#87 Storming the Castle
February 2, 2017
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This week: Alex meets his hero, the thorn in the side of Dick Dale, GG Allin, and Alex Trebek.
Longmont Potion Castle's website
The Twice Removed podcast
Nazanin Rafsanjani's Twitter
PJ: From Gimlet this is Reply All, I’m PJ Vogt.
AG: I’m ALEX Goldman.
PJ Vogt: Alright, Alex. What are we doing here today?
AG: So, a couple days ago, I got to interview a person who I consider my interviewing white whale, I guess you could say. Like, it’s someone I’ve always wanted to interview and actually put a considerable amount of effort into interview — trying to get to interview. His name is Longmont Potion Castle. Just hearing that I’m sure you know how obsessed I am with this guy.
PJ: Yes I do. I feel like as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been like “I’m going to get in touch with Longmont Potion Castle.”
AG: [Laughs] Yeah! And getting to talk to him was like a total dream come true to me. For anybody who doesn’t know who Longmont Potion Castle is, he is this mysterious guy who has been making just these super super weird weird prank phone calls for like 30 years. And basically the only thing I know about him is that he HE’S is a MUSICIAN, he’s really into HEAVY METAL, AND he lives in colorado.
PJ: Is that true? I didn’t —
PJ: — know that even. I didn’t know that was a known thing.
Alex: Yes. and like, I discovered him at this time when there were tons of file sharing programs, and everybody was using like Limewire and stuff, and not only could you search for albums that you were looking for, once you found it you could then go through that person’s entire music library and just take whatever you wanted.
PJ: It was like having a cool older brother or something, but there — or a cool older sister, but there’s like, a billion of them.
Alex: Right. And, and so day I was looking at some random person's list of music, and I found a bunch of Longmont albums. And I started listening to them and I just immediately fell in love.
AG: And the thing that I loved so much about LPM Is that it sounded really different than any of the popular prank phone callers I’d heard before. Like it sounds nothing like the jerky boys
PJ: Yeah, it doesn’t feel mean to me, and prank phone calls can feel mean.
Alex: Totally -- and there's a couple things that make him special. for one, he uses effects pedals to mess up his voice, but also he just has this weird relationship with language. Listening to a LPM is kind of like listening to a person from another planet, and he knows every word in the english language, but he just learned how to speak it today.
Let me play you a couple things.
Alex: So like, so like a good example of his kind of sense of humor; he calls this, um, record store? And he’s like —
LPC: Hi, how you doing.
Woman’s voice: Pretty good. How are you doing?
LPC: Super. I was looking for that, um, the R&B single.
LPC: The R&B single it’s like 'trip-triple-check-check-double-check-triple-check-check-triple-double-check-trip-triple-double'
Woman:You don’t know what it’s called?
LPC: Triple-double-check-check. Triple-double-double-check. Triple-triple-check. Double-double-trouble-double-check. Triple-double-check. Triple-double-check-check. Triple-double-double check. Double-double-tra — it’s like that.
Woman: Ok, hold on.
LPC: Otis King, I think?
Woman: Excuse me?
LPC: I think it’s by Otis King.
Woman: Otis King?
LPC: Yeah. It's like, it's like triple-double-flip, flibba-couple-double-chip. Double-chip, double-trip, jubba-jubba-chip. It's like, it's like triple-double-flip, flibba-couple-double-chip. Double-chip, double-trip, jubba-jubba-chip [rewind sound]. Double flip, flibba-couple-double — so, I was wondering how late you’re open to?
LPC: Yeah, how late you're — how late you’re open?
Woman: We’re open till 10?
ALEX: Or... um... [both Alex and PJ are laughing], or, he calls up like, an outdoor apparel store —
LM: Matthew my name is Schneider? Webb?
M: Yes, sir.
LM: I wanted to get outfitted like a swamp donkey.
M: (laughing) SORRY?
LM: Something of that nature.
M: K, I don’t know what a swamp donkey, what’s a swamp donkey? You gotta, (audio sample noise) you gotta help me out.
LM: Well, you know I’m a shepherd, that's something I’ve encountered many times over the years and I’m a herder.
LM: And I’m usually the one leading the charge.
M: Yeah, um, so are you (audio sample again)...
M: Are you looking for something with greater protection or are you looking for like, a rain jacket, or a shell, or are you actually looking for a costume?
LM: I’m looking for a husk.
M: A husk? (audio sample again)
ALEX: So whenever I'm really bummed out, putting on a Longmont Potion Castle album is sort of like the quickest way to turn my mood around. And so for a long time I've been trying to get in touch with him to do an interview. And, about a year and a half ago, um, I sent him an email. And he responded and said he was agreeable to the idea of an interview, but that he'd hurt his food. And, in order to do it, he wanted some pain killers. And I was like, "Oh! Huh."
