Discover more from Herb Sundays
Herb Sundays 63: Chris Black / Herb Sundays 64: Them Jeans [season four finale]
The How Long Gone podcast co-hosts each share a rearview mix with ample feeling
This is my favorite kind of music. Some call it "alternative country," which I translate to mean bands with great songs and just a sprinkling of twang. Like most things I like, it peaked in the late 90s and early 2000s. When I was in my early 20s living in East Atlanta, working at a shoe store, and going out every night, this was the soundtrack. My friend Jake and I shared a big weird house, and the landlord's maintenance man, Red, sold us great coke. We would sit in front of an early generation blue iMac and play this music, do lines, drink poorly made vodka sodas, and talk incessantly until it was time to get into my black Honda Civic and head to The Local or MJQ and listen to Britpop. It was a simple time that I remember fondly. This playlist brings me right back.
Chris chose a lot of music from the late 90s and early 2000s, so I decided to ride the same wave of mostly guitar rock that I was listening to in that same Era. I was post-hardcore/electroclash-rising at the time while still softening my edges with melodramatic ballads.
First off, big thank you for all the kind notes and feedback this year. I kicked this season off in July and these mixes have been a great way to mark the weeks. Let me know if any faves from this year and I'll pass the word on. - sam
I'm not a true podcast head and only listen to a handful, but one of the inspirations for Herb Sundays is the form of the podcast, both as a repeatable series and as an invitation to conversation. Herb sort of rides this model with a lot less editing needed.
The podcast that has been of prime pleasure in recent years has to be How Long Gone, which like Herb, was a covid-era outgrowth. Today's guests are the co-hosts and each of them gives us a glimpse into a specific moment in their life. For those not initiated, the axis of How Long Gone stripped bare is just friendship and the high level barbs shared between friends who feel safe enough to give throw some chin music.
Their podcast guests come from the worlds of their interests (music, fashion, journalism, etc.) and occasionaly overlap with Herbfolx. The hosts remain equally enamored and reviled by contemporary culture which is perhaps the only sane place to be in the ‘20s.
In terms of ‘stakes’ the podcast operates in a low-to-zero gravity space. The more serious the topic, such as mental health and sobriety (Black has traded drugs/alchohol for workouts), the more goofy the banter, but move over to restaurants and smoothies, and the level of concern multiplies. It's not a fit for all types of listeners and can be jarring if in the wrong mood but it has been an unlikely salve for strange times.
HLG gets lumped in with "dirtbag left" culture spaces like fellow podcast Red Scare and flirts with Dimes Square self-mythologizing but neither quite suits entirely. The reason the podcast hits a wide age range I presume is that is has a neomania-friendly focus on the present, but a yearning for the quality gatekeeping of yore. There's a Gen X-friendly cynicism to any sort of sanctimony, and a sincerity in pursuit of quality that keeps the fish tank clean enough to see through. You could also just call the podcast two guys talking shit and that describes it just fine.
Chris Black (brand advisor in his other hours) is the obvious "heel" of the pair to Jason's more earthy sensibilities. He throws more punches than he needs to block, but is gleeful when he takes one to the jaw. The action is indeed the juice. He's also barefaced in his career ambition, which seems less hedonism-centric than a sort of a steely resolve to stay ahead of himself (and competitors, imagined or otherwise) and his demons.
Jason Stewart (who dons his DJ alias, Them Jeans) profiles as the more serene of the duo, seeking something sacred amidst the morass. His action figure accessories are cooking utensils and his trusty laptop where he edits 3 episodes a week. Chris works to let us know at every chance that he himself is the intellectual one, but it is in fact Jason who has revealed himself to be the cannier interviewer, barreling though questions as Chris howls (every duo needs a laugher).
HLG is aspirational in the sense that it aims to find actual pleasure in a world where it is increasingly politicized or meme’d into submission. In this world, one must find discipline of any sort (in working out, relaxing, or just showing up to zoom) to stay sane. The show actually pairs nicely with the lifehacker pods (Ferriss, Huberman, etc.) which I crawl to, but the guys aren't willing to sacrifice style or their aesthetic ideals in the process of betterment, which is hard to find coming out of the Startup/Hustle era where any sort of taste snobbery is treated with distrust. It is comforting that the world of Glenn O’Brien hasn’t died, it has just gotten sillier/more sardonic.
My pandemic memories have a lot of HLG in them. Something about venturing out in my space suit into a Vanilla Sky/28 Days Later NYC to get provisions was made calmer by these goofs. I love(d) the apathetic reading of the ads, the lack of guile with the guests (zero research and no intention to help them sell anything), and the zeal for insults.
There’s two great Steven Soderberg quotes that stay with me, and in HLG style, neither of which I can find right now. One is about not martyring yourself out of joy/satisfaction, which he claims he did after the success of Sex, Lies, & Videotape (1989). The other is about how Oceans Eleven (2001) was successful because its about watching cool people work together and succeed on a high level, while still having fun. In a twisted way, both sort of apply with How Long Gone. The professionalism, amidst the slackerdom, is showing up 3 times a week and shipping a quality product, all done with a smile.
I searched my inbox for ‘Them Jeans’ and realized we were in some similar circles in his peak DJ years, not dissimlar to Trevor McFedries (Herb 33). I've met Jason briefly but it was in classic Herb fashion. I had always thought that parasocial relationships (what Dean Kissick's writing taught me was "an audience’s psychological relationship with characters performing in mass media") were for losers but when I saw TJ and his "life partner" at The Four Horsemen while on a date with my wife I waved over like a goober, assuming he knew me from our few DMs. Him being a gentleman came over to say hi and we chatted for a bit. It was only later he admitted he had no idea who I was in the moment.
I've never met Chris and prob shouldn't. Even though we both like rare photo books, The Smiths, and Barry’s Bootcamp, I know for a fact he hates 90s hip-hop ("dusty") and people from the Midwest, so its prob for the best. I’m happy keeping my fandom on a parasocial basis.
There’s a lot to love in whatever podcast/substack world we choose to camp in. We’re all chasing the idea of the ideal little restaurant like Jason, something real, something found down a shadowed sidestreet in Venice. Or finding the perfect sweat, like Chris, the perfect chemical high that we ourselves (with our own effort) can peacefully wade in. Just some herbs against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.