RL199 - The Wrong Kind of Warlock

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John’s never seen a half-hobbit, referring to the Lord of the Ring universe where there are no half-Hobbits, but there are half-Elves although Hobbits seem much closer to Men initially.

The show title refers to John wanting to rock unruly eyebrows, but not a mole on his face with hair growing out of it because he is not a warlock but a wizard.

The episode is sponsored by Cards Against Humanity who asked Henry Birdseye to say ”Hi!” to John.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

John getting a sebaceous cyst removed (RL199)

John starts the episode singing Merlin’s name in the usual fashion and Merlin picks it up and sings John’s name in different ways. Merlin is disoriented, John is super-duper disoriented. He is super-punctual today, which is unusual, because he just had a sebaceous cyst removed from his head 20 minuts earlier and he is now cystless for the first time in over 10 years (see RL359). It was a big lump that John had for 12-15 years and he was touching it all the time at the back of his head, like a reverse temple, at the same angle as a temple, but on the back.

He couldn’t really wear a hat very comfortably, it interfered with his sleep, but he never really did anything about it because: ”Meh!” When he first got it he was: ”Oh dear!”, but then he did some asking around and learned that it was just a sebaceous cyst, which was nothing. He might have mentioned it to doctors before, but they showed no concern about it, no-one even wanted to money that they would get for removing it, but now John has a new primary care doctor and he finally got it removed.

John had been thinking about this guy for years, any time he reached up and touched his head. He had imagined taking it out himself with an X-Acto knife many times, and he has taken out cold sores bigger than this, except that this is a sack the size of a turkey liver full of hummus and it was just sitting there. The doctor offered to take it out in 20 minutes, he put some anesthesia into it and he cut if out with his X-Acto knife. John made sure he was able to see it because sometimes they just throw things away.

People who like to watch other squeezing pimples, finding your sex duck, your special thing (RL199)

There is an enormous subculture of people who relax and deal with the stresses of the day by watching YouTube videos of people squeezing pimples. (John had mentioned that in passing in RL198) Last week he was still on the fence about it and he is surprise they haven’t talked about this 50 times already because he was thinking about it all the time. Within the context of the zit-popping culture sebaceous cysts are right at the top. John would never want to pop anything, let alone on somebody else.

John once dated a girl who was a strong picker. There are a lot of pickers out there who just want to lay there and pick at you! It was very intimate to her, something they would do after love-making. She was monomaniacal about it and she and her girlfriends would pick at each other and talk about it later. Later John realized that this was not uncommon, but it was not a thing you would bring up when you are casually dating. Given the opportunity, if you broach the topic with somebody, you will typically find more people than you thought. It is a very tabu exciting thing, like 50 Shades of Grey for dermatology. Before the Internet you might not even realize that you have a special thing.

Imagine the first person who said on their wedding night: ”Would you spank me?” There are certain kinds of special things that you are aware of, like butt-stuff things or brassieres or toes or shrimping (which is when you go on a boat and get shrimp, it is not like a Hot Karl, which is the family of a Dirty Sanchez), and this dovetails with finding your duck (see RL43) Today it would not be weird if you asked a lady if they would spank you, whereas you might still feel some compunction about saying ”Can we have some heavy petting and then I pit your zits a little bit?” It falls in the category of finding your sex duck.

When John was young spanking was pretty tabu, you would find a 8mm movie about it and there would be people in Schreiner outfits spanking people in their frilly panties. They make it look like a cute thing that you do this one time, but some people’s special things very much become part of the workflow. Over time we became desensitized and now spanking seems like normal sex play, it is not a big deal and you don’t need to join a special club. John is not sure how much of this is Millennial mythology and how much of it is Millennial truth.

There is a line of thinking that is attributed to Millennials that they want to keep their virginity, but they did engage in butt, which John thinks it is false because if someone has been in your butt your virginity is a done deal. It always seemed that butt stuff was an elevation from normal sexy stuff. You have to walk before you run. Usually you start in the front and move back, the opposite of how you put on hair product.

Merlin is not a picker of body parts, but he has reached the age where he is picking at his eyebrows. He is fortunate to have a pretty good head of hair. Everybody is mad at Apple right now because their growth has gone down, it is not that they are losing money, but their growth has slowed down. For Merlin it has not been a big growth quarter for the top of his head, whereas in the iPhone vertical you have the ears, the nose, and the eyebrows, and that is a fecundity of apps. His daughter might be more of a picker than he is and they might be sitting there reading a book and she will be staring at him because there is an eyebrow and he has to go get the fancy tweezers and get the one Brezhnev hair. She doesn’t want to see it, though, because she doesn’t like blood or eyebrows.

