Monday 19 October 2009
The Couch Surfer: John Mayer’s life is one long party, to which he provides the soulful, mid-tempo soundtrack
Tim Walker: Cool people consider him rubbish, but I’m a sucker for just about anything he’s committed to tape
As the Persuaders once said, it’s a thin line between love and hate. And that’s the line I have to tread every time I listen to a John Mayer record, watch a John Mayer YouTube clip, read a John Mayer interview, chuckle at a John Mayer tweet, or leaf past a paparazzo snap of John Mayer with some new, incredibly beautiful woman on his arm. The guy is basically my hero. But must he really thrust his totally awesome life in my face at any given opportunity?
British readers will be familiar with Mayer as Jennifer Aniston’s ex, and even before landing everybody’s favourite former Friend, he was already a superstar in softrock circles. With his breathy baritone and formidable guitar skills, he has graced the US charts with two albums of accomplished singer-songwriter acoustica, one more with a hint of Claptonesque blues, and several live LPs. He writes a lot about heartbreak, a little about geopolitics, and occasionally produces deeply tasteful cover versions of Jimi Hendrix, Tom Petty and the like. I’m pretty sure cool people consider him rubbish. I may as well admit that I’m a sucker for just about anything he’s ever committed to tape.
But then there’s his extra-curricular activity. As celebrities go, Mayer is a master of new media. His regular tweets are his own work, not that of some record label lackey; this we know because Aniston supposedly cited his Twitter addiction as one reason for their break-up. Among his other online endeavours is a YouTube diary of the recording of his latest album, Battle Studies,which comes out next month. His California mansion was transformed into a giant home studio for the duration, with instruments in every room and a member of his Entourage-like entourage on hand at all times to jam or laugh at his jokes.
Mayer evidently lives in a friendly bubble of fame, surrounded by loyal pals, gorgeous girls and costly audio equipment. His life is one long party, to which he provides the soulful, mid-tempo soundtrack. This impression is only cemented by the video for his latest single, “Who Says”, a loving marriage of his music and his enviable existence: Mayer sits in the well-appointed kitchen of his deserted Manhattan penthouse at dawn, plucking on an acoustic guitar and recalling the night on the tiles from which he’s just returned.
As his memories of the evening begin, he’s at the apartment with the aforementioned loyal pals and gorgeous girls, in his Converse trainers, plaid designer shirt and Wayfarers. (Yes, he wears sunglasses inside. At night.) They all take pictures of each other having a jolly good time, as if they’re in an advertisement for Samsung’s latest cameraphone. They move on to a restaurant to drink expensive red wine from really big glasses. They lark about at a funfair, dance and grin in a nightclub, then retire to an indoor swimming pool, which I can only assume is in the basement of Mayer’s apartment building.
Inevitably, the gorgeous girls strip to their underwear and dive in. Mayer doesn’t take the plunge, but he removes the flannel shirt to reveal his Japanese tattoos and a remarkably sweatpatch-free vest. Oh, I almost forgot: there are also a couple of shots of our hero onstage at a New York comedy club. For Mayer is not merely a musician, he is also an amateur stand-up comedian. Fact. And I hear he’s not entirely unfunny either, the bastard. Though how, exactly, the guy that used to date Jennifer Aniston – and Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Jessica Simpson – has amassed any comic material to speak of is beyond me. Doesn’t comedy arise out of adversity? Maybe audiences just humour him because he’s so talented, goodlooking, rich, famous and so forth. “Who says I can’t get stoned?” asks the first line of the song. I imagine nobody does, John. Nobody at all.
As you’ll be aware if you just read the first segment of this column, I mostly listen to weak-ass acoustic blues rock. So it’s a surprise to find iTunes convinced, instead, that I’m a fan of “nu” metal. Every time I put a CD into my disc drive for the software to identify, it ends up deciding that it’s something called Volume 3: Subliminal Verses, by Slipknot. This is not an album I recall ever having seen in a record shop, let alone allowed anywhere near my bedroom. But iTunes doesn’t care. I could be loading up John Mayer, John Martyn, John Coltrane or Johann Sebastian Bach; as far as the computer’s concerned, the only LP in my collection is by a bunch of blokes growling through hockey masks.
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