RL307 - My Lipstick Girls

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: John felt a lot of pressure, referring to a time when bands had to project a certain attitude of being authentic

The show title refers to the girls who liked The Posies vs the girls that John liked. Both had too much lipstick, but John's lipstick girls wore red like in the 1950s, while the girls who liked The Posies wore purple.

They open the show singing their names. John even had his guitar with him.

John says that people don’t give Merlin enough credit for his singing voice, but Merlin says that he has a very problematic voice that is very sharp when he records it. He knows in his head what key a song is in, which has been remarked upon by people. When he does sing a song with his terrible voice that sounds like a broken soprano saxophone, which it does because he has sinus issues, which is not funny but is a health condition, he usually knows what key a thing is in. Merlin used to tune his guitar by knowing in his head what a song sounded like. Now he has a lot of health problems and doesn’t have the ears and nose like he used to.

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

Pearl Jam, Urge Overkill (RL307)

Merlin has been watching a lot of documentaries and listened to a lot of The Smiths this weekend. Andy says that he always sings the second and you can’t un-hear that. Johnny Marr just played in Seattle but John missed him. It was without Eddie Vedder, though. Johnny Marr and Eddie Vedder did a cover of There is a Light that Never Goes Out at the Ohana Music Festival in Dana Point, California, which is on YouTube and is one of Merlin’s all-time favorite Smiths songs. Eddie Vedder seems like a good sport. Things worked out for him. John gets the feeling that he is living his best life, which is a phrase he had never heard before this year and now he says it all the time. John doesn’t know if he speaks his truth and he doesn’t feel qualified to assess that about another person. He was on one episode of Portlandia and Merlin said that was very funny.

John knows a few of members in Perl Jam and has interacted with all of them except drummer Matt Cameron, who was the drummer of both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, which is weird because you would expect that John would have had some interaction with him. He has certainly seen him, but with every one of the other members in the band he had more than just encounters all the way to interactions. Vedder and John have hung. One time John went into a room and Eddie turned and said ”John!” How’s that? He knows John’s name! Bono wouldn’t remember John’s name. When John thinks of Pearl Jam, their fans and the entire operation, the entire grouping that falls under the heading Pearl Jam and associates, the first word that comes to mind is not ”funny”!

Bands being too serious (RL307)

Merlin thinks the reason why Pearl Jam connected with him hardly at all is because they seemed a little too serious at the time for what they were doing, but they needed to walk the walk of whatever their genre was. Joe Stummer didn't want you to know that he is pretty solidly upper middle class, because that is not on-brand with The Clash. The only time he got lost in the supermarket is when his mom took him there. At that time in that place it was extremely difficult to know exactly how to be. John was there also and didn’t know how to be either, but those other bands had a lot more pressure on them than John did, although it is very hard to gauge how much pressure a person feels and John can only know how much pressure he felt himself. At the time everyone in Seattle was too fucking serious about what they were doing!

Murder City Devils were from Seattle. Merlin saw them at Bottom of the Hill one time. Urge Overkill who did the ”Girl you’ll be a woman now”, written by Neil Diamond, pretended they were being serious about themselves, but they were basically silly and were having fun with it. Merlin likes Sister Havana. John saw them in a small club early on in their touring life and they were wearing jump suits, big sunglasses, high heeled boots and the whole thing. They hung out in the bar before they played their show, it was a nice crowd and everybody was very appreciative, but they never broke character of being really cool the entire time. Merlin thinks that they were ultimately very serious and he wouldn’t be surprised if they did drugs.

When John was in Ken Stringfellow’s band on the tour for the album Touched, which was literally when Merlin and John met one another, Urge Overkill’s Nash Kato came to the show in Chicago. Being on tour with Ken at that time was a very funny scene! When they played in Minneapolis, all of the Babes in Toy Land gals came and when they played in Chicago, Urge Overkill did, and it was just a slice of life of bands that had been popular but not that popular.