It starts out that Merlin is only going to go to the bathroom to pull out that one rogue hair, but then you are looking and you discover two more rogue hairs there on the other side and pretty soon you are one of those people who don’t have eyebrows. John’s dad got big unruly wizard eyebrows as years went on, and John’s sister hated it and it became a trigger for her (see RL238). When John gets a rogue eyebrow now every once in a while and she sees it she will get furious. She used to sit and trim her dad’s eyebrows with some scissors, just because it drove her bananas. John on the other hand thinks it is going to be awesome when he gets those crazy eyebrows like his dad.

Some people have a really distinctive mole and for some people it is more like a hillock, but those will grow a hair or four. There was guy in Merlin’s neighborhood who had a face mole the circumference of a quarter that was raised in the same proportion as a pitcher’s mount, and he had a mole beard with 4-9 hairs that were 2-5 inches long. How could you not get rid of those unless that was a thing that you were really exporting? There is owning it and then there is rocking it, and that was a ”Fuck you!” mole beard. If John had a big mole on his face he would almost certainly try to get it removed.

Big crazy eyebrows comports exactly with John’s sense of himself that he should be wearing a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows and marching up and down in front of a large lecture hall, waving his hands around, the pocket of his pants covered with chalk dust, even though it is a white erase board and no chalk is required, but he still keeps a bag of chalk in his pocket. But a large mole with hair growing out of it is the wrong kind of warlock and John doesn’t consider himself a warlock, but he considers himself a wizard and there is a major difference.

Warlocks, witches, wizards, Lord of the Rings creatures (RL199)

A warlock is the male version of a witch, although he has different duties and a different skillset, but the same alignment. They are more or less synonymous. Is there a female equivalent to a wizard or are female wizards just also wizards? Merlin is thinking about that because he has Harry Potter on his mind and in that book they are referring to witches and wizards, which is like referring to Sergeants and Colonels. John feels like warlocks and witches are standing around a cauldron whereas wizards are carrying some kind of ball or staff. A wizard might have a chalk bag in his robes, but also some other stones, some of them shiny, some of them semi-opaque, maybe also a familiar in the shape of a large-eared monkey or a bat that can talk or an owl.

Merlin recently learned that in the world of Lord of the Rings wizards are a kind of angel, it is not a hopped-up human, but a human-ish angel. They are going to get some letter about this one. John has not fully digested The Silmarillion (book by J.R.R. Tolkien), but as far as he understands there is never ever any mention of God, there are just people who are good and bad and they get more and more powerful. If there was a God, you would think that he at some point would say that Sauron is super-duper bad and he is using bad magic. Sauron gives life to bad orks, even Saruman was birthing Uruk-hai. John never got the sense that Gandalf was an other, although he is never referred to as a man.

Merlin is referring to a video by CGP Grey explaining about the Lord of the Rings mythology. He reads a bit from Wikipedia, which is never wrong: ”Wizards of Middle Earth are a group of being outwardly resembling Men, but possessing much greater physical and mental power. They are also called the Istari by the Elves, they were sent by Valar to assist the people of Middle Earth to contest Sauron.” Hobbits are people, but they are little. John does not believe that there are any half-Hobbits. Although Elves seem more other and more foreign to Men because of their eternal life, you can have a half-Elves.

Merlin thinks that you needed to get the Elves pretty drunk if you want them to mate with a human because they are pretty fancy about being Elves. John is not so sure about that, and although having sex with a human would be somewhat slumbing, but when did that ever stop a person. Merlin wants to call it on the DL, which started within the African-American community as a description for being secretly gay, but acting straight, but John doesn’t think that Elves having sex with humans is on the down-low, but there is an element of sexiness to degradation.

John has never seen any reference to a half-Hobbit, which might mean there is a rougher trade to having sex with a Hobbit. In the books they don’t talk a lot about girl hobbits, but in the movies the camera loves a girl hobbit, those voluptuous, red-haired, freckled girl-hobbits are serving big platters of beast and John was wondering while watching the films why there are no half-Hobbits. John could make a half-Hobbit, send him through a round-doored mound house and let him make some half-Hobbits! He is going to go in there and eat a second breakfast.

Merlin imprinted on the word Warlock through Bewitched (1964-72 Sitcom), although it is all about the witches. The warlock is played by Paul Lynde, and any time he is on the scene he is stealing the show. He made warlocking sexy. John noticed that all the warlocks in the Bewitched cosmology are on the down-low, they are a little gay. This show is an early example of disappearing a character from the show. Darrin changed from one guy to a completely different guy. They continue to discuss the plot of this sitcom series.

John as a magic user (RL199)

There was also the movie Escape to Witch Mountain that was in the young Jodie Foster era. She was not in that movie, but she was in Candleshoe. Escape to Witch Mountain was a very formative film for John because the brother and sister had some magic powers and they were being pursued by Donald Pleasence. Adults were bad and had authority and power over them, but then they could do little tricks like levitate cats and unlock doors.

As an 7-8 year old John wasn’t ready to imagine a world without adults, but he was prepared to imagine a world where he had telekinesis and could unlock a door or get a bowl of ice cream from the kitchen to float into his room while nobody was watching. In was very influential and scary to John and it turned out that they were stranded UFOs. They can talk to each other with psionics which John understands to be a Dungeons & Dragons power.

