RL359 - Cowboy Tune

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: It was discomfortable, referring to John having a skin tag in his private area that was getting discomfortable and so he mentioned it to his dermatologist while he was there for another procedure.

The show title refers to a phrase coined by John’s architect friend Ben King who was fixing the timing on his RV by just rotating the distributor cap slowly until it was correct without using a strobe gun because you couldn’t reach in there properly and see anything.

John starts the show playing a harmonica and they are jamming around singing.

John has noticed that when he stretches while making a loud noise it will scare his little girl. Between his groans and his unintentional anxiety noises, Merlin is a very compelling figure around the house. Sometimes he still make the Dustin Hoffman noise (the ”mmm”).

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

John having a bump on his finger, warts, cysts, skin problems (RL359)

Yesterday John got a bump on his finger. A couple of years ago John broke his index finger on some fool’s face and it has always been a little different since then. Yesterday some sharp pain came out of it and he was monkeying around with it, trying to figure out what the pain was, and in between the two fingers, what you would call the crotch of the fingers, there was a hard bump and it hurts and it also was contributing to pain that was unrelating to it, like the finger hurt elsewhere. His friend told him it was some kind of hyperbaric cyst. There are sebaceous cysts, but this is a different kind.

Merlin doesn’t get warts, he never got them, and he doesn’t get a lot of skin tags either. He was never a wart person.

John used to get warts and he has a couple of them burned off. When he was in elementary school he had a big one on his thumb. John was a little bit of a picker and hadn’t grown up to be a full-blown… they are both hobbyists at this. Merlin is a at a ham radio level of popping a cold sore, or stress bump, thanks to John, he knows how to get in there with a needle and the rubbing alcohol in a secure environment. In the case of a wart John noticed you could put pins in it all day and you didn’t feel it because it was a wart that didn’t have nerves. John would use it as a pin cushion and put it full of pins because this was 5-6th grade when they would give kids pins, and he would monkey with this thing until it eventually would get burned off.

When you slice the whole wart off, as big as a pencil eraser, but it grows back because of the roots and you can’t cut the root out yourself, but you have to burn or poison the root, which John learned when he would go to the doctor and they would put hydrochloric acid on it and it would smoke, which was fun. Now John doesn’t get warts anymore, but he does get skin tags and moles like his dad had. He had a couple of skin tags removed, one of them in a private area. If you ask the online if you can take this skin tag off yourself, for the most part it says you can if you don’t mind bleeding all over, but the one exception is a skin tag in a private area.

John was at a dermatologist for a separate procedure, he doesn’t even remember, maybe he was getting a tattoo removed, and she said: ”Anything else bothering you?” - ”Actually, I got this skin tag in my swim suit area that does kind of bother me” - ”No problem, we deal with those all the time!” - ”Really? It is down in my underwear area” - ”I’m a doctor!” - ”Okay!” In order to have that job, dermatologists have to really like snipping things off and picking things and you have to have a certain morbid curiosity about grotesqueries. She had a little wheely chair and she was in a white coat and she pulled down some goggles like the person who was making eyeballs in Blade Runner, John covered his area with a towel so she just a view of the skin tag and she snipped it right off and put a band aid on it and it hasn’t bothered John since. She reached in and some steam came out and a yellow glow.

John wouldn’t have gone to the doctor just for this, but he was there for another procedure already. It was just discomfortable. Like that bump on his head that was there for years and he didn’t do anything about until it finally got uncomfortable. He was at the doctor for a completely separate reason, the doctor asked if there was anything else and John said there was a bump on his head, which turned out to be a sebaceous cyst and the doctor could deal with it as an in-office procedure. John had this thing for 9 years, so every time he was at the doctor he could have just said something. ”Nurse! Get my stethoscope!” and they prepped him for surgery and cut him right open and pulled this whole thing out that ended up being the size of a banana.

