RL349 - The Beefs

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John ports them through, referring to something John said while Merlin was giving him tech support with his computer.

The show title refers to the beefs that different bands had between each other in the late 1990s in Seattle because some of them made it big and some of them didn’t.

They start the show singing each other’s names like in the old days.

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

Children staying over at Merlin’s house without him knowing (RL349)

Merlin woke up this morning to an 11-year old girl that he didn’t know was going to be in his house. Not the regular 11-year old girl, but the backup girl, one of his daughter’s dear friends. ”Just stay in school and drink your milk!” Nobody tells Merlin when there are going to be surprise children.

John woke up this morning: ”Dudidudidu” The nurses all gathered 'round (lyrics Bad To The Bone by George Thorogood & The Destroyers). Before he was even out of bed he got a text from his daughter’s mother saying that there was a strange bike at the end of her driveway, but his daughter told him that the boy who lives down the street parked his bike to go to Jacob & Dylan’s house.

Apparently this house is some kind of way-station on the way to Jacob & Dylan’s from Jarred & Kayla’s. They don’t have any Aidens, but Merlin has so many Aidens that even the surname initials are running out. There are so many Aiden L that they have to go with Big Aiden L and Little Aiden L. John Siracusa calls that namespace pollution. Aiden L sounds like a Jerry Lewis name. John daughter knows two Aidens. Merlin knows a Daenerys (a name from the Game of Thrones series), the younger sister of one of his daughter’s classmates. You have to be careful what you name your kid! It is a great character, but it has some baggage now. Little Ramsay Bolton!

John’s startup-disk is full (RL349)

John said his startup-disk was full and Merlin suggested to make a whole tech support episode. He doesn’t know if their listeners would enjoy that, but what is in the show is in the show! Merlin recommended John to get rid of something big, things you don’t see, like in the Downloads folder. He told John to use different keyboard shortcuts to open the Downloads and the Desktop folders, to show the file size column in Finder and to sort by size. Merlin is sorry for John Siracusa to have to listen to this. The largest object John found was 1.66 GB but he still needed that.

Merlin then instructed John to download the OmniDiskSweeper tool. John is not supposed to say where his computer is from and what operating system version he is using. Right now he couldn’t even upgrade because he has no space to download the upgrade. Merlin usually waits a year until he upgrades and he doesn’t recommend John to do it.

John doesn’t want to download the OmniDiskSweeper until after the show because it would degrade the sound quality. He doesn’t want anything to fill up the tube so that his voice keeps its Basso profondo. One in 10.000 listeners feels like the Skype squeeze takes all the Cello-like resonance out of his voice and they just can’t bear it.

John not remembering his Amazon password (RL349)

Amazon asked John on his phone to put his password in and he tried every email and password he ever had, going back all the way to 1998: ”a2bi1175” and none of them worked. The Amazon (the rainforest) is on fire, but there is no media coverage about it. Put down the fucking chicken sandwich and save everything! They offered John to send him a recovery password to his email, but he wasn’t sure which email to put in.

Cross-posting on social networks (RL349)

John uses Instagram and he is in a situation like John Hodgman used to be with Tumblr: He preferred to interact with the world through Tumblr and he ported everything through to Twitter, which John does with Instagram, but he doesn’t know how many people will follow the links to what he is talking about on Instagram.

Twitter does deliberately not show the image, which is super-frustrating and you only get the first characters of what you typed. John used to yell at Hodgman about this on his Tumblr because he didn’t want to deal with his Tumblr. John doesn’t even remember how to post a picture on Twitter and people are mad about this person with his Instagram: ”Leave it!

John unable to find his unread messages (RL349)

John’s mail program is the one with the bird of prey on the stamp (Apple Mail) and he ports his other mail programs through so they arrive there. He uses a POP, an iPOP, and an IMAP iPOP. Currently the mails from one of his accounts don’t come through and Merlin had already looked at that before.

There is a little red number ”4” in the corner of the bird stamp, indicating that John has 4 unread messages, but the inbox has no unread messages. One subset of the inbox that looks like a foreshortened physical mailbox is iCloud which John never used once in his life, and the other one is Gmail which says he has 4 unread messages, but the inbox doesn’t.

Merlin instructed John to sort by unread, but after he did that he had 5 unread messages and the one that arrived at the top was a marketing mail from Propellerhead Software, asking him if he wanted to make music the way that he wanted because big changes are coming to the Reason Rack. They somehow kicked off Siri in Merlin’s office.