Merlin is a slack-D&D player and never did anything with psionics, which frustrated some people. It depends on what you grew up with. Merlin is somebody who came to the X-Men late and is a fan of Phoenix and Scarlet Witch. We are talking about mind things, like an illusionist and a magic user. Ricky Jay is a this-world magic user, he could grind up some herbs and make a little spell that causes you to forget the last six hour or makes a candlestick dance.

John’s first D&D character was a magic user and a half-Elf because that is how John thought of himself. In the past he kept being a little disappointed and confused why he couldn’t conjure an orb, but that long predated his exposure to Lord of the Rings or any kind of TV-show magic, but he couldn’t understand that if anybody could do it, then it surely would be him, so why can he not do it? Then it was equally hard to accept that nobody can because that didn’t seem right, either. Humans can do quite a bit of magic, we build bridges over rivers, it all seems magical, but why would we not been able to act at a distance by tinkling our fingers or even just holding out your palm and little sparks dance?

Superheroes, superpowers, X-Men (RL199)

Merlin continues to talk about X-Men and their abilities. Scarlet Witch could change the likelihood of things going her way, like when Harry Potter takes the good luck serum (Felix Felicis). They also give the odds and defensive skills to the women. It is what makes Peter Parker so great. He wants to take what he has and use it in a good way - with great power comes great responsibility. They still talk about the character developments of several X-Men. They mention Big Blue Penis Man. John imagines a mutant whose ability was to sneeze glitter, but they wouldn’t be very popular. If you could talk to mice you will notice that mice don’t have that much to say.

John’s friend Mike Squires, who is a terrible person, said that if he had any superpower, it would be to telekinetically give anyone explosive diarrhea (see RW50). Even if you are fighting Captain America or Jean Grey, if you give her explosive diarrhea, all of a sudden she has bigger problems and she has something else to think about. If you give Superman super-diarrhea, he all of a sudden in his super-drawers got a fucking problem and he is going to want to get out of there and get cleaned up. Nobody is going to want to fight you when they are all messy! According to Mike explosive diarrhea defeats all other superheroes and bad guys. Think about somebody who is so fucked up that they will continue to fight you after that, It is an awful idea, Mike is a terrible person, but it is fucking great.

Merlin is attracted to defensive skills, like teleporting. Kitty Pryde has the ability to phase through solid objects and if there is a hostage situation she can sneak people out through the floor. John wonders if you could instill crushing self-doubt in someone, even temporarily. The character-name would be Jewish Mom. Imagine Superman, and Mike Squires causes him to have explosive diarrhea and then John gives him momentary crushing self-doubt. Who cares if he is as strong as kryptonite!

After the most awful Mike Squires put into his head that it wasn’t necessary that you have strength, John started calling himself the Oxydizer (see RL34, RW50) Rust wouldn’t work against Superman necessarily, but John is thinking more of a mutant power rather than a superpower. As a mutant on Earth you could wreak a lot of havoc by rusting all metal. If the cops are coming at you, you are not going to kill them like Magneto who is turning their guns on them, he is a baddie, but you just rusted the guns! You haven’t killed them, you are no thread to them, but you have just taken away their human power. You could be an agent of peace and turn swords into rusty plow shears.

Merlin wonders if less and less things are made out of metal, but even in your titanium airplane the clamp that holds the wires of your fly-by-wire system or the staple that holds everything together is still made out of steal. Even a ceramic gun that people are so worried about getting through airport security still has a steal barrel because you can’t make the barrel out of ceramic. Merlin thinks that it would suck to have a power that when you come up with it in the 1940-60s it is incredibly powerful, but over time it becomes less relevant, like you have the ability to disrupt 9600 baud modems or the ability to cause all hair pomade to be gone and all the pompadours fall.

The Beatles (RL199)

John feels a bit like that and his superpowers are becoming more and more irrelevant, like the ability to tell a 1954 Les Paul from a 1956 Les Paul nobody cares anymore, the ability to argue with someone for 4 hours about whether The Long and Winding Road (by The Beatles) is a good song, although John was practicing it just yesterday, 20 years from now it is going to be a lot harder. John is an originalist, so he doesn’t like Let It Be… Naked (album by The Beatles), except as an interesting document.

He does not at all believe the Paul McCartney revisionism because he does not trust him to not be working to try and preserve what he imagines he wants his legacy to be. He claimed that he was the first one to take LSD, and maybe that is true, but it seems weird that he is saying that now. His whole business of ”We never wanted Phil Spector to do all that” seems suspect. Are you sure you didn’t?

Merlin buys that with XTC and Todd Rundgren because he had this record and he decided to make it way better and do some stuff to it. Merlin likes what he did to it and in the fullness of time even Andy Partridge came around on Skylarking and said that Rundgren had done a pretty good job with that. Merlin doesn’t hate The Long and Winding Road, but it is somewhat slight as a song. The bones of the song are not that great and it is a little grandma-y. It is not a bad song, but what you remember about it is probably the Phil Spector part.