It can develop as a result of trauma or blocked glands and it is probably trauma in John’s case. Merlin’s chronic intestinal disorder that has been in remission for years comes from unresolved trauma. It used to be that only European jews got it, but Merlin is a little bit of a corner case. He doesn’t think it is a blocked gland, but he used to go to the bathroom a lot. It was Merlin’s deal and for several years he had about a 20 second window in life. Anytime someone asked him a question, he would say ”I’ll be right back!” He feels great kinship with 2/3 of the McElroys in that for many years any time he went anywhere the first thing he did was to explore what the bathroom situation was. He needed the aisle seat at a banquette because he might need to beat a hasty retreat to the men’s.

There are people who go online and watch videos of people popping their pimples. There were even some folks on Shark Tank pitching a pimple popping product that let you pop fake pimples.

By the time John had his sebaceous cyst removed it felt like there was a mouse under his hair that was making it uncomfortable to wear hats, although John doesn’t wear hats. John has a Stetson and wears it around the house, but he is not going to go out into the world like Dan Benjamin wearing a hat. He had that cool Chick Magnet Hat for a while, but he doesn’t know where it is. He was in front of so many things that became Hipster clichés, but he was there first. He had a wallet chain because he needed one, he carried a lot of cash, he wasn’t even into Ska. He had his Chick Magnet Hat, a trucker cap, long time before that became a weird thing. It is like the Macklemore haircut: Now everybody is doing it.

Hats… we are going through another one of these moments, like the John Kennedy thing where you are not seeing as many hats or Clark Gable with undershirts, he single-handedly killed the undershirt industry (in 1934) because he took off his shirt and didn’t have an undershirt on and people wanted to be like him.

In the case of his sebaceous cyst he had talked to several doctors for several years who touched it and said that it was a sebaceous cyst, but none of them ever said that they could take that out in an in-office procedure, they were just saying that if it wasn’t bothering him it was not a problem. They missed their opportunity to make $1500 because of the way they phrased it ”If it is bothering you”, but of course John is an American male and it is not bothering him. For the thing to rise up the level where it was bothering him, at that point to say ”It is bothering me!” he wouldn’t have done. It wasn’t bothering him, he hardly even noticed it. The fact that they were so blasé about it made that John felt even more blasé about it and it took him 8 years to build up enough feeling about it.

They don’t say ER anymore, but ED (Emergency department), just that STD is now STI (Sexually Transmittable Infection), which is a nice distinction and the DMV now has kiosks because of the super driver’s license Gavin Newsom had to bring in some Silicon Valley braintrust to come up with a way to make the DMV tolerable in this time of needing the super driver’s license. In the past you would say DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and then it was DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and before that you would say Drunk Driving. Then they had MAD (Mothers against Drunk Driving) until a bunch of smarty pants came out with DAMM (Drunks Against Mad Mothers).

The problem with this bump on his finger is that he has been diagnosed by his friend with a ganglion cyst and the first thing you find out about those is that they are non-cancerous lumps that develop in your wrists and hands that are pea-sized and can be painful if they press on a nearby nerve. Your doctor may suggest to drain it with a needle. John knew a guy in High School who had a ganglion cyst on his wrist, but it was big, it was the size of Robin Egg, it stuck way out, he ended up getting a cyst on his neck that had to be surgically removed and now he has a big scar like he was in a sword fight. One day he was at John’s house and said ”I am tired of this cyst” and John isn’t even sure if he knew what a cyst was, and he asked John to get a big book and hit it as hard as he could with the book.

Even throwing a book is very difficult, but he asking John to hit him hard with the flat side of the book. They were only 17 and he was one of those Alaskan types like: ”I am tired of this, we are going to fix this problem now!” and he must have talked to somebody about this book trick because he couldn’t have come up with this on his own and John has heard about it since. John hit him with the book and it popped the cyst on the inside and the fluid that was in it drained back into his system and it was gone. That is what it is called a bible cyst.

The ganglion cyst on John’s finger he cannot reach with a bible. He can’t even reach it with a chick tract and it doesn’t have the performance characteristics of the King James. It is deep in there, it has roots! It hasn’t become troublesome enough that he would schedule an appointment.

Merlin’s shrink says they should just walk away from Merlin’s ”insurance” because you don’t want to get your medical care from a company that is also an insurance company and he is right. John still has really good insurance for one more year and then he is going to be back out into the cesspool and maybe until then America will have free medical care and the will live in a socialist state.

