RL328 - Inaccurate But True

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: There’s no Aloha medal, referring to the fact that Aloha is not a competition. John met a person who was even more Aloha than he was himself.

The show title refers to John’s daughter saying that division is the minus of times, which is inaccurate, but true.

They start the show making funny voices in some strange Alec Guinness-like D&D accent and they close out the show by doing the same.

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

Teaching his daughter math (RL328)

Merlin’s daughter was playing with a Dungeon-dice this morning, which is a good time to talk about math and that a 20-sided die is really good for doing stuff around 100 in increments of 5. John had this exact experience yesterday when he asked his daughter (happy birthday!) to set the oven to 350 degrees (180 °C), but the knob only has markings for 300 · · · 400 and she didn’t know where 350 was.

They managed to narrow it down, but had to work on this problem for a long time. 25 seems like a weird number because it is an odd number which confuses her because she can’t cut it in half. John told her to think about the space between the three dots. She is only in 2nd grade and it was a big ask, but they were working on it. It is a division problem and she said that division is the minus of times, which is inaccurate, but true.

At some point John started to talk about what a decimal point is although in 2nd grade no-one has ever told her about those. We add zeroes to numbers and a decimal point is a way to take zeroes away from numbers. They finally got to a place where she recognized that the dots were 25s.

Media disappearing from the Internet (RL328)

Merlin thinks that at a certain age everybody should be given a condom and a copy of Come On Pilgrim by The Pixies. Every kid should get a copy of 3 Feet High and Rising (by De La Soul), which is extremely important, and Merlin doesn’t think you can easily get it, except that there are of course ”places”.

John and Merlin started singing the song Three Is a Magic Number from Schoolhouse Rock. That record is hard to get now because they pulled it fully after Disney bought them and John was mad about it back then. Merlin was talking about the great classic that was on Tommy Boy and he misunderstood John because Tommy Boy were not bought by Disney.

John got mad at the Disney empire-building because it is a YouTube- and an Internet-problem. John is increasingly convinced that we need to break the Internet, starting with just cracking it over our knee into two parts and then just never stop, even when our knee hurts. Just keep cracking it into smaller parts, put in against a fulcrum and jump on it!

Sometimes Merlin likes to wind down with YouTube videos. Monty Python used to have a very lively Internet presence, they had a channel with a bunch of stuff which was very smart: If people want to see their sketches, why don’t they put up their sketches? Don’t let it be somebody with hard-coded Latvian subtitles, but put up your own God-damn videos! Merlin went to watch the Argument Clinic and all versions he could find were with something like Thai subtitles. We need to terraform the Internet using the Genesis-bomb (John says Gaia bomb) from Star Trek. Merlin hates the Internet so much he tastes blood. You try hard to make the nice people happy, but oh you guys!

Schoolhouse Rock (RL328)

John is a simple man, he scuttles across the… (floors of silent seas, reference to the poem The Love Song by J. Alfred Prufrock), and he has simple needs. Turning on the TV as a kid had a 40% chance that he would be watching Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck within an hour, albeit there only being 4 channels: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. On Saturday mornings CBS had In the News and ABC had Schoolhouse Rock, and whether you wanted it or not you were going to learn what a noun was. There is a reason why so many Gen-X-ers can sing the preamble to the constitution and know what conjunctions do. They are the hookup phrases and clauses.

They also learned a little teeny dab of the Base-12 numerical system by Little Twelve Toes flying in on a UFO. Merlin found some of them a little dolorous, like the Figure Eight song, but from an adult music standpoint it is very beautiful because it has a lot of chords. Merlin argues that like with all pop songs you got your verses and your choruses and if you have any sense you have a bridge or a guitar solo. In classic pop music, not just The Pixies or Loud and Quiet, one part has to have tension and the other part has to have release. Touch and Go by The Cars is the classic example. Figure Eight is in Double Four time and has very dolorous verses and a balls-out big walk-down chorus. John asks why 3 Is the Magic Number is not in 3/4 time. Mind blown! They would have to redo it, but anyway!

