cab for Cutie worked very hard to get onto the particular ridge that they are on now: Their critical appraisal and the passion of their fans has remained constant throughout their career while they were always growing at a steady pace. They have never really lost it, but they also never hit it big time, despite having been an active band for 20 years. The desire to be critically loved is very powerful, even if everybody is always shittalking critics on Saturday nights.

During the podcast, John was looking at Pitchfork's top 50 albums of 2002. The number 1 album was Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol. There are a lot of bands in the Top 20 that nobody has heard of since. The Long Winters album When I Pretend to Fall was not on the list at all.

Well-written negative reviews (RW39)

The initial response a musician would get on their new album used to be from critics, people who were either paid or self-appointed arbiters. Newspapers had whole sections devoted to arbiters. As a musician you really cared about those initial reviews, even if you didn't care! The worst thing that could happen was a poorly written review, both because you hate to read bad writing, but also because the reviewer often didn't get the album and didn't know what was happening. Even positive reviews sometimes didn't get it!

John remembers one review from an alternative newspaper in Utah of all places, commenting on the Ultimatum EP. They disapproved of the song "Ultimatum" which is about being unable to put down roots and being unwilling to surrender your will to someone else or to the idea of family and community. John should have written this person a letter, saying "Nicely done!", because John understood their disapproval and he would have liked to talk with them about the nature of love. It is very rare to receive such a well-written negative review. Most of them are just useless. One girl from Magnet magazine called him "Bob Dylan in a hoodie" which John found to be a tremendous compliment and his label even took that as the pull-quote on the promotional material. As self-aggrandizing as it was, John didn't mind!

Then there were the message boards where people would be gushing about the band and trading reviews of shows. Everybody on there was a fan, otherwise they wouldn't have bothered to register a screen name just to shit on the band. With the advent of Twitter you got all those "I don't understand what the big deal about this band is, they just suck!" John blocked a bunch of people which was satisfying for a while, but when he was running for office, his campaign staff said that doesn't look good and so he unblocked everybody.

The confusing times of 1980:s music (RL251)

Van Halen had 4 really good albums, then David Lee Roth left and Samy Hagar asked the musical question Why can't this be love? while David Lee Roth puts out Loco del Calor (the video was peak 1980:s with a lot of girls in bikinis, a day at Venice Beach and lots of fisheye shots), and a 14 minutes EP called Crazy from the Heat with covers of California Girls and Just a Gigolo/I Ain't got nobody. David Lee Roth is a show man. The answer to David Lee Roth in a box is not a bigger box, but to let that man out of his box!

John Lennon thought that Paul McCartney was corny and Eddie van Halen thought from the beginning that David Lee Roth was such a cheeseball, always wanting to put more accordion in the thing.

Then came the time with a rip-off of Stairway to Heaven by Far Corporation. There was S.A.W., Kylie Minogue and this was the beginning of the end for John. With that high energy he popped out of 80:s pop.

Around 1987/88 things are starting to get pretty rough and a lot of bands released their poorest work. That time was dominated by Bon Jovi. On a steel horse he rides. Kick by INXS was a low-point. Def Leppard with Adrenalize started to sound like teenage AC/DC comedic stadium rock. John had to bail out of all of that. But then there was also Peter Gabriel's album So in 1986.

This was the first time John strongly began to feel a generation gap. When John was a freshman in high-school, the seniors had music that John identified as his music. Even the music of the guys who had graduated a couple of years before, he still claimed as his: New Wave, Punk Rock, Boston, Aerosmith or Foreigner. John graduated in 1986 and you would think that people who graduated in 1988 would be almost the exact same generation, but he feels he has so much more in common with the class of 1984. In some way, 1984 was the end of the 1970:s while almost all of the cultural touchdowns from the class of 1988 are different. They have different beginning points, they did not come out of an Aerosmith economy, but they came out of New Wave and Pop Metal in a totally different way. 1988 should have been Merlin's and John's musical peak because they were 18/19 years old, but it was such a bad collection of songs. John knew at the time it was garbage and he only listened to the Steve Miller Band because there was nothing else. There were the Harmonican Virgins (more the Moronican Virgins) coming in 1988/89, there was The Bog One, Wako: It was all hippy music.

1988 was also the year the Winona Ryder movie 1969 came out. It showed a lot of scenes with people driving a VW Bus to a soundtrack of Crosby, Stills & Nash. That was the time of AM Radio playing 1970:s music and everyone was buying 7" singles then. Nobody bought a Hollies album, but they bought Hollies singles. It was also the 20-year anniversary of the year the baby boomers crested in 1968 with "1969 is going to make 1988 look like the 42:s". John was 20 years old, celebrating the culture of 20 years ago. Everybody was wearing round glasses and drawing peace signs on their army jackets. There was World Party and it was the feeling that that was the high watermark of the 20th century youth culture. John's generation didn't have their own youth culture because Punk Rock had become the de-facto youth culture of a tiny fraction of youth and everyone else was just listening to Dead or alive with no scene around it. Even The Cult was putting out 1960:s music.

