Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ask an indie rock veteran: What are the best cities to play, and why are hamsters better than rats?

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Illustration: Karl Gustafson

Do you ever find yourself wondering about why some rodents are accepted (hamsters, gerbils) while others are vilified (rats and mice)? I mean, what’s the difference?

I’d say it’s mostly tail and a little bit shape of the face? Hamsters are adorable. Gerbils are in the middle. Then comes mice and, finally, rats. The tails get bigger as you go down the list, you see, while the noses get more weaselly.


I can’t believe the timing of this question, because I am surrounded by rodents as I write this. We have trash-loving rats in the back, rats around our neighbors’ basement steps, rats in the front yard. It’s like that Coasters song “Girls, Girls, Girls”—rats playing tennis, riding horses, in tight sweaters. My kids have a beloved hamster named Venny. Mice visit our kitchen. A gerbil named Buttercup lives at my daughter’s kindergarten. And I just found out that my downstairs neighbor, a researcher at Johns Hopkins, has lab rats in his apartment. Geez.

The power went out at our house recently, and it turns out a rat had chewed through the electrical main. The guy who repaired it suggested we get an exterminator. Oh yeah? Does the exterminator have something at his disposal stronger than an animal that can bite through a fucking electrical main? Seems to me what we really need is a realtor. Maybe we can find a rat that is a realtor. Anyway, I was talking to my sister about this, and apparently, Toyota has started using soy-based wire shielding for its hybrids. It’s cheaper and better for the environment. Home builders caught on, and now there’s a lot of new wiring that’s coated with the stuff. The only problem is it’s delicious. So there’s this battle raging between electricians and exterminators, because the rodents are eating all of this wiring. My sister says she knew someone who came home after being away for a month, and mice were living in the hood of her Prius. (I don’t know if any of this is true.)

So, let’s recap. Hamsters: adorable, no tail, flat and trusting faces. Guinea pigs: no tail, spaced-out facial expression, half-eaten lettuce dangling from paws, also cute. Gerbils: I’m conflicted. Mice, rats: big tails, long evil faces, out to get us, thinking only of themselves. That’s the difference.

I saw The Walkmen in Phoenix maybe 10 years ago. I actually asked you if you were playing “French Vacation,” and you responded that you didn’t know it. You had your setlist written on a banana. I’m not trying to get you to badmouth places, but what have been the worst and best cities to play? I could see Phoenix, Vegas and L.A. being the former, while I think some of the best crowds I’ve seen have been in San Francisco. What about small cities? For instance, if you play in Peoria, Illinois, is it typically a waste of time, or is there a big showing from people who just want to see live music? Or is it all totally random?

Sorry about not playing that song. We were very strict about our set. If it’s not on the banana…

It’s funny you should mention San Francisco. My experience is that they are some of the quietest crowds during the show, then they become appreciative at the end. New York is similar, but it’s wilder on the weekends than during the week. Maybe because people work a lot there? And after pot was legalized in California, you could actually feel the difference when you played.

Cleveland was a tough place to play, I thought. Kind of an angry vibe—sort of the same as Philly, before Philly became a hipster town. One place where you never knew what to expect was Morgantown, West Virginia. That’s a strange part of the country —West Virginia through Kentucky, down to, like, Alabama—where everyone stays out super late. In Morgantown, people wouldn’t show up until 1 a.m.; I have no idea why. Anyway, they sure liked to have a good time there. You could still smoke cigarettes indoors in West Virginia and Kentucky until very recently, long after it was illegal anywhere else. As you know, people who smoke are fun and like to get down. Just look at Obama and, I don’t have to remind you, John Boehner.


I only played Peoria once, and it was in the attic of someone’s house. It was fun. We played with one of those hardcore bands where the drummer frantically counts off before every song, even if they’re not starting together. He would count off and then, like, the bassist would start the song by himself. I always loved that. Toronto was always a good show for us. Vancouver often felt like an uphill battle.

One time, years ago, we played a club show for a popular teen drama called The O.C. The crowd was all extras, and they were paid to go nuts. The second the director said “action,” all hell would break loose, which feels totally ridiculous. Then, at “cut,” you would get complete silence. Funny thing is, after about five takes, it starts to go to your head. “Yeah, I guess we are kinda kicking ass.”


My wife and I are looking to make a little extra income—a side hustle, if you will. My idea was to take up being a driver for Uber or Lyft, using our car during the evening hours. You would have thought I was suggesting turning tricks under the overpass. She’s absolutely aghast at the idea of letting strangers into our car. I think she’s overreacting. What do you think? And do you have any better ideas for side hustles?

Since this isn’t a marriage column (and especially since this isn’t my marriage), I’m gonna flat-out take a side here: She is overreacting. You should do it! I’ve had several people in my life give me the “it’s important to have a side hustle” speech. My wife had a relative in Texas way back who owned, like, five soda machines outside of his regular job. I guess he bought one, enjoyed it, bought another. Before he knew it he had five. Truly a simpler time.


Personally, I have done some Airbnbing. I highly recommend it. It’s a remarkable feeling, after struggling mightily to make some money, to get a check for doing next to nothing. Mind you, there will be hiccups along the way. One of my bandmates, who will remain nameless, once had an Airbnb guest clog his toilet to the extent that a plumber had to be called. Following up, he discovered that the culprit was actually one of the main cast members from The Wire, who will also remain nameless.

Last weekend, I had some bachelorette guests from Philly who got hammered and locked themselves out (this is a door with a four-digit code, which they had already used to get in). Regular readers of this column will recognize their distinctly Philadelphian reaction, which was to threaten to call the cops—on us—for trying to steal their stuff. One weekend, someone deposited a whole barrel of motor oil in our backyard. Another weekend, someone dumped a 25-foot tree back there. I don’t think that was a guest. Still, strange things happen when you’re not at home and letting strangers use it. But then, those checks…


So again, to recap. People: bad, unreliable. Money: useful, and easier to get through Airbnb than through making music.

Wait, I think music may be my side hustle.

What questions do you have? Send them to me at marooned@theonion.com, and I’ll help where I can. In the meantime, come listen to my scoring work at Henderson-Maroon.com.