John on the JoCo Cruise (RL328)

John was playing the song 3 Is the Magic Number on the nerd cruise (JoCo Cruise) live with a Rock band, which was very good. Aimee Man was in the show as well, but she didn’t play on this tune. The bass player was a man named Chris, this was the first time John had ever met him, and he was a phenomenal bass player and one of those gentle human beings, but not gentle in a super-passive way, but in a really present way.

At first John was a little bit shy or cautious about him because he was repping a kind of modernist hippie vibe with a droopy Tam o’ Shanter and one of his shirts was a bit off his shoulder. There were a lot of things like Stirrup pants and John was not so sure. Merlin thinks he dated him in 1983. But his vibe was very kind and as John got to know him better he realized that this guy was awesome and a really good guy and John felt like a big dum-dum because he was judging a man by his hat.

John was making it work on the cruise by bringing all the Aloha he could in his small bag, but the bass player was more Aloha than John and John didn’t even recognize it. Aloha is not a competition and there is no Aloha medal! If he was sitting here now, he would say ”There is not a greater amount of Aloha and there is no way to determine if one glass of Aloha is fuller than the other" There is the line ”A man and a woman have a little baby and there were three in the family”, but Molly Lewis sang it and she changed the lyrics to ”Two loving people had a little baby” because on the JoCo Cruise you don’t want to normalize. She is way ahead on the curve on that stuff and there was a little bit of ”Really, do we have to do that?” backstage, but she was right and it was her interpretation of the song.

John had gone on the cruise last minute and it was not what he expected. He was not going to do it at first because he didn’t do it last year and he felt like maybe the cruise had been a phase in his life and now he was in a different phase, but he went protected by the spirit of Aloha. As soon as he arrived he felt like he was fine and good, he was Jim Dandy and he spent the whole cruise floating on a magic carpet made out of dreams.

It was an extremely positive experience to be with his friends, to be entertaining people and to be along for the ride. He got on there too late to have to do a big show, but he joined other people on their shows and that is nice: You come in, somebody hands you a guitar, you play Sloop John B, you get out of there, no blood, no foul. A lot of people came up and said how much they love All the great shows, a lot of people were talking about Merlin Mann, they still have listeners and they are devoted.

A guy John has known from the cruise for a long time came over and started talking to John. He made some references to Roderick on the Line, but he was a bit more savvy than just saying ”Mr. Roderick, I keep a small bag packed” He was a little more canny and a fully developed person.He said he had been listening to the show from the very beginning and he and John were very good friends, just that John didn't know it. John gave him a hug and they were totally friends and only the Internet had kept John from knowing that they were close. He said ”No sweat, totally get it! *fist bump*”

Merlin admires how John was in the exact right state of mind. The story goes that when (Federico) Fellini did 8 1/2, he put a little piece of tape on top of the eye piece that said in Italian ”Remember, this film is a comedy!” and every time he would look through it he would remember. It is about having a certain plasticity about what is happening and to realize that your small bag may be packed with unnecessary anxiety, anticipation, and preparation, to feel bad about what is happening because it is disruptive to what he prefers to have happening. You get into all kinds of singlets if you are not fully prepared to go with whatever is currently the flow.

The Grateful Dead, rainbow gatherings (RL328)

John had a tremendous amount of learning to do when he realized that the bass player was just a doll and he couldn’t spend enough time with him. He was a phenomenal bass player who could do anything! Looking at the Tam o’Shanter, John would have made the mistake of saying that he was from California or worse, and it was all very confusing. John thought he was from a Grateful Dead tradition because he knows a lot of Grateful Dead adjacent musicians and was identifying him from that. John might not be as adjacent to the travelers as he is to the nerds, but he had a shoe and a half over in the Dead universe for a long time.

It turned out that he was not a hippie from California, but from Staten Island. Who comes out of Staten Island? Not only that, but his dad and his uncles owned the Mandolin Brothers music store in New York City. He was a totally versatile player and a kind soul. John is happy to have met him.