John didn’t see The Posies as a musician’s band as much as a band for gals who wore flowery high-waisted dresses and combat-boots, but not exactly the kind John liked, but the other kind with rayon dresses and straight hair that was parted it in the middle. John liked jewish girls in combat boots with a cotton dress and a big shock of tangled curly Lollobrigida hair. The girls who liked The Posies had really straight hair and smoked some kind of fancy cigarettes like American Spirit. Not Marlboro’s, because that was the kind of girl John liked. The girls John liked wore lipstick that was too red, whereas the Posies girls had lipstick that was too purple. Both lipsticks were too dark, but John’s lipstick girls was like 1950s red and they were trying to throw something at us with some 1950s-red lips and dyed black curly hair, while The Posies side was purple magenta lips and it was a whole different scene.

The bands who came out to see Ken Stringfellow when John and Ken were on tour were obviously bands who had run into each other during the era when everybody was looking at that kind of music and was trying to squeeze it for whatever they could get. Those bands all felt a common bond because they had been squeezed, but how much juice had anyone really gotten out? If you had a movie poster that Ken had anything to do with, you didn’t have to invite him in, but he could just slide in through your window. ”I see, you have my bed on the wall!” Everyone was so fucking serious, but there was different levels of seriousness. Nirvana had a sense of humor about themselves, although not really, but definitely more than what Pearl Jam had. They were having fun with it, except nothing was fun, because they weren’t allowed to have fun and all of the fun was ironic fun. It was supposed to look like what fun was supposed to look like if you thought that fun was stupid.

This is why Merlin likes Matador Bands and North Carolina bands. They were silly and fun and a whole bunch of bands was dressed like robots in the 1990s. Merlin was front and center at an Aquabats show. Man Or Astro-man? were consistently super-duper-fun with a great stage show in this tiny little bar they used to go to. Aquabats were also really good musicians. Merlin saw Dread Zeppelin when he was in college. He recently discovered a band from New Zealand that he is utterly obsessed with. Their album would have been his favorite album in 1990 because it is almost everything he loves about late 1980s, early 1990s Indie Pop (Merlin mentions his tweet). Merlin misses the time of Throwing Muses or The Breeders.

So here we are and Merlin still wants John to think that Morrissey is good? Dogs and cats sleeping together? Jesus! John never met Matt Cameron (from Perl Jam) although he has seen him when he walked past him a bunch of times. Kurt Bloch is having so much fun, he can’t stop jumping!John hung out with him two days ago. One time John introduced Kurt to Merlin and it was one of the greatest days in Merlin’s life. Kurt is generally nice! John has known him for 25 years, but he still can’t get entirely inside the head of him. He can get inside the hat of Jeff Ament, though. Kurt Bloch has a child-like quality, but also an extremely perceptive acute intelligence. People underestimate him when they see him on stage, but he has got a lot going on and is a complicated man with a lot of smarts. He is also in touch with the side of himself that will wear ridiculous sideburns for a while because: Why not? Then he will go through a phase where he will say ”Zippidi zap” every time you ask him ”How’s it going?” John admires it very much, but cannot access it inside.

Generation X (RL307)

John was right in the thick of Generation X and he feels he can speak to this. He met other Generation X people and talked to them about their experience, strength and hope. He recognized them because of their secret signals and because of the brand. You hold up a copy of Might Magazine or you squeeze a little lemon juice on them and you can see all their runes. Generation X’s entire philosophy and way of looking at the world was 100% reactionary. All they did was react to what had come before, either with distain or fear or contempt or all reactions in that family. They were traumatized by the cold war, the nukes were always poised and they did not believe there was no hope for the future!

They did not believe in capitalism because they saw through it and realized that it was a dead-end and life-destroying force, but they also watched the global death of international communism that also seemed like a dead-end. They were front and center for the wide roll-out and the rise of irony, they saw that the Baby Boomers had created cool things, cool music and cool ideas, but they watched them squander it and turn into the worst, most bloated, dead-eyed generation in history. Although Generation X had the legacy of their great music and their cultural moment, they also felt nostalgia for a time before they had ruined everything with their fat stupid faces. They wouldn’t go away and they kept sucking all the air out! Just the Rolling Stones alone: "Guys, how can I love you if you don’t go away? Knock it off! We love your music, I want to love you and paint it black. I see a red door and I want you to stop doing albums. We don’t want those Steel Wheels, we don’t want them, Sam, I am!"

