We spoke with John Dieterich about endangered languages, prehistoric art, totaling a van and the greatest day of his young life.
Believing in language may point us in the direction of a more livable world. You can’t put a price tag on that.
According to the Endangered Languages project, 40% of the world’s spoken languages are currently threatened with extinction. If you could fluently speak any dead language, what would it be? As a child, did you ever make up your own language?
I don’t have interest in speaking any dead languages, to be honest. I do lament the fact that we’ve lost the accumulated knowledge encoded in those languages. I wish that it made sense for indigenous people to continue speaking their languages. The sense it makes is the same kind of sense that music or art makes, which is to say… not that much. Or, rather, it makes a kind of sense that is not quantifiable much of the time. But we can probably all agree that it is valuable.
Ultimately, what will keep at least some of those languages going, at least for a while, is a community of people believing in these languages. Not because it gets you a job or puts a roof over your head, but because it is a conduit to a different way of existing in the world and experiencing the world. It may even point us in the direction of a more livable world. You can’t put a price tag on that.
I’ve never made up my own spoken language, but I do think about this kind of thing when I make music. One of the things I’m interested in is trying to create a music that could theoretically come attached to a culture that doesn’t exist. That is, how do you invent a music that implies something meaningful – like all cultures are – but which hasn’t yet been expressed? To me, the obvious way of getting there is through improvisation, but there are probably lots of ways of thinking about this kind of thing.
How would you describe Deerhoof’s music in terms of prehistoric art? What would you scrawl on a cave wall for people to find out about what you did hundreds of thousands of years from now?
I think the scrawling has already been done. We’ve been scrawling as long as we’ve been a band. I think that’s what being in a band is: scrawling on cave walls in the hope that somebody someday pays attention. We’re very lucky to have people paying attention to our music, to the hidden ideas in the records and the secret codes that we put out there.
I will also say that most of what’s hidden in the music has yet to be found, which is cool! I think people in the future (if there is a future) will be able to see things, not only in our music but in everything that’s happening right now, that are less than obvious at the moment. That would be wonderful.
At the same time, the kinds of connections we make now are just as important, I think. As someone who never particularly wanted to spend my life touring, it’s amazing the degree to which I rely on it at this point. People are so great! We do our best to put out something positive that gives energy to people, and what happens? We get energy back that surpasses anything we could have possibly imagined, and it sustains us and gives us energy back. We have the best jobs in the world, and we are very grateful for it.
Is your personality more of a product of nature or nurture? Who influences you most, as far as your own behavior and mode of speaking?
Ha! Wow, what a question. I don’t know that many of us can answer this kind of question about ourselves. I think most of us think of ourselves as somewhat in control of our lives, work, etc., but I am constantly reminded of the degree to which we are simply animals with all of these repressed instincts, acting as if we can somehow explain away all of the ridiculous and illogical things we are constantly doing to ourselves and others.
As for who influences me? it’s just the people I admire, which is to say the people I choose to surround myself with – my family, my bandmates, my partner and friends in life. I’m constantly stealing things from everyone around me. I got my first dog a year ago, and I discovered that I make a cooing sound to my dog that I believe I stole from my bandmate Greg. But to be honest, I’m not totally sure! I think I look for ideas that either express something about me, or are so incomprehensible to me that I need to try and understand them because they are so foreign and absurd.
And all of this stuff changes, depending on who you’re talking to. My sense of humor with Deerhoof is different than my sense of humor at home, which is different than my sense of humor with my parents. They all share certain things, but they differ in very important ways, as well. Part of that may be due to my penchant for catering my ideas to the people who are around me. There are good and bad sides to that, of course.
Some kind of wings would be nice.
What was your last major purchase? Can you tell us how much it cost, approximately to the cent?
The last major purchase I made was buying a used car. It was after Deerhoof had an accident in Louisiana in August of last year, and I totaled my van. We were driving at 2:30 in the morning from a venue called Gasa Gasa in New Orleans to the hotel, and none of us saw it coming.
One second, we were talking about something – I can’t quite remember – and the next second we were spinning down the highway. The van was declared totaled, Ed was injured a bit – and has since recovered okay – and I got some money to buy another car.