In the late 1980s John ran with that crowd and went to a couple of Rainbow Gatherings, but he never went to the Harmonic Convergence because he could never quite grasp the music of the spheres. He saw the Dead a half a dozen times with the Jare Bear (?), with Santana, with Edie Brickell, but never with Dylan. Tom Petty opened for Dylan. Dylan & the Dead was a little later. Tom Petty also was Dylan’s band for a tour, which is why there were the Traveling Wilburys, it all fits together.

John kept showing up to Rainbow Gatherings with a half rack of beer. The rainbow gathering universe has the vibe of ”Welcome home! Have some vegetarian glob! Get trippy, trip out and dance like no one is watching”, but it is not about drinking beer, crushing the beer can on your head and burping as loud as you can. Maybe you bring a flask, but you do not whip out another bottle of Jim Bean.

John never quite squared up with the fact that a big part of why he took LSD is that he could drink all night. The LSD wouldn’t let him get too drunk because you can’t get that drunk on LSD, it supersedes alcohol. John wonders what would happen if you just put those two head-to-head. Which one would win? LSD cannot possibly win if John would have 4 bottles, can it? It is hard to predict what this is going to do to you!

Getting jumped by three guys with axe handles (RL328)

John told the full story in RL50.

One time in one of the truly bad nights John drank a bottle of Jägermeister and was on a bunch of LSD. He got attacked by some guys with axe handles who beat him silly. They broke his hands as he was using it to protect his head and they were beating his head with axe handles. Jägermeister + LSD got him into the scrape because. It was during the gay bashing years and John is not 100% sure that this wasn’t a case of them thinking he was gay.

John was being so bazonkadoo that he didn’t know what happened. They surrounded him and John did not try to diffuse the situation or back down at all, but he just ”Is this what we are doing now? I can take you guys on!” and it turned out he couldn’t because one of them was behind him and all it took was one person behind him with a bat to fuck him up. The combination of drugs was somewhat responsible for John having bad judgement enough and that is probably not where he should have been.

The McElroy brothers (RL328)

A lot of entertainers have a place in the world they occupy, but on the JoCo cruise they are all put together into a space that is not their natural space. It does not just draw from one community where everybody already knows where they stand. For example, They Might be Giants are at the peak of their community and there is no band that they might open for. John was going to say R.E.M., but John Flansburgh hates R.E.M., and they are not going to open for U2.

Here they were on the cruise together with the McElroy brothers who are also at the top of their community. What happens if you put them in a room together? They are not members of one another’s community! Merlin was watching Griffin’s videos who's username is The Pencil Rain. Merlin has a pretty good guess how that one stacks up and Griffin probably had terrible anxiety and had to run to the bathroom. He actually did spent the entire cruise very anxious because he also brought his child and there was all that additional reason to be anxious.

Merlin saw a picture of Justin and Sydnee (McElroy) grinning together on a balcony, and he could see stuff going on in the background with the baby. Sydnee is not anxious at all, she is really centered and incredibly smart and you immediately feel better when she is around and talks to you. You feel calmer and you feel like you are having a wonderful conversation with a really smart person.

The only McElroy brother who is not constantly consumed with anxiety is Travis. He is pretty outgoing in his way. He once said ”I’m the only one of my brothers who is strong” and later he doubled down on it ”I’m strong!” He has very strong hands because he used to work in a theater and build sets and stuff and that is how he met his wife. She was just in the theater and here comes this guy.

Justin and Griffin are anxious in very different ways and about very different things, which is interesting. Griffin has an anxiety because he wants to make sure that everything is working. He is very fretful and he is certain that everything is going to go off the rails at all times. Justin is socially anxious, like ”Is everything okay? Are we okay? Is this okay?” He came up to John and said the he is an enormous fan of They Might Be Giants and he wants to meet John Flansbugh, but doesn’t know how.

Flansburgh was standing 15 feet away and the McElroy brothers were headliners on this cruise. ”So why don’t we walk together over then and talk to John Flansburgh?” - ”Ah no, I couldn’t ask you to do that!” - ”It is fine!” He probably wanted John to walk him over there, but he became anxious that he had asked too much. ”I’m on my way over to talk to him anyway, because I had some stuff to say to John, let’s go over and say hi!”

