RL370 - Tomorrow’s Heart

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John is manually processing, referring to John doing band practice with the Western State Hurricanes and having forgotten all the intricate details of the songs that are not sitting in his bones now but he is manually processing everything.

The show title refers to MaryKoCo on twitter faving John’s tweets the next day although she surely has seen them in real time already.

John is a little late and makes noises like a little dinosaurs.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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.

Merlin sharpening the saw (RL370)

Merlin has a lot of projects going on, he is sharpening the saw and banging in some finishing nails. At Merlin and John’s age being busy keeps the daemon dogs at bay, it keeps them out of the kitchen and it keeps the chicken in the pen-patch scratching outdoors (?). Merlin also got a new mic setup.

In the productivity racket you have to set aside time to sharpen the saw, which means you have to keep getting better at the stuff you do. Merlin is doing a lot of things to make himself more forward-compatible. He has done some cable re-routing as part of a larger Weltanschauung, not just for its own sake. As they say in Glenngarry Glen Ross: ”What is this in service of?” and Merlin wants to do things in service of good things.

Merlin’s effects pedals, guitar amps, and signal chain (RL370)

When Merlin was in Bacon Ray, how many distortion boxes and other effects pedals did he have? Ever since High School he has enjoyed the RAT pedal. He learned from his friend Stephen how much two distortion pedals with different settings can be really good. He liked the Ibanez Tube Screamer. He had a small amp he would put on a chair on stage, he would go from a crappy Gibson amp to a Sovtek cabinet, which was the Peavey of Russia. He had bought poorly because he was trying to economize in the wrong ways and his Gibson amp was like a dad amp and he would run that out to the Sovtek which didn’t make a huge difference, but looked cool.

He liked the orange BOSS pedal that could make fake feedback. It was not the DS-1, but a feedbacker/sustainer. He was after the 1980s never a huge fan of chorus, but he did have a giant Russian pedals that was a phaser, probably a Electro Harmonix that was made out of aircraft aluminum. It was mostly about the distortion because it made him feel strong like bull. One time he gave Lou Barlow a 9V battery and he wasn’t all that grateful about it.

Merlin did spend time sitting on the floor of his practice space, trying out different orders of pedals. This was over 20 years ago. There was a pretty established order for how you wanted to do that. A smarter guitar guy would look at your signal chain and say he probably wouldn’t put the reverb before the distortion. You want a certain clarity at the beginning and you do a bit of seasoning towards the end. Also you have to be prepared for if things break because some things break nice and it keeps working, but other things don’t break nice and then the signal doesn’t go and now you are not very Rock’n’Roll, but you are all Spinal Tap and move your cables around.

King Crimson (RL370)

Merlin recently returned with huge enthusiasm to early-to-mid King Crimson which is awfully good. They got at least three records, In the Court of the Crimson King, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, and Red that are so different, but still sound so modern. John saw them last year and they had more than three drummers, which was very impressive. If Bill Bruford is on the stage… Merlin doesn’t want to talk about music. John doesn’t have any problem with King Crimson, but he wants to talk about gain stages. He also does not have any Chris Ballew problems. He plays an Intertube and a bass with two strings (called a basitar), a guitar with three strings or a ukulele with half a string. It is very confusing! It only goes half-way and one end is held up by fairies.

A.C. Newman, Bill Janovitz (RL370)

On John’s Instagram there was a picture with John and A.C. Newman from The New Pornographers. He looks like a grown man now, he has a little child now who is 8 years old. Merlin asks John to tell him that he really enjoys his work. It is very frustrating because he should be right in Merlin’s wheelhouse, he is very funny and he is good on Twitter, Bill Janovitz finds time to talk to Merlin, and it seems like somebody like Carl Newman should as well. Merlin introduced himself to him when he was drunk once, but he probably doesn’t remember that.

Bill Janovitz is a real estate agent, the Boston area’s premier mid-century modern real estate agent. He also wrote a book about the Stones that is very good (called The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street in the 33 1/3 series). Merlin reads so many cloud books, he read Bob Mull’s (?) autobiography that way or the great Scott Miller book about music through time (called Music: What happened), which is great. John doesn’t buy cloud books, he doesn’t have a TV, he doesn’t even have a house.

Western State Hurricanes revival (RL370)

John has been having band practice because the Western State Hurricanes record release is this weekend and John is going to play two live shows and hasn’t played two live shows with a Rock band in maybe five years, whenever they did the Barsuk reunion tour (probably beginning of 2014). The band consists of Bo Gilliland on the bass, Michael Schilling on drums and Stephanie Wicker / now Emery on lead guitar. For a long time she has postponed a surgery and had a guitar made for herself so she can hold it. She is also a really good singer. When she came into Seattle the plane tried to land four times and had to go around four times until everybody was barfing, screaming and crying. John didn’t know that still happened. SeaTac is a very modern airport, the newest runway even has floor heating in it. She was okay as soon as they started playing, because music is healing.