PJ: No “oh, huh!” There’s no rule of like, journalistic, or just human ethics [laughs] where you can give somebody prescription painkillers!
ALEX: Right. I was just like, I was — what I said, what I — basically how I felt was, I am shocked that he responded, and even slightly more shocked that he responded this way? Although —
PJ: Do you think he was joking, not joking, or either?
ALEX: I have no idea.
ALEX: It’s impossible to tell. So I wrote back, and said “You know I can’t do that. But I’d still like to talk to you.”
PJ: And he said?
ALEX: Nothing! So, I’ve probably sent him 50 e-mails over the course of however many years, I send him about two a month. And then, late 2016, I send my bi-monthly email to Longmont asking for uh, an interview, and he agreed to talk to me.
ALEX: Uh, hello!
LPC: [echo effect] Hello, is Alex there please?
ALEX: Uh, yeah, this is Alex, uh, who am I speaking with?
LPC: Uh… [echo effect is even stronger) this is Longmont.
ALEX: [Laughs] How are you?
LPC: Oh shoot, uh I suppose you’d like the truth. (revving, humming variant background vocal samples in the background) I’ve had some rough patches this week but I’m not trying to go there. I’m good right now though, thank you. Yeah. (humming noise stops) How are you doing?
ALEX: I’m good! I’m really excited to be talking to you. Thanks so much for doing this, I really appreciate it. So let me ask you, how many prank phone calls have you done this week?
LPC: (echo effect) Ohhhh… ummmm.uhhhhh…. Uhhh… (echo effect)
LPC: Uhhhh. You know, it’s a, maybe a fractional number. If you round it — round it up, you can round it up, you can round it off or sand it off. Or turn it up!
LPC: That’s what I recommend. (vocal echoing with howling vocal samples)
ALEX: So, so, what were, what was the first, what was the first prank phone call you did, what was that one like?
LPC: We would call people we knew in junior high, and uh, the people I was with, uh, promptly walked away from it, but it stuck with me, and I never stopped, so ah! that’s that.
ALEX: What is it that made you stick with it?
LPC: I just speak to people in, in a certain way, and people around would say “What is with this guy?” People I knew would say “Oh, that’s just his way, that’s his way,” is what they’d say. And I’d say ‘Oh that’s my way is it?’ Ok. So, I just took that onto the phone — [sample of “You don’t know what the fuck you want.” person hangs up] — something like that.
LPC: That’s kinda how I would describe it. [more samples, more surreal audio, call drops]
Woman’s voice: To place a catering order for pickup or delivery [call ending sound]
ALEX: [laughs] I just lost him. Are you still there?
[rustling sounds, followed by iPhone generic ringtone]
ALEX: Hey man, I lost you there for a second.
LPC: (echo effect on voice) I’m really sorry.
ALEX: Oh it’s ok. So, is it, is it usually fun?
LPC: Right now I’m having so much fun it’s awesome. There have been times where there was a lull.
ALEX: What does that feel like?
LMP: Just, uh, is this ever gonna get done? Is this good enough, you know? Just uncertainty. And then you’re talking to people who really wanna hurt your feelings, take it a little too personally and just really try to, try to cut you down really far and stuff. And, I usually shake it off, sometimes it’s like, "Yeah, is this going anywhere?" You know? Those, those sorts of vibes.
ALEX: In those times, have you ever thought about giving it up?
LPC: Uhhhh…. [echoes] There was a period in the ‘90s I was done, I was sure I was never gonna do it anymore.
ALEX: What was, what was making you wanna quit it?
LPC: Personal problems.
LPC: As my dad’s dad used to say, “That sounds like a personal problem, son!” [laughs]
(interrupted by spacey noise samples)
Longmont: Quiet down, you guys.
ALEX: [Laughing] Um, so, you know, one of the things about your calls that I like so much, is that in like, 30 seconds or a minute, you manage to create like a world that’s so disorienting for people, where just nothing makes sense, you know, you call the Gomez residence and then when they say the Gomez —
Man's voice: Yes, what can I do for you?
LPC: I’d like to, I'd like to file a police report.
Man's voice: Yeah, well, call the harbor division.
LPC: Well, can you help me out? (‘RRRRR’ noise)
Man's voice: You think you having fun, you jackoff son of a bitch? [hangs up]
ALEX: Wow. That’s harsh!
LPC: Sorry about that.
ALEX: That’s ok. How do you deal with people talking to you like that?