The Seattle-based band Heart was an incredible band in the 1970:s, but in the 1980:s John was wondering what they were doing. John is really good friends with one of their song-writers, a Seattle luminary and Grammy winning artist. Heart saw Grunge in themselves, not the least because Nancy Wilson was married to Cameron Crowe and did soundtracks for his films. Ann Wilson was 40 years old in 1990, which is still pretty young. John heard through the grapevine that Cameron Crowe was a fan of The Long Winters, which is very difficult to verify. Whom do you call to ask about it? John actually went to his publicist and asked them to get him to do something to get this publicly verified, but they didn't have a workflow for this kind of thing.

Then there are all the members of the Eagles, all the members of Genesis and all The Rolling Stones who released solo records, like a payday for the people who had made their epaulets throughout the 1970:s and who were still in charge of the culture. There were no upstarts. Punk Rock was kept out for the most part. New Wave was almost immediately defanged and turned into bubblegum music. Cocaine was an accessory, because that whole generation had this incredibly bad cocaine judgement, but it is hard to pick out what records it influenced. Think about the Eric Clapton hits of the 1980:s or the weird 1980:s Blues-revival with B.B. King suddenly being a huge star! One notable exception is Permanent Vacation by Aerosmith, their come-back record post Run-D.M.C. (see Walk This Way). Despite featuring the garbage track Dude (Looks Like a Lady) it was a killer record!

It was a very confusing time and we may be too close to it to properly analyze it. Every time you think you have the 1980:s by the nose, somebody throws out something like Metallica that doesn't fit into anything.

How SoundScan influenced musical history (RL251)

Songs like Sugar Sugar by The Archies is a legitimately catchy pop song, but there are others where a lot of stuff changed when they flipped the switch to SoundScan. Before SoundScan, record stores would self-report and often try to promote records they had way too many copies on stock of. With SoundScan, the industry discovered that people like Hip hop and Country. Country owned the charts for years after that. The Baby Boomers were in their mid 30s and they were a so much larger generation, shoving Heard it through the Grapevine down John's and Merlin's generation's throats. The Baby Boomers were the most self-congratulatory generation of all times and were self-soaking in their own fairly recent past. Jefferson Airplane had a couple of pretty good hits in the late 1970s, then turned into Jefferson Starship and earned 2 gimme-hits. Pre-SoundScan they had the goodwill and the relationships with the right people and could just tell them to make them a hit.

The epic nature of modern pop music (RL152)

A band like ELO has great songwriting, but you can’t divorce the songwriting from the production. Another example is Donovan: The production of his songs is as important as the song itself and Hurdy Gurdy Man is a sound as much as it is a song, a spooky and groovy and stony-drony kind of feeling. On the other hand you can play any of the great Cat Stevens singles on a Four-string acoustic guitar while standing on the ground in front of a sports stadium with a baseball hat. The song still translates, whereas something would be lost if you would cover Hurdy Gurdy Man in the same way. These days, the song is so much less important than the sound and all the big radio hits are full of these epic-sounding, swelling and chanting big drums with a massive stadium reverb on everything. If this style would be John’s contemporary music, he would be under the impression that his emotions were very important. In the past, music felt as if it was just you and the singer, coming in on pirate radio from Mexico, but nowadays music feels like every song is epic! If you find a song like this to be your tune while you are a kid, you must think it is a very important song and you must be a very important person.

The closest analogy from Merlin’s own youth that he can think of is Disco. KC and the Sunshine Band had a lot of really good Disco party songs, although a lot of the times they were just a groove. It was all about the production and getting the drums, the percussion and the base way high and thumping to make it sound good in a club. The way it sounded was the song, but it was still in the realm of the personal, while music today is trying to convey that you are marching through the dessert waving giant red banners. ”We are an army on the move and we are coming into Hungary”. Taylor Swift's lyrics are still to the effect of "Hater’s gonna hate", but it feels like haters are going to hate in a giant crystal cathedral type of setting. Merlin developed some kind of admiration for pop culture products, even if it is not something he really enjoys. For example: Raise Your Glass by P!nk is a really great tune, but it does have the feeling John is talking about. It is a rallying cry about a party. This is probably the same thing people have been saying since the 1930:s.