John's first email is the ”Welcome to Gmail” email from 2004 and the second one is from Merlin, sending a bunch of photos from The Long Winters in 2004 that were taken with a film camera and then scanned in. It was forwarded from the original email address ”moc.loa|snehtaniniar#moc.loa|snehtaniniar” and shows John wearing his Fiver T-shirt and playing his Rickenbacker. He had long sideburns and no other facial hair. Eric Corson is also shown playing the Rickenbacker, which means they are playing Blue Diamonds.

The next email is from Eric Corson, asking John to send him the Christmas song if it is possible. Also, he had talked to Babs and had she said they had plenty of time on the Posies song. Babs used to do benefit shows where she had every band in town come and play one song. John’s band was doing some Posies song. Eric didn’t capitalize any letters in his email because he is a youth.

The fourth email is from another Eric, sending John some snippets he should play on the iTunes, but when he did you couldn’t hear it on the podcast. John had to snap his fingers at his little girl who was shoulder-surfing and looking at things he was opening, like: ”Hey, get out of here!”

Merlin recommended John to check for his messages on the Gmail web interface. Merlin is struck by how brief these early emails from people are because for a long time it was considered rude by many people to send a short email. People used to write emails like letters with a greeting and so on. John couldn’t find any unread messages on the web interface either and he even used the mark-all-as-read command. At the bottom there was a thing he had never seen before, saying ”Deby Jane is inviting you to a Hangout”. Wasn't Google Hangouts gone? When he reported her, the next thing that came up was a video call he was on in 2017.

John discovered a mail from Merlin from 2005, saying ”Mail okay?” and an email from his dad in 2005, an old-person thing where they were sending memes back and forth, the wonderful picture of Microsoft in their earliest days where everyone is wearing weird-shaded glasses frames and all the boys have long hair and beards except for Bill Gates. It says: ”Microsoft in 1978. Would you have invested?” John’s dad replied to this: ”The tallest one is the spitting image of my son John. Love Dave” He looks like the sheriff from Stranger Things, but doesn’t look anything like John, or like Jeff Lynne from ELO if he had worked out.

Merlin’s first email was from 2002-07-18, a receipt for a copy of Omni Outliner 2 for $29.95 he bought from Omni Group. Later Merlin started doing some work with them and now they give him freebies sometimes.

John’s oldest and latest email are both from Merlin, Merlin is book-ending his entire Gmail! That is 15 years of email, 71.000 messages, his inbox is not zero. ”Merlin, like the magician?” John has more than 43 folders.

Later during the recording John cleared the unread count on his Google Mail account by restarting Apple Mail.

MBMBaM finally licensing their title song, Justin meeting John Flansburgh (RL349)

Merlin got a message that a shipment of MBMBaM merch for his daughter is on the way. There is a lot of merch pirating. People just make stuff and sell it on Etsy! Some of the best MBMBam merch are really cool shirts, but they don’t get a penny out of it, and there is not enough policing.

The McElroys are really nice people and you can tell from their program that they are fun! Merlin’s daughter is so into the adventure zone right now, it is upsetting. Her new middle school has a D&D club that she is considering. Merlin doesn’t know the McElroys personally, but they are just aware of each other on the Internet. He feels a bit creepy how much he knows about them and he couldn’t go to their last two shows because he was informed he had to be at another place.

Merlin and John are very anxious of being a fan of someone and creeping them out, which is the worst! They always say: ”Just ask her, dummy! It is not a lady zoo! If you have a crush on somebody, just ask them!”, but then we also have our friend John Hodgman who says: ”It always hurts to ask!”

One time the three McElroy brothers were standing around at the side of a party and good old pal and friend of the show John Flansburgh was on the other side of the party. Justin, the oldest brother, came over and told John that he would like to meet John Flansburgh, but he doesn’t know how and doesn’t want to make him uncomfortable.

Meanwhile Flansburgh was over there, talking, spilling his drink, fixing a lot of people’s problems they didn’t know needed fixing, and telling them what they need to do to finish their album. Travis would never do this. He would stand on the tip of his shoes because he doesn't seem to suffer from quite the level of social anxiety than the other two do and he would put his tongue right into your mouth.

Justin asked John to help him, but he didn’t want to bother John either. John suggested to walk over there right now and meet Flansburgh and John got Justin's hand and pulled him through the crowd. As they came over to Flansburgh he turned and John said: ”John, this is Justin from the McElroy brothers” - ”Oh!”, like ”I don’t know who that is, but: Yes!” Apparently Flansburgh listens to this show, but not their show.