LPC: I jump into my diesel truck, my Ford Ram, and I hop out there and I kick up my boots a little bit left and right.
ALEX: So, what about when you prank celebrities? Like Dick Dale, GG Allin, Alex Trebek — how do you get these numbers and why are these the guys you wanna call?
LPC: They all have their own particular, uh, you know, stories that correlate with them, like any person would.
ALEX: How did you get in touch with GG Allin?
LPC: I wrote to him, and, uh, at one point said "Hey, would you want to put out a split cassette with my noise band," that I had at the time. And it was sort of a harsh noise band, like a suburban harsh noise band (inaudible) And he did, he did sent us this live recording of him getting in a fight with the audience members. It was pretty wild. And, then I got 20 dollars together, and I sent it to him for his video tape, and I never heard from him after that. So I was like, after a month I wrote him a letter, I’m like "Hey, what happened there? I sent you 20 dollars, and all of a sudden I didn’t hear from you anymore," and he was like “Oh, I never got it.” And I was like "Alright..." So, uh, that, that was what triggered that. I decided to call him in the middle of the night and bug him because he took twenty dollars from me.
(sample audio repetition of “are you hearing that?” with synths)
ALEX: You said you had a certain way about you. How much of you —
LPC: Uhuh. (echo vocal filter)
ALEX: Like how much is Longmont Potion Castle, and how much is, uh, whoever you are outside of your calls? Or are they just the same guy?
LPC: (echo vocal filter) Uh… I have, I have uh, you know, the requisite amount of professionalism in life. Uh, but that’s always under the surface just wanting to um, break out of the mundane, you know? Just shake off all the commonplace stuff, the, everywhere I turn stuff, but that’s a tricky question. That's a tricky question.
ALEX: So, you know, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you so bad is when I was in college —
LPC: Uhuh —
ALEX: I had this really sort of — I discovered Longmont when I was in college, which would have been about…. 2001, 2002. And...
ALEX: I feel like, and in that time I had this really (another voice) — oh, who’s that?
LPC: Oh. Oh, is this, is this Cracker Barrel?
Man's voice: No. (audio sample).
LPC: Oh, what number is this? That was Alex Trebek, I’m sorry. You were in, you were, you were collegiate at the time, please, please proceed —
ALEX: I was collegiate.
ALEX: And, I was like, I had like a lot of sort of personal setbacks. I was depressed, I was like self harming, I got hospitalized for depression for a while. But uh, when I got out, I was a flower delivery driver? And I just started burning —
ALEX: Longmont tracks onto CDs and driving around listening to them. And I remember —
LPC: Oh, cool.
ALEX: I remember finding Longmont CDs at that time, like I remember driving the car — the van around and like laughing so hard that I had to pull over and like, compose myself, because I was losing my mind.
LPC: Well hey, you know, you know, I’m glad you came back from the depths there, and that I could play a part in that. That, that’s awesome.
ALEX: And like —
LPC: That’s rad.
ALEX: — every time, I feel like every time I’m in like kind of a dark place, I’ll, I'll come back to your albums because like... [sighs] how do I put it? I feel like the world when you’re depressed really doesn’t make much sense. But it makes — doesn’t make sense in a way that’s sort of foreboding and shitty and confusing.
LPC: Right. Right. Right.
ALEX: And then I, and then I can listen to your albums and like I hear nonsense — I hear a world that doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t make sense in a way that’s safe, and joyful, and feels really good.
LPC: I think that’s a great way of putting it. I really do. And there’s really only so much you can say about it, in terms of descriptors. It’s just something to experience or not experience. Um. But in terms of descriptive, that’s among the best I’ve heard, so, thank you.
ALEX: Thank you!
LPC: I appreciate that. Oh. [sped up laughter, samples of audio effects] Definitely.
LPC: Do you have a favorite? Uh, as one of my, as part of my last question for you, do you have a favorite album, or, or period, or section or track? I just would like to know.
ALEX: There are like, there’s like a series of amazing calls on volume 4. There’s like, the one where you call the coffee shop and ask them if you can have ‘bruschatti,’ the guy is so confused by you.
LPC: (with effects) Bruschatti!
ALEX: Yeah, (imitating the distortion effect) bruschatti!
LPC: Bruschatti, (changing audio effects as he says the word) bruschatti, bruschatti, bruschatti. There we go. That was the Bruschatti setting right there. (normal voice again) Yeah. Thank you.
ALEX: And then, uh, the one where you call Twist and Shout, and you ask them for the ‘triple double flip’ song.
LPC: That, uh, Twist and Shout hates me.
