RL236 - Into the Hat Weeds

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: There’s nothing between here and there except UFOs, referring to one time when Chris Carniglia wanted John to stop the tour van and let him out because he felt like walking home, but it would have taken him 5 months because they were in the middle of the Nevada dessert and there was nothing between here and there except UFOs.

The show title refers to John getting into the hat weeds when explaining the meaning of different hats aside from the optical appearance.

It is so early!

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

John going out with other old men (RL236)

John was out last night between 5:30pm and 7:30pm with a small group of other old men who talked about how young they looked. It all started by congratulating each other and there was quite a bit of ”We are all good looking guys!” Of course it is a lie, but a lie agreed upon, which is the titular line of an episode of the TV show Deadwood.

Playing the Banjo wearing a hat (RL236)

The theme song of Deadwood sounds like The Head and the Heart, like a modern take of the music from the time. Throwing or shooting a banjo at a thing doesn’t make it a thing. Banjo is a wonderful instrument and John loves banjo-playing, but if a certain kind of hat goes on a banjo player, you are on a path now where John starts to peel off.

If you are learning an instrument, you are learning the instrument you have and you go to war with the instrument you have, not the instrument you want. If you want to learn the piano, but the only piano you have is a tack piano, you are going to learn the tack piano and not the concert grand. There are people who grow up learning the banjo as their first instrument, but a lot of the time they learn the guitar and try to modify down to banjo.

If you set down a path and say that banjo is your thing now and you put on a hat as part of that, then you are devoted to the study of banjo sitting in a tree or wherever they teach banjo. Kermit the frog learned it in a tree! A great way to learn the banjo is on a paddlewheel boat with no shoes and one leg swinging over the side. It must be hard to keep it in tune in a swamp because of the humidity. It is not the heat, but the stupidity!

If this is your instrument and you want to be in a band that requires a banjo player and you immediately put on a certain kind of hat as part of this process and you think the hat is a component of being a banjo player in your band, that is where you and John part ways. Is it not even a question of this being you magic banjo playing hat and without it you cannot play the banjo, but you think that as the banjo player in this band, and you are just beginning with this course of life, you are going to start out with this hat on and this is going to be your head, then we are already divorced!

The Beatles (RL236)

Paul McCartney learned the guitar using banjo chords because his mother knew banjo chords. Merlin has been listening to a lot of Beatles at his daughter’s request and Merlin still can’t get over the bass-line in Lucy in the sky with diamonds, which is by far not Merlin’s favorite Beatles song, but that bass-line is bananas! Where did that even come from? Or Hella Goodby? How does he keep getting better and better over 6 or 7 years? It is nuts! Maybe he started on a wood-wind instrument because his dad played the clarinet?

Merlin and John haven’t talked about the Beatles in years, while they used to talk about them exclusively. It used to be Beatles, Hitler and Getting out of the way!

Chris Thile (RL236)

Merlin wants to talk about Chris Thile some time because he is a tremendous musician and Merlin is obsessed with him right now. Merlin has been watching a lot of videos of Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek and he loves A Prairie Home Companion, which Chris Thile has been hosting for a while, where he has guests on and he writes a new really good song every week. He plays the shit out of a mandolin! ”You know what they are saying about Mandolin-players: They spend half their time tuning and half their time playing out of tune!”

There are a lot of strings very close together. Chris Thile rips on that thing and he even has the presence of mind that when he wants to quote a famous line from Losing My Religion he drops the tuning on one string just a little bit so it sounds more Peter Buck-y. The Punch Brothers did an amazing totally un-ironic cover of Just What I Needed on AV-Club. A lot of the guys in the band have hats, but everyone has a different one.

