Maybe Twitter really can change people’s lives.
Let me explain. In October of 2008, I interviewed Jeremy Messersmith over the phone. During the interview, I asked him about his love of Star Wars. He told me “I am probably the biggest Star Wars fan” and so I felt the need to challenge him to a game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit whenever he came to the West Coast.
A year and half passed. Then, Messersmith’s new album, The Reluctant Graveyard, came out, and when my editor brought up my challenge, Messersmith responded with:
@TheRedAlert I'll be in LA for a few days on tour in May. Ample time for a Star Wars Trivial Pursuit battle royale!
Oh. My. God.
And indeed, Messersmith showed up at The Hotel Café on May 14th. And Star Wars Trivial Pursuit was played.
But first let me tell you about the concert. Man, can this guy sing. Perfect pitch every time, *and* he can whistle in perfect pitch too. It is astounding.
Messersmith was alone on stage, just him, his guitar, his looping devices, and an old keyboard. I was surprised, since The Reluctant Graveyard was recorded with a string quartet along with others. “I couldn’t quite afford to bring them along with me. So I had to whistle some of their parts,” Messersmith later told me in the green room.
It was amazing hearing “Novacain”, the song that really started my Messersmith addiction. His tone is so pure that listening live is like listening to the recording with the best headphones, while getting to watch the stage lights glint off of Messersmith’s omnipresent Rivers Cuomo glasses.
He also played a cover, The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” which is something he had recorded for an album Minnesota Public Radio made called Minnesota Beatle Project. He played it slowly and sadly, with even less of a hint of tongue in cheek than the original.
The tracks from his newest album were amazing, which included “Toussaint Grey, First in Life and Death”, “Knots”, and “A Boy, A Girl, and a Graveyard.” They were polished and worked just fine acoustically. For “Toussaint Grey,” a song about the first black person born in Minnesota, Messersmith brought out a harmonica, saying if he didn’t play it at least once at every concert, he would lose his singer/songwriter license.
The crowd wasn’t as involved as I would have hoped, but I guess they did okay for his first LA concert in recent years. There was some reticence about when they were supposed to clap, and no one seemed sure what to say when he asked if there were any requests. After a moments pause, I yelled out “Miracles” at the same time as a group of women to my right. He assured us that that song was on its way.
After his set, Messersmith invited me to the green room so we could talk. I admitted that I had actually brought Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. I felt like a dork, and was secretly terrified he would think so to, but he was quite pleased and immediately began clearing a space for us to set up the board.
He went first. Keep in mind, Messersmith has, in the past, finished the game on his first turn, like some sort of sci-fi pool shark. That’s only happened once, though. I was still a bit worried that I was in for an ass-whoppin’ when I asked the first question:
“How many horns sprout from a Tauntaun’s head?” “Two.” “Yeah.”
“What North African country had the scene featuring the Jawa droid sale vehicle?” “Tunisia.” “Uh, drr!”
This, of course, made me think of the Tatooine video he had made last year, so I told him I’d recently seen it and had not only approved but had laughed pretty hard.
Still Jeremy’s turn, though.
“What bounty hunter’s first three words in the movie trilogy are ‘As you wish’?” “Oh, Boba Fett.” I nodded.
“And how’s the road trip been?” I asked while he bopped R2-D2 on the head (R2 is the die; he’s about the size of a salt shaker and when you push down on his dome he randomly selects a number that shows up on a digital screen on his front).
“It’s been good, a bit trying sometimes.” Messersmith is all on his own, just driving his car, listening to music. Or sometimes books on tape. “I’ve been listening to The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, only because it’s really hard to understand it, so I have to think a lot and that’s what’s keeping me awake. You have to stay really focused on what he’s talking about. I’ve only done one, like, fourteen hour day.” I then asked him to describe the route he’s been taking. He turned around and showed me the general directions on the blank wall behind him. “I went through Minnesota, and then through South Dakota, then down to Lincoln Nebraska, then Denver, and Colorado Springs, to Utah, Nevada, Vegas, San Diego, then up to LA.” (You can also read about this progression in his Twitter account). “Then after this it’s SF, Portland, Eugene, Seattle, then through Montana, North Dakota, and home before the East Coast tour.”
Eventually, after Messersmith gained a pie piece, he did fail to answer a question, and I was able to horn in. I immediately failed at a question about two things the Jedi do not crave. Then his turn, then my turn. His turn, another pie piece. I’m flailing. Clearly two beers and Star Wars trivia do not mix. While he’s kicking my ass, I ask more about the tour:
“What’s been people’s reaction to your recording live and then playing it back, like you did during ‘Miracles’?”
“Oh, good. I’ve been doing them for so long, I don’t even think about it. It’s kinda like the nerds guitar solo.”
I laughed. Then asked if he was on green. “What city experienced supply problems and labor difficulties?”
“Bespin,” he answered, off hand, then lands on a pie piece, and gets it, then another. He’s up to four.
While he’s finding the correct color to put into the base of Han Solo, I ask him, “Would you say you think about death more or less than the average American?”
“I’m gonna assume probably more because if anyone else thought about it as much as I do, they’d be making records about death, just like me, and I don’t think anyone else is.” I pointed out perhaps bands like Staind were. He agreed. “At the same time,” he continued, “I don’t think about it so much that it makes me depressed. So, I don’t know, to answer your question, maybe not.”
“Were there any songs that didn’t make it onto the last album?”
“I wanted to write a pair of songs, obituaries for a man and wife that hated each other, that were in that same graveyard, but it just didn’t quite fit, I tried to write it for a long time, but it just wasn’t getting anywhere.”
Around this point, the tables turned, and I received my first pie piece. I then asked him if The Reluctant Graveyard is the third album of the trilogy (with The Alcatraz Kid and The Silver City), what’s next?
“Something entirely different, I think.”
I was relieved. I told him that as long as the answer wasn’t “nothing” I wouldn’t have a heart attack.
“No no. The last three albums have been somewhat similar, but like, something else, like long form pieces, just something else. It’s an exciting time.”
In between the Star Wars questions, I asked a variety of smaller questions, including “Has anyone every thrown anything while you’ve been on stage?”
The answer was no. No beer bottles or underwear? “No, but I think would prefer if someone threw a beer bottle at me than underwear, because ew.” I told him to wait. It’ll happen.
“What’s the strangest place you’ve ever woken up?”
“I would say in the hospital. That’s very weird.”
“And what would you say is your favorite insult?”
He thought for a moment. “I would say that all those nicknames that Bush gave to his buddies in office, those were pretty funny and insulting.” I agreed and we laughed as we named a few of the best.
Around this time, perhaps because he was afraid of my impending win with my three pie pieces, Messersmith conveniently received a "text." I told him whenever he needed to go was cool, I hadn’t actually expected us to finish the game, which has been known to take hours, and we’d already been playing for about forty-five minutes. He said he should probably get back to his friends, and when I declared him the winner with four pie pieces to my three, he graciously said no, it was clear we were evenly matched and that we should declare it a tie. He helped me put the game away, we shook hands as equals, and as I walked back to the car, I found $20 on the sidewalk. Best day of my life? It’s on the list.