John has to make the determination what the chances are that this is not a ganglion cyst, but finger cancer. Merlin has a friend who is dealing with that right now and who is dealing with finger cancer.

Guardian of the Galaxy: Nebula (RL359)

John is reading a medical article from the Internet and has a hard time to say Osteomyelitis (infection of the bone), who is one of the guys in Watchmen, the smartest guy in the world with a big blue penis and comic-sized cat and he watches a lot of TV and he has a really cool crown. Does he live on a rock in space and his daughters are mad at him? One of them is a robot, an adopted daughter whom he cares about just as much because blended families are still families. The robot is Karen Gillan who plays Amy Pond in Dr. Who (movie Guardian of the Galaxy: Nebula)

Merlin’s mechanic (RL359)

What Merlin loves about Jerry, his mechanic, is that he at his core is a basically honest man who lives in the Sunset and can be trusted. When you bring your car to Jerry he says: ”The thing you brought this in for is this electrical problem and I can fix that for you for $400, but you also got this other thing, a little thing that we could fix and that cost your almost nothing. Your timing belt will blow out in the next few months. You don’t have to fix this today, but it is very important that you fix the timing belt!” He is honest and he breaks it down in ways that even Merlin can understand. ”You do have to fix the timing belt or you will have to go back to Jerry in a year after your wife has yelled at you for not getting the timing belt fixed!” and that is on Merlin. It is going to break when you are on the I405 and Merlin was on the I405 this weekend, but in a rental, a very large BMW SUV which was quite a thing to ride around Los Angeles in.

Merlin’s wife running a half-marathon in Los Angeles (RL359)

Merlin’s wife ran a night-time half-marathon in Joshua Tree national park. It was really dark, but she did it and ran 13 miles and came home like a person while Merlin and his daughter watched Utopia back at the hotel, a wonderful Inn in 29 Palms that he can highly recommend. You can go there if you are having an affair with a Marine, there are a lot of dollar stores and Marines. It was a pizza parlor in 29 Palms where John developed the pizza for the table technology.

Doctors (RL359)

John’s doctor as a kid was his doctor for his whole kidness and he knew everything about John and when John was going through puberty he was 70 and John’s dad was 70 and he sent John’s dad out to talk to John what was happening to his body. He was giving him the Late Bloomer conversation, like ”There are some boys who mature a lot faster than other boys”, but John would have preferred to just get a pamphlet because he learns a lot better by reading rather than hearing. ”Let me tell you that you are a normal young man!”

When John was in puberty for about a year he was routinely misgendered by people, it was before his jaw got long and he still had a child’s face and he had plumped, but his nipples were sensitive and his body was morphing at different rates and it happened all the time that people called him young lady. John had a big butt and little breasts and one of these blonde Cousin Oliver haircuts. Merlin asks about the cover of The Worst You Can Do Is Harm, which shows John in the Alice in Wonderland teacup ride at Disneyland ca 1976, which was after that. He didn’t start looking like a boy until he was in 11th grade and acting like a boy. The doctor was just like: ”Don’t worry!” - ”I am worried about a lot and you are not helping! All I want to do is go home!”

John changing the pipes in his new house (RL359)

The problem with this particular medical care is that John doesn’t have a mechanic anymore. He has an architect, his motorcycle adventure facilitator friend Ben King, and they had a conversation yesterday where he was asking John if he was going to change the pipes. It wasn’t one of these 220/221 conversations (reference to 220/221 Volts, whatever it takes) because John knows a thing or two. He wasn’t to do it, but now that he has the walls down he would be dumb not to change the pipes. It is a timing belt thing. In the VW Bus that Merlin used to have you could pull out your engine with two scissor jacks and if you are going to replace the gaskets on the head you might as well do a whole bunch of other stuff, do a little bit of a Cowboy tune on it.

Ben King did that to John one time when the RV wasn’t running right. They had the top off the motor and the timing was all screwed up and nobody could figure out how to get the timing right because in order to shoot the timing gun at the fly wheel you couldn’t look down at it and there wasn’t any way to see. A couple of guys had tried to set the timing on this thing and nobody could figure it out, and Ben leaned in, grabbed the distributor cap and turned it with his hand slowly until the motor sounded right. Everybody was like: ”What?” - ”Yeah, you just cowboy tune!” That would cover so much things in Merlin’s life!

