RW138 - John Cusak Is Me and I Am He

This week, Dan and John talk about:

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

The show title refers to John discovering media that was directly targeted at him when he was a teenager.

John is recording into QuickTime, but he wonders how recording with that program can be a thing. It doesn’t matter to Dan what program John’s file is recorded with.

It is a little earlier than they normally record because Dan has a thing with his kid’s school. For John it is easy to make this accommodation because he just needs to get up a little earlier. He can go to bed the same time or way later than normal and then just wake up a little earlier.

They haven’t been recording for a couple of weeks because John was traveling.

Making a cup of coffee at 3am (RW138)

Last night John did a thing that he sometimes really wants to do and never does, but this time he just did it: He made himself a cup of coffee at 3:00am. At 3:00am he always wants to have a cup of coffee because he is already tired and it is not going to inhibit him from sleeping any more than his natural inhibition, so he should just make a cup of coffee!

What the hell! Coffee is delicious! John always says ”No, you are crazy! Go back to sleep!” or ”Try to go to sleep!”, but last night he was like ”Yeah, fuck it!” and he made a cup of coffee, he drank it, and it was great. It wasn't as life-changing as he had thought, but it was just another cup of coffee. John already had several cups in a 24 hour period, but he drank it, turned around and went to sleep. It was pretty great!

SF Sketchfest 2019 (RW138)

John was at SF Sketchfest 2019 in San Francisco, an event that had been started a long time ago by some comedic sketch comedy people. They are nice people, John knows them all, and most of them are his age or even a little younger. Later Sketchfest expanded into a Comedy Fest that also involved actors and podcasters because podcasters infect everything with their podcastitis. Live podcasts are often in the family of sketch comedy. Sketchfest likes to think that it takes over San Francisco for three weeks in January every year, and it does feel like it takes over San Francisco, but San Francisco does not notice it because it is busy being San Francisco.

John has gone to Sketchfest for years, but every time he got into a car or met a civilian on the street and told them he was here for Sketchfest they always asked ”What's that?” Even cab drivers who are driving actors and podcasters between the theaters have no idea. If you ask them about the biggest thing in town is right now, they will talk about a dental hygienists convention. Somehow Sketchfest doesn't register, but it is also cool to be under the radar. There are lots and lots of big-shot comedians there and this year they did a tribute to Carol Burnett who was there. It is not small!

Every year (since 2014) John has been doing Roderick on the Line with Merlin live at Sketchfest, which is the one time a year that they do a live show. Over time John also started getting asked to join other people's shows because he was already there and a lot of other people who are doing shows are looking for content. Dan and John are not really looking for content, they are just doing their show. They are not out trying to find guests to liven up an otherwise boring and emotionless show.

Dan and John are two guys talking, which was a popular style of podcast a long time ago. It is less popular now because a lot of podcasters want a gimmick or a hook, so you get these podcasts that are about things or that are variety shows. There are lots of interview shows where you interview people to figure out how they get this certain thing done, or they talk to famous people. They want to find out what Jude Law has in his backpack and they do an episode just about that, or they will do a show about ”What is Molly Ringwald’s post-production workflow? You'll find out next week on my show Interview with the Stars!” It is a very popular style.

When doing live shows you have this desire to pack the show with as much fun and interesting stuff and as many wonderful people as you can find. John gets asked to be a guest on these shows because he is actually in a pretty small group of people who can sit on stage and riff, talk to anybody, and also play a song. Playing a song really strikes podcast people as top content. They will put a show together talking about Molly Ringwald’s post-production rituals, Ethan Hawke's backpack and then John Roderick will be there and play a song. They don't care what song it is, they often don't know his music but they know that a song will round out their show. For a long time John felt like ”Meh, nobody here cares about my songs, but I'll play a song to make everything go by smoothly”

This year John was talking to the singer and artist Jean Grey that the phrase ”a couple of songs” has become their bête noire. Everywhere they go people ask them to do ”a couple of songs” and ”a couple of songs” is not what you want to hear. Both Jean and John would like to be invited as a comedy guest or an interesting guest, but a couple of songs” means somebody is trying to fill airtime and wants some shuck and jive. Jean and John agreed they should start a podcast called ”a couple of songs” where they talk to all the musicians who have been asked to do a couple of songs and they were high five-ing in the elevator because it was a great idea.