Of course Flansburgh is very loving and extremely gregarious and he embraces his fans. When a fan comes to him and says that he is very meaningful to them, he goes down with them and wants there to be just the two of them for a little while. Flansburgh has been in this game for a long time, he knows to say ”Thank you!”, and he is extremely sincere, but he guards himself enough that he is not going to go down into every rabbit hole of every They Might Be Giants fan.

Flansburgh understands if somebody says ”Your music got me through my divorce” and he is appreciative, but he can’t possibly talk to every person who survived their divorce because of TMBG, because it is a lot larger number than The Long Winters. The JoCo cruise is full of stories like that. If somebody tells John ”I had cancer and the only thing I could listen to was Roderick on the Line”, John cannot walk away from that conversation.

They walked over, Justin was saying "Hello!" to Flans and they were having a nice conversation. Guess who was there? Merlin and John’s friend Robin Goldwasser (Flansburgh’s wife)! She has her own relationship with the world which is very different from Flans’ and certainly very different from John and Merlin’s, although closer to Merlin’s because they both love Jerry Lewis. They were backstage at John’s concert with TMBG, they drank shots of alcohol and they talked about Jerry Lewis for so long.

It was one of the best nights of Merlin’s life because it is very rare to meet somebody who wants to drink with you and talk about Jerry Lewis and Robin was just such a champ. They were boring John and he told them to stop it. In some (Kurt) Vonnegut world they were in a Karass and they had been waiting their whole lives to meet each other and they didn’t know it.

Robin turned to Justin and said ”Oh hello, I’m Robin Goldwasser” - ”I’m an enormous fan of People Are Wrong!” and he started breaking down his love of Robin Goldwasser’s off-broadway musical from 2004. It had a run, but it is not your normal thing, and he knew all the songs and has a CD of it that he has listened to a lot. All of a sudden John realized that Justin was not just a TMBG fan, but he celebrates their entire catalog and he is a deep-dive on Robin.

Merlin compares it to Sean Nelson and himself: If you really like The Beatles, there is a pretty good chance you like Badfinger, although that is not necessarily the case with John. One time they were sitting in the car and Merlin made John listen to that song about a son and Merlin cried. John does like them, he is not down on them. They got a new record.

Power Pop (RL328)

Ben Gibbard will talk about Teenage Fanclub until everyone in the room passes out. It is like when Merlin tries to talk to John too much about The Smiths: At a certain point John would have to excuse himself, Merlin knows that and he has grown. John on the other hand had to grow to listen to Merlin talk about Sloan. When you also get Eric Corson on the scene, then pretty soon John is the odd man out.

One Chord to Another got played in John’s van, which is an intense listen and they were not a band who would put music on and then talk over it. If somebody said ”Hey, I want you to hear this!”, they would all just listen. John saw Sloan more than 3 times. He loves Power Pop, he loves power and he loves the Pop, and he wrote New Girl in homage of it! Merlin is going to make John a playlist and he is going to sit there while John is listening to the first 10 seconds of every song.

John does like Michael Penn. How does Merlin feel about the album Girlfriend (by Matthew Sweet)? He doesn’t know if he wants to say, he thought it was a revelation, but a lot of people are hard on the Sick of Myself stuff and Merlin likes that, too!

Knowing your position in the Music industry (RL328)

Having TMBG and a McElroy backstage is a Nixon and Elvis situation and you have to get a photo of that. The question in the past has always been that everybody wanted to be friends and in love with one another, but there is a lot of jostling for position within entertainment and it is all about how many records have your sold. Within Indie Rock that is very clear because everybody is in the same stew.

One time John was touring America essentially opposite Fugazi every night. Communities like Chicago had enough Fugazi fans to fill up the Metro and there were still enough Long Winters fans left to fill up the Double Door without it becoming a problem. But if Fugazi is playing in St. Louis there might have been a lot of people who would have come to a Long Winters show, but who then decided they needed to see Fugazi instead. ”They wait, they wait, they wait, they wait” At the end of the night the promoter would say that it was too bad that Fugazi was playing because otherwise they would have done better, and you go ”Arrrgh!”

One night Merlin saw Meat Puppets in Tampa when Whitesnake was playing down the street. Harvey Danger once got told that the reason people didn’t come to their show in Orlando was that Eddie Money was playing. There is no way that was true!