Generation X came just after Kennedy, just after Martin Luther King, just after the civil rights movement and just after the excitement of the mid-20th century. All these things had been ruined, murdered and set on fire and Generation X never developed a forward motion or a philosophy of their own. Their philosophy as a generation was just that everything else sucked or was ruined. They came into middle age feeling like that was sufficient. They were still wise because they knew that everything sucked.

The latest generation, the Millenniums do not have that baggage and they have developed a philosophy of life and of the world. They have a forward motion and a plan. Part of their defining characteristics is not counting on the past or the present to help you with pretty much anything. There is so little we can count on that we historically could count on, like: "Whatever, what’s on Spotify now? I’ll never own a house!" They have a lot of the same contempt that Generation X had for past processes, but they don’t have the resignation that they had. In 1990, Merlin just assumed that Apartheid would go on forever. They were set against it and when it went away, they would turn their ”against” to something else.

Generation X was always ”against” the Status Quo, but they never articulated a future beyond it. Their future version was ”Well, not this!” and you see that a lot in the left. But then what? Merlin says that the Millennials are old souls (reference to RL220), but John doesn’t know about that. John disagrees with a lot of Millennial world views, but at least it is an ethos. John sees a lot of Generation X people adopt a lot of Millennial ethos because they never developed their own ethos. That is what is so frustrating about Generation X: They could be helpful now, but they are not. They are just paralyzed by the fact that they never came up with anything and they are sitting around and ”So now I’m the middle aged guy who is a problem? No, I’m the ironic one with the backwards baseball hat.” They don’t have anything to stand for and they can’t say they are in favor of ”this”, because they were never in favor of anything. All they were in favor of was ”Ogghh”, less distortion! Or whatever! They didn’t even like distortion which was the thing they had perfected and then they hated themselves for even that. Come on!

John getting self-help books for his 50th birthday, mindfulness (RL307)

John just had his 50th birthday. He is hard to buy a present for, but you won't get him nothing for his 50th birthday. Merlin is feeling the same pressure because he has one of those coming up in his household. Do you give John a scarf or a derringer? John’s sister gave him a self-help book which she likes. Right there: Getting someone a self-help book for their 50th birthday is kind of like buying somebody soap or a fragrance knowing that they don’t wear a fragrance. She got him the book called The Presence Process which arrived in the mail a couple days late.

She explained that it is really hard to read because it reads like it was written for a 5-year old and John will hate it and be really frustrated by it, but there is a lot of wisdom in it about living in the moment. This present feels not quite like a present. It was sitting on the table in John’s living room and he would walk past it and look at it and he would think that this was a self-help book written for a 5-year old but he needs to wade through it somehow to find the germ of an idea. Maybe if he just googled it and read the Wikipedia page it would solve the issue for him?

Then John’s mom came through the room, saw the book and asked if Susan gave it to him. She also said that John is going to hate it, but it has interesting things in there and it is written for a 5-year old. The next day she showed up with a different book about mindfulness (maybe this one?) and said that this book is also difficult to read and John will hate it. She explained that John needed to read this book and it will help him to read the Presence Process. There are a lot of those books in the same vicinity.

John put the two books together, hoping they would cancel each other out and create a portal to another world, but it didn’t happen. Then his mom sat down and said ”Here is what you need to do”, which is one of her favorite ways to start a sentence. She and Susan often have a plan and John heard them lay out many a plan for him and this is not a new plan, but the revisiting of a longstanding plan for him. It seems very un-mindful to try to fix John when he was 13. Maybe he should give them a book about acceptance? John could not allow his eyes to unfocus, because she can see if they do and then she will say ”Am I boring you?” and he cannot say ”You are boring me!” because a world of hurt would descend upon him.

John’s mom said that all these voices in his head that are telling him bad things, like the one (called Rudy) that is telling him that one day he is going to end up in the back of a cop car with a bag over his head and the one that tell him that everything he has done is for shit and he will never do anything worth remembering and Wolfgang the watcher up in his chair: That is his real self and he needs to stand with the watcher and the watcher is the one who knows that Rudy is not the watcher. John was so far away, flying with the eagles! He wasn’t exactly present, but once his mom or sister have come past the point where they are watching him carefully to see if he has checked out, they get off into a reverie where they are not paying that much attention to John anymore because they are expounding and as long he makes affirmative mouth noises he is okay.