The lyrics are terrible and they are a foreshadowing of all of McCartney’s garbage lyrics from the 1970s. This was the moment in The Beatles where John is no longer contributing to Paul. He is with Yoko somewhere, he is strung out. Merlin’s albatross is that he used to be one of those people that he now rolls his eyes about: He didn’t know the full facts about what John’s life was like, he thought he was mostly an being asshole, but he was incredibly depressed, he was probably addicted to heroin at that point, he was a very trouble person.

Merlin considering himself a Beatleologist is silly because he never knew the extend to which even by 1965/66 John was not a happy person in The Beatles, and what he thinks of as their creative zenith was an improbable fluke that they had 2-3 records as good as they did because John was so checked out and he was depressed. John thinks that John was an anti-authoritarian and he was happiest when he was assailing the walls of the castle, and once he was inside the castle, who could he hate? He was the top and everyone kowtowed to him.

The bowing and scraping and groveling that most people did around John Lennon ca 1966/67, he could no longer be antiauthoritarian. He could give back his MBE. He always considered himself an underdog and an outsider and all of a sudden he was the consummate inside whereas Paul just loved it, he was a performer, he was having a good time in 1962 and he was having a good time in 1966, which was his greatest strength. John must have found Paul incredibly intolerable when John’s role as the gadfly and the sniper was gone because Paul flourished in that world. Heroin took him out of the game and also disinterest, and Paul adopted his lyrics to John’s state of mind.

Why Don’t We Do It in The Road is obviously a great Rock’n’Roll song, but a pretty weak effort from a songwriter’s perspective. He is pandering not to the audience but to John because the one thing that will get John out of bed in the morning is Rock’n’Roll via the Blues. It is basically a 12-bar Blues song. Paul is trying every angle not only to win back John, but also to fill the space that John previously occupied and that wasn’t the best job for Paul. His job was to make the killer melodies. John reads some lyrics from The Long and Winding Road that are good because Paul is the bridge-meister. If he was just a script-fixer for other bands, Pop music would be better.

John doesn’t think Phil Spector should have gotten involved, that was some trendy pandering, like having Eric Clapton play on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It didn’t belong there, they shouldn’t have done it, but they were bored and they were insecure. When they added Billy Preston it livened things up because he was such a positive presence and such a great team player, a super-fun guy that was adding brilliant shit all the time. What he is playing, the way it is mixed, you could listen to it and not think: ”What is this foreigner doing here?”, but it could have been just a London studio guy, it could have been Paul or George Martin, but it is not, it is a fun friend.

Bob Dylan in 1966 really destabilized The Beatles because he was so cool and John wanted to be the kind of cool that Dylan was, not the kind of cool that he was, and that inserted insecurity. Also, in swinging London of the late 1960s everybody was an artist and having fun and sexy times, but Paul in particular and The Beatles in general were out in the clubs, they were trying to be part of the swinging scene, and that is where the Phil Spector and the Clapton stuff comes from. They are trying to make it within this cool scene that probably on the street level, when Paul walked into a club, there was surely a lot of ”Oh, Paul is here!”, but from the cool kids it was more like: ”Ugh, Paul is here!” and Paul could feel that and he didn’t like it and then you got The Long and Winding Road.

John being mad at Kurt Cobain for not using his power for good, Nevermind, Steve Albini (RL199)

When Andy Wallace (John first said Tony Lash) mixed Nevermind and two years later Kurt was totally disavowing it in the press, at the time when they got those mixes back Kurt thought they were incredible, but then two years later… because every time Kurt Cobain walked into a room where he wanted to be cool, a Mudhoney house, and there was that same thing of: ”Oh, Kurt is here”, but also: ”Ugh, Kurt is here!”, all of a sudden he claims he didn’t like the sound of Nevermind and he wanted it to be raw and grittier. ”No, you didn’t!” John went back to this topic a few minutes later and adds some more substance to the story that Kurt disavowed the record later, reading from the album’s Wikipedia-page.

Also, you could have made those songs sound as bad as you wanted, they were fucking Pop songs! You could mix Touch Me I’m Sick anyway you wanted, it is still the same. But you couldn’t have made Come As You Are any dirtier. Even In Bloom, in terms of theme and execution, that chorus is just a 3-chord Pop song. There is some sugar on everything he did and it disgusted John at the time when he was right in the thick of all that: ”What are you doing, asshole? Don’t disavow that shit! Don’t try and pander to those fucking scumbags! That Olympia bullshit!”