Merlin is grateful that anybody listens to this show and he is super-grateful about who doesn’t listen to this show. He can think of at least two people he is glad don’t listen to this show and John can think a dozen, or even a dozen kinds of people he is glad they don’t listen. Thank God podcasts are hard to get into! If they would be easy to get into they would have so many problems and they would have to explain so much shit from 2012 to people: ”Which should I listen to first? The early episodes or the latest episodes?” - ”Just don’t listen to it!”

Robin Goldwasser, John Flansburgh’s wife who is empirically the best, was standing there and Justin turned to her: ”Robin, I really loved …” and then he referenced an obscure project that Robin had worked on in 2002 (see RL328, the work is People Are Wrong). Justin not only knows it, but loves it and then speaks about it, he did not All the Great Shows her, but he knew whereof he spoke and Robin was flattered and appreciative. Then he turned to Flans and said: ”Anyways, I am a super-big fan”, but he had given himself the golden ticket.

Merlin fell in love with her immediately the first time and they talked about Jerry Lewis for so long! It was at the Great American Music Hall at a TMBG concert that was like a playground and they were running around like kids throwing water balloons. She was so gracious and she can hold her drinks and she is very funny and fast. That was back when they all smoked cigarettes a lot. One time Robin and John were sitting on Merlin’s front steps smoking cigarettes because they couldn’t smoke in the house of course, this was before there were children and vaping involved, talking about how good everything was!

The McElroys have treated John well earlier this year. They had been using John’s It’s A Departure for all these years and this year they came to him and wanted to legitimize and professionalize their arrangement because they had been using that song for free for all these years. It seems like a nice thing to do because their show got bigger than they expected.

Three brothers from West Virginia have a podcast where they answer mail? This was back before John even knew what a podcast was. He might even have had one at that point, but he still didn’t know what it was. They had asked him: ”Can we use your song, sir?” - ”Yeah, sure kid! Stay in school!”, but now 8 years later they run a media empire.

Griffin (McElroy)’s username on pretty much every console game is pencilrail, which is a song by They Might Be Giants.

Amazon Alexa (RL349)

At that point in the recording the Amazon Echo in John's room started playing NPR News read by Lakshmi Singh and John couldn’t make her stop, so his daughter just unplugged it and threw it in the toilet. ”Way to go, babe! Nuclear option!” That kid has got it! Merlin also likes Hansi Lo Wang. There is one lady who has 4 names, a really baller name, and she does the weekend news sometimes. John doesn’t listen to any radio, but Merlin wonders how Alexa then started playing the News Update on NPR.

Sugar From Sand, RotL title song (RL349)

Merlin wonders if he should pay John for using Sugar From Sand as the title song for Roderick on the Line and he still thinks that Josh is wrong and it is a terrific song. He likes the lyrics and it is a God-damn home-made American shame that people only every heard the beginning of it. John gave it to Merlin a long time ago to listen to and Merlin knew it was a hit, but Rosenfeld said it was not. No-one who has listened to this show has ever heard it and it seems crazy to get any joy from keeping people in suspense for over 10 years.

There are more great lost Long Winters songs, like Pound Sign Seven (#7) which used to be a way in old voicemail to delete messages. There was half a record that never got released around the time of Ultimatum. John had some really good tunes and Merlin listened to the first 10 seconds of every song, which John found frustrating.

The lost Western State Hurricanes record (RL349)

Next week John is going in to master the Western State Hurricanes record with Ed Brooks, who has mastered every Long Winters record. Once it is mastered, they will be compiling the Liner notes. Merlin’s friend Dr. Wave liked the two episodes they did about that album (RL341 and RL342).

Bands from the Seattle scene that have been forgotten (RL349)

There were bands like Flop all the way up to the Fastbacks who are deeply famous in a very narrow slice of the pie. You also get Nevada Bachelors and Karma (?). Nevada Bachelors made two albums with great Pop music on PopLlama, but no-one has ever heard of them. Mike Squires and Jason Finn played on their second record.

For the first record they were a three-piece with Robb Benson as the lead singer, Dusty Hayes as the drummer and Ben Brunn as the bass player. During The Bun Family Players era John watched them at a house party and thought there was no better band. Robb Benson is an incredible song writer and those records are fun.

Sunset Valley is another example. Merlin also thinks of the Atlanta band Donkey that nobody knows anymore. They literally had exponential growth in Tallahassee. The first time it was just the bartenders seeing them, the second time it was five people, until they became one of the hugest draws. Then you never hear about them again!

The incandescence of a Power Pop song like Flop - Sister Anne (by MC5?) still gives Merlin shivers. ”Sister Anne is in a garden watering her mother’s Dahlias” It is perfect, but nobody knows who these people are now. What the fuck happened?

