RL48 - Wherever Trail need to be built

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Paper towels and washable towels (Attitude and Opinion)
  • Crashing on the same couch without being roommates (Stories)
  • Unintelligible lyrics by Billy Corgan and Michael Stipe (Music)
  • Keyboard Players and The Greatful Dead (Music)
  • Merlin’s guitar skills (Merlin Mann)
  • John’s first guitar neck (Career)
  • Herpes in New York City (Factoids)
  • John visiting the Washington State Fair 2012 (Shows and Events)
  • Hickeys and suction cup marks (Early Days)
  • John's two-week military camp at Eielson Air Force Base (Early Days)
  • Merlin went to military school (Merlin Mann)
  • John's rugby group picture at Gonzaga University (Early Days)
  • John’s High School girlfriend (Family)
  • Group Showers (Attitude and Opinion)
  • Sending 7th and 8th graders out to build trail (Building Trail)
  • The Foo Fighters playing on Letterman (Music)
  • They Might Be Giants playing on Johnny Carson (Music)

The Problems: There needs to be a lot more exhaustion in this country; we were really tearing through popes there for a while; one hickie, and suddenly you’re out-of-uniform; Billy Corgan: The Seriousest Kid on Earth; retirees and toddlers should NOT be sharing a classroom; why John could never be a full Grateful Dead person; pull up those goddamned pants—like a gentleman; when ganking, you can’t stab your fish until the new shivs arrive; guys, you gotta stay away from the heroin; you get that Trotsky tattoo, and you’re stuck with that Trotsky tattoo; Merlin’s morbid fear of Judas Priest; passing on that Orthodox stress bump? “Tradition!”; history clearly mitigates against the group shower; Paul Shaffer just keeps playing along; crafting an artisanal air guitar; how your “fitness regimen” is literally killing the environment; Jonathan Cain, last of a generation; pondering England’s functional pussies; introducing awkward sharing and constant uncertainty; startling new statistics on what 70% of New York’s men “have”; up to pie on katie bars of kitchen signs—but not me in; John shares how to properly blouse a pant; how did you get this number?; Merlin gives Hodgman a fresh pair of GoldToe®s; introducing new yokes to usefulness; Dave Grohl seems like a pretty nice guy; no skylarking; the little red-haired witch that flew over the moon; an abrupt change of plans for little Tyler Heraclitus; The Varieties of Wangus Experience; debating the indignity of the keytar; silent instruments of the holocaust; now it’s HALF a golf pencil, and you’ll like it; the category of things that are never funny; no excuse, sir; yeah, but, Rimbaud and Mozart were corner cases; functional data points on The Liberty Bell Curve; how come only the keyboard guys ever die?; and that is what you get for wearing a plastic faucet on your head for nine hours; “Shower down to get an ‘A!’”; only takes one shortcut to ruin the rugby photo for everyone; crisscross applesauce; entering Washington’s carnival worm hole; why Merlin may be better at guitar than he lets on; gaslighting the shit out of these kids; one day love will find you; more on helping Gibson find his duck; and, John’s important new plan for helping our young people.

The show title refers to John’s vision of letting 7th and 8th graders build trails for two years in order to contribute something useful to society.

Merlin never sounded so clear. It is almost as if he was sitting in John’s lap which would be awkward considering John is in the altogether. It would be very sad if Merlin were sitting there right now, because it would cause him to rethink all the questions that he thought he had already figured out. Like: Do I want to be on a naked man’s lap?

Merlin woke up 3 or 4 hours ago and he had a lot of questions. He went into the room with that chair and he didn’t even go to that chair.

When John was in Harvey Danger, they were on the Craig Kilborn TV show, another nice guy, but kind of a douche who seems like a homemade dick. Merlin thinks he is going to Mike Lovecamp (?), a tall guy.

Grover Cleveland was president of the United States two non-consecutive times. It was not the one who was killed by the Eastern European guy, that was McKinley. More presidents come from Ohio than any other state.

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

Unintelligible lyrics by Billy Corgan and Michael Stipe (RL48)

Billy Corgan and Michael Stipe are classic examples of a 1980s/1990s singers who made their career by having unintelligible vocals mixed really low. As Michael got famous and people started telling him how great he was, he went into the studio and told them to mix his vocals up. At the same time he shaved his head. All of a sudden his fans realized that he wasn’t actually saying anything but he was just reading the ingredients off the back of a cereal box. Throughout the 1980s, Michael Stipe’s lyrics were enigmatic to John, but as soon as he could hear them, they turned out to be dumbass and not enigmatic at all. Speaking of REM, didn’t they briefly have an un-dead keyboard player?