John being the weakest link in the band, not remembering his complicated songs

The gang is all together again and John is the weak link. It is a real challenge, he doesn’t remember anything, what chord is next, he is just staring at them although those are his songs, but he hasn’t written songs like this in 20 years. There are too many chords! What was he trying to prove? John was talking to Carl Newman about it who still writes songs like that, but he knows enough to have on a 10-song record 7 songs which just choogle right along and don’t hurt anybody’s feelings, they have smart lyrics and little parts, it is good. There are only three songs on the record that are really hard, like with a time tempo change. He does those wonderful things that John loves to do, too. He shaves a beat, puts in a beat, does a time signature change, and every single one of these Western State Hurricanes songs has three of those and John’s mind just doesn’t remember where those things go.

The challenge is that a song is supposed to have a verse - chorus - verse - chorus - bridge - (verse) - chorus, or modern people with their modern thinking let the bridge become the C-part and they follow that out. It is pretty simple! For John it is verse - pre-chorus - chorus - 2nd verse with a new chord arrangement, making the bass-line on the first verse not practical anymore and the bass-line has to change. Merlin loves a band who can land a mid-tempo Pop song, like Wheezer who is very good at changing it up in the final chorus, often with the bass line. The thing that will get Merlin harder than Chinese Algebra is a nice chromatic descending walk-down. You do a I-V-IV bullshit thing and at the end you do a little G - F# - E - D - C and now daddy is in full mast. Country and Western!

What sounds hard on Unsalted Butter is the picking, but what is hard for John is the 4th or 5th time that he changes the whole structure. It has 4 parts, chords and more chords, the classic one is the WSH-version of the song Car Parts which on The Long Winters record is just a rave-up that was meant to sound like your basic Pop song that still has very fucked-up chords, but it is just verse - chorus - … In the WSH version John throws 20 new chords at the last minute of the song and his brain doesn’t remember the order of them from time to time. The others learned the song by listening to the album over and over, they did their homework and learned their kinks, but John went into band practice thinking: I wrote these songs, I know how that stuff goes, but now he is really the weak link in the practices. It is not in his bones again, but he is manually processing.

Guitar pedals

John uses a RAT pedal and a Tube Screamer, but he also uses a couple of different clean boost pedal, and compression. What is nice with the Fender amp is that it lifts it up a little bit, but John is using a Vox amp. John has a new distortion pedal from a company called Lollygagger that has big fuzz, but also lots of boost. His friend Ben (Gibbard) gave him a Klon clone. They are very expensive and handmade and are worth thousands of dollars now. John Vanderslice has one. Once you could get a Klon Centaur for $600 and now they are $6000.

A guy who worked at Klon left the company and made a Klon clone. There are a lot of Klon clones and Mr. Klon originally covered his circuits with bees wax or put a spell on them, so if you were a pedal make and took his Klon apart you couldn’t tell what he had done. He hid the Germanium under a Geranium and nobody would ever think to look there. Ben got this Klon cone and eventually he got another clone of a Klon clone that was more something and he asked John if he wanted his old one. It is great in conjunction with the Lollygagger!

You want all those pedals to work together in the right order so you can use them individually or together, and you want it all set with a Sharpie mark that doesn’t move. Some guitar players who sure as shit are not singers can bend down and monkey with their pedals in the middle of a song, but John can’t do that. Only Charles Bissell (from The Wrens) should do that. John can’t even mess around with the volume knob on his guitar or he gets confused and won’t know what is happening.

The thing about three pedals in a row is that if pedal 2 is set that it provides a nice boost when added to pedal 1, that doesn’t necessarily mean that is the same setting that is going to work if you just turn on pedal 2 by itself, so you have to monkey with these settings to get them to work in different combinations and to work all by themselves to do different things and it is very challenging, but the Western State songs require that many different flavors. Sometimes you need a clean boost, sometimes you need to be really fuzzy, sometimes you need it to be warm and punchy, sometimes porm and munchy.

John spent a lot of time down on his knees in the last week where he was just unplugging chords and plugging them back in, moving this to that side, and what if this went here. It occupies all this additional space in the mind. John is trying to remember the chord, he is trying to remember the part where to go next, and also his feet are trying to play these different tones on the floor. This is not stuff that John had to think about in the last 5 years and now he has to think about it all at once and it is very exciting. John is at the low point right now, he has taken everything apart, it is strewn all over the place, and when he puts it back together it will all fit together and there is not going to be a part left over.