That was the worst part of this culture and John was standing knee-deep in it, that whole ”Ugh, Kurt is here!” - ”Fuck you!”, but that was the voice in his head, that was his Dylan in 1966. He made those guys wait. They came to the Royal Albert Hall and somebody told him that The Beatles were here and he responded: ”Oh, are they?” - ”Yeah, they are! The Beatles are here! Put your tea cup down and fucking talk to them at least! Give me a break!” - ”Hmm. They can come back here in a minute!” John is a huge Dylan fan and he is not shitting on him, but on his attitude.

John was so mad at Kurt Cobain. Merlin thinks that he got way more famous than he wanted to be because fame is anathema on the Pacific Northwest and in rejecting fame it is useful for him to reject the thing that you all like him for being famous for. He wanted to appear to reject fame, but he was so caught up in the culture that he couldn’t separate wanting to appear to reject fame from actually internalizing it and rejecting fame. In early 1991 John read several interviews with him where he said that they are going to be the biggest band in the world and he was being sarcastic because he never thought it would happen and he was yanking everybody’s chain.

Then he was the biggest band in the world and all of a sudden it was like: ”Well, did you want to be?” and what pissed John off was that he was the biggest band in the world and he could have used that power and that money and that attention to accomplish the things he wanted to do and he could have made the world a better place. John was watching him closely because George H.W. Bush was the president and they were all ready to flip it. Their generation came online and ”Look what we can do!”, but then it was: ”We can sit in a thrift store chair in a Loser T-Shirt, barf on ourselves from heroin sickness, and then die!”

It turned out he wasn’t John’s role model after all, and that meant spending 5 more years sitting in a Godfather’s Pizza eating Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas) because nobody would miss them, and wondering: ”What the fuck?” Then Clinton was president and nobody in the culture had anything to say about it and K-Mart was selling Grunge hats and it just all went to shit and they all now had stained and John put it all back on Kurt’s lap. Courtney wasn’t even picking nits out of his beard!

Later in the book Come As You Are by Michael Azerrad (who wrote the book Our Band Could Be Your Life, and runs the Talkhouse website where John was written several articles), Kurt says: ”Looking back on the production of Nevermind, I’m embarrassed by it now. It’s closer to a Mötley Crüe record than it is a punk rock record.” - ”Boooo! What an asshole thing to say!” It was never a Punk Rock record! Why don’t you go make a record with Steve Albini while he actively scorns you through the entire production?

Albini went on record, saying that Nirvana was a middling mid-talent Punk band and he wasn’t that impressed with them. If you are going say that after having made a record with them, how were you day-to-day? Merlin says he has walked back a lot of controversial things that he had said in the past because he realized he was a dick. We don’t think of Albini as being young because he seemed prematurely old and wise to us, but he was not that old.

He and Cheap Trick were doing a record and they ended up re-recording a bunch of tracks from In Color, which are really good. In Color is famously a very thin-sounding album with some great songs on it. The original version of I Want You To Want Me is pretty thin, but that was the style. They toured on that for 20 years and then they recorded this thing with Albini in 1998 and it got barely any overdubs, it is very basic, but it sounds fucking great!

John totally gets Albini’s ”No overdubs!” thing. The drummer of the Seattle-band John had in the mid-1990s, a guy named Louis, said to John very early on that reverb is shit, although John had a reverb-knob on his amp and why not use it? He was coming out of that school of: ”Gated snares are garbage!” Those are all just effects, musical tools that you can use or not. All these prohibitions of what you could and couldn’t do? Fuck! John was influenced by this and was walking around for 5 years thinking that reverb was bad. He didn’t believe it, but he also didn’t know how to counter it. He liked reverb and because he wasn’t a record listener and didn’t stay contemporary he didn’t have enough self-knowledge and he was susceptible.

Albini was 30 years old when he made In Utero (album by Nirvana). When John was 30 years old he wouldn’t have known better and would probably still have said that reverb sucks. He did stuff with the room, he moved the mics around, old-fashioned style, but there is a difference between doing a thing strictly because it sounds good and doing it slightly motivated by the feeling that if you say you did it this way that sounds good. If you put the mic in a coffee can and it sounds better to you: ”Yes!”, but if you are thinking about how that is going to read in an interview after you do it, that changes things. A lot of that stuff was in order to say you didn’t do any overdubs, more than because overdubs didn’t sound good.

Think about Band of Horses and what they do with reverb! It is absolutely crucial to their sound. We think about reverb as something that Enya uses. First of all, Enya sounds great, she did the music to The Gladiator. Merlin just read a very long article about here and finds her fascinating. She also did a song that got used by CNN after 9/11 and she got residuals every time they would talk about 9/11 and was making money like a door-knob in a wet sweater and now she lives in a castle with cats and doesn’t talk to people.

John always wanted to live in a castle with cats until he moved out to Rainier Beach and realized that he rather wants to sit in a café and be around people. He doesn’t want to talk to them, but he also doesn’t want to not be around them. If he lived in a castle in Norther Ireland and never saw anybody, he would probably go bananas, which is what has happened to her. Merlin thinks it is still a nice option to have in your utility belt, but he wouldn’t want that to be his only residence. You probably get great reverb in there, too!