LPC: I’m, I’m banished from their store. I really am.
ALEX: In person you’re banished? Do they know you by sight?
LPC: Yeah they know me, and uh, I’m definitely banned from going in there, but whatever.
(call continues but audio fades out)
PJ: How did you feel after he talked?
ALEX: I felt great. It felt like… getting to hang out with um... I don’t know how many therapists you’ve seen in your life, but so few are very effective.
ALEX: And um, he’s sort of like the perfect therapist for me. So it was like getting to, getting to — it was like 2 hours of therapy, talking to this guy.
PJ: You guys talked for two hours?!
ALEX: [laughs] We had a lot of gibberish to work through. And also, um, I asked him if he would do some prank phone calls with me. And he was totally game to do it. So we started trying to call celebrities. Um, first we tried JJ Abrams.
LPC: J.J. Oh, J.J. Baby. Whoohoo!
Answering Machine: Hi, we’re not home right now, please leave a message and we’ll call you back. Thank you.
ALEX: We tried Jeremy Piven, we tried Tony Danza, no one picked up. So, instead we called my dad.
LPC: I've got this pancake makeup, uh, like from a clown.
Goldman: Alright, you've got the wrong person, man.
LPC: No, you're, you're Goldman, right? Can I put this makeup on you a little later, see how it looks?
(HANG UP SOUND)
ALEX: My dad hung up pretty much right away. So, last we called my friend Dave.
LPC: Hi, is Dave there?
LPC: I’ve got a, I've got a submarine sandwich...that, uh, that I’m supposed to bring you. Shanghai Lil gave it to me, and um, it comes with a frisbee and a few other neat things. It’s kinda neat. It’s kinda fun.
Dave: You’re trying to give me a submarine sandwich?
LPC: Yeah. I just need to get with you a little bit. Get together. You know?
ALEX: It was perfect. It was everything I wanted from a conversation with this guy.
PJ: Do you feel like now, does it feel weird, does it feel different listening to his stuff?
ALEX: No! His, his, uh, 13th album just came out. And uh —
PJ: What’s your favorite track?
ALEX: Well, he really was into this track called Neighborly Melange, which automatically —
PJ: Oh, just —
ALEX: It hits me in my sweet spot! [laughs]
PJ: There’s weird sounds in there.
ALEX: But he, he was saying, he was saying like, "So I’ve got this track on my new album, where it’s just like everything I said — matched up perfectly with this person’s life." Like he was saying gibberish, but to them it made perfect sense.
PJ: Oh, that’s funny.
ALEX: So he was like, "Listen. Here’s what you need to do. I’m hearing tons of noise from your house, partner. I need you to, I need you to — shut up your cats, keep your dogs quiet, I need you to turn the fish light — I need you to stop the fish from making all that noise, and I need you to quit playing the kettle drums!"
ALEX: And the guy is like, "Listen. My dog, he’s like sick, he can’t even bark! My cats don’t make any noise, fish can’t make noise, and, we sold our kettle drums six months ago!" It’s like, really wonderful.
PJ: [laughing] That’s beautiful.
ALEX: [laughing] It’s half an hour long.
PJ: It’s a half an hour long?
PJ: That one track??
PJ: God. [pauses] I bet you there is no bigger fan of his stuff than you.
ALEX: I’d like to think so.
ALEX: You can pick up the latest Longmont Potion Castle album and all of his other albums at LongmontPotionCastle.com, and there are a couple guys working on a documentary about him called Where in the Hell is the Lavender House? Um. Keep an eye out for it.
We’ll be back with Sruthi after the break. It’s been a strange week.
SRUTHI PINNAMANENI: Welcome back to the show. This is Sruthi. And though I work on the show, I have a very strict no Twitter on weekends rule, this weekend this rule was thrown out the window. So, on Friday President Trump signed an executive order that basically banned citizens from seven different countries, whether they had, you know, even people who had visas to come to the United States. He said that people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen would not be allowed into the country. He also banned, indefinitely, refugees from Syria.
And I was just glued to my phone screen Friday, Saturday, Sunday watching the entire fallout. It was particularly jarring to me because I've, you know, been in this country for several years, but I'm not a citizen. I have a green card.