As The Sunset Valley record Ice Pond came out John was established enough that he could walk up to them and say: ”I will play second guitar in your band for nothing, I just play the chords behind the chords on this complicated record that needs more than just three players. I pay for my own hotels, I ride along on a skateboard behind the van. Just let me be in this band, please!” - ”Eh, thanks, but we got it covered!” and John was so disappointed because he liked Ice Pond so much. The record before that has a song called Jackass Crusher, which is the last good song. They were on John Vanderslice’s MP3 page up there with Beulah and such.

Merlin thinks of Beulah or Creeper Lagoon, which was the first San Francisco band CD he ever bought when they came there in 1997. They had some personal issues, but in 1998/99 they came out on a major label. What happened with Beulah? What happened with those bands that were so much better than other bands? They had to be destined to at least be better known. Those two were bands that got out, they were both big in 1998, but the scene was populated by dozens of bands who never even got a Friday night headlining show at The Crocodile.

In a lot of bands the guitar player was a better guitar player than John, the singer was better-looking than John, the shows might even have been more exciting, and the painting of that band suggested that it had 7/10 elements that would propel it far further down the field than The Long Winters or the Western State Hurricanes, but for whatever reason by hook or crook John ended up having a low-level Indie Rock career while a lot of those bands, guys who had practiced and practiced, people who were truly living the Rock life, didn’t.

The Seattle music scene was small and every once in a while it rubbed up against the Portland scene or the San Francisco scene when you really got sophisticated. Vanderslice was very mobbed up with some of these bands and he was one of the people who brought those two worlds together back then. The first time The Long Winters played San Francisco it was very exciting to be somewhere else and play the Bottom of the Hill, which is where Merlin met his wife at a Thinking Fellers show (see RL12). John has a lot of pictures of Merlin, Maddy and himself at the Bottom of the Hill, back when Merlin was taking photos with the smeary thing with the flash, the Rock’n’Roll filter, it was so good, the Charles Petersens (?)

There was a Punk faction, the era of painting your fingernails with white-out and wearing black Sta-Prest jeans, the Romulan period. There was also Jingle Jangle Power Pop, pre-Indie Pop, before Death Cab broke big. All Time Quarterback (by Ben Gibbard) had happened, but Death Cab were not yet a world-beating band those first two years, Something About Airplanes…

John has a poster with the Western State Hurricanes at the top, Death Cab in the middle and Nevada Bachelors at the bottom. They played several shows together in that configuration. Before the big one at the Okay Hotel Death Cab asked the Bachelors if they could go first because they all had to get back to Bellingham and go to work in the morning. They wanted to open even though they were second on the bill, which was of course fine. This was in stark contrast to a few years when the attitude of bands was: ”How big you think your draw is tonight?”

Merlin says that a typical 3-band bill in Florida would start at 10-11pm. It might as well have been called First Class, Business Class and Coach, it was super-clear that somebody who had paid for First Class would not be happy being seated in Coach. There was a lot of dignity involved. You might think that having to go on at 1am on a Tuesday night was a form of punishment, but in fact you were very proud that you were the headliner. Only later did they realize that everybody leaves and this is terrible.

They were part of a scene of bands where very few of them went onto a different level of being a band, most bands didn't even go to a second location. You don’t even use the area code when you talk about their phone number because no-one from out of town is every going to call them, and it is so capricious why this band should ever leave town and that band shouldn’t!

What happened in the Seattle scene in 1998 does not matter to most people now at all, including people who were in it, because they have moved along and life kept going. On the other hand if you had a super-cool Rock band in Seattle from 1994-98, you had fans and T-shirts and your tapes were for sale, you bought a van, you had a practice space that was decorated with Christmas lights, you decided that your look was bell bottom corduroys, and by 2001 Indie Rock had swept in and nobody cared anymore because the times had changed, it is seductive to try to find a reason for why that happened or didn’t happen.

Often you look for some kind of conspiracy. It wasn’t that the band was good, but they sucked off the right people, they sold out, or they wrote songs that weren’t honest in order to try and make it. There is an infinite number of reasons why this band got popular and that band didn’t.

90% of those reasons are generated by the band who didn’t make it because they are looking for a reason. For once history is written by the losers! There are rec rooms right now with a group of 50-year old guys who are still wearing corduroy bellbottoms, but they have a job somewhere and they are sitting there half drunk, going: ”Remember the time that that now successful band opened for us? And then they sold out…”

It was a lot easier back then to point to small things and call them sell-out moves, but that doesn’t happen like that now because nobody is worried about that. When New Slang by The Shins appeared in a McDonalds commercial everybody on Live Journal was livid and felt utterly betrayed.