John reads from an interview with Steve Albini in 2011: ”I can’t really express how much my admiration for that band grew during the course of making that record. I was familiar with them but I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan prior to working on that record. But during the making of that record, I genuinely came to respect them as artists.” This is the type of quote that people will send John to refute his contention. In 1993/94 John was reading him saying that he found them a pretty mediocre Punk band.

Revisionism happens all the time! John got into a flame-war on the Internet with 4-5 people that he ended up blocking when he was talking about the look on Tom Petty’s face when Prince stole the show at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame induction of George Harrison. A lot of people were forwarding John an article that was written just recently where Tom Petty said he was so psyched and so amazed about Prince, but at the time his face was saying: ”Way to step on this awesome celebration of my friend George Harrison with your ego solo!”

This is the wrong month to open a critical appraisal of Prince (he was on the cover of Rolling Stone in May of 2016), but he wasn’t above showing off in a way that wasn’t necessarily musically brilliant, although he was capable of sitting down and playing fucking brilliant stuff, but when he was on stage he understood that his job was to show off and to put on a great show. His solo is thrilling, it is incredible, but he is doing stuff that is almost corny and the guys on stage are going to recognize that, too and that he is showing off.

There were cameras on everybody at that show and if Tom Petty had said to Prince: ”Keep it going, man!” you would have zoomed in on that. John understands that kind of revisionism. Nobody wants to say: ”I used to shit-talk Nirvana a lot and now my opinion has changed”, but the impulse is to say that you really came to respect them over the course of that record. You don’t get very far in John’s world shit-talking Steve Albini.

John never understood Ian MacKaye (from Fugazi). Merlin immediately changes the topic.

Aspirational food (RL199)

They make Garbanzo Beans into sebaceous cyst puss. Sometimes John is at the grocery store and thinks that he wants to be the kind of person who eats hummus, which is aspirational shopping. John wants to have hummus in the fridge and when he is looking for a snack he can get some hummus and wipe it on something, but when he buys it, then it will sit in the fridge for 6 months. For Merlin a better example is mixed nuts. You pop the top off them and then you eat them as a thing, while hummus wants other things, mostly bread, which you shouldn’t eat a lot of.

You could also have carrots. When John is at a party and there is no antipasti tray, but they just got the vegetable platter, John will sit and dip a carrot into hummus all day, happy as can be, but if he opens his fridge and it is: ”Yeah, there are some mini carrots, all right, and there is some hummus, all right…” it is not a thing he is going to pull out. Merlin’s wife wants them to live and she wants them to have nice things in the house to eat that come from a good point, but they can be aspirational.

Sometimes she buys things although Merlin tends to do more than 50% of the cooking. His daughter goes out to the garden at school, tears off a postage-stamp-sized thing of kale, eats it and says: ”I love kale!”, which is true in that moment, but then independently Merlin and his wife both get kale and now they have two giant refrigerator-filling bags of kale sitting there, saying: ”That is right, asshole! You bought me! And you bought my brother, too!” Merlin normally starts to cook when he is hungry. Sometimes when he is doing sous-vide he has to think ahead, but when it comes down to 5:15pm and ”Time to make dinner!”, pretty much the last thing on his mind is kale.

Primarily Merlin focuses heavily on the protein, maybe he will cut up some demonstration cucumber so he can say that he gave his kid a vegetable, the second thing is often a starch like a rice or a noodle, and that is the main part of the meal for his daughter because she is a child, she will eat all kinds of noodles, but when it is getting 5:45pm, he might leave off the kale. He does have a juicer, but it is a whole thing and you have to take it out and interact with it. Merlin is a range top man, he does a lot of things with the gas cooking range and the microwave. John’s house is plumbed for gas, but he has a glass cook top that makes him want to break it with a hammer. To Merlin that feels like a design-based decision rather than a functional decision.

Selling T-shirts (RL199)

They do an ad-read together telling the listeners about their T-shirts they are selling via Cottonbureau. One is the Supertrain-design, and the other one has a picture of John’s orange bell.

Men at Work, Dire Straits, The Police, Elvis Costello (RL199)

Merlin has always loved the song Overkill by Men at Work. It felt important and a cut above the typical New Wave hit. He is always drawn to Colin Hay performances and he playing that solo sounds fucking great. John finds it amazing how dark they were in all other tunes other than the superhits, and even in the superhits. They are goofing, and they had almost a The Who circa 1967 ”This could be about diddling” feeling, like: ”Something could be fucked up here!” A lot of the songs by They Might Be Giants are really dark if you listen to the lyrics, but Be Good Johnny and Overkill are dark even sonically with a lot of weird minor chords and strange sonic constructions.

At the time there was a lot of stuff on the radio like Men Without Hats, but John couldn’t dig into anything deeper with them besides Safety Dance and that was a terrific song, but also a novelty song, whereas Men at Work, in a way like Dire Straits, there was a lot of deep-dive on Dire Straits. The Man’s Too Big The Man’s Too Strong, John listened to that song 40 times in a row because it was imparting so much to him.