This year John did six shows. Some show premises are really funny, like Paul Sabourin (from Paul and Storm) started a thing called Worst First Chapter where everybody on the show wrote a chapter of a book that was intentionally bad. Either the writing was bad, or the book was bad. It could be good writing, but a terrible premise or a terrible book. Then everybody read their first chapter aloud and hilarity ensued. It is fun to sit and write a funny book! John was also on Jordan Jesse Go and on the Jonathan Coulton show, he wandered around all weekend and did his four or five days there, did a couple of shows a day, and they went out to Chinese food afterwards, it is like a bonding thing.

Dan has never been invited to SketchFest (RW138)

John doesn’t understand why Dan has never been asked to do Sketchfest. It seems like a major oversight and John wonders whom Dan has offended. How do people miss Dan Benjamin? He is legend! Dan is not on their radar because SketchFest seems to be focused around comedy and humor, and while Dan is funny, he is not ”haha”-funny. When people think John Roderick, they think entertainer, they think musician, they think perhaps now podcaster, stage performer, and he happens to tell a great story and he is pretty funny. Also, he was the third sexiest man in Seattle (in 2006)!

Dan’s image on the other hand is "computer nerd who also podcasts and does something with software". Also, except on this show where they talk about other things, Dan doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to share things about himself, his story, his life or anything like that. People generally know Dan as the host or the moderator of a show, or as an interviewer, but those kinds of roles don't give you a lot of opportunities to put yourself in there.

Maybe if you want to insert yourself into conversations all the time, but if you enjoy listening and talking to other people you will let them take the center stage and don't get to put as much of yourself in there as you would if it was all about you. Dan would never suggest that he is a funny guy who should be on a SketchFest. He does a podcast that sometimes is also funny, as opposed to a funny podcast that gets serious sometimes, or it might be about some nerd news. It is popular these days to have a podcast that gets serious sometimes.

John doesn’t listen to podcasts (RW138)

Marc Maron, God bless him, is very popular. John has never listened to a podcast and has therefore never listened to a Marc Maron podcast. The only podcast John has listened to all the way through was the Song Exploder featuring him and the only reason he did it was because he heard from a lot of people that they liked that episode. He heard it more and more and in a moment of weakness he listened to it because it had been a while since he had done the show and he didn't know what it was.

John knew that Rishi (Hrishikesh Hirway) edits his shows really tightly and the episode was only 20 minutes long while the conversation they had was over an hour. John got curious and wanted to see what Rishi had done. He listened to it all the way through. People found it very moving and he had edited it a lot, there were a couple of things he had edited out, but for the most part it didn't matter because his editing is a real form of art. He uses the conversation as paint for making amazing audio content, but that is the only podcast John has been able to listen to all the way through.

Something about listening to a podcast is very foreign to John and it is super-hard for him to do. If he gets into a car and there is a podcast on, he will sit with his shoulders hunched, wincing, until he says ”Can we turn that down or off?” and almost always people say ”Oh yeah, sure!” They don't even notice that it was still on while they were talking. When John gets into a cab and the guy is listening to talk radio or sports radio, he always asks them to either fade it all the way forward or turn it off. John just doesn't like talk radio of any kind. He appreciates the role that podcasts play in people's lives and he has been on a lot of podcasts to know what they feel going down, but he doesn't want to listen to them.

Marc Maron's interview with Robin Williams is legendary and there have been times when John has been mentioned on his show, but for some reason Marc Maron has avoided talking about John. John is not sure why he doesn’t want to listen to Marc Maron talk to Robin Williams and maybe if somebody forced him to do it he would enjoy it. Somebody made him listen to 10 minutes of Dax Shepard’s show and it was like being stapled to the carpet. ”Get me out of here!” It is not that he doesn't like Dax Shepard or the person he had on the show, but he was just fighting for oxygen.

John's interview in the Believer (RW138)

In 2005 John was interviewed by Litsa Dremousis for the Believer magazine. She is a local person who fawned over John for a while, wanting to do interviews. A few years later she decided that she was no longer a fawning acolyte, but she was now John’s enemy. During his city council campaign she went on Facebook and accused him of various crimes that she was very vague about, trying to disrupt someone's political career by insinuating and implying that the person had done bad things without ever being specific.