Merlin uses the phrase Italian Run Through, which might be racist when you do a presentation and you have been practicing, but you don’t want to over-practice. Also if you are Indie Rock or Grunge you don’t want to over-know music. The Italian Run Through is when you just go through your presentation, it makes total sense. You run around these Mini Coopers and have a heist (movie The Italian Job).

John playing a Neil Young tribute show (RL359)

John gets asked to play shows, not that often anymore, but he got asked to play this Neil Young show that is one of these big things that happens in Seattle all the time, like: ”Let’s get everybody together and everybody plays a song!” They are a pain in the ass because you work all this time, but you have to stand around backstage and all you do is walk out and play one song. The nights themselves are amazing and this was one of them. Kim Thayil (guitarist of Soundgarden) was going to be there and everybody in the town was all getting together. John did a solo acoustic song with a backing band who had learned every song. It is like The Last Waltz thing John does and you stand in front of this really great band and you can’t lose as long as you don’t fuck up.

Last week they said: ”Surprise announcement! We have added Dave Bazan to the bill and also Dave Matthews!” who has lived in Seattle for years, but he never does any of these things. You see him in restaurants and stuff. He is a big deal and you could argue he is one of the biggest Rock stars in Seattle ever, even bigger than Eddie Vedder. Merlin likes Eddie to be bigger, he is such a nice guy and he is on Merlin’s favorite episode ever of Portlandia.

The richest musicians in the world (RL359)

John was looking for Net Worth and it says that Robbie Williams of Take That is worth $300 million. Nobody in America cares about Robbie Williams, but he is worth the same as James Hetfield (from Metallica) and Eric Clapton. Dave Matthews is $300 million and Björn Ulvaeus (from ABBA) because he and Benny (Andersson) and their producer had the writing credit. The switcheroo is that one above Benny is Anni-Frid Lyngstad (from ABBA). Adam Clayton (from U2), Roger Waters (from Pink Floyd), this a crazy list! The Edge (from U2), Keith Richards (from The Rolling Stones). Mick Jagger is up there, Sting is number 7, John Bon Jovi, Elton John, The Boss.

Merlin thinks that Bernie Taupin should get more credit than he gets, he had a three months long obsession with the song Tiny Dancer (by Elton John, written by Bernie Taupin), which is his ultimate Mona Lisa song that he didn’t appreciate his whole life, but it is such a good song. Unfortunately song of the lyrics on Elton John songs are really bad, like ”Lay me down in sheets of linen” is a line Merlin finds very perplexing. Linen is also what you wrap a dead body in, it might be a portent of death and that is what good lyrics do.

Number three on the list is Jimmy Buffet , but he has a whole empire. Then there are Bono and Paul McCartney at the top, but Eddie Vedder is worth $100 millions because he is the lyricist, which means that Dave Matthews is three times that. Ringo is getting his dough from having written some songs.

Neil Young show (cont)

John was on this bill with a bunch of his friends and they got Kim Thayil on the show who doesn’t do that kind of thing very often. John wanted to do Cinnamon Girl because The Long Winters used to do that, but Kim had already asked for that so John got bumped a little bit because Kim had gotten there first. Merlin has some suggestions what John could do. John did choose a song that required… Usually with events like this John practices it the night before and then he shows up and he is backstage, trying to remember the lyrics, strumming the guitar and ”How does the song go? Shit, shit, shit!” and then he is on sage and sometimes he is reading the lyrics off the back of his hands written with a Sharpie.

For a long time she thought ”Don’t over-practice!” but he wants to do a good job on this one because he hasn’t done a lot of shows lately and he started to wonder what he was doing with his life. Then the backup band called him in the form of Mike Musburger (from The Posies), and this show isn’t happening until Thanksgiving, and said he is putting the band together and is trying to figure out what everybody needs and he asked John if he was going to play the harmonica or if he should get a harmonica player. This was quite a question because John doesn’t know how to play the harmonica, but neither did Bob Dylan or Neil Young, but it adds a new level of difficulty.