How John’s live shows used to be

The people coming to John’s shows are there for a good time, they want him to play the songs and they are on his side, unless they are not in which case John should single them out with the banter that he does that people enjoy. There isn’t going to be anybody at these shows who doesn’t want them to succeed. Why would you come to a WSH show if you weren’t excited to see the band succeed? Merlin says that Lou Reed or Alex Chilton said that all great Rock’n’Roll is on the verge of falling apart. It should have some danger to it and if you live in that danger on stage you are going to bring the motherfucking ruckus, especially with John’s solos where he falls down and his glasses hit the stage. John is not sure if he can do that anymore. Nora was the big ripper at the end.

John got a letter from an old friend who was saying that he is going to come to the show and John better not play the Hard Rock version of Mimi, but the regular version. John is not taking requests, but he is going to play the regular version of Mimi. They used to play a Punk Rock version sometimes, which was just their way of saying that they were going to play this hard, fast, loud! The haven’t done that in years. They will have special guests on stage, doing a little song and a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight. Lots going on!

Merlin wonders when he will get his fucking album! He asks John to send him the tracks as a ZIP file. He would be able to let John know if they came through as a file, in case that would be helpful.

Gary’s Van meetup, events planned around the record release (RL370)

There is the vinyl and the show and the vinyl release party and the whole community building event. They are going to be playing live on KEXP on Thursday with Cheryl Waters, there is a bar in town that is an all-vinyl bar and they are going to spend an hour there listening to the record (called Life on Mars) and talking to people.

On Saturday during the day there is going to be a meetup that was arranged by some of the fans of this program and Road Work that congregate on Facebook in a group called Gary’s Van where they get together and share their experience, strength, and hope of listening to these programs. They said they would like to meet with John if possible and there are people flying in from Sweden and Australia and all these places who are coming to see the show and John arranged to have lunch with them.

Keeping the digital side separate from the vinyl (RL370)

John wanted to do the digital side of this separately. Although the people who bought the vinyl are all going to get digital copies of the album, the digital is not going to be part of this record campaign, partly because there are a lot of people involved in the production of the vinyl and the big show, but in the end, two years from now, the only place where it is still going to live is online and when people download this record in the quantity of five a month or five a year for the long tail John doesn’t want to be in business with anybody about that. It is not going to generate any money, but it is going to be there and it is going to be part of John’s catalogue.

John wants those things in one place. He intends to still make music, to put music out under The Long Winters or under his own name, and he wants to limit the number of people he has to check in with to make sure that they are sending it on, or whatever. The problem is that John is bad at project managing, so he has not yet 100% figured out how to put the music online in the way that he wants it to be. Today he is having some conference calls with people and hopefully he is going to have all that done by Friday or Saturday at the latest. It is very exciting and cathartic!

Relationships on Twitter, how and when to fave (RL370)

John still has a few different Twitter relationships with people where it feels like the old days of Twitter, where you said: ”Hey, shouldn’t we be friends? I have tried, but we are still not friends because you are not recognizing me!” John and Carl Newman have a stable online relationship, as they do offline, but there are other people where John feels a little frozen out. For instance, MaryKoCo (Mary Kobayashi) who lives in between California and Seattle and is a member of a certain social group, is a friend both in person and online and there is a lot of fun online happening. When she will tweet something people will reply to her and she will write them right back and they will get into these little zingers.

She is very fast and very fun and when John wants to have a little zinger with her and replies to her, she faves his tweets a day later. He will throw a zinger in there, he gets no zinger back, he is no invited to any kind of back-and-forth, but then the next day she faves it. John knows she watches her tweets in real time, but she never says LOL and faves it the next day, which is a very complicated game she is playing (see some of heir tweet exchanges). She is not ignoring John, but she can’t possibly go back the next day, reviewing all of her tweets because she is tweeting all the time. It is a very complicated message that John doesn’t understand.

Sometimes Andy (?) or somebody else will engage with John over a MaryKoCo tweet, but she can’t be bothered if John is in there. Or for example Jon Wurster will tweet something and if John replies to it 15 other people will join in on the conversation that John is having about a Jon Wurster tweet and he will jump in if anybody else started it, but never if John was the one who said: ”Haha, look at me!”

The star means ”I see you”, but what about tomorrow’s star? John will also sometimes look at Twitter from yesterday and fave a couple of people. There are people who comment on everything and John wants to support them, but he has a standard, he is not going to just fave something just because you showed up, but you have got to have delivered something.