Going into the hat weeds (RL236)

John’s understanding of hats, which isn’t deep or broad, is that you are meant to have your own style of crown. On a group picture with a sea of people from Ye Olden Times in 1940 everybody is wearing a hat and everybody has got their own individual take on it. What’s curious is that there is not a huge color palette, but there is only brown, black, tan and grey. None of those people is wearing a blue or a red hat. They are all very muted, but the way of the brim and the crown is different, depending on the way you grasp it with your hands when you are taking it off.

John probably has 9-12 Stetson-style vintage felt hats. One of them in particular really nails John's look, it is John's hat and whenever he sits and monkeys with the other ones and imagines turning them into this one, it is never right. They are all very distinctive because they once belonged to somebody. It is not that all these hats came out of the factory all uniform and took all these characteristics when being worn, but when you went to the hat store, you said how you wanted your hat steamed and the hat-person would put the hat on the steamer and they would create, shape, mold, craft, and sculpt your hat so that it was to your liking. You can steam a hat you don’t like and have it made anew, like having your suits tailored.

When you look at a cowboy band where everybody on stage including the stage manager and the guy running across the stage dressed all in black with a Letherman and a Maglite on his belt are all wearing hats, if these people have any class although they might all be wearing black hats, but they will all have their own style of hat. Mexican bands actually do wear uniforms, like they wear all the same hat and all the same clothes from top to bottom. Merlin has a special affection for that kind of music, like the ballads of the Norteños. He has dipped into it a little bit when he was getting burritos and finds it to be very interesting music. The production of it is great and it is a very interesting style of music. They do some pretty burning covers. The cover by Banda Tornado of Still The One by Shania Twain is a barn-burner!

A lot of young people are not having their hats tailored because they don’t even know it is a thing. John is getting super-down into the hat-weeds, but if your band has decided that you are all going to wear hats, but you don’t want to wear the same hat and you don’t understand hats very well and you don’t know that you can all buy the same Indiana Jones hat and have them steamed differently, you will end up with 4 people on stage who are wearing hats that don’t belong together. If one person is wearing a very small-brimmed Frank Sinatra era Trilby hat, one person is wearing a flat-topped silver-buckled Mike McCready hat, like a bad guy from a certain type of Spaghetti Western or like Lee J Cobb, somebody is wearing a straw boater and somebody is wearing a Robin Hood hat with a giant feather in it, then they just look like a weird catalog of shitty hats! Just having hats doesn’t make you a band and that really irks John.

It doesn’t feel like hat wearers are making the hats their own anymore, but they are just trying to distinguish themselves by having a more interesting style of hat. John’s desire to understand a slight penetration of the history of hat-wearing culture and the significance of hats may have clouded his ability to understand that the way hats are worn in the 21st century is like everything else: A complete undifferentiated hodgepodge of checks and pokedots and plads all thrown together without even being remotely interested in the fact that this used to mean this or this is different from that because of this change in history, tempo or moment. Those kind of details are no longer relevant, but the only question is what hat do you like and what hat you think is cool right now. Maybe John is inhibited by his desire to have things mean things.

The Top Hat is not a single thing! Look at top hats from 1820 up until the top hats of 1920! You would often see Woodrow Willson in a top hat, but not FDR. He did wear them and he was a very fancy guy. Harry Truman never had a top hat on. The actual hat itself really evolved during those 100 years and was a hundred different things. The top hat that Chester A Arthur wore and the top hat that Slash wears do not even look anything like each other even when you put them next to each other.

The Long Winters wearing hats (RL236)

There was a time in the early 2000s where The Long Winters took a band photo all wearing hats. Sean was wearing a top hat and John went with him to the hat store that day and the thing about a hat store these days is that you are not going to find an elegant silk top hat anymore because there is no situation to wear one unless you are at the opening day of the horse track in England, the Darby Day. In every other situation it is used as a costume! When Merlin tried to buy a straw boater, there was a single high-quality straw boater in the store that he could buy. You are not splitting hairs that this isn’t the straw boater you want, and that is what we have been reduced to. If you go to a hat store and want a bowler hat, there is one bowler hat, even though there are 25 different iterations of the bowler in the history of the bowler hat.