When pressed by people in the form of ”What the fuck are you talking about?” she said ”I'm not at liberty to say…” or ”I have a group of people who will confirm what I'm saying, but they are all afraid to come forward…” Just crazy shit! John’s campaign staff had a meeting where they all sat down and asked ”What is she talking about? Is this a problem?” - ”She is a person who really loves The Long Winters, who is a ’journalist’, and who feels like I didn't give her enough attention. She has been mad, but now I'm running for office and she has figured out where the line is to accuse somebody of something on the Internet without having to prove it and not going far enough that you could get in trouble for libel.” Predictably a few people jumped on her bandwagon back, like ”That’s awful, he should be ashamed!”, but there was no clear accusation of anything, just broad sweeping implications. Still, enough people said ”This is outrageous!”

She was hoping that one of the local newspapers, like The Stranger or if she got lucky The Seattle Times, would grab that innuendo and publish an article ”Accusations have been made!”, hoping to create a social media pylon that would hurt John’s campaign just by taking on a life of its own. She was hoping some journalist would fail to be a good journalist and would practice social media shame rat fuck. For a couple of days John’s campaign staff was walking around like ”Well, what happens if?” There was nothing there and if a reporter had done that they would have been committing malpractice. Also: Bring it on! John’s instinct is to amplify this and use it as an opportunity to talk about how easy this is to do.

Nothing was keeping her from doing something like this and the whole argument that no-one would ever accuse somebody publicly of something that was a lie because it puts them at greater risk than the person they're accusing is baloney. People do stupid crazy shit all the time! People feed poison to their own kids. People wipe poo on their baby's thermometers in order to get attention from doctors, they put infection in their own babies' mouths. The idea that people wouldn't make false accusations on the Internet in order to get attention is a crazy thing to say. People commit suicide just to get attention, people commit murder to get attention, of course they are going to make baseless accusations against people!

It was surely brought to the attention of the people at The Stranger and the Seattle Times because she is someone who brings herself to people's attention and she surely has accounts where she has anonymously forwarded her own writing to people with a picture of some bearded dude, like ”I saw this and this is outrageous! You should look into this!” John is sure she did that. To their credit, The Stranger, the Seattle Times and everyone else in the city looked at it and said ”This doesn't seem like anything! This seems like a crackpot!” and it went away. She blocked a lot of the people who confronted her and said what she was doing was wrong.

The interview for The Believer was John's first encounter with Litsa and by the tone of her questions and by the conversationality of the piece you can start to get a feeling of how weird it would be that only a few short years later she would have decided that John was her nemesis. She was very appreciative as an interviewer and crossed way over a line from journalism into fan spooging. The article in The Believer was in its time in its moment a really important article for John and The Long Winters. They had a long conversation at a cafe and she recorded the whole thing. Then they had a second conversation and she recorded that and transcribed them into this crazy rangy document.

Litsa was trying to vet her article and fact check it with John, so he asked her to send it to him and he would go through it to make sure that he didn't misspeak and she sent him the raw document. This was at a time when there didn't exist many venues for someone to express themselves in their own words. There were no podcasting or social media in 2005 and John was not natively a blogger. Also, the only people who were going to read your blog were people who already were really into you.

Interviews in magazines and newspapers were still the main outlet for John to talk about stuff outside of his music. Litsa sent John her article and he started to go through it as an editor. He took out all the ums, he tweaked the grammar of things where he had gone into a sentence in one tense and then somewhere along the line flopped over into a different tense, he just kind of squared it up.

John had previously been burned because the first ever article about The Long Winters had been a major feature article in The Stranger. It was a great moment for John because he had been living in Seattle for over 10 years, he had been reading The Stranger compulsively from the first issue and at that point in time it still was the definitive source for culture in the city. If you were in The Stranger you were real and existed, if you were not in The Stranger it was debatable whether you were real or existed. John had been featured in The Stranger quite a bit by that point, but never one of these laudatory puff pieces, like ”You've gotta listen to this guy!”