Billy Corgan has never been enigmatic to John, but as soon as John could hear him better, he realized that Billy was a bad singer. Merlin doesn’t like to speak ill about somebody from Illinois, but he points out that Billy really appeals to a certain type. He had that shirt that said ”Zero” and he had a star. He became like Charlie Brown, because in addition to being bald he always wore the same shirt and was always a little bit sad.

There is a great story about Billy Corgan when he was auditioning famous drummers in the studio. They were sitting at their kit ready to audition when Billy came into the room and referred to them as ”drummer”, like ”Drummer, can you play that one more time” It sounded really inappropriate. When somebody is painting your house, you don’t call them for ”Painter! I want you to…” There are a couple of people in Northwestern bands who might do that. ”Waterboarder, my flight boards in 35 minutes, just give me a light boarding!”

Dying Keyboard Players of the Grateful Dead (RL48)

In 1996, Jonathan Melvoin, the keyboardist of The Smashing Pumpkins died of heroin. Since Jonathan Cain from Journey, keyboardists are almost never real band members, unless they are the primary instrumentalist of the band, like the great Billy Joel. There is a music video where they had sleeveless shirts and were shaking their fists at the camera, and they had literally tied the keyboardist to the wall of a warehouse. It was tough to watch! Jonathan Cain is a great musician and has a big writing credit on Open Arms.

The Grateful Dead had a lot of dead keyboard players. Ron ”Pigpen” McKernan did not make it all the way and their keyboard player from the 1970s and 1980s, Brent Mydland, also died of heroin in the summer of 1990. It was right at the time when John had a brief period of socializing with Grateful Dead people while he was living in Washington DC working for Ralph Nader, because lot of Nader's volunteers were Grateful Dead fans. John had understood the Grateful Dead for many years and Brent Mydland was not a canonical member of the band for John. As he died, all those girls that John though he could maybe have a thing with, like a long motorcycle ride, were all crying real tears of sorrow and John realized that he could never be a full Grateful Dead person because his feelings about noodly keyboard parts were not that strong. He had never said a word in interviews, he was just cipher.

It seems to Merlin that their songs have never ended, but they are always going on somewhere. It is an old joke that the keyboard players are usually the ones who die, just like it is an old joke that drummers are dumb. Richard Manuel from The Band: Dead by suicide in Florida! Springsteen’s keyboard player: Dead! Of all the members of a band, it always seems to be the keyboard player who dies. You are sitting behind a desk and there is really nothing else for you to do than doing heroin. There are a lot of times when you are just vamping. By the time you become the keyboard player in a successful band, you are probably a great pianist and could be sitting at a Grand Piano in one of the elevator lobbies of a Nordstrom. Yet, you are back there behind your desk and twice in a set the singer points at you and you get to do a solo, change the envelope or change the filter.

If you are in Heart or the Steve Miller Band, you get to play the Moog for a second or you get to turn up your arp-chord on the quiet part before the last chorus. The rest of the time you are just sitting there and you could do crossword puzzles or some heroin. Think about how much is done via triggering and Sequencers nowadays! Merlin is not saying that there is no role for these folks out there, but it is not like you are Howard Jones, a one man band with the cymbals between your knees. That hair!

Paul Young had hair, too! His version of Love will tear us apart was the version Merlin had heard before he heard Joy Division’s version. Isn’t it odd how you can do that now because people instantly have all the music from all of time? It is easier than ever to be over something. At the time when you went down to the Albertsons and spent $5.69 on a record, you were going to listen to Cheap Trick’s One On One until you loved it!

The Grateful Dead had a lot of keyboard players including Bruce Hornsby, who is still alive. John was the keyboard player in Harvey Danger and it is a thankless job with nothing exciting about it. Even at the band’s peak moment at the top of the set when you are just flying and playing your number one hit, you are basically sitting behind a desk. There is no other way to look at it!

All the attempts the keyboard player might make like standing up, kicking over his chair like Billy Joel, or fastening their keyboard to the side of a warehouse, none of these things can take away the incontrovertible truth that you are a man behind a desk. John saw the Queens of the Stone Age when they had their female keyboard player Natasha Shneider. She had worked up a keyboard stand where the keyboard was actually teetering forward so you could see her licks. It was the weirdest looking keyboard stand and she was a cute gothy girl in a hard-rock band, but she was still standing at a desk.