When John left Anchorage and was first hitchhiking across the United States of America in the summer of 1986, out there on the long American blue highways, trying to find that lost America, he was 17 and he was going to get on down that long lonesome highway and he was trucking and he had his chips cashed in, everything! One time John was walking along a stretch of road and he was making harmonica sounds with his sounds because he didn’t have a harmonica, writing Blues songs in his head.

This was exactly the same category like in 1982 when he hated that everybody loved the TV show Dallas so much because he hated everything about it, that Materialism, that gross soap opera thing, and he made a pact with himself when he was 13 that he will never go to Dallas, but early on in The Long Winters years they booked a tour that had Dallas on it. This was 20 years later, but John had made a pact that he was never go to Dallas, and the entire tour up to that concert, until they were leaving Austin headed north, he was fretting about it. Maybe there will be a floor and the show would get cancelled.

John turned the stereo off and told the story to his bandmates. They took the problem seriously and tried to find a way to make this a healing experience rather than a betrayal and then somebody suggested that they would all get cowboy boots, which they did. It must have been the tour with Ken Stringfellow and Ken bought cowboy boots and Eric, Michael and John all got cowboy boots.

This was a similar situation to John being out on the highway making fake harmonica sounds, trying to ease his heavy load and as he was walking along he said that as soon as he was going to get to a town he was going to buy a harmonica because he wanted to know how to play it, it was a good instrument to have along and nobody is more welcome at a gathering than somebody who can whip out a harmonica. It is the opposite of a Banjo player. It is the least objectionable instrument. Even a guitar is not going to beat a harmonica.

What John didn’t do on that day when he got to the next town, which was Stanwood, WA or Bend, OR, he did not go buy a harmonica and ever since that day there is a thing in his head that is right up there with ”Why didn’t you graduate from college? Why haven’t you finished your book? When is the next Long Winters record?” - ”Why didn’t you learn to play the harmonica when you were 17? That is when you learn to play the harmonica!” He was also out on the road where he could learn it without bothering anybody.

When Mike Musburger asked him John said: ”You know what? I am going to learn to play the harmonica to play this show!” - ”Okay, check! Talk to you later!” He is in the process of backing up 15 guys, he is calling Shelby Earl tomorrow and ask her what she needs and she is going to say ”14 tambourine players!” John bought a harmonica in the correct key, he bought a harmonica rack and he has been walking around the house, playing his song, trying to both learn harmonica and learn the song and learn to play the guitar and the harmonica at the same time. John has three weeks and in three weeks he can learn Arabic!

He was walking around the house in his stocking feet, playing the same 4 notes over and over on both the guitar and the harmonica, just trying to get the swing of it, and he feels like he is going to pull it off. Dave Matthews is going to be there, John only met him one time, and this is how he is going to remember John! The first time John met Eddie Vedder he left an impression that he was taking the piss.

They had an event called Burn to Shine where they burned down a house and before they burn it down a bunch of musicians come in and play in the abandoned house and Eddie Vedder and Dave Bazan was there and Ben Gibbard and The Long Winters and John was in a mood at that point in his life, he was dressed in a Canadian Tuxedo and for the event he borrowed a guitar with a whammy bar and he played the entire song with that which infuriated everybody. That whole thing was released later and people were writing John concerned letters, asking: ”Are you alright? That was really terrible!”

”What I am saying about this guitar with the whammy bar is: You don’t even have to worry about the frets anymore because every note is available just in the swing of the arm. You can play with a claw basically, a claw on this hand and then just a claw on this hand” and that was Eddie Vedder’s first impression of John playing Its a Departure at a Burn to Shine event with a whammy bar (from 2014, see here). Yeah, better not make that mistake again with Dave Matthews (as talked about at the end of RotL 359)!

That was the impression John made with Eddie the first time they met and John is not going to make that mistake with Dave Matthews. John continued to jam on a C-harmonica, but he should be playing it on a G-harmonica. Some listener to the Omnibus had sent John his grandfather’s marine band harmonica, but it tastes like Lapsang Souchong, like Bob’s mom who lived in a book case.

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