As for the exact cost? Well, that’s complicated. It was supposed to be $3,000, but then I got the car looked at and it needed all kinds of work – like, a lot of work. So, I believe in the end it cost me roughly $4,000, and the person I bought it from also chipped in some dough.
What was the finest day of your life as a child? Can you recount it for us to the best of your ability?
I have an incredibly bad memory. My dad refers to it as the Dieterich memory. Most of my childhood is just… gone. Certain things do stick out, though. As for my finest memory, for whatever reason, one birthday sticks out among the rest. I was probably turning thirteen or fourteen – I’m not sure which – and we had a party at our house. It was my parents and brother and a couple of his friends, and me and maybe five of my friends. We cooked out in the backyard, and I just have this incredibly strong memory of feeling like this was the best food ever, and these people and this day were the best. We made homemade vanilla ice cream at the end with the cake my mom made.
It’s funny, because I think the reason this one sticks out – I had a camera, so I have proof that it happened.
Earwigs have forceps-like pincers on their abdomen to capture their prey and defend themselves. What insectoid mutation would you prefer to have the most?
The main problem is getting out of this century without completely destroying the planet.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of ancient history – especially in regard to the Old Testament. It’s amazing how people dealt with the same nonsense we do – abusive taxes, corruption, shady treatment of others. How would you compare civilization’s present to its past?
Yeah, well it’s hard to have any real context, isn’t it? These things go in waves, and everything is changing at the same time – there’s little ground to measure things against – so it’s difficult to compare. Obviously, certain things are measurably better today. I have a friend who is always reminding me that life expectancy has gone way up in most parts of the world, infant mortality is going down, women’s rights are improving, LGBT rights are improving, etc.
At the same time, we have these weird moments like now, where all of a sudden we have a madman at the helm of our country and these far right movements are gaining ground internationally. Why? I don’t know. I mean, there are lots of reasons, not the least of which is that we are still adjusting to certain technologies that allow us to be manipulated even easier. Or, maybe it’s just that we now have the ability to choose the echo chamber we would like to live inside. Either way, it’s disorienting. The main problem is getting out of this century without completely destroying the planet – or, at least the ability of humans to live on it.
Can you describe how you felt when you woke up this morning in computer/binary code?
Do you prefer coffee or alcohol? Can you elaborate on your relationship with both?
Ah, yes, well I do enjoy both, though I condone neither – though I keep hearing that coffee cures cancer now! If I had to choose, I would definitely choose coffee. I actually don’t always drink it. I go through periods at home where I only have one cup of tea in the morning, and that’s it. However, I associate with coffee-addled lunatics here in Albuquerque, and when we work together on music, there are always multiple coffee pots on the stove and I just can’t say no. I do enjoy working with people in a creative way, and coffee eggs everybody on a little bit. It’s fun.
My relationship with alcohol is funny, actually. I am the opposite of many rockers. I drink almost not at all while on tour, with occasional exceptions. Three of the people in our touring group are teetotalers, so it’s neither fun nor funny to them for them to deal with drunk people and it is in all of our best interest to try and stay healthy. When I’m home, I like to have a beer or two at the end of the day. I have nothing interesting or witty to say about that. I just do.
We love lists and technical terminology at North of the Internet. Can you list some advanced terms for us, in regard to any subject you want?
I would like to introduce you to the finest word in the English language: literally. You can use it literally whenever you want to mean literally anything at literally any time.
Literally not saying it could literally cause huge problems literally for you, and I mean that literally.
I also would like to introduce another new word that has gained some traction between me and two or three friends here in Albuquerque – shim-sham. It can represent anything you can’t instantaneously think of the word for. So, you put the envelope in the shim-sham or do email on your shim-sham or put the shim-sham over your shoulders when you’re cold. The shim-sham is what you present at the bank when you need to take some money out of your shim-sham. Shim-sham!
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: June 21, 2017
Total questions: 10
Word count: 1890
Reading time: Seven minutes
Vans totaled: 1
Use of “shim-sham”: 7
accumulation, Albuquerque, alcohol, birthday, birthday party, camera, coffee, community, Deerhoof, Dieterich memory, earwigs, echo chamber, endangered, Gasa Gasa, humor, improvisation, John Dieterich, knowledge, languages, literally, New Orleans, crawling, pincers, planetary destruction, shim-sham, teetotalers, totaling, vans, wings
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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