Discover more from KAFKA'S BABY
the john mayer of it all
the shape of a hypothetical
I wore a strapless polkadot dress to John Mayer's Room for Squares tour stop in Sydney in 2001, only to find every other girl there was also wearing a strapless polkadot dress and jostling (gently) to get to the front of the stage. From the stage, it must have looked like just a galaxy of eggs pulsing before him.
I drank too much wine that night and yelled at my American boyfriend for no reason I can remember, and that's on me (he’s lovely and we are still friends). JM described the flipping on of his biological clock as a “a chemical care package,” and I suspect he turned mine on that night back in 2001, like a hot poker to the ovaries. I did not go on to have babies with John Mayer, but it’s something he talks about from time to time. A biased part of my brain often assumes that men don’t spend time imagining their possible babies, but of course they do. What I think is interesting about JM’s work is that he allows the outlines of hypothetical little John Mayers to pan over the back walls as he plays.
In the same 2017 interview with the New York Times in which JM told Joe Coscarelli that he was "very thoughtfully entering cannabis life," he confessed that after becoming an uncle he had begun to dream about having "the baby with the protective earphones” by the side of the stage. If I had been Coscarelli’s editor, that would have been the headline — imagine the baby with the swoosh hair, the baby guitar faces. I think about it all the time.
If you are in the habit of poring over Mayer's lyrics, you can really trace his ascension up the gerotranscendence scale, from "rolling around in bedsheets" to a more cosmic view of things (wearing a poncho and cowboy hat). Back in the 2000s, he admitted that he "don't want to see my parents go" in “Last Train Home”; Born and Raised gave us "it's such a waste to grow up lonely"; on 2013's Paradise Valley, named for the home he shares with the pupper on the album cover, he sang "you get forever but nobody at all." On 2021’s Sob Rock album, he sings:
I shouldn't leave you messages in every little song
It could have been always
It could have been me
We could have been busy naming baby number three
Babies are great. I can see JM in the delivery room, eating packet noodles while his partner labors. He’ll offer her some apple sauce, which she’ll refuse. “You’re doing so good babe,” he’ll say. He’ll begin to feel truly useless, too tired to do any more hip squeezes, really quite worried now, and then there she’ll be.
I can picture him at those early well visits, where you bring in the floppy newborn you have poured into an infant car seat capsule that seems enormous but will soon seem tiny. I can see his serious face as the pediatrician moves the baby's legs around in circles, waiting for the right moment to ask, gently, "we were wondering if she's now strong enough to hold up a pair of noise-canceling headphones?" A wink. "I've got a concert." I see him riding a horse with a little John Mayer riding in front of him in an enormous cowboy hat, because the pandemic taught him that the only thing that matters is home. And filling that home with people.
We’ve entered into cipher territory, as you see, which is where all JM fans wind up. In the years since Room for Squares, there have been many many songs, including a few with ex-girlfriends where he only lets them sing harmony in the chorus, some regrettable comments, the unfortunate “Daughters,” and also a kind of admirable ability to own up to his faults that allows JM to be whomever you imagine him to be. No man ever steps in the same river twice, which is true for JM the man and JM the river I have stepped in (three times now). He’s changed, I’ve changed, and his old songs come off differently than they did before, which is really the point of the John Mayer Solo tour, which kicked off on Saturday.
My friend A. and I got off the train and stood for a moment underneath the tracks in Newark looking at our phones and trying to figure out which way to walk to his concert, neither ovary twigging to due west.
“Are you going to see John?” asked a voice, another old girl, showing us the way. She had seen John many times, and said she’d heard a rumor someone from Phish was going to be a surprise guest in the show. “Ohhh,” A. and I both said, feeling disappointed. This was John Mayer SOLO. No jam band shit!!! Thankfully, the superfan was mistaken.
From there, we followed the swell of hetero white couples down Market Street and into the Prudential Center. Everyone was there to see “John.” The husbands and boyfriends were as excited and hopped up on White Claw as their wives and girlfriends. One girl in front of us spent the entire show leaving her boyfriend in his row to walk up front and potentially be seen. The drunker she got, the call was more adamant: “Let me out,” she’d push and totter toward the stage, before being sent back to her seat.
He had so much to show us. He played guitar and piano at the same time, moved his strong, sexy, wizened hands between both necks of a two-neck guitar, and finally brought out what looks like a guitar made out of anchovy tins for the encore. He whistled. He was a one-man band of harmonicas and emotion and ecstasy faces. He said he suffers from what he calls “time vertigo,” a phrase so perfect I don’t even need to explain it. “Stop That Train” came out in 2006, almost 20 years ago; JM’s dad is now 95. His quarter-life crisis is several stations back from the overhead tracks of mid-life. “I don’t know how I got to this place,” he said, abandoning old ideas about fame and self-determination, sleeves rolled just-so over his large, tattoed biceps. What he was saying was that bigger dropoffs loom, and we had to embrace the old embarrassing shit. “Pretend it’s sincere,” he told us, launching into “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” It is too late to want to be cool about things, here he was offering up his own body for us to shuttle through our feelings about life. I haven’t gotten drunk and yelled at anyone in a long, long time. How do I feel about JM, people have asked. I don’t know, man, I love him. I felt love! The superfan and the drunk girlfriend and me and A. and the sea of boyfriends holding up iPhones gazed at the stage willing him to tell us the way. “Stay strong!” he said at the end, and I wanted to yell, “What does that mean, John!”
We got back to our crash pad at 1 in the morning, and woke up to go catch a friend uptown in the park. She let us know she’d be bringing her twins and could grab coffee. “Twins” doesn’t even capture the ovary-exploding sight of two little boys strapped in under their stroller-sized sleeping bags, eating bites of croissant. They each had a folding scuttlebug—one was red like a ladybug, and the other was yellow like a bumblebee. The boys called them their “cars.”
“Car!” one would yell, so we’d fetch them out of the stroller and then the two of them would paddle their imitation hiking boots along the paving stones on their tricycles. Driving here! Driving there! Busytown!
One devoted himself to fetching leaves from a bush and leaving them as offerings on the platform of a statue in the park. The other told me “Buh!” of the bronze bunny before us. They wanted to show me all the things they knew. They rushed up to the tops of things, then peered down the steep faces of short stone steps. Their faces went through all the colors of emotion, these people who weren’t here two and a bit years ago.
They encountered a park bubble man with a bucket lid listing his Venmo. Their arms are so new they barely have elbows. They dipped the the hoops into the suds with straight arms and looped bubbles into the sky. It was the main act.
Hard to believe it’s been eight years since “Great American Novels As Told By John Mayer”
How exactly you want to address the artist-man who has done things that feel ethically shaky is dealt with in the very good Monsters by Claire Dederer, out in April.
Happy book day to Pooja Lakshmin’s (MD) Real Self-Care, which is the anti-self-help book you just might need!
I have been less on my bullshit lately because I’m filling in over at Literary Hub, where I get to give you stuff like this “Should you read that divorce novel?” quiz. It is a treat to be there!
Rachel Zucker is always suh smart: “Part of the care ‘the mother’ offers is holding the past and future in the present for another being who doesn't have access to those temporalities. You could also call that person a writer.”
Susannah Felts on feeling bad about feeling bad about her body.
Sophie Haigney on the slow death of Twitter: “People started posting self-important farewells. They added Mastodon handles to their bios and declared they would only be on Instagram from now on. (This struck me as embarrassing, as any denunciation of social media always has.)”
Thank you for reading KAFKA’S <3 <3