What about drummers? A drum-kit is a desk of cans. Even if you have a Keytar, it is more a Desktar. Merlin doesn’t understand the indignity of a Keytar, it must be like tar and feathering when if comes to being in a band. How do you ask the others to hand you the Keytar? Jan Hammer was big on the Keytar! Imagine If Merlin and John were younger, maybe 23 years old, John would be wearing white Vuarnets and Merlin would be wearing some sunglasses that he got for free from a bank. If they were starting a band that was a pastiche of 1980s Disco Pop and 1990s Indie Rock and Hip Hop, there would be one Keytar and they would have to flip for who would play it. John thinks that the person who didn’t get the Keytar would be disappointed.

Merlin’s guitar skills (RL48)

Merlin does this thing called the Wolverine chord. He can play almost all major, minor or suspended fourth chord with his three fingers on his right hand, as long as it is in C. Like anyone, Merlin prefers a D suspended fourth, but he would need to concert-tune down to D or drop-D. Jonathan Coulton explained that tuning to Merlin, but he still doesn’t understand it. John thinks that Merlin is a much better guitar player than he lets on because he has that rare quality where a person with an artistic impulse picks up an instrument, teaches it to themselves and comes up with something that no-one else would have thought of, like playing his Ds backwards because he learned from fake books, or his general approach to the instrument.

John’s first guitar neck (RL48)

John started his guitar career playing on Tennis Rackets to British Steel. Then he went to a Punk Rock show in Anchorage in the early 1980s where there were 5 bands on the bill. Between those 5 bands there was maybe one person who had seen an instrument before or could do anything with it. It was at the Youth Center, it was just a pure racket and the guitar player of one of the bands smashed his guitar all over the place. John ran up after the set and grabbed the neck of this guitar. It was like Eric Clapton was giving him his prized black Stratocaster, that was how much John prized this broken neck from an Arbor Explorer copy. Now he had a guitar neck and it was the first guitar-anything he had.

For a while he tried to air-guitar just with the neck, but found it insufficient. It is like masturbating with just your balls. At one point John found an old chess board in the garage and attached the guitar-neck to it at an angle so the guitar was diamond-shaped. In the early 1980s, checkerboard was a very popular motif! With that, John had a home-made air guitar which was better than a tennis racket and no-one else had one that looked like it! He had made his first instrument and even though it wasn’t actually an instrument, he still made an instrument! It had heft, it had a real neck where he could run his hands up and down and feel the frets on it. It felt really individual! John air-guitared to many ZZ Top-songs before he eventually decided it was time to learn how to play the guitar.

John's top air-guitar records were:

Merlin’s air guitar records were

The Scorpions are the great working men of metal. They are Germans to boot! When they came to Alaska, they gave Matthias Jabs the eye: ”Du bist rockin!” Merlin was scared of Judas Priest, because that is what the bad kids in denim jackets would write on their folders. John met the guitar tech for Iron Maiden during Bumbershoot in Seattle. Merlin wonders if they are playing eights or nines. They are pretty small but they have hands like oak trees and are probably playing thirteens. Merlin loves Steve Harris and could listen to him play bass all day, he is amazing! John has met a lot of English touring sound men and guitar techs and they all share a similar character, which is that they are very working class and very no-nonsense. They give off the air that they are tough guys, but when you really get to meet them, you realize that they are probably gentle with a girl. Because they live in this rough and tumble world, they adapt a manner of Interstate truckers. In fact, they are just tuning guitars all day and there are no knife fights.

Herpes in New York City (RL48)

Merlin has learned from 42% of all AC/DC songs that it is very hard to be in a touring Rock band because they were getting new and more virulent strains of Herpes every night. If you get a stress bump on your wankers, as they call it in Australia, it opens you up to another infection which makes it a meta-wound!

John heard from a source that in certain orthodox Jewish communities, the Rabbi who performs the circumcision uses a knife to cut the foreskin and then he performs the last portion of the ceremony with his mouth. (Merlin: Are you sure this isn’t one of these making babies in a Maze bread things? This could cause us a lot of trouble! John: Are you saying that this is a protocol of the elders of zion-problem?) They are trying to outlaw this practice because 70% of all men in New York City have Herpes and those Rabbis are given newborn babies Herpes from their mouth bumps. This is the problem with contagion: Contagion is contagious! It is also the problem of hearing stuff from somebody and then saying it on the Interwebs.