Merlin sometimes stars something because he wants to find it again, a lot of times it is to say: ”Lol, I saw you!”. Sometimes he enjoys getting into a whole thing and it is sometimes the least celebrity-like people that he most enjoys engaging with.

Sometimes Ken Jennings will reply to one of John’s tweets and his reply will get more faves than the original tweet, and that feels weird. Enough people had o read the original tweet to recognize the genesis of Ken’s reply, but they didn’t fave the original tweet. The came up with a term for this (see RL337): Reacharound fave where you go back and mop up, it is just polite.

They also talk about getting ”ratioed”, which often happens on political Twitter where a tweet gets a lot more responses than faves. There are so many of those threads where John doesn’t even know what the responses are and a lot of times they have just tagged someone else and then you get the canoe with six @ in it and you don’t even know what you are looking at. John might have gotten ratioed once because he said something about Capt America, one of those Marvel Cinematic Universe ratios.

Merlin says John should see Inglorious Basterds because it is really good. John is a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. They talk about different scenes in different Tarantino fans. John made a Gimp reference just yesterday, he was going to but Bo in a suit and put him in a Foot Locker. They don’t say Gimp anymore. Would you go back and kill Baby Gimp? No! Baby Gimp is one of John’s favorite Star Wars characters.

The other day Chris Cillizza from CNN said the stupidest thing and Merlin came close to make a remark about it, but then he just stopped and didn’t want to do it. Twitter claims they don’t want ratioing, they call it dunking and they want you to stop dunking.

Yesterday someone had a little wheel barrow full of cell phones, that was some culture jamming right there (see this article, YouTube video).

Some people having no internal voice (RL370)

Someone online was talking to some friend about a movie with a voice-over and he thought it would be cool if in real life there would be a voice in your head that narrated things going on in your life, and the other person who ended up making this public said that there is a voice in your head, your internal voice, the one that is still speaking when you are not speaking out loud, and the first person said they don’t have one of those. In the course of their discussion, the person who didn’t have an inner voice gradually made that fact known to the other person.

They reached out to more of their friends and 30% reported that they didn’t have an inner voice, which astonished our protagonist who tweeted this out. John was also astonished to consider that there are people who are not talking to themselves and when they are not talking their mind is active, but they do not have a voice that they can hear inside that is talking things out. John also went around his little world, and his mom clearly has one, but Michael Schiller, the drummer of The Long Winters (also the WSH) doesn’t have one. He said if he wants to say something to himself he goes into the bathroom and talks to himself in the mirror, or he will talk to his cat out loud.

John has not yet gone back to find that original tweet or some evidence or documentation, but he has been doing first-hand experimentation, asking people, and most people that have one will say immediately that they do have a voice they talk to themselves in their head, and the people who don’t have one are confused at first what you mean until you gradually arrive at a place where they say they don’t think so. Just that seems pretty profound!

It is just as profound when John discovered 20 years ago that he was an introvert and extroverts just didn’t know what introverts were because they are dominant and a lot of John’s problems interacting with the world was that the world uses extroverted rules and they don’t work for introverts.

The idea that a significant proportion of the population of the world doesn’t have an inner voice is extraordinary to John who does have one and it changes how people should be interacting with each other. How could we have failed to notice this before? All this conversation we have culturally, people who don’t have an inner voice must be interpreting things like ”I was saying to myself” or ”I am lost in thought” as meaning something else. Is it possible that there is this polarity of experience and we never acknowledged it before this one person tweeted their friend?

To Merlin it is not surprising that some people have this or don’t have this. You can phase these things differently, like they don’t have an inner voice they can identify, but there are other ways to frame it where it does make sense. A part of consciousness that we could call a voice, but that is not a voice, are thoughts in your head that Merlin thinks of being similar to a commentator at a golf game that is describing everything you are doing. There is another kind that is closer to a classic narrator who is not quite commenting on what is happening, but is framing what is happening in the context of other things. Going further there is also the mean-dad-voice, a notional voice of someone who is pretty disappointed in how things are going with you.

Merlin wonders if it is a ”voice” that people do or don’t hear in their head. If people are not concerned or troubled by the ”voice” in their head, they are at least less likely to acknowledge that it exists. You are much more likely to be aware of that constant companionship that is a little bit of a Welsh troll (the mean-dad-voice).

