Don't ask us why, but ever since Rock's Off read Chuck Klosterman's "23 questions I ask everybody I meet in order to decide if I can really love them" from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
, we've wanted to do interviews comprised exclusively of those questions. Perhaps it's a nostalgic throwback to our days in high school, tormenting eighth-grade speech tournament competitors with impromptu pantomime topics such as "you are light; behave as both a particle and a wave" (and yes, we actually did have friends back then, although we don't fault your disbelief).
Regardless, we finally found someone willing to indulge this inexplicable desire; Eric Johnson of Fruit Bats. We went looking for him at Walter's several hours before doors opened on last Thursday night's show.
The band was running late, and we were turned away by Walter's owner Pam Robinson, who mistook us for Chris Gray; we're not sure if we should feel flattered or ashamed.
When we came back shortly before the show, we met up with the hungry Johnson, and threw a few of these ramblingly bizarre questions at him before his growling stomach sent him off down Washington Avenue looking for something to eat.
Rocks Off: Let us assume you met a rudimentary magician. Let us assume he can do five simple tricks - he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, he can make a coin disappear, he can turn the ace of spades into the Joker card, and two others in a similar vein. These are his only tricks and he can't learn any more; he can only do these five. However, it turns out he's doing these five tricks with real magic. It's not an illusion; he can actually conjure the bunny out of the ether and he can move the coin through space. He's legitimately magical, but extremely limited in scope and influence. Would this person be more impressive than Albert Einstein?
Eric Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. That's easy, like a knee jerk reaction. Don't really know where to go from there. I guess he's trying to make you think about the cultural ramification of those tricks, trying to see if you think that what is genuinely magical is actually mundane.
RO: Let us assume a fully grown, completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground while his head is held in place with thick rope. He is conscious and standing upright, but completely immobile. And let us assume that - for some reason - every political prisoner on Earth (as cited by Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than 20 minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots.
EJ: I remember this one. Yeah, I'd kill the horse. It would suck, but the political prisoners would thank me for it. I'd probably try to atone by opening some sort of farm for abused horses, or something. But yeah, it would be worth it for all those political prisoners, at the expense of one Christ-like horse.
RO: Let us assume there are two boxes on a table. In one box, there is a relatively normal turtle; in the other, Adolf Hitler's skull. You have to select one of these items for your home. If you select the turtle, you can't give it away and you have to keep it alive for two years; if either of these parameters are not met, you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select Hitler's skull, you are required to display it in a semi-prominent location in your living room for the same amount of time, although you will be paid a stipend of $120 per month for doing so. Display of the skull must be apolitical. Which option do you select?
EJ: The turtle, definitely. I'd like a turtle anyway. Besides, a turtle can live for 80 years; two is a short order.
RO: Genetic engineers at Johns Hopkins University announce that they have developed a so-called "super gorilla." Though the animal cannot speak, it has a sign language lexicon of over twelve thousand words, an I.Q. of almost 85, and - most notably - a vague sense of self-awareness. Oddly, the creature (who weighs 700 pounds) becomes fascinated by football.
The gorilla aspires to play the game at its highest level and quickly develops the rudimentary skills of a defensive end. ESPN analyst Tom Jackson speculates that this gorilla would be "borderline unblockable" and would likely average six sacks a game (although Jackson concedes the beast might be susceptible to counters and misdirection plays). Meanwhile, the gorilla has made it clear he would never intentionally injure any opponent. You are commissioner of the NFL - ould you allow this gorilla to sign with the Oakland Raiders?
EJ: Absolutely not. Whether it would be intentional or not, a 700-lb. Gorilla could rip your arms out of your sockets. That's a sport for homo sapiens. I don't mean to discriminate, but it just wouldn't be fair.
RO: You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mate's collarbones with a crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop this from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear - for the rest of your life - sound as if it's being performed by the band Alice in Chains.
When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like it's being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of their tunes will sound like it's being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a cappella (but it will only sound this way to you). Would you swallow the pill?
EJ: Easy. I wouldn't get with that girl in the first place. It helps that I don't believe in soul mates, but that just wouldn't be worth it. Maybe for an Alice in Chains fan. I distinctly remember giving this one some thought, though.
RO: At long last, someone invents "the dream VCR." This machine allows you to tape an entire evening's worth of your own dreams, which you can then watch at your leisure. However, the inventor of the dream VCR will only allow you to use this device of you agree to a strange caveat: When you watch your dreams, you must do so with your family and your closest friends in the same room. They get to watch your dreams along with you. And if you don't agree to this, you can't use the dream VCR. Would you still do this?
EJ: I don't want a dream VCR. I already remember my dreams pretty vividly, and have no desire to revisit them.
RO: Defying all expectation, a group of Scottish marine biologists capture a live Loch Ness Monster. In an almost unbelievable coincidence, a bear hunter in the Pacific Northwest shoots a Sasquatch in the thigh, thereby allowing zoologists to take the furry monster into captivity. These events happen on the same afternoon. That evening, the president announces he may have thyroid cancer and will undergo a biopsy later that week. You are the front page editor of The New York Times: What do you play as the biggest story?
EJ: The President, of course. The others would just be on the front page below that.
