The Commander Thinks AloudThe Long Winters
The Long Winters: “The Commander Thinks Aloud”
“The radio is on and Houston knows the score. Can you feel it? We’re almost home.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since I heard the inaugural version of this song played over the sad, wonky speakers of the Borders Books & Music that I worked at back in 2004. And while the version of the song that one short year later would find itself leading off The Long Winters’ Ultimatum EP would prove to sound a bit different sonically and musically than the song I first heard on my pre-ordered copy of The Future Dictionary Of America, the sentiment and the power behind it’s words and meaning remained absolutely unchanged.
In the past year, John Roderick has shared an immeasurable amount of his thoughts, wisdom and laughs with one of my personal heroes, Merlin Mann, on their brilliant podcast, Roderick On The Line. In turn, he has traversed the path from being a songwriter, writer and musician that I’ve greatly enjoyed and appreciated over the years to a human being that I truly admire on a number of different levels.
This week marks the first anniversary of the dynamic duo’s podcast and in celebration, they’ve re-posted the episode of Back To Work (another of Merlin’s not to be missed podcasts) that was the origin of what would eventually become Roderick On The Line. In that fateful episode, John beautifully explained the motivation behind his writing of “The Commander Thinks Aloud” and how it tied to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster of 2003:
“The Columbia was an event that was actual and big and you couldn’t metaphor-ize it. You couldn’t use a metaphor because any metaphor you would use would be smaller than the actual thing. And as I was writing the song, I realized that the Columbia was an actual event that you could both talk about in really small, discrete, little scenes and also, it functioned as a kind of reverse metaphor. What happened to them on that spaceship and how that spaceship crash affected us all in little ways was like a relationship breaking up or like one person’s life, kind of seen from beginning to end. So, it was sort of a reverse of what normal songwriting would look like.”
So, do yourself a favor right now. Shut off all of your distraction devices, go find a quiet place where you can be alone for a while, pull on a pair of headphones, close your eyes and in the immortal words of Jason Molina: “Listen.”
Last week I was sitting nervously in a medical office waiting room to undergo a procedure I was not looking forward to, and to calm me and keep me amused, my dear ladysisyphus was texting me. There was some conversation about how one would cite a podcast in an academic paper, which lead to us coming up with fake titles for academic papers based on Roderick on the Line.
And here they are.
- I Don’t Know What to Make of That: Visitors, Apparitions, and Avian Intruders of the Pacific Northwest
- We Can Cut All This Out: Freedom of Speech and Right to Privacy in Modern Broadcasting
- Here’s The Thing: A COMPLETE Collection of World Knowledge, Not Like That Half-Assed Thing Hodgman Did
- Can I Literally Beg You Not to Get Me Started About the Dutch: A History of the Netherlands
- Four-Star Generals at Ted Stevens’ Birthday: Money, Power, and Corruption in the Modern US Military
- John Roderick: When we were kids, the school curriculum was still based on the premise that we were trying to beat the Russians to the Moon. Even though we had already beat the Russians to the Moon, we were still reading those same math books.
- Merlin Mann: We, we wanted to get the Moon, and we wanted them NOT to get to the Moon.
- JR: Yeah, right, we wanted to get to the Moon and go, “IN YOUR FACE!”
- MM: Um-hmm
- JR: But then somewhere there in the Seventies, the ‘Alan Alda-fication of America’ happened, and suddenly everybody was an Artist. Nobody had a slide rule anymore, nobody was trying to get us to the Moon. Now everybody...now everybody was free to be... and we were all, our little hearts needed to be...set free.. and we needed to talk about our feelings... and everybody needed to share...and now we live in a nation of 350 million of the Most Important People Who Have Ever Lived. Nobody can wait in line. Nobody can admit for a second that maybe - in the Grand Scheme of Things - they...are...a PEON...
- MM: Um-hmm
- JR: ...and they need to STFU and get in line and do their jobs and get out of the way of better drivers who are on their way to some place, and only have nine minutes to get there.
- MM: I think I finally understand it: OK, it’s really, it’s a problem with at least two levels. The second level is that the people are in your way, they’re making it take way more than nine minutes, you’re not gonna get the chance to have a walk or a nap, they’re in John’s way. If I understand correctly, the first, much more broad problem - we’re never gonna get to problem two until we get through problem one - is that people are literally not being forced to literally listen to you.
- JR: Um-hmm.
- MM: Because that’s part of the problem...your...what you have to share with them is getting lost amidst all the voices and talking about feelings. Is that fair to say?
- JR: That is fair to say, except that - with the caveat - that I don’t really care if they’re listening, I just want them to be quiet while I’m talking. If they are just sitting there, just, just dumbly...
- MM: So it’s not really about the movie. The movie, really, the movie is You. The problem is they’re talking during You.
- JR: They’re talking during Me.
“My last album came out in 2006 and sold 25,000 copies. There are about that many people listening to my podcast with Merlin, and I have 23,000 Twitter followers. The world is making it abundantly clear that whatever I do, it only appeals to 25,000 people at the most.”—
Genius level stuff. As always.