There was a story of Superchunk doing the British Knights commercial because they were either going to get paid or the song was going to get ripped off by lawyers close enough that they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Now they could buy a van! That was the thinking in the early days before this became a normal way for having a revenue stream in the absence of record sales.

Merlin had been arguing with Dan Collin from Live Journal about New Slang as he was a fucking 35-year old man who was livid and felt betrayed by them. That song was in his bones and when the commercial came on his TiVo with a man feeding a French Fry to a baby he was like: ”OMG!” This was something from a very sad textbook!

That moment freed them all! There are a lot of commercials that John’s band would never have been able to accept until The Shins, whom everybody loved, accepted a McDonalds commercial, which was the ultimate sell-out. They could have done Exxon, but McDonalds? Their whole world came crashing down and everybody pointed their fingers at them: ”J’accuse!” They went: ”Huh?” and it was water off a duck’s back. The clouds parted and bands realized that they could get paid money for their music. It was great!

The Oral History Project (RL349)

John initiated the Oral History Project with the idea of using the lost Western State Hurricanes record as a gathering-point to tell the story of the Seattle music scene in the late 1990s. The band was both galvanizing and divisive, like every band will always have some quadrant of a scene who hate them, and it was a time when there were a lot of good bands, most of them no-one has ever heard of. It was a local time back when you could have a really vibrant scene.

It involved emailing a lot of the people from the Seattle scene in 1998 who are still alive with a questionnaire trying to elicit stories from 1998/99. A lot of people replied, some answered the questions, while others understood that they were trying to get stories out of them. A lot of people also said they didn’t remember anything, some didn’t reply, and some were grouchy about it because the emails came from an account that had them feel this was spam or some illegitimate way. Jonathan Poneman at Sub Pop isn’t going to reply to anybody’s email that is asking him for his reminiscences.

The project is conceived as an accompanying document that goes along with the Western State Hurricanes record. Releasing it feels like it was 20 years ago and it was of a time and a place. John is going to take over for a little bit, trying to elicit some more stories from people because rehashing the culture battles of 1998 is funny and their world was so small! There is surely still some significant beef that people are still not talking about and some really sore spots. The beefs live on! The beefs persists!

John is hoping that the project will get some people out of the woodwork to rehash those old grievances and that they will use the Western State Hurricanes record as a way of transporting themselves back because it sounds like Seattle in 1998. It is a band that didn’t make it. John made it out, but the band didn’t, although it was a popular band within this small world and everybody thought it was going to get out.

The project could be the place where they all can tell the story of a lot of people, and even people in Tallahassee can read it and remember what it was like back when in order to hear a band you had to get their tape. That story hasn’t been told exactly, partly because: ”Who cares?” It doesn’t have an Elton John movie with a lot of sex in it.

Nowadays Merlin just goes on Spotify, especially when he needs a break from Twitter, and he has a day where he discovers bands he has heard of, bands he hasn’t heard of. He goes to the ”Fans of this band like” section and just starts clicking and clicking. What a different world! You used to get paid because people bought your cassettes. Now you might not get paid, but people can find out about you. You can be in West Virginia and discover a band from Seattle without having read about it or heard about it, but you just tumble across it.

Merlin would love to hear that story told because someplace else in America he was living it the same time. He was watching the band Darth Vader’s Church, a Death Metal band who were touring in Germany and were relatively successful in Florida and in the US get big. Merlin’s friend’s band Flanders got regionally big and you could see the success of a lot of the bands from North Carolina and Georgia come through on that circuit that had been dug by Black Fly and the Minutemen. That story is almost a regional Our Band Could Be Your Life thing!

Like with all content these days, the Western State Hurricanes record is going to come out and 10 days later it will be over, like dropping a season on Netflix where nobody is talking about it 3 days later although somebody spent a year on making this. People will ask: ”Do you have anything else? Is there any more content?” Nobody even thanked mom for making dinner.

John has no illusions that this is anything more than just a click-through, but it has already been super-fun for him and the others. Adding more things to it just seems more fun until John will have emptied out his whole basement full of old posters and tapes. He won’t have to store these anymore, but they just went out into the world. They will play two shows in the spring and sell these posters at these shows. Maybe they will stop being this Albatros that follows John everywhere.

Merlin has a copy of Sugar in Sand sitting in iTunes and John should let him know if he ever wants to pull the trigger.

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