Merlin once had to give a talk at Rutgers the same night of an on-campus performance by something called Deadmau5 and Merlin had a really thin turn-out and was super-mad at whatever Deadmau5 was. He is just a guy with a mask standing in front of a computer. Fucking edge-lords and their fat beats! He makes millions of dollars every time he walks out the door with his mouse-mask on and the genius is that he can take the mouse-mask off and who knows who he is. Merlin was talking about creativity and personal productivity in fucking New Jersey! He is helping a lot of people!

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists sold more records than The Long Winters, but not by an exponential dimension. They are roughly in the same stew. Whenever Ted is with John it is very clear that he is mad not about the Long Winters, but about The New Pornographers, which John takes as an intentional backslap of him. He says ”Why are The new Pornographers in the history books and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are not? Why is John Darnielle and his goats in the history books and I am not?”

This hurts Merlin’s heart! Merlin would put Ted Leo and the Pharmacists in the division somewhat of this fellow Dave Bazan. You go to a Pedro the Lion show and those are two acts that have a rabidly loyal fanbase that might not be a huge slice of the pie, but they are so fucking in that pie.

The Long Winters are not that way. They are over in the stew while these guys are splitting up part of a pie. People come to see The Long Winters because they like The Long Winters. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists have this whole ”We are descended from hard core and blankety blank”, whatever hard core means. Merlin says that Chissel was great, it was a very good band and Merlin bought their CD.

Ted is very political and there are a lot of people who think of Punk Rock as a political movement. His band is symbolic of a whole universe, not dissimilar from Fugazi. It is all tied up in ”We don’t have to pay that much for shows because they are men of the people!” and Bazan has that whole ”I used to be Christian and now I’m not, so if you used to be Christian and aren’t, you can hang with me, but if you are still Christian and believe that somewhere in my heart I am going to be Christian again one day, you can also be at the shows!”

Bazan always has a Question & Answer period in the middle of his shows and there is always somebody asking him what he is going to do about his eternal soul. It is an intense built-in fanbase. At Long Winters shows John asks ”Hey, fuck you guys! How many of you have had a glass of farts recently? Anyway, here is a song that I am going to play” or ”Nice hat! The guy couldn’t guess your weight?” John doesn’t care whether you like this or not, and if the audience gives him any gum, he is like ”Blues Jam!” and he gives them a 7-minute guitar solo!

Half the time John gets half through New Girl and has tell the audience that he doesn't remember the second verse and his band keeps going while they all yell it at him. That is not where you are going to get a cult thing! The New Pornographers are further into the land of The Shins in the sense that their music appeals to the normals or to people out in the universe. If you are an A.C. Newman fan or a Zumpano fan, you are part of the cult, but you can listen to The New Pornographers and basically just be a Neko Case fan. Those people are driving Volvos and listen to NPR.

Backstage at the JoCo Cruise these conditions can create problems, depending on how sensitive you are and where you are in the world. That was equally true at MaxFunCon where Merlin felt even more of a terrible disparity. It was very difficult and awkward, especially at Merlin’s level. It is not like he is James Brown and somebody needs to wrap a cape around him and get him off stage, but he is just a person walking around. There is still that disparity of ”are you on the performing side or on the consuming side” and Merlin finds it very awkward.

You got Paul F. Tompkins and John Hodgman standing next to each other, they love each other and are very close friends, but who can sell more tickets in St. Louis? They both have that somewhere in their mind, even as part of their very close friendship! It never is 100% gone. Then you put them on a boat with fucking Aimee Mann? What is a wahoo?

This situation has always been very uncomfortable for John because he is often presented as one of the big draws on the boat, but some of that is down to Jonathan and Hodgman thinking John was a big deal, which was an initial misconception that happened before they were famous and John was at the peak of his famousness. For a very brief moment they were like ”Wow, that guy is a real Rock musician! He knows famous people and we are just two guys in New York who go to book readings and stuff!” Within 6 months they were both enormous, but they had this residual feeling that John had fans. John is always a little bit uncomfortable with his standing.