Sean wanted a kind of mad-hatter style top hat that has quite a bit of taper, but not like Alice in Chains. You don’t want a hat that says that your younger sister is a Jugalette, but you want one that says that you are like Tom Petty during the period when Tom Petty was wearing a top hat, which he did for a while, even before Slash! Tom Petty lit the fuse as the modern top hat Rock person. Sean is a formidable person with formidable hair and he needed a hat that projected a hatness that was as big as he was. He was not going to wear a trilby and have it do anything but make the hat ashamed of itself and slink off because it was not enough of a hat for this person. The top hat was so good on Sean that he wore it periodically.

There are some shots of them from playing live multiple times with Sean wearing a top hat while the rest of them did not wear hats or any kind of costume other than their Rock clothes. John liked it! A lot of the time when a Rock person affects a weird thing, John’s feeling is ”Not quite”, but that top hat on Sean was like ”Absolutely! You should wear it every day!”

Merlin found a photo off the internet (probably this one) where Eric is wearing an Amelia Earhart aviator helmet, John is wearing a Homburg, Sean is wearing his top hat and Michael is wearing a wig and some kind of brown hat, both belonging to John. Michael had only recently shaved his head and had been liberated because he didn’t have to be concerned anymore what was going on with his hair. 12 hours after Merlin and John met, Chris Caniglia shaved Michael’s head in Merlin’s kitchen. He was going through a real phase then and it felt a little familiar for only knowing each other for 12 hours.

Chris Caniglia wanting to get off the tour van (RL236)

One time they were driving through the Nevada dessert on their way home from a tour. They had played their last show, everybody else was asleep, John was driving and Chris Caniglia was in the passenger seat. Chris asked John to pull over in the middle of UFO country because he felt like he wanted to walk home from here, but it would have taken him 5 months. Winnemucca was a 6-day walk from here and there was nothing between here and there except UFOs. John talked him out of it, but he was sincere, he would have gone out with his bag. He wasn’t mad, but he was sincere. He wouldn’t have died, but after a short time he would have hitchhiked to Winnemucca and bought a bus ticket.

Chris Caniglia surprising John by being funny (RL236)

Chris Caniglia was a delight! Merlin assumes he was a handful. He was very quick and very funny and Merlin doesn’t know how they made it with John, Chris and Sean in the same van with so many super-strong competing personalities! John and Sean were enough, but with Chris in the mix? He was a wildcard! Chris was not regarded as funny in Seattle in the 1990s because he never projected to be the funny one.

Their culture had a lot of playwrights, actors and musicians, a pretty tight and interesting group of multitalented people who were doing all kinds of art and Chris was deeply in the mix, but he never said that he was doing funny things. He was the charming and handsome one who worked as a bartender downtown. He had a lot of girlfriends and his charm was pretty quick. If somebody said something snarky to the bartender, Chris could put them away! John was funny and Chris was a friend of John's, but John never thought that Chris was much competition in the funny department.

As they got on the road, Chris all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere revealed an incredible talent of story telling, comedic voices, and comedic personalities, such that he could do a 1-man performance during an entire 5-hour drive. It was as much a revelation for him than for the rest of them! Part of the dynamic between John and Sean was that they were both funny, but they were also trying to get deep or they were having critical discussions about critical thought, but Chris just cut through that like a hot blade and did an hour of talk radio from the location they were at in the appropriate voice. They could call into the show, Chris would take the call, and they would try to throw some tennis ball in there. He was just very deftly taking their call while tears were streaming down their faces.

John had know Chris for 10 years, but he had never seen that side of him before, nor had anybody else or even Chris himself. They drove around for a year and they couldn’t wait to get into the truck. In a situation where you would think that John and Sean were jockeying for top dog, Chris just blew the whole thing out of the water. He was faster than Sean or John! There wasn’t any real resentment or competition in it, because he was so much better. Sean agreed with that and he loves him to this day. It was a tragedy that Chris couldn’t stay in the band because he really made those miles disappear and he was source of a lot of real joy, not just distraction, but he was tapped into some bigger thing.