RO: You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal: You find them physically attractive, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny and deeply compassionate. However, they have one quirk: This individual is obsessed with Jim Henson's gothic puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal.
Beyond watching it on DVD at least once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with Dark Crystal references, uses Dark Crystal analogies to explain everyday events and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the film's "deeper philosophy." Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?
EJ: I have a difficult time picturing that person as perfect in every other way. I say no.
RO: A novel titled Interior Mirror is released to mammoth commercial success (despite middling reviews). However, a curious social trend emerges: Though no one can prove a direct scientific link, it appears that almost 30 percent of the people who read this book immediately become homosexual.
Many of these newfound homosexuals credit the book for helping them reach this conclusion about their orientation, despite the fact that Interior Mirror is ostensibly a crime novel with no homoerotic content (and was written by a straight man). Would this phenomenon increase (or decrease) the likelihood of you reading this book?
EJ: I don't really read contemporary crime fiction. Pretty neutral on this one.
RO: This is the opening line of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City: "You are not the kind of guy who would be in a place like this at this time of the morning." Think about that line in the context of the novel (assuming you've read it). Now go to your CD collection and find Heart's Little Queen album (assuming you own it). Listen to the opening riff to "Barracuda." Which of these two introductions is a higher form of art?
EJ: Well, I've never read the book, and am only familiar with the Michael J. Fox movie made from it. I do have Little Queen
, my girlfriend loves that album. I'm gonna have to say "Barracuda."
RO:: You are watching a movie in a crowded theater. Though the plot is mediocre, you find yourself dazzled by the special effects. But with 20 minutes left in the film, you are struck with an undeniable feeling of doom: You are suddenly certain your mother has just died. There is no logical reason for this to be true, but you are certain of it.
You are overtaken with the irrational metaphysical sense that - somewhere - your mom has just perished. But this is only an intuitive, amorphous feeling; there is no evidence for this, and your mother has not been ill. Would you immediately exit the theater, or would you finish watching the movie?
EJ: I don't really care about special effects. I'd leave.
R.O.: You meet a wizard in downtown Chicago. The wizard tells you he can make you more attractive if you pay him money. When you ask how this process works, the wizard points to a random person on the street. You look at this random stranger. The wizard says, "I will now make them a dollar more attractive." He waves his magic wand. Ostensibly, this person does not change at all; as far as you can tell, nothing is different.
But - somehow - this person is suddenly a little more appealing. The tangible difference is invisible to the naked eye, but you can't deny that this person is vaguely sexier. This wizard has a weird rule, though- you can only pay him once. You can't keep giving him money until you're satisfied. You can only pay him one lump sum up front. How much cash do you give the wizard?
EJ: You know, I'm gonna have to save my money. I have a girlfriend, and she seems to think I'm attractive enough.
RO: You are sitting in an empty bar (in a town you've never before visited), drinking Bacardi with a soft-spoken acquaintance you barely know. After an hour, a third individual walks into the tavern and sits by himself, and you ask your acquaintance who the new man is.
"Be careful of that guy," you are told. "He is a man with a past." A few minutes later, a fourth person enters the bar; he also sits alone. You ask your acquaintance who this new individual is. "Be careful of that guy, too," he says. "He is a man with no past." Which of these two people do you trust less?
EJ: The guy with the past. I like to look on the bright side of people; maybe the man with no past wants to make a bright future.
RO: You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000. The second option is ten minutes on the moon. Which option do you select?
EJ: How much was the stipend? $2,000? I'd definitely go to Europe. I mean, I would obviously love to go to the moon, but commercial space travel is right around the bend.
RO: Your best friend is taking a nap on the floor of your living room. Suddenly, you are faced with a bizarre existential problem: This friend is going to die unless you kick them (as hard as you can) in the rib cage. If you don't kick them while they slumber, they will never wake up. However, you can never explain this to your friend; if you later inform them that you did this to save their life, they will also die from that.
So you have to kick a sleeping friend in the ribs, and you can't tell them why. Since you cannot tell your friend the truth, what excuse will you fabricate to explain this (seemingly inexplicable) attack?
EJ: I'd either say that there was a black widow spider on their stomach, or that I was suddenly overcome by demons. Not sure which one is more believable. I don't really have a "best friend," but lots of close friends, so I guess it would depend on which friend it was.
RO: For whatever the reason, two unauthorized movies are made about your life. The first is an independently released documentary, primarily comprised of interviews with people who know you and bootleg footage from your actual life. Critics are describing the documentary as "brutally honest and relentlessly fair."
Meanwhile, Columbia Tri-Star has produced a big-budget biopic of your life, casting major Hollywood stars as you and all your acquaintances; though the movie is based on actual events, screenwriters have taken some liberties with the facts. Critics are split on the artistic merits of this fictionalized account, but audiences love it. Which film would you be most interested in seeing?
EJ: The documentary. I'm a big fan of documentaries anyway.
So now we are left trying to determine how to interpret the results. Can we truly love Eric Johnson? We've discovered that he's willing to discriminate, though only against gorillas; doesn't care for Alice in Chains or The Dark Crystal
; likes biopics but is not wowed by explosions and car chases; is fond of turtles; and thinks he's sexy enough, thank you very much. We think we're OK with that. How about y'all?