throught the mail
7 July 1994
well, you're gonna kill me, but i can't find the questions you sent. i thought that they were in the envelope,
but when i looked in the envelope: surprise: no questions. the one i remember is: "has anyone shown you this? (insert new jersey devil high-five here)" to which you had appended the notation: "(sorry, maybe some other time...)" but i like this question a
lot, not least of all because i can answer it. no, no one has ever shown it to me. i wish someone would.
so, i have made up these questions to ask myself.
1) i hear you have a cat named pumpkin who is really stupid. any truth to this?
yes. pumpkin is a nice fellow but is seriously deficient in the brains department. he is often called by his nickname "baseball head". at the present he is scratching his ear and he will keep it up until it bleeds. he has a sister named minet, and she is
probably dumber than her brother, but pumpkin's stupidity is just too damn _agressive_.
2) people get ornery when you say you don't like the 20th century. name three twentieth-century authors you like.
ok. joan didon, wole soyinka, u.s. naipaul. but any of these would have been perfectly at home in the 18th century society.
3) who is the best living singer?
michael mcdonald. no question about it. van morrison could give him a run for his money, but a stray note from mcdonald can give me chills.
4) is there any punishment severe enough for the singer of the counting crows?
no. there is no punishment severe enough.
5) where is baseball head at this moment?
on the bookshelf gazing out the window trying unsuccessfully to look pensive.
6) does home-made sourdough bread rule?
yes, it does.
on the phone
cb: where were we? what do you think of all this talk of lo-fi in the press these days?
john: it strikes me as kind of an easy way out. i don't read a lot of music press, although rachel says that's a lie, because i know more about the whole scene than she does. but i really don't pay a lot of attention, and what i do read is mostly
to see if we're getting good or bad reviews. and then paul who beerframe [zine] and he's the finest. he's writing the liner notes for the next album.
cb: so let me go back to that question about 'who are the mountain goats' ... are you evolving?
john: i want to ignore this question.. however, i will say that people around the country this summer saw a version of me and rachel and amy sometimes.
cb: where did she play with you?
john: amy sang with us in chicago and new york. she just happened to be in chicago and she happened to be in new york.
cb: well, that worked out well. where all did you pay this summer?
john: god, all over the goddamn yard.
cb: but it wasn't a tour?
john: no, no, it was a visit. we went to chicago, and then liz clayton drove us to columbus ohio. we then drove back to chicago and decided we liked it so well we would go to the east and meet some of the people who i've been talking to on the ph
one and writing for a while and play some more. so we played new york city, newpaltz, new york, boston, north hampton, and providence.
cb: so which of your songs are based on real life?
john: i wish i had a funny answer for this. there are some songs. i won't reveal which ones are rooted in reality until they're pretty distant, but "going to mexico" was one such. usually if i play one live, i say "this is a true story".
cb: how often do you get to play live?
john: it's sporadic. i'm working real hard in school, things are busy.. but we played a lot this summer. we played no fewer than eight times this summer.
cb: do you play locally much?
john: not recently. but now that i don't ever play by myself, it's harder to set up, and it's harder to practice. we're kind of fanatical about practicing.
cb: so how old are you?
john: i'm 46.
cb: and how long have you been in college?
john: 24 years. [laughter] no, i'm 27 and i'm in my 4th year _real_ year of college. i did 2 years of a nursing program. but that was different. i'm in my senior year.
cb: then what?
john: grad school hopefully.
cb: where have you applied? in california?
john: well, the only place i've applied in california is san diego.. and that's cause i'm a big rocket from the crypt fan.. [laughter] i just can't stand not seeing them every night. no, they have a good literature department. short of that, i'm
applying to places in boston, upstate new york, georgia, long island, chicago..
cb: and you're going to study literature?
john: english literature probably.
cb: what's your favorite "going to..." destination and why?
john: my favorite "going to..." song or actual destination?
cb: actual destination.
cb: and song?
john: pretty clearly i think, the general consensus is and i don't have any problem with it, that "going to georgia" is the best song. but i'm kind of partial to "going to maine" myself.
john: i don't know.. because it was really early and i felt a lot less self-conscious about writing. so it was pretty spontaneously written.. like improvise, and that was cool. it was pretty exuberant.
cb: so you're more self-conscious now because there are a lot of people listening to you?
john: probably. in a way less so. now that i know there are people who will listen without me having to try and _get_ people to listen. i'm more likely to do something that i would have been afraid to do before. i'm less worries about alienating
listeners. but i worry about that a lot, because i know a lot of people like the earlier stuff better because it was funnier. and there's just not much funny stuff recently.
cb: why do you think that is?
john: because i'm bitter and i'm old! i dunno, i ran out of jokes.. or the one's that are funny to me aren't funny to other people. and also, because, i didn't like being tagged as a 'funny band'. for instance, we opened for sebadoh the other nig
ht, and the person from the newspaper who hadn't seen me play since my freshman year and reviewed the show as if we were still a 'funny band'. my favorite line in the review was "the crowd was laughing and smiling along to 'going to georgia'". about the a
bout the least funny song...and if you were laughing along with that one, there are some things they're not teaching you in school. i mean, there is something funny about it, but it's not that kind of funny.
cb: have you ever tried cafe bustelo?
john: yeah! yeah, i lived on that stuff for a couple of months. it's pretty good.
cb: i got an article from consumer reports where they rated it as the worst of all the coffees they tried.