It was an incredible gift and made John realize why Chris was such a successful bachelor. Ten years before in 1993, John hated Chris because he would be sitting at a table chatting somebody up and when Chris would walk through he wouldn’t steal somebody from underneath you and he wouldn’t sit down across the table from you and be the brightest light, but he would just be sitting over there and his seduction was all done in whispers. You never knew what he was saying! He would lean over and buzz into their ear, they would glee and then they would leave. What the hell did he say?

Later on John realized that he was probably saying something pretty amazing, but he never showed it until later during this period where he was arcing through the sky. It was only happening in the van because on stage there wasn’t really an opportunity for him to step up to the microphone and do this routine and he wasn’t really comfortable on the microphone. Even if he had an opportunity for on-stage banter in front of a crowd, that wasn’t where he wanted to be. They would strategize in the van every day to make a TV show of him or how they could get him in front of people, because he was the world’s greatest actor who could do any voice!

After Chris left the band he went to New York City and joined the improv theater group UCB, but he never made it above the level of people who were paying to take classes at UCB. He taught a couple of classes, but he never joined a successful improv group. He is still handsome and he has great hair, he always had, both when he was young and it was jet black and also when he had salt & pepper. It never stopped being great!

John’s great uncle Truman was in the Merchant Marines and had the exact same hair as Chris Caniglia. He was 85 years old and his hairline had not budged an inch from when he was 15 years old. It just looked like a washer brush or like a badger brush.

Chris was one of John’s closest friends for a long time, but John hasn’t talked to him for a couple of years and doesn’t know what is going on with him. Somehow being in the van was like a pressure cooker or a cauldron, partly because Sean Nelson and John were there. It was his kind of audience. If only John could have put that year and a half in the van on tape! It is something John can’t quite account for: You meet people and you know who they are. John knows Merlin and if they went on a road trip together and Merlin cracked him up the entire time, John would have an idea of what that would be like, but with Chris he didn’t see it coming although he knew him for years and they had been room mates for 3 years!

Chris was still himself, but all of a sudden he had the power of complete mimicry and the power of improvisation in character. Just because you can crack up your frat brothers does not guarantee that you would be a good stand-up comedian for many reasons. It is rare to be able to take that skill of being funny to people around you and convert it into being funny professionally on stage or screen, because that takes a totally different skill. There is this totally different X-factor that goes beyond knowing how to crack up John, Sean, Eric and Michael, even it it feels like it is right there, just slightly out of reach, but then there is the grind of having to get into a group like that and having to make those decisions.

Rock Lottery (RL236)

John first started knowing guitar players when he was 15. He never knew a kid that was 10 years old and already a virtuoso, but the first guitar players John was even aware of were in Freshman year in High School when he realized that this was a thing you could actually do and not just something on TV. By 15 John knew guitar players and he owned a guitar himself and from that point until the present day John has know a lot of guitar players!

Many of them were amazing musicians and songwriters who couldn’t get to a position where they were in a good band, let alone a good band that went anywhere. They either kept trying to flog bands with a fatal flaw, bounced from one band to the next, they could never settle in somewhere, or wanted the band to be really centered on them but they were missing a crucial skill like singing. There are those few instances when somebody starts to idly hum along with the radio and you go ”Wow, I don’t know you could sing!” It happens!

At one time John was in one of those Rock Lotteries, a thing that started in Austin but they had one in Seattle and it might still be ongoing. They would invite two dozen musicians across a wide spectrum of instruments and ability and put them all together, divide them up into groups of five, two bass players, a clarinetist, a person playing hand drums and an opera singer in this group and you are responsible of writing a song and performing it at the end of the day. It is one of those things that is interesting to do and interesting to watch.