John hasn’t read these books yet, he hasn’t even read the book he needs to read to read the book! ”You are the sky, not the weather!” - ”Be the ball! See the ball!” He reached for the Presence Process book to read some of the summary and some of the author’s background who is from South Africa and was impacted by blissful unconsciousness. Merlin mentions a famous turns-out book called Predictably Irrational written by Dan Ariely who was recovering from terrible burns. Every single girl John has dated in the last 35 years showed up with a predictably irrational T-shirt on. ”I’ll have a double Americano and whatever you are having!” - ”What color lipstick is that?” - ”Your hair is not naturally black, is it?” - ”What time do you get off?” - ”How long until you can put a bag on my head and put me in the backseat of a car?” - ”Is that dress felt?”

John was driving in his Jetta this morning, a 4-door VR6 sedan, and was thinking back to one of the candidate debates in the city council race from 2015. He was sitting up at a dais with a bunch of people quizzing him what he is going to do about the sidewalks in Lake City (see RL302) and he was revisiting the things he had said during the debate that he could have said more betterly. All of a sudden, the watcher told him that he is not in a car with a bag over his head, but he is just in a car many years later and John realized that he is not relitigating that moment, but he was back in his Jetta. Thinking back to a city council meeting is not something John enjoys or wants at all and it is debatable if it was useful to what he was going to do today. Processing things that have happened is one of the ways we learn and grow.

Five months ago in May this year, the windshield wipers were trashed. It is an easy job to replace them because all you have to do is pull over, buy some windshield wipers and put them on there. Because it has not rained in Seattle at all since then, which is insane and pretty off-brand for Seattle, John has not ever found cause to actually go and change the windshield wipers through this entire period. All of us who note the weather, which is to say all of us old people, when we meet one another coming through the rye, which is to say on the Metamucil isle at the grocery store in the middle of the afternoon because none of us work, we say ”How’s it going? It hasn’t rained in a while! Boy, I’ll say! Dry out there! The Rhododendrons are really wilted” These are the kind of conversations old people have.

Today was the first real rain today and as John was driving he saw a car that had skidded out and crashed into a barrier. It was sitting there with the hood munched and steam coming up. It made John feel terrible, because that person had surely been driving like they have done every day since May, they took that corner at the same speed as they did for months and they had forgotten that after the first rain the streets are very slick. This day sucks for them and it feels bad! John’s windshield wipers were basically frayed like a fringe jacket and he couldn’t use them, It was like he would be in The Birds because his windshield wipers had all these feathers. People were spinning out right and left and John was driving with no windshield wipers.

This is where John is in life! He is in a minor-league emergency, but it is requiring his full attention. That is why his recent motorcycle-trip was so great (RL300), because for 6 straight days what he was doing required his full attention. Daniel Kahneman calls that System 2 Thinking, which is being really concentrated on something and calling upon different reserves in your mind. You can’t help but be in the moment! John was basically saying ”Look out for the woman with the grey hair, dig into your memory to recognize a sound”

John was trying to think all the time how to stay on a motorcycle that he was not comfortable driving and he was never allowed to start ruminating on all the things he should have done back in the old days. Merlin says that most of us don’t remember to remember, but we have a monkey mind that is just going wherever it is going to go. The most basic part of mindfulness is realizing that you are thinking something. It is making a practice out of realizing what you are thinking and at some level being able to regard it, like the watcher, and that is not who you are, but it is a thing that is happening. "Remember to remember! I am here!”

Running for office and then not running again (RL307)

Not very long ago, he put his brain trust together again for a dim summit. Normally they sit and talk how they could make $1 million, but this time John said that they have never really talked about the city council run, because after it was over, they all just pretended that it never happened, but: "Let’s talk about it!" They went around the table and talked about whether or not they did a good job and how it felt. A lot of running for office is predicated on whether or not you are going to keep running for office over and over. They concluded that they had done a really good job at setting themselves up for running again and by deciding not to run again, all of that work didn’t matter. It is quite like building the framework of a house that you then just leave out in the weeds, or building a Burning Man and then burning it.