john: well, what you have to do with it is, you have to realize that they drink coffees differently in other countries than they drink it here, and it is mexican. NOBODY takes their coffee black in mexico. and they used condensed milk instead of
milk to sweeten it. if you make cafe bustelo at double strength, and then put condensed milk into it, it's just tasty.
john: condensed milk is better in coffee than milk anyway, but if you have something really strong like cafe bustelo then it's really good.
cb: in that article, they said that it was "tarry and bitter" and to me, that sounds like a decent coffee!
john: yeah, yes.
cb: i mean what do you want? they made it sound like cigarettes!
john: cafe bustelo, i was glad to see it on the cover of your magazine.
cb: what's you favorite beverage?
john: snapple iced tea. have you ever drank it?
john: four of them?
cb: in a row? no.
john: oh man! you must drink large amounts of snapple!
cb: i've probably drank two in a row...
john: well, it helps if it's hot... and just drink like 4 in the space of an hour and a half. the peach and the cranberry... i love that stuff, it's the greatest.
cb: maybe you could get some kind of endorsement deal going.
john: well, everybody's trying to do that now with the ad campaign.
cb: but just think, you could be on tv.
john: oh yeah, my dream.
cb: what's going on with the alpha series of songs?
john: well, it's over. the one that i opened with in san francisco, alpha omega, was the last one. it was a series of songs about a couple who were supposed to be getting a divorce. and that was supposed to be about. but in fact, what actually ha
ppened, to my surprise is that she just leaves, and she left before. it was supposed to be about the pain of that sort of separation, but any song with alpha in the title is keyed towards the issue of separation and loss.
cb: how long did it go on?
john: an awful lot of songs, she sang sometimes and he sang sometimes. they went to las vegas and sleep in a bathtub and it ended up going on for about 3 1/2 years. it started out as a series of poems. i wish more people would try to piece
the songs together because the whole thing would make more sense and it can be kind of fun, people think i title my songs randomly, but i don't.
cb: how do you keep track of all the stuff you record?
john: i work on one tape at a time and i write down the titles.
cb: do you ever just hate a song, back up and tape over it?
john: well, i try to save even the bad stuff because i really can't trust my own judgment. there have been some things that i really wouldn't have thought much of, but dennis has advised me to keep. so i pretty much keep everything.
cb: but you don't work on several things at once... it's all one song at a time, one project at a time?
john: well, there are plenty that are just up in the air and that's often the stuff that ends up on compilations, or that's how a single can be made. if i have some loose songs that fit together nicely.
cb: what about the congress?
john: i'm not allowed to talk about the congress.
cb: [laughing] why?
john: i've already said too much.
cb: is there some music from the congress available?
john: yes, through anthropology records.
cb: have you ever seen a cheesy las vegas show?
john: no, when i go to vegas, i gamble.
cb: do you lose?
john: about half the time.
cb: what do you play?
john: craps. what an excellent game it is. it's the only game i like to play at great length. i enjoy slot machines, but the rate of return is pretty bad. and video poker actually, is good because you can beat it. i'm not much for blackjack becau
se i get pissed off, but craps is the greatest game in the world.
cb: have you been to circus circus?
cb: man that place is freaky! it's the kind of place you go in and it's so disorienting, it's hard to find your way out.
john: one time though, rachel was taking care of some kids, and the family said, "come with us to las vegas" and she thought what they were doing was giving her extra payment because she had been such a good babysitter. so she went, and they expe
cted her to babysit.. and she sat them at circus circus and didn't get to play at all.
cb: oh that's cold. and the kids aren't allowed in the casinos?
cb: what accents can you fake?
john: i can say "car" the way they do in boston.
cb: do it.
cb: have you ever played on the street for money?
john:: no. well, we played a street show once with the congress, but i'm not allowed to talk about it.
john: in clairemont. but it wasn't for money. it's just that the congress hadn't performed live in 6 years. there was some question as to what we were going to do about that, so we played unannounced on a street corner.
cb: did anyone see it?
john: just a dishwasher who worked in the restaurant we played in front of.
cb: so do you have a hero?
john: i think probably oedipus actually. partly because when people think about him they think "oh yeah, guy who slept with his mom and gouged out his eyes." but the deal with oedipus is what drives him to find out that he was married to his moth
er and killed his father. he could have no found out, with the information that starts to stack up, his wife / mother urges him to stop asking questions. and he could stop, but he's really heroic, he wants to know what the truth is even though, he realize
s the truth will crush him. he demands what's coming to him. he demands a place to die.
cb: do you like slayer?
cb : have you seen the inside of the new slayer record?
cb: well, there's someone's arm with the word "slayer" carved into it... and i guess he mashed his forearms together and there's a reverse "slayer" in blood on the other arm.
cb: yeah, i was thinking about doing that with "mountain goats" and sending you a video, but i don't think it will fit as easily
john: i don't think i'd like that. as an adolescent, i was into self mutilation, but i'm not anymore.
cb: so what's happening with your new album?
john: well, we're breaking up, so this one is kind of dark and a lot of people who know things about it are pretty pissed off. it's pretty depressing, but in as much as there is no suicide threat, the two characters who refuse to part ways point
out certain sad facts about staying with someone you're still in love with, but belong apart from. it's kind of desperate.
cb: you're breaking up? why?
john: rachel and i are going to form a new band, and write songs in a different way. we're going to go into a studio and record some now, because we need to get rachel's bass on the recording.
[from what i've figured out, john and rachel are considering the name the
orange trees, and the name of the album to come out on ajax in april will
be called sweden.]