What is standing out about this to John is the degree to which the people who say they don’t have a voice are saying that they do not talk to themselves internally, even if you ask them to do it consciously. They do not have the capacity to speak to themselves in their head. They don’t hear their decision-making in a voice. John doesn’t know how you would decide to get a coffee and go get one without hearing a voice, which makes it profound. Nothing happens where John doesn’t say things like ”Let’s get upstairs and get a coffee”, let alone driving down the road and talking to himself ”I wonder when that building was built”

Michael and Bo said that when he is not doing something there is just silence and peace, which John can’t fathom because for him consciousness takes the form as a voice and he can’t imagine to live in the world and have a ”you” and not have that voice because that voice is ”you”, although there are also a lot of other voices. They say they can’t even talk to themselves in an audible voice right now if they wanted to and John doesn’t know another way to ask them that question again and suggest that they probably do, they just don’t know how to describe it. If they really don’t have that at all, they are effectively a different species of people to John.

John is wondering if there is an inner voice gap within his own family, which might explain some things and may account for some fundamental lack of comprehension about process and the way that we struggle to understand how each other’s world works. It might just be a whole different methodology of thinking. If you ask them to reflect on a thing for a day, the next day they arrive and there seems to have been no reflection of any kind and instead they start thinking as soon as they start talking and that is how they are hearing it. John is not sure if they know what he meant when he said ”reflect on this”

John asked Michael what he thought John would be doing when he sits and stares at a spot on the wall for hours. He has seen John staring, they have been on tour and have known each other for 20 years. Chris shaved his head right in Merlin’s kitchen and there was hair all over the floor. Michael said that when John stares like that, all he knows is to leave him alone and he never had any idea what was happening inside, which is very different than for example assuming John was thinking about the band or something else.

Merlin doesn’t think John is the weirdo here, but he doesn’t have it quite as intensely himself. As somebody who has depression and other issues he has a voice that says: ”You fucking idiot! You ruined another thing with action or inaction! You are so stupid!” and sometimes he tries to bracket it and say: ”Hey, who the fuck are you?” This is why NPR is so popular and why people leave the television on and why there are screens at the airport because there are people who are terrified to be alone and to be bored and not have something to pay attention to because they have space for reading and listening and watching that John often doesn’t have space for because there is already so much happening.

The primary voice John hears is always phrasing questions. There are times of the day where John is just looking at a thing and he i not thinking about it although it is conscious to him and he could go over and interact with it and when he just looks across the room and not think anything while listening to Merlin the voice asks ”What if that moved over there? What if that was made out of a different material? Who made that? When was it made? How would go there? What is that?” and all those questions aren’t necessary in John’s relationship with that object or to operate the thing, but they are present all the time. They are not judgmental, but the mean voice can cease on the answers to those questions, like ”Oh, maybe that was made by Ye’Old forefathers” - ”Well, at least they made something and have something to show for themselves!”

John is sure that this constant question asking has some natural selection advantage, but it is not a higher level of operation. John is not thinking harder about the thing he is actually doing, but he has one of those live stream comment sections like watching a YouTube video and if that wasn’t there John wouldn’t be any less functional, he might be even more functional and better adapted to doing the things he does and just getting through life and being a productive normal person. More often than not John’s inner voice is just a running comment section, it is not actually him sitting and profoundly reflecting on the nature of everything, but it is like a 10-year old sitting in the passenger seat motor-mouthing.

John can’t imagine what his inner life was like when he was 10 years old because there is no external way to gauge it. Watching Borderline people, of which John has a lot in his life, what they are emotionally experiencing right this minute, they cannot recall a time when they weren’t experiencing it emotionally. When John tells them that they are really upset right now and an hour ago they weren’t and an hour from now they are not going to be upset anymore, that seems crazy to them because they can’t hear it. Their subjective experience is that being upset about that thing is a constant state and they never would have not been upset.

This caused John to reflect on his own thinking. How can he possibly know what he was thinking when he was 25? The only memory he has is the one that is filtered through some form of thinking right now. Famously back when he was having a lot of drinks and drugs he never blacked out. Nothing ever happened to him that he couldn’t recall in the morning. To Merlin that is fucking wild!

At the same time John can’t fucking remember the chords of the Western State Hurricanes songs. John’s meaty hands have to work up and down that neck, he has to sing, and he has to make sure his gain stages are in the right order and he didn’t put the reverb before the RAT. He got the Starcaster, he got he Rickenbacker, the Tele-Custom, a Tele with paisleys on it, and what is he supposed to do with that? Merlin thinks John should send him the digital files of the WSH album in beforehand and he would listen to it, but the question is if he would listen to it all the way through or 30 seconds at a time. He is pretty familiar with the songs, so he could listen to the first 10 seconds.

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