Merlin says it must be frustrating to leave that unexamined and when you do examine it, the upshot seems to be that John actually did okay if he thinks about doing it again, but if he is not doing it again, does he have to accept it as a failure? It depends on how John chooses to frame it. Those are life experiences like his walk across Europe. The result was inconclusive. John did not write Eat, Pray, Love afterwards and become a successful married person. Not because he took that car ride (see RL273, One Kilometer), but because while he ate and prayed, he didn’t love. He saw the girl in the window in that hotel in Bad Ralfenstein where he knocked over the postcard rack.

John can appraise the walk across Europe because it is a discrete and bordered event that lasted x number of months and it had a beginning and an end. He is not saying it would have been more successful if he had continued all the way to Jerusalem. He should have thrown those boots in the Elbe and bought a new pair of boots (see later in RL309), but he does not say that the only utility of walking across Europe was that it be applied to something else which he failed to apply it to.

It is like going to college: At the end you are done and no-one can ever take it away from you. With John's run for office there is that element of it that it is a success, but by not running again it becomes like building the foundation of a building that you don’t build. Did you do a good job on the foundation? Yes, you built the best foundation anybody has ever seen, but without building the building it is impossible to get a group of people together and say ”Are we proud of this?” because you never built the house. John does not want to run again like that, he doesn’t want to build on that foundation and he intentionally didn’t build on it in the aftermath.

Now it is three years later and if he started to run for office again he could collect some of the energy that he put together then, but he didn’t do what he should have done, which is immediately take that big mailing list and all his name recognition and begin his next run for something. Whenever he talks to people in the world about it, they will ask him when he will run again because he did a great job, but it is all based on ”when are you going to run again?”

John felt very strongly about not wanting to run again! He had walked out of that campaign event and said that this is not actually for him, isn’t that funny? That was really good to know! If he had thought that it was for him, he would have turned around and started again. He was afraid that he wouldn’t be sure if he should do it again despite the fact he didn’t like it. He felt so definitive about it that this cold hand was not on his shoulder, but there is still no resolve in it.

Ben Acker visiting (RL307)

Merlin’s good friend Ben Acker stayed at John’s house last night. This morning they walked John’s daughter to school and Ben was very good with Marlo. He made eggs for them, went over her homework and walked to school, she gave him a high-five and they started to walk back and it started to rain. Ben asked what this was, because the air was full of water, but it was not really rain. That is what rain in Seattle looks like! ”Walking in the rain and the snow. Well, there is no way to go. I was feeling like a part of me was dying” (lyrics)

Greece (RL307)

Merlin calls Greece for ”South Macedonia”, like if you were in South Philadelphia, born and raised and your parents have gone on a week's vacation. John still remembers that time when he impressed that girl, but he didn’t just impress her! Listeners were frustrated that Merlin didn’t encourage John to tell them more about the time he penetrated, but Merlin is sex-negative and would prefer John would do it somewhere else. Just go have all the fun you want, but keep it to yourself or write about it in places where Merlin doesn’t have to read it.

John’s psychiatrist recommending Epictetus (RL307)

(John has told this story in RW108)

John's psychiatrist decided that he didn’t want to recommend Eckhart Tolle or Michael Brown because he recognized that John would stare out the window and silently rolling his inner eye. Instead he wanted to be smart enough to trick John into reading something and asked how John felt about the Greeks like Epictetus who is one of those guys who has nice little aphorisms, like ”We have no power over external things… and the good that ought to be the object of our earnest pursuit is to be found only within ourselves”. We had access to this stuff already in 55 AD!

John’s psychiatrist wisely thinks that if he sends John to Epictetus, maybe John will be sitting in a café with his Epictetus, looking at the girl with black hair and too-red lipstick and she will say ”Hey, what are you reading?” - ”Oh, I’m just reading Epictetus. He is like a Greek stoic, but he is really helping me. What are you reading?” - ”Eckhart Tolle” - ”Actually, these books have a lot in common, what are you doing later?” It turns out Epictetus is not quite like Sun Tzu, but he is one of the ancients like the Pentagon guys and Smarty Pantses. It is the Presence Process for the people who like to talk about Marcus Aurelius.

John saw through this ruse! He was looking at the books on the shelf at his psychiatrist and he had Epictetus right there. Epictetus is one of five authors who his psychiatrist has decided in his many years of school that were going to be his go-to. John and Merlin continue to mock people recommending classic authors to one another.

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