A lot of covers of modern pop tunes seek to reinvent the tune in the other direction. They take a really hyped up stadium tune and play a sad acoustic guitar slow weepy cover of it because the only way to do a straight cover is by having 18 people in your band. During the unplugged era in the 1990:s, Nirvanna was unironically doing Meat Puppets covers and they were really reinterpreting them significantly. The tunes did have a chord structure and were not just a drum loop with tons of reverb. When John listens to modern pop music he is feeling this epic swell that he once felt listening to World Wide Live by the Scorpions, but even at their biggest emotional swell, it was still somewhat contained. The way you were supposed to imagine yourself in Metal was as a member of the band. Motown music on the other hand was capturing who you were and you could identify with the song personally, while in Metal you were overcoming your circumstances by being the guitarist in this band and singing the song while the person the song is about is in the back of the auditorium. This evolution has continued and the only way you can put yourself into a song now is as the star who has triumphed over all.

Blending music by genre ignoring context (RL152)

John used to listen to Oldies while in the car and it was very interesting to him watching the criteria of ”Oldies” change over the last 10 years. At first you started to hear Crosby Stills & Nash, but now they will even include Tom Petty. When Merlin and John grew up, the AOR stations were playing Classic Rock. Then there have always been pop stations that you would now call the Top 40 stations, like KOIT in the Bay Area. At some point a lot of stations would start to play the best of the 1970:s, 80:s, 90:s and 2000:s, a mischmasch of unobjectionable music. All that music used to mean so much within the context of its genre. As someone who loves that music and sees a distinction between all those things, it feels strange that we toss it into the same pile mainly based on age with a slight axis on demographics.

Within the dance music radio slot, music is increasingly divorced from its context, which freaked John out as it happened to all of the old people. Putting an AC/DC song next to a Talking Heads song on the radio didn’t make any sense. Those were from different universes! Without knowing about their background, though, they sounded great together. John was in a shop the other day and they played what can only be called dance music mix jam. Every tune had the same disco dance beat, but they were completely agnostic of era. They were playing a seamless mix from Le Freak right into some 90:s British house music right into some contemporary DJ-based jams and then back to Mal Rodgers. This is what young people want. They are only looking for the genre. If you want som chill jams, you can have Tubular Bells, Music for Airports, The Colour of Spring and pretty soon you come to the latest tracks from Ibiza.

It is a Pandora thing where you can make a station and it is a pretty dark art to pick the right band to base your station on. Merlin likes really old country music, but if you make a station based on Hank Williams, you end up with a whole lot of nonsense about regrets and wife-beating, but if you make one based on Hank Snow, you get all of this amazing stuff that is much more contemporary to his time. One of those radio services would show you in the app why it picked that particular song for you. Merlin had a Guided by Voices station and it goes ”We think you would like this song because it includes major chorus vs a fast beat, distorted guitars and lyrics about beer”.

Weird album covers (RL152)

The cover of the Scorpions record Animal Magnetism has really inspired Spinal Tap’s Smell the Glove, but fast forward 40 years it doesn’t really hold up. Merlin was thinking about Lovedrive when John mentioned the name. The cover is done by Hypgnosis who also did the Peter Gabriel records and Wish You Were Here. Basically all the wackadoole photography-based weird covers from the 1970:s were done by those guys. The question with the cover of Animal Magnetism is whether his fly is undone or not. The woman is not looking at his fly area, but maybe the dog is. It is interesting how this cover possibly got chosen in a meeting amongst 5 other designs, but it was the 1970:s! There was that album cover by Blind Faith as well.

Seeing the Scorpions World Wide Live (RL152)

John has seen the Scorpions several times on their World Wide Live tour. He once even made eye contact with Matthias Jabs. Although Matthias surely had 40 of those moments that night, it really stuck with John. Early band member Michael Schenker is a phenomenal guitar player and later formed the Michael Schenker Group (MSG). The songs are less important than the fluidity of his fingers. John saw Michael last year at a barbecue restaurant in Tacoma where every 15 minutes all of the waitresses suddenly jumped on the tables and danced to a song in short-shorts. Then they got down and started waiting tables again. It was really instructive and John was reminded that the rest of the world continues puttering along even as John and Merlin in their Internet tower think they are somewhere else.

John recommends World Wide Live as a great introduction to the Scorpions just as Judas Priest with Unleashed in the East is a great introduction to that band. Another example is Alive by Kiss. Those are live records in name only, recorded in the studio but with crowd noise which makes you feel on stage with the band and the person you love the most is in the room while you are playing your metal solo and they are looking at you.