For a brief period the music editor of The Stranger was a guy named Jeff DeRoche who just loved the first Long Winters record. They sat down for a long-ranging interview, John had never really been in an interview before, and no-one had ever interviewed him like this. He had the desire to say everything because he had so much to say and Jeff DeRoche started at the beginning ”Where were you born?” - ”Well, I was born in Seattle but I grew up in Anchorage. My dad was a lawyer. My mom worked for the pipeline. She was the head of their computers. In 4th grade I got in a lot of trouble because the teacher in 3rd grade had tried to motivate us by giving us money instead of grades and then in 5th grade…” (see RW52, RW84) John just told everything! Jeff DeRoche was an enthusiastic listener and he just wrote it all down.

This article was really long, meandering and maybe pointlessly oversharing meaning that the first ever big article about The Long Winters where John really got a chance to say everything felt like too much. John remembers walking around town that day, so proud that he had a full page picture and a long article in The Stranger, but when he tried to read the article he was like ”Oh no! I shouldn't have said all that! I shouldn't have talked about my fucking parents!” When Jeff asked him about his childhood John should have given him a two sentence answer and gotten onto something else, something John wanted to talk about. John doesn’t know what he was thinking, but he had never been interviewed before!

When Litsa sent him the document and he had straightened out the syntax, he felt like ”Well, since I'm here…” and he combed through it again and took out the stories that were too much information or the wrong kind of oversharing. He looked at it again and was like ”You know, I could have said that a little better” and he went through and and improved it, wrote it right basically. He took out her questions or changed questions to make them seem funnier, he basically script-doctored it and punched it up. He was worried that he was crossing a line because at the time music journalism was still considered a form of journalism. Some magazines would leave the ums in because it was journalism and the interview you are doing with somebody is sacrosanct.

It has been very frustrating for John when reporters didn’t want to do an email interview. They usually want to get on the phone because you would get a much better interview talking to somebody. John doesn’t think that is true in his case. An email interview with him is way better! Most musicians are not good writers or particularly smart even, and you can get them talking and get something out of them, but that is not true with John who will give you a great interview if you send him your questions.

John gave the document back to her and was a little bit worried that she might be really offended, but she was happy to accept it in its punched-up form and it got a lot of praise. Colin Meloy's response was that he really wished he could come across as well in interviews as John came across in this interview. John didn't want to write him back and say that he took the rough draft of the interview and made it sound really good. It was a pretty good trick! If you send him an email interview he doesn’t have to doctor it!

The article is full of unnecessary gibberish. If John was trying to make a joke in the moment and the joke dribbled out or didn't come across right, he made sure when he edited the article that the jokes he was trying to make registered to their best effect. It is funny to read now because there are a lot of quips that we all know now. Everyone in the world knows that Hemingway's most tragic story was For Sale Baby Shoes Never Used or whatever the fucking story is.

It became a trope somewhere along the line, it became a meme and you could doctor that a little bit and make a joke out of it. She had referenced that story and at the time it was ”Oh wow, nice reference!” because it hadn't become ubiquitous. There are a lot of ideas in the article that would become commonplace later, but at the time this article came out they were still somewhat novel and John treated them as novel ideas. Many of those ideas have subsequently come up on Roadwork and Roderick on the Line and they became emblems of how John thinks.

Some of the language and the style feels very 2005 and wouldn't really fly in 2018. In 2005 you could say ”The Decemberists are a little light in the loafers” and not everybody understood that as a reference for being gay. ”He is a confirmed bachelor” was a euphemism from a time when the world was deeply closeted. The world in 2005 was not deeply closeted, but we were all living in the same culture then and now and these literary devices were deployed for humor. You didn't have to say ”light in the loafers”, you could say he was gay, but it was a humorous anachronism.

It is instructive to look back on this article and it is interesting that John was already trying to promote many of the ideas that he now populates all his stuff with at a time before there were any platforms for it. The pull quote was in response to the legendary question ”If you could have any kind of food, but just one kind of music, if you had to listen to modern country, but you can eat any kind of food, or you can have any kind of music but you have to just eat one kind of food for the rest of your life, which would you pick?”

Dan absolutely would have the food and who cares about the music! She asked that question of all John’s bandmates and they all picked music. They knew they would need to listen to all the kinds of music in the world. Dan would be fine never listening to music again if he could eat all the food he wanted and had to make that choice. That is what John said. Are you kidding me? He already doesn’t listen to music, but he wants all the food! It struck her as unusual because he was a music person in the music community. John gets that a lot, but he is much more interested in food than music, podcasts, or consuming any type media.