He doesn’t understand a single criticism of Dire Straits, maybe who they socialized with. Merlin thinks their hit record sounds a little dated, but how can you blame that on anybody. Sultans of Swing has a timelessness to it. Take Money for Nothing out and ignore that for now. Brothers in Arms: There is some weird production like rain falling, which is a little bit Bob Seger, but the tune itself is incredible. So Far Away is a good song, even Industrial Disease is a little bit proto Money for Nothing. Romeo and Juliet is a terrific song. There is the Skate Away song, the Alchemy live record was so good! They would have weird videos on MTV that were not like other videos.

Their goodball songs Twisting by the Pool, Money for Nothing, and Calling Elvis… Some of their tunes are a little herp-derp, but they had so many good tune! The fact that Mark Knopfler is friends with both Eric Clapton and Sting is one of the reason why it is hard for people to casually appraise them. He wore a head band and he was friends with Sting, that is as far as you had to go: Two strikes and you are out! Even by this time Sting was seeming pretty insufferable, even during the Synchronicity era (album by The Police)!

The outfits he would wear, and the interviews with him, with his stunt glasses and his yoga talk. John would never criticize that album, but Merlin finds it overrated. Synchronicity II is a good song, but the album is no Ghost in the Machine or the one before that, Zenyatta Mondatta, those two albums are so good! If you think about the first 4 R.E.M. records and the first 4 U2 records, all these early Police records, there is a lot of good stuff there and then it all went to shit in all three cases. Merlin doesn’t seem to agree with that and changes the topic immediately and says that Colin Hay (from Men at Work) is a great singer.

On Synchronicity there are Walking in your Footsteps, Synchronicity II, King of Pain, and even if you have Wrapped Around Your Finger it is still a good tune. Every Breath You Take is like U2’s One. If any other band did that tune, even as a one-hit wonder, even if Dire Straits had done it or Donovan it would be the best song in their catalog! Merlin starts reading from the track listing to Ghost in the Machine: Spirits in the Material World, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, Invisible Sun, Hungry for You, and Demonlition Man. That is only Side 1. It is up there with Master of Puppets for an amazing Side 1. Then there is Omega Man and even their throw-aways are so fun.

Tea in the Sahara (song from Synchronicity) is Sting doing his Sheltering Sky song (Novel by Paul Bowles). He read Sheltering Sky and he wrote a song about it and it is as awful as his song about Lolita. It is not a tribute to it as much as it is a cooptation. Merlin has seen an interview of him in a major music magazine around the time of The Dream of the Blue Turtles and he was sitting there in his bare feet with his Yoga outfit on and he had a yellow legal pad and a rhyming dictionary. He wanted to mention that he had read this book, but it had to be a bit more sly than that, and the problem was that the author’s name (Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote Lolita) was hard to rhyme.

If that was his only crime, you would just call it awesome, but looking at his later crimes it was just a harbinger. It was troubling for a long time when Elvis Costello got this beef for being a racist where he had used the N-word to describe Ray Charles and also called him blind and ignorant. That story went around for a long time, but it turns out that he was doing that to troll Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett because they were being a certain way, and it happens that Elvis Costello loves Ray Charles’ music and is a giant fan of huge amounts…

John was Elvis Costello’s driver for two days and trolling them is absolutely in keeping with him, but it just happened to be in earshot of a reporter who wanted to take him down. It negatively affected his career and maybe it taught him a lesson. If he had pulled that same stund on Saturday Night Live they never had him back, or a similar degree of: ”I am going to stop the song we agreed I was going to do and I am going to do the song that we agreed I could not do because of bullshit corporate reasons!”, which was cool, except the people watching probably didn’t realize how cool you were being and the people who were running the show did not find it cool.

He did a lot of things that in the fullness of time seem legendary and you forgive him for what he said about Ray Charles because it is a little bit like Mussolini’s trains running on time: He was being ironic, just as the Italians were being, and it entered the lexikon as a thing taken straight when it was meant to mean the opposite. Merlin is again trying to change the topic and says again the Colin Hay (from Men at Work) is a fantastic singer. He goes on to name the first 6 songs from the album Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police: Don’t Stand So Close To Me, Driven To Tears, and When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around, Canary in a Coalmine, Voices Inside my Head, Bombs Away.

All these albums that they mentioned are from an era where people bought albums and listened to them all the way through until you knew every song and every transition, to the point of when you hear one of those songs on the radio now you start singing the next tune already. John wonders if we are ever going to return to a time when people digested complete works in that same way, those first 4 Police albums, all of The Beatles records, all of the early ZZ Top records.