Starting to like Marilyn Manson (RL189)

John went to see a stadium show with Marilyn Manson and Hole as the opener, the two worst things after Limp Bizkit. He went there as a joke. He was going to have so much fun that he would fill a 64 ounce cup full of semen. John wore his Technicolor Irony Coat and was ready for this show. He was standing at the side of the stage because he has privilege and he is very important. Next to John was Dan Savage, who was on the first rock concert he had even been to. Dan had no rock knowledge at all and John was whispering in his ear and teaching him what was happening. The first band was Monster Magnet, which John kind of liked, more metal than funny. Then Marilyn Manson took the stage and proceeded to put on an extraordinary, phenomenal rock show. There was nothing funny about this, but it was huge! Also Dan Savage loved it. Afterwards, John was completely converted to the Marilyn Manson cause and there was no irony left in him, despite Marilyn doing all the things you are not supposed to do. He transgressed all the societal expectations of gender and power, and he also challenged John's knowledge of how you should treat your staff. He wasn't just walking around in a dirty jockstrap, but he was throwing microphones at his own roadies! That's pretty rock 'n' roll!

Starting to like Tears for Fears (RL251)

Tears for Fears is one of several embarrassing moments for John that he liked later, but despised when it was on the radio. He was also a huge Flock of Seagulls fan. John was at his "good friend" Mike Squires (who has a lot to say because he is too dumb to know that nobody cares) house in Portland in 2002, probably because he was out of gas and Mike was the only one he knew in the area. Mike has a formidable vinyl collection that he cares very much about. He put on Tears for Fears The Hurting and presented it as a great album. After some back and forth, John developed an appreciation for the band and now he feels like he should have liked them all along, but he didn't like getting educated about this by Mike Squires. Songs from the Big Chair has been overplayed, but there are singles from that era that John never got tired of. On the other hand, he still can't listen to Everybody wants to rule the World because it is such a prom theme. John can listen to Don Henley's All She Wants To Do Is Dance all day, although it was constantly on the radio and is pretty bad by all standards.

2017-July: Meeting a former Hair Metal woman (RL251)

John took his daughter to little girl choir class. Apparently the genders are still really separated in this environment. There are no boys in sight there whatsoever, not even waiting in the hall. It is a very mother-daugther-thing and so John is the dad at choir, standing in the hall listening to their ABC-song and talking to the other moms. The school lies in one of Seattle's more affluent, yet still Downtown neighborhoods where people are buying 1902 houses with 8 bedrooms. One or both of the couple work at Microsoft or Amazon, maybe Starbucks. They have more money than what they know what to do with, but they want to retain their downtownness, so they buy a house in downtown. There are a lot of people like that at the playground around John's daughter's school, some of them either University of Washington professors or people with a very short commute to the Microsoft campus.

One of the moms with an East Coast accent said they moved to Seattle in the 1990s and now she has this big house and this little girl and is momming it up. John said he is momming it up, too and even he was here in the early 1990s! He asked her if she moved here for Grunge, but she replied that she hated Grunge which sounded very unusual to John. She was from Philadelphia and was part of the New Jersey Hair Metal scene of the late 1980s. John pulled up a church pew and sat down because he wanted to hear everything about it. He wanted to feel her frustration! Until now he had only read about it in magazines. She told him that she is not rocking any of that now, but all of a sudden her face got transformed while she continued talking about it. John could see her in a Hair Metal band: Poodle hair 1,5 feet high, Spandex and hanging out with the guys with pointy guitars. She said it was a great time from 1985 to 1990 when she was part of the scene and then Grunge came along, which was where John's story picks up.

Soon she realized that her life was a dead end and she went on a road trip to Princeton. She asked somebody in a record store what they would have to do to live in a place with trees and the answer was to go to college. That was her moment when she decided to go to college. She moved to Washington and felt that she was too grown up for Rock'n'Roll. She became a computer person, worked in computers, retired, met her husband and now they live in this beautiful home. Her story was one of those stories who would just walk past John on 15th Avenue, like two ships passing in the night, she looking like a rich mom from the neighborhood, and he looking like a delivery guy. And yet, here it was, history in the making. She invited John over to her house and pulled out her photo album. She, laying across the hood of a Camaro. Warren Coccurullo. John never thought he would ever be so close to this, because he always regarded it as the enemy. She had those photo albums in the attic. It is her past that she never gets to talk about, because nobody in her circles is interested and it is not relevant to what she is doing now. But as soon as John pulled that church pew over and asked her to tell him everything, the more she talked the more John wanted to hear even more. For him, the streets of Philadelphia only exist in a mythological way, like Heavy Metal Parking Lot, like a message beamed from outer space.

Merlin and John continue to talk about related artists, like Rat and Bret Michaels from Poison. The guitarist from Dokken, George Lynch had a sticker on his guitar that said "Balls"!

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