Visiting the island of Tortola, non-tourist parts of town (RL328)

This year on the cruise, every time two people started talking to each other and turned their backs on John he put on a lay, got on his Aloha skateboard and skateboarded over to the Taco bar. He left it all alone! It was real! He wasn’t just over-performing at the Taco bar as though he didn’t care. It worked!

John went down to the island of Tortola that was very damaged by the Hurricane, but a long time before that it had already been damaged by the British slave trade. The town of Road Town, the biggest town in the British Virgin Islands, has built a cruise ship dock and they are saying ”Come and bring your Cruise Ship money to the Island of Tortola!” because the nation of the United Kingdom is not giving them a lot of development cash as evidenced by the fact that all of their buildings were falling down after this devastating bomb of a hurricane.

There was also a Disney Cruise boat down in the harbor that was pumping Disney themes from Disney movies so loud that it was rattling your teeth. Everybody up and down the chain at Disney thinks that everybody loves Disney, but if your house has been blown down by a hurricane and no-one came in with any more money to fix it and you are just sitting on a pile of trash, then Disney is not the answer.

Everybody on the boat got off and went on snorkeling adventures, they got on busses and went to beach front bars where they were served things in pineapples, but John went off the boat and went to parts of the town that were not designed for outsiders because if you are in a foreign country and you don’t get yourself into a situation where you are uncomfortable at least for a little while, you are just not getting the whole package.

John did the same thing in Puerto Rico: He went far afield and got to a place where there were people nodding off in doorways and ladies of the sex trade propositioning him. As the sun went down he was pretty far away and he called an Uber. The guy asked him ”What are you doing here? Get in the car!”, but John had never felt unsafe!

For a long time David Rees would tell John to get off and try to find old Reggae 12-inches. They would ask people and people would tell them that there was a guy at the other side of town. They would walk over there and the guy would send them further to the next guy. A couple of times they found a guy who had some crazy old records in the basement. You always need a mission and John’s mission is to go to graveyards. He will spend 45 minutes there up on the hill, just walking around, looking at all of the old stones, trying to get a sense of the history of the place.

In Road Town on Tortola John was walking through a part of town that was not tourist-ready and he saw a guy sitting on top of a pile of garbage. He waved at him but he was conscious where he was and he was not waving like a dummy. He didn’t have a straw head on or his camera out and he was respectful of the place he was. He was not there to gawk! As John waved to the guy, a subtle ”Hey man, what’s up?”, he gave John the finger. It was a 10.000 year finger and there was a lot of information in that finger.

John was on his Aloha skateboard and said ”You know what, I don’t feel the burden of carrying your finger with me any further, but I witness your finger” - ”Yeah, I’m not trying to give it to you! This is our 30 second interaction” It is not exactly like a cat hissing at you, because he was not going to get up from his pile of trash. If John had walked over there and asked what was up with the finger, he would have said ”This isn’t your part of town, what are you doing over here? Why don’t you get back to your fancy boat?” and John would have had to witness that because he would have been absolutely right!

John's Aloha helped him to not do what he would normally do, which is chew on this experience, sit and gnaw on the bone of it, trying to figure out what he could do, what his responsibility was, looking at the history of time and fretting over it, like ”I need to come back to this island with 10.000 cans of Gatorade!” or ”I need to appeal to the British government!” - No! Where are you? Who are you? Where are you? John got right back on the Aloha skateboard and skated away. He skated on down through the town, he saw the government buildings, the government people and the cops at the cop station, and they were also not interested in John because they were doing business.

John was not taking pictures and he was not there to fill up his Instagram feed, but he was just here to see the condition of the sidewalks. People were doing business and John was a comet passing through their solar system. He also did not do the thing he used to do, which was ”Hey man!”, he is not 19 anymore and he is not trying to live here go and ”All people are the same, man!” This is what John likes to do. This is not a public relations tour or a humanitarian thing, but this is what he likes. He learned a lot from their graveyard, hat tip, thank you, my lady, back on the boat!

Everything went by just like a wave. Can you imagine a giant fucking boat and a bunch of white people getting off? John doesn’t have to!

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