Watching TV and watching movies (RW138)

It still shocks people that media plays such a small role in John’s life. He has also raised his kid that way. She has started to express preferences about the music she does listen to, but she almost never says ”Turn music on!” When they are driving somewhere, she is fine if you turn it on, she is happy and will say ”Play this, play that”, but if you don't turn it on she doesn't notice, but she looks out the window.

John doesn’t think his daughter knows how to operate the TV and couldn’t turn it on if you asked her to. The primary media they both consume are books and comic books. John doesn’t watch TV, and he watches the one movie a week for his Friendly Fire war movie podcast on his computer, but otherwise he doesn’t watch television. John’s daughter's mother likes to watch episodic TV, but she wants to do it with someone else instead of just sit and watch TV by herself. Dan thinks that the whole millennial generation is sitting at home alone watching Netflix and talking to their friend over text on Snapchat while they are also watching the same show.

For John’s generation curling up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and watching a television show is a social experience, even though you are not talking to each other. Netflix and Chill is the new version of Blockbuster. In the old days if you were lucky your parents would take you to Blockbuster on Fridays and let you pick out a tape, maybe two tapes, and you would watch it with your whole family. If your friends were coming over it would be a big event, ”My friends are coming over, we are going to spend the night and watch Die Hard” John always fucked those parties up because he always got movies like Harold and Maude or Tommy.

John always told his friends they were going to love this movie, and they were expecting a war movie, an adventure movie, or a fun movie, but John came with Harold and Maude and everyone would sit and watch this weird, slow obtuse piece. More than once his friends said he was never going to pick the movie again and he had lost his privileges, but at the next movie party everybody would sit around eating popcorn and had forgotten that he had been banned. He would again pick a movie like Apocalypse Now, something you should sit and watch with two close friends, but not at a party. John got banned from a lot of social things for doing it wrong!

As a kid John would curl up with his mom and watch Magnum P.I. or Fantasy Island and it felt social! Dan says that TV back in those days was like an event. "MASH is going to be on, gotta get ready for MASH!" The next day you talked about it in school and of course everyone knew what they were talking about because there was only one show that everyone watched. John’s daughter's mother likes to watch those shows and every once in a while she will tell him that ”We are watching this show!”

When John is over at her place and they have put the baby to bed she will say ”Let's watch our show!” That is how they watched The Americans and Black Mirror and John likes it that way because he has low T for binge watching. He can watch two episodes of a show back to back once a week. Other people sit down to watch eight episodes and then it is gone forever. The way John is watching episodic television with his daughter's mother prolongs the show and they end up having a thing to watch for two months or more. It feels like this is a thing that they are doing now. Come over on Tuesdays, put the baby to bed, watch their show.

Dan can't sit down and watch eight episodes of the same show, but he loves to watch one episode a night whether that takes a week or months to get through. He loves to find a show that has been on TV for five seasons and every night at 11pm he will watch an episode for a whole month. He started watching Game of Thrones from the beginning and has only been ever watching one episode per week. Dan is not a re-watcher. There are a few movies that he enjoys re-watching, like It's a Wonderful Life, The Big Lebowski, or The Aviator. Dan has a Howard Hughes thing. John has never seen It's A Wonderful Life, but he would have to see it when he was a kid.

They are supposedly working on a Deadwood movie and Dan will re-watch all of Deadwood once that movie is given, but that is only because he has forgotten so much about it. There is a new Sopranos show or a movie and Dan will probably want to watch the Sopranos again to get up to speed. He would force himself to get into the right spirit of watching the new show, but he is not looking forward to it. It is like research for a term paper: To get the A you have to at least get a couple of sources out of that damn library. He is only doing it to fully enjoy the new thing and the only way to do that is to bone up on his history.

John does not watch a lot of stuff, so why would he waste his time re-watching any of it? He has been gearing up in advance of the last season of Game of Thrones, because Game of Thrones was one of the shows that he episodically watched with his daughter’s mother as a Sunday night thing. When their baby was born they had a three month period with their brand new baby where they just couldn't fucking do anything and John’s daughter’s mother was a major fan of the West Wing, which John had never seen. They sat with this brand new baby and watched the first six seasons of the West Wing on DVD. By the end it was no good anymore, but the first several seasons were really good and John now has that under his belt, he has seen it and enjoyed it. It is what established this habit in them of watching TV together in this way.