People are still getting Herpes. They are riding in subways all close to each other and the disease is probably going through there like electricity through a Tesla coil. That’s miserable! Are the ladies in the Metropolitan Area aware of this and are they taking precautions by staying off the subways? John got the sense that girls in New York City don’t make themselves available for sex. Women can get Herpes, but it is much easier to get pregnant than it is to get Herpes.

70% is a lot of percent! It is more than a plurality and it is enough to overcome a Filibuster. Filibuster would be a great new name for Cold Sores, because you got to say that you want to break this Filibuster. John made the joke the other day that Storming your embassy would be his new euphemism for having sex with someone and then somebody on Facebook gave him a lecture of American heroes dying overseas.

John visiting the Washington State Fair 2012 (RL48)

John went to the Washington State Fair the other day and everywhere he went, at all the different games where you had to throw darts at balloons or hoops at bottles, they were all playing different Ozzy tracks. They already did that when John was at a state fair in 1980, so is Ozzy just state fair music?

It is a funny thing that everything that happens at those traveling fairs feels like it happens between 1972 and 1981. Carnies are stuck there forever! What did they give away before Coke mirrors? You got stuffed animals that were extremely hard. They were not really cushy, but they seemed to be stuffed with sawdust and counterfeit money, a lot of them probably have drugs that people have forgotten about. John doesn’t think that there are drugs inside, but there are definitely drugs on the fur.

John saw a Coke bottle that was heated up and pulled so it was 4 feet tall. He saw the invisible dog, which is a dog leash and a harness with no dog in it. He saw his first Coke mirror and his first feathered Roach Clip earring. These are before you could buy Dreamcatchers on the open market. The Venn diagram when it comes to Dreamcatchers is really exhaustive. You move straight from feathered Roach Clip into Dreamcatchers. Merlin thinks that Dreamcatchers don’t work. They are supposed to catch your dreams and let the bad thoughts go through.

The Foo Fighters playing on Letterman (RL48)

Merlin's friend Stephen Fox who he played in a 1980s cover band with, once tried out for the Foo Fighters. Stephen was a very gifted guitar player and was the only one in the band who would ever learn his parts. Like Coulton or Mozart, he could play almost anything by ear.

Merlin has been watching the recording of the Foo Fighers on Letterman that had aired in 2000 right when Letterman came back from surgery. The Foo Fighters are a great band and their drummer Taylor Hawkins was mind-blowing, but he overdosed a year after that performance. Then Dave Grohl sat by his bed until he got better. Dave is one of the nicest people in the Rock Music business. He seems really weird, but he is a real guy. He got super-rich and recognized that he is weird, but he also didn’t seem to make an attempt to cover it up. He isn’t deliberately peculiar like Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Rusty Brown (?). Rusty Trombone!

David Letterman had almost died from super-duper heart surgery with a quintuple bypass and when he came back to do his first show again, he had one request: He wanted the Foo Fighters, his favorite band to play his favorite song on the show. The Story goes that the Foo Fighters were in Brazil at that time, but they came back to play Everlong on Letterman's show. It is really, really good, but there is that awesome tense part with all the voices 3/4 of the way through where you can hear Paul Shaffer who insisted to play on every god-damn song.

They Might Be Giants playing on Johnny Carson (RL48)

They Might Be Giants were playing along with Johnny Carson’s band, a recording that Merlin can highly recommend. They played Birdhouse in your Soul with a very underrehearsed Doc Severinsen orchestra, but it is still glorious! You could see Flansburgh’s eyes lit up because he was playing with this giant band on TV. John’s understanding is that Paul and the band would always play with you unless you had enough authority to say ”No, thank you!” Nowadays Paul and the band are probably checking Twitter on their phones and John doesn’t get the sense that they play with young bands.

It always used to grade on Merlin’s nerves when Robyn Hitchcock was on there doing Madonna of the Wasps and the world’s most dangerous band was jamming along. They are good and the guy with the yellow guitar is great, but then Paul Shaffer's keyboards are so fucking loud! How is he as a keyboard player still alive? He is Canadian, which exempts him from a lot of the ways people die. Thunder Bay is an Elton John song. Paul Shaffer was a Blues Brother, but Merlin thinks he was an adjunct Blues Brother, because he was actually the musical director. Who knows, Paul Shaffer probably has an aluminum heart!

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