If this would happen in the garage across the street, John is not sure if he would go over there and watch, but he probably would because it would be noisy and he would have to deal with it. John participated in one of those Rock Lotteries and when they were watching the show at the end, one of the other groups had a Theremin player wearing a hat. Another band had a singer who just looked like a punk-y guy, also wearing a hat and a leather jackets, who seemed like he smoked a lot of cigarettes and he seemed fun, but he started to sing and John just saw the future of music in him. He was the most Rock ’n’ Roll person John had ever seen.

His voice came out and John wanted to start a band with him! He wanted to be the guitar player and three chords would be all it needed. John went up afterwards and said ”Wow, how incredible! Who do you play for?” and he named some band that John hadn’t heard of. John wanted to get together for coffee sometime, and he was kind, but he was pretty happy with his band, the Lampshades. He wasn’t condescending, but he just saw his future in the Lampshades and John really wished he had gotten his name because in the music business things always change and 6 months later he might have wanted to get in touch with John. It doesn’t happen very often that somebody who has that gift that no-one has just stepped off the buss from Spokane to Hollywood and ”which way do I turn? I want to make it in the big town!”, but when it happens you want to be the creep in the powder-blue Lincoln Continental who is parked across the street from the bus station, like ”Hey! Need a ride?”

Merlin explains that just because you somehow accidentally got good at guitar, you still need to check all those other boxes like being humble, easy to get along with, showing up on time, looking for opportunities to be helpful, constantly improving your craft, and being open to change. Some people might not be the Abraham Lincoln of their craft, but they were a pleasure to work with. Christina Aguilera is always the hardest working person in the room, for example.

Lindsey Buckingham is by all accounts a miserable, awful person to work with and to be around. There was a documentary of Fleetwood Mac getting back together where they were working on some album in recent times and Merlin had to avert his eyes from the screen when Lindsey was on the screen. There is so much bad blood in that band for so many very good reason. It is such an act of graciousness just to even be in a room with each other that you would think you would all want to be on your best behavior and by-gones be by-gones and let’s just agree not to be assholes with each other for a few days and try to do this thing. There was also a camera in the room!

Through all the years of Fleetwood Mac gossip John always thought that Stevie Nicks would be the difficult one. She is dancing around in 1000 scarfs and she is going to be the high maintenance person, but watching these documentaries, you go: Stevie Nicks is amazing and she is the soul of patient professionalism, while Lindsey Buckingham is driving everyone crazy and they are going to great lengths to accommodate him. Yet, here is this incredible guitar player!

We are taking it as read in our contemporary world that what we should be doing with our kids and our culture at large is removing all obstacles for friendly, good-natured people. We should be teaching friendliness and good-naturedness, we should be removing obstacles from the path of young people so that they don’t have to confront adversity in the same way we had to. We no longer put our cigarettes out on our children’s arms, but that is how John Bender became John Bender! He was the coolest guy in the Breakfast Club, because nobody’s father had ever put out a cigar on him. If you want to make an omelet, you gotta break some kids. Lindsey Buckingham was awful, John Lennon was awful, but would those people now have been bumped out of their career path at a much earlier time by people saying ”You are an awful bully and a mean person and you are not going to be given this opportunity!” or ”We are going to be privileging your behavior over your talent and we are disincluding you and we are including Joe Goodnature over here!"?

What ends up neutering the art is missing discomfort and missing frisson. We are going to end up with this grey neutered paste of music and culture that we are starting to see already now. Very few people are really burning bright in a way where they are captivating because they are on a path of self-destruction. You know they are going to crater hard, but they don’t.