Game of Thrones is almost over, there is only one more season, and John is actually girding his loins because that is the only thing you can gird in anticipation of binge-watching Game of Thrones all the way from the very beginning in order to be ready for the new season, then watching the new season, and then being done, putting a cap on it and never having to go back. That is in John's future and a lot of people are going to do it with him. It is going to be a social movement, everybody watching all of Game of Thrones all the way through to make any sense of it, to figure out what it was all about and then watch it to the end. Hurray George R.R. Martin, please write and write faster!

How TV shows and movies from he 1970s hold up (RW138)

John and his daughter recently started watching 3-2-1 Contact, because John was actually sitting in front of the TV in 1980 on the day when 3-2-1 Contact debuted. He was in 6th grade and he was into it. They had made a big deal of it in the schools that there was a new show coming. Everybody should watch it because it was going to be really good. It was a production of the Children's Television Workshop like Sesame Street, but for older kids John's age. "Wednesday! Get ready!" He had even gotten a packet from Scholastic about this new show and they were all crowded around the TV. Later the show rebooted, but it was unwatchable after that.

3-2-1 Contact had Geordi from Star Trek, but before that Star Trek existed. Sarah Jessica Parker was in there as a child, she is not that much older than John and there is a video of that. Linus Pauling and Rita Moreno were on there in the very early days. John thought that LeVar Burton was in there, but he wasn't, how weird John had that in his mind! John met him at a ComicCon where they did a show together and he was an incredibly cool and lovely person.

It was one of the few instances where John felt that media was targeted directly at him. He was eleven years old and this brand new show was for 11 year olds and it worked and John didn’t feel pandered to, albeit briefly. He felt the same way about the John Hughes movies, when Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and Breakfast Club came out and also Say Anything and Better Off Dead, that era of movies. There was a show where they had a weird way of speaking and you could send away for the Zoom speaking, Ubbi Dubbi.

Breakfast Club was a movies for 16 year olds and graduated to ”This is a movie for 20 year olds!” John was like: ”Yes, John Cusack is me and I am he”. It didn't work with St. Elmo's Fire and John did not identify himself in that, but it worked with Ferris Bueller, which Dan found a true masterpiece. He watched it again with his 11 year old son and he absolutely loved it and had to watch it again the next day and at least two more times after that.

John remembers very clearly that he was saying in 1986 that these movies do such a good job of describing what it was like to be a teenager in the mid 1980s that he will show them to his kids as a way of explaining it. He only wished that his own parents had movies that they could show him that had perfectly encapsulated their own time, the way that the Breakfast Club encapsulates John’s time. He now has a seven year old who is not yet ready to see the Breakfast Club.

When John was dating Millennium Girlfriend, he made her watch Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, but it was freaking boring! A lot of the ideas that had freaked John out about it back then, everything in that movie that was pushing the envelope of ”Oh my gosh!” are super common everyday tropes now. The aliens rattling a refrigerator and shining a flashlight through phone poles, John shit his pants 1000 times during that scene!

It is also a 1970s movie with an awful lot of bickering. The parents just yell at each other in a very 1970s way. Mom and dad getting a divorce has nothing to do with the UFOs, but with the fact that Richard Dreyfuss believes in UFOs and his wife doesn't, so he is building this thing out of mashed potatoes and out of clay in the center of the house and their marriage is falling apart. Fully 20 minutes of that movie is just about being a kid in mom and dad's house while they are getting a divorce.

John's girlfriend fell asleep and John can't go to bat for Close Encounters as a thing for a younger person to watch. He will still watch it and remember being a kid, but it doesn't work in the future. Godfather does! When John put on Godfather she just sat straight up in bed from the very beginning, the first shot of the wedding, like ”What is this incredible movie?” John just hopes that by the year 2028 Breakfast Club hasn't been so gobbled up and so regurgitated that his little girl can still watch it and that the movie still exists that way. 10 years from now, who knows? Kids might just be consuming everything in three dimensional virtual and augmented reality or something! Why would I watch this black and white movie about teens when I'm could be a star sailor?


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