Merlin is sure that we are not going back and today when somebody hears that The Beatles are good they will do a super-shuffle and the first thing they hear is She Came In Through the Bathroom Window, which is a part, that is like only reading the nouns. There is an album with The Beatles Number Ones, but the blue and the red album are albums. Merlin started with the second one the blue album, like Lady Madonna. When John gets to the end of a song he is as likely to think of the next song on the blue album as he is to think of the next song on the album that those tunes came out on.

Merlin knows the same effect from Neil Young’s Decade (compilation). If you only want to have one Neil Young title in your house, that one covers so much ground and has so many extremely good songs on it. Also R.E.M.’s Eponymous, which seemed very early to do a Greatest Hits record. Dead Letter Office had the outtakes and came with a copy of Chronic Town, which felt like Magic. Eponymous was pretty good, it was their I.R.S. hits (record label), it is a strong record.

The Eagles (RL199)

Greatest Hits records can also be awful. The Eagles Greatest Hits are the only thing you need to own, but Merlin doesn’t agree and John is swayed to admit that maybe what he just said is not true.

Merlin watches the 2-part Netflix documentary History of the Eagles once a year, he really loves it, just for Joe Walsh, if nothing else. When they looked their best, it is like The Beatles during Sgt. Pepper, they looked so good, and they looked so bad when they didn’t look their best. Glenn Frey was empirically hot when he had a mustache, aviator glasses and the faded very tight bell-bottom denim. The denim-era of the Eagles, they couldn’t have been cooler looking, but almost immediately when Glenn Frey got into weightlifting or put gel in his hair, they all of a sudden looked awful.

John fell prey to this as well. On every photograph his band every publicized he looked awful because he shaved two days before the photo shoot. For some reason he kept feeling that the beard was a thing he wore all the time as a muffler or a scarf, an existential muffler, but when it came time to actually represent the band and show up for a photo shoot he would shave it and look like shit and immediately grew the beard back. Everywhere he went he was with his beard and his shaggy hair, feeling good, but as he would walk into the club there would be an enormous picture of him with his big fleshy face, and because he had only shaved two days before his face was raw.

When you think about the Eagles during that period you are thinking that they shouldn’t shave their mustaches because they look amazing, but they not thinking that way themselves. Don Henley literally in his Henley shirts. All through the 1970s he was wearing collarless shirts called Henley’s, which is a little bit punny.

Merlin wants to talk about handsome guitar players like David Gilmour (from Pink Floyd) some day. He was super-handsome when he was young, he is a good player, and he is posh, too!

John’s familiars if he were a wizard (RL199)

If John were a wizard he has three choices what his familiar would be and he could have any two. He might be half-wizard already, but if he were a full-fledged wizard and he wasn’t making half-hobbits with the hobbit-wenches, making little not Bilbos but Bilrods, half-hobbit, half-wizard, he would have a raven that was flying ahead, checking for Nazgûls. The raven might be psionically reporting back to John because it would be the three-eyed raven who would be a little independent of John as well, sometimes working his own angle, although mostly allied with John.

If Gandalf can summon giant eagles to rescue Frodo as Sauron’s mountain of fire collapses, why couldn’t Gandalf have summoned those eagles to take him there, obviating the need for the entire quest? Maybe because Sauron would have seen the eagles coming, but they could have taken them quite a ways. Merlin is feeling like he is having a stroke.

Familiar number two would be a raccoon who is scampering along, like the Guardians of the Galaxy raccoon, although maybe not that contentious, who could communicate with John, who would be a bit of a trickster, and if John is having a confrontation with someone on the trail he would sneak around behind them, going through their luggage, fucking with them, untying their shoe lacers, looking for Middle Earth traveler’s cheques.

The combination of a raven and a raccoon as your two familiars, that is some wizardry right there! If John had a third familiar it would be David Gilmour. Think about traveling with David Gilmour! He is a ranger! If you are coming to a border town, you get through the gates and you are going to the Inn where everybody is smoking pipes and they got their hoods and their cloaks up and the conversation stops when you walk in the door and everybody turns and looks at you.

Imagine that scene with David Gillmour: You push him a little bit forward, he walks in and stands in the doorway of the bar, everybody turns and listens and stops talking and he would ask for the finest room and they would give you the finest room. When he walks into a club in 1969 London and everybody goes: ”David Gilmour is here!”, no-one says: ”Ugh, David Gilmour is here!”

When he says: ”Here is how I record my solos: I turn the amp all the way up!” - ”I believe you!” He turns his amp all the way up and that is how he gets his sound, that is all you need to know. Turn your amp all the way up and now go play for 20 years and be inspired and brilliant and wonderful! John doesn’t think having David Gilmour as your father would be very great, though. He seems like a love-withholder, but John doesn’t need any love from him because the raven also doesn’t give him any love and the raccoon barely is.

John is getting his love from two things: Hobbit girls and a young Linda Ronstadt. Imagine her on the campaign with giant hoop earrings and roller skates! Even the Nazgûl would turn away. Why is this not John’s life now! He didn’t roll for this character, but he chose this character. John is so sad!

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License