In 1978 Neil Rogers was not on the path that we think of he is on now. He was really burning bright and although he wasn’t a bad guy he was living hard. Obviously you can’t reverse-engineer it! If you sit on this chair and prick the ends of your finger with a needle every day for an hour, it will give you the familiarity with pain that will allow you to write meaningful music or make meaningful art, but we are right now in a moment in human culture where we are hostile to pain and devoting a tremendous amount of energy to relieve pain and suffering from as many people as we can to as great a degree as we can.

The hitter kid in John’s daughter’s class (RL236)

One child in John’s daughter’s class went through kind of a looking glass at a certain point this year. By all accounts he was a very nice person before, bug now is a hitter. The school district doesn’t know what to do and they are not very well-equipped. This is not the first time this has happened and they have a lot of solutions on a long continuum. One of them is a weighted vest and one of them is an employee of the school who comes into the class as an assistant to deal with this kid.

John knows this kid and he can see that he is a lovely little boy, but there is something going on. He does not want to hit nor have this experience! There is something inside him that his parents have never seen before and they don’t know how to deal with it. Now they are in a situation where John’s daughter comes home from school every day and says ”I got hit again!” Nobody wants to be around him, but he is also a nice kid and people want to play with him.

Ultimately everybody in the class is affected by it and everybody has an inferior experience of school because one component of school is now that you might get hit by this kid at any time. He is disrupting learning! At what point will he be removed from school, sequestered, and put into a box of the unredeemable? Do all the other kids have a right to be able to be in school and feel like they won’t get hit? Given the makeup of this particular elementary school, the amount of general class-wide patience everybody has is really astonishing to John. There is no parent who is like ”My child is having their education affected and I want this dealt with now!” Everybody is ”Let’s see! Let’s try other things!”

John got hit by kids back in his own childhood. He talked to his daughter about it and even if her education is being affected by it, another side effect is that she is getting an education in the fact that there are people who hit, but nobody else knows what to do and the grown-ups don’t have a solution. In a lot of other schools there would be some crusader who demanded that something was done or somewhere in the school administration office this could have gotten put in the file folder of bullying which we have all agreed is a no-tolerance thing.

Then this kid becomes tagged as somebody who not only needs special accommodation, but also some punitive re-education. Maybe he needs to be profoundly medicated in order to be a good 6-year old in this context where the stakes are to listen to stories, to learn how to use scissors, and to learn the alphabet. John’s take on it is that we are just trying to be in this on this arc and hopefully there won’t be another kid who makes you scared every year, but there is always going to be a kid who is a problem. One of the things you learn about a kid that hits is that you don’t stand too close to him or don’t be next to him without being aware that he might hit you at any point. Be his friend, be nice to him, but keep one eye open. These are not necessarily bad lessons, but it is not what you would want!

Everybody is trying to figure out what to do with this little boy and everyone is taxed because you can’t just change him, you can’t take him out, and you can’t adapt the entire school to him, but what John can do is use it as a teaching experience for his kid. You never want to say that you are sending your kid to this school where they are in a position trying to make ”the best of it”, but in fact that is what you are always doing in every situation. Even if everybody in the school is friendly and your kid is getting educated en masse, nobody is getting a tailored experience.

What if this wasn’t a little boy? There are kids in America in classrooms where a radiator suddenly goes on every day at 1:45pm and can't be turned off and the temperature of the room goes up to 102 degrees (39°C). What if just across the street from your kid's elementary school there would be a guy with a jackhammer who jackhammered for an hour every day for a month and a half? Things like that happen in school across America! In this situation John tries to help this little boy, his family, the school and his own kid by saying ”You know what? Sometimes it is the neighbor problem where your neighbor puts the garbage out wrong and after you leave 5 super-passive-aggressive-type notes taped to the garbage, you have to realize they are not going to change. Don’t let yourself be in a situation where you get hit by this kid! How about that?"

John thought that the other parents and the conditions within the school were going to be kind of as he imagined them to be 10-15 years ago, where this would have been addressed with a lot of over-action. It would have been an emergency situation where the parents of the child would have been over-examined, because my child is in this school, too, and is being harassed and bullied and subjected to physical violence by this other kid. John imagines that was going on in the schools 10 years ago, because he remembers then and lived through those years.

Parents today are coming from a different place, and there is some reality and some sense of ”This is just how it is” and we all recognize that there are limited resources and this is just one of the normal challenges of life. Nobody is going to go to prison or put on Ritalin, but we are just going to figure out a workaround here. When John comes into the school now, the teacher will often say ”Will you go over and give him a really big strong hug?” The first time John wasn’t sure this was even allowed, but she could feel him building up and what he needed was a big strong hug from a big man. John did that and you could feel that he wanted somebody way bigger than he was to envelop him for a second. Merlin thinks about getting a weighted blanked, because when he is anxious when he sleeps, it might help to calm him down a lot. The swaddling is what it is! Listeners might be thinking about if they could find something in their house to swaddle themselves in right now.

John feels that part of being sane and raising your child in a sane way is to not expect that there is a solution to every problem or that you are going to get perfect redress for every complaint, which might have been the philosophy for a while. We are not going to go back to a time when the bully was on the playground and physically torturing your child, but we are also not going to immediately take every kid who sits on the playground and sharpens a stick into protective custody. Merlin interjects that there is a privilege angle because you are essentially demanding that things go back to your normal and to where you are comfortable about how all of this works and you are going to be made whole.

When John hears about that angle, he hears two people in divorce court who have that feeling that they are going to be made whole and they are going to take it out of their partner. There is this acrimony that comes into a divorce when in fact everybody got what they are due, you can’t be made whole again, you are breaking up, and it is not a question about money, but you are mad or sad and you lost all sympathy for your partner. What could have been a largely amicable solution to a fairly normal problem of two people splitting up goes into a thing that can never be repaired and it is over nothing, over something symbolic or over something that can not be redressed be made right.

It is like the partition of Palestine: There was a moment when Arafat could have signed the piece of paper and nobody would have been happy, but there would have been a solution. Bill Clinton was standing there with his fucking hat full of milk and we all agreed, here it is, we have been working on this for decades, this is the moment, but Arafat said that if he did this he won’t be popular with his little gang. It was the one chance in history and he blew it because he wanted to be made whole in a way that he couldn’t be made whole. There was never a way for a peaceful solution where everyone gets what they want and particularly for Arafat to be made whole. Now you get nothing!

The Seattle Music Commission (RL236)

The other day John was at a meeting with the Seattle music commission. The Weeklies, one of the magazines in town, had written an article about the music commission and had made it visible to people in the larger community for the first time. "Oh, there is a music commission? They had a meeting in city hall, sitting around a big table with name plates in front of them, the chairman has a gavel and people would give PowerPoint demonstrations, but all of a sudden there were all these people in the room. Every time they said ”We would like to open it up for public comment” somebody went up and said they work for Real Networks and they would just like to come and see the meeting, thanks for having me! This time there were several people from a protected class in Seattle who get up at public meetings and rant about their problem with the city.

There were several people who gave little speeches, two of them worked in concert with one another, one got up and gave a 15 minute long speech where she excoriated the music commission for things that they can do nothing about and then her friend followed up, both giving very emotional and long presentations about how it was all their fault. They hadn't even been aware that there was a music commission before this article came out the week before! The music commission was sitting there listening.

It was emotional in a way that the chairman felt like he didn’t want to interrupt because it seemed very cathartic or maybe this was stuff we all needed to hear, but at one point one of the women said in the height of her fury about all the injustices: "I’m standing here leaning on a cane. I used to be young!", but the music commission does not have the power to address the fact that she used to be young, but this was the public comment period. Now there are all these emails back and forth from music commissioners apologizing to each other because no one knew what to do. You don’t have to apologize! John moved that they would make her young again, but he didn’t get a second. There was just a long and uncomfortable silence.

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