SRUTHI: And for the first time I was very confused as to what that meant, because a green card is, it's called a permanent resident card, and suddenly things didn't feel so permanent anymore. And while I was on Twitter, I noticed a colleague of mine from Gimlet, Nazanin Rafsanjani, I could see that whatever was happening around the ban was, it really touched a nerve in her. And I remembered that her family, she came from Iran when she was young and Iran is on that list of countries that were banned. And I also remember that this other show at Gimlet, Twice Removed, had done this giant story that centered around Nazanin and her family. And i listened and the whole thing just felt so relevant to everything that was happening, and i wanted to ask her about it -- but first let me just play you a short clip from that episode. You’re gonna hear Nazanin’s mom and her sister, … talking about living in Iran in the year 1979 …
Mina: The year that I got pregnant by Nazanin, was the year that they forbidden everything, alcohol and western movie… and they put the hijab in the woman’s head.
Nilu: my least favorite part which I absolutely hated, was the, um, this thing they called a man na’eh… which is like a lycra almost… fabric that would cover your hair. I hated that… and I just didn’t understand why the boys didn’t have to wear that and I did. And I would get in trouble.
Mina: She would get so mad. And she would, she would argue yeah, yeah
And the head covering was just one new requirement under the Ayatollah. There were restrictions on where women could travel, what jobs they could do… The way your mom tells it, Nazanin – it was overwhelming…
Mina: Everything was tighter and tighter and harder to breathe for woman. It was horrible horrible. They take your identity. They take everything. Who you are. What you think. (exhales) It feels like you’re trapped. You’re in a wheel that you just keep – just keep uh screaming and nobody hears you.
And on top of all that, there’s a war between Iran and Iraq. Nazanin’s neigborhood in Tehran is getting regularly bombed.
I had a bunch of questions for Nanzinin like how you know does like how is this different, Syrian refugees who are trying to leave Syria … so I asked her. ...
SRUTHI: I don't even know anything about what it means to apply -- how does a refugee become a refugee.
SRUTHI: I only know that the like, you know, student visa, the H-1B visa. Like that whole track, which is totally different.
NAZANIN: Yeah. So the way my family came here they actually applied for asylum, which is a completely different track than a refugee.
A refugee is somebody who they are outside the country-
NAZANIN: And from outside the country they're making the case that they need to be somewhere else from where they are because their life is in such grave danger. So that's what the Syrian refugees are facing now. My family, completely, like we lucked out. And we, we got, we got visas.
NAZANIN: So we, we left Iran.
SRUTHI: Like a tra - like a tourist visa?
NAZANIN: A tourist visa.
NAZANIN: We got a tourist visa. And we left Iran-
SRUTHI: Which must have been hard, like was it hard back there?
NAZANIN: It was very hard.
NAZANIN: There was no American embassy in Iran at the time there still is no embassy in Iran. So we went to Turkey.
NAZANIN: We applied for tourist visas. And we got them. And we, it was just, it was literally just, I mean it was just luck. Dumb luck.
SRUTHI: Sorry, you're just totally blowing my mind right now. Just like, in the 1980s, so I was a kid in India. And I just remember like if you drove by the US embassy you'd just be like, you'd see these lines of people who had spent, you know, people who'd slept there.
SRUTHI: But even to get a tourist visa you have to show you had a lot of money in your bank account, like you had reason to stay in the country that you're coming from.
NAZANIN: Yeah. Yeah.
SRUTHI: And so, okay. So you, you arrive in the States.
SRUTHI: How do you get asylum status.
NAZANIN: You need a lawyer. ...
Define a class a as iranian women who were opposed to the regime and so we went through that process. And it wasn't until I was, so we moved here when I was 6, it wasn't until I was 16 that I got my American citizenship.
SRUTHI: And was this whole story, I mean, coming from Iran, seeking asylum, was it a thing that day to day you're always aware of or, or thinking about?
NAZANIN: No. It definitely wasn't something I thought about on a daily basis, you know, ever. Or like growing up, or. I only, I only ever felt like everyone else here. Until, honestly, until now. Like, really until now. From last Friday until now. Like I mean it's like 4 days. That's how, that's what I mean.
SRUTHI: Yeah -- so i actually wanted to ask you about this one tweet of yours that for me was like totally a punch in the gut was, you had this picture of the Syrian man, I think? Yeah, it was a Syrian refugee holding a boy, of course, it's like we see these pictures all the time. But you wrote, "Does America feel great again? It's just a lack of imagination that separates you and your children from these people."
NAZANIN: Yeah. That, I think that picture and that tweet. It, it just, like for me, it goes back to like, um...I don’t. I don't know exactly how to answer this question, except that someone responded to that tweet being like, "So, everybody has a, so what you're saying is like everyone has a right to be, being a US citizen is a human right."
NAZANIN: And what I was trying to say was that it's actually the opposite. It's not actually anyone's right. So, if you, it's just like dumb luck. And I think that that's, I think that that's all I was trying to say, is that like it's my dumb luck that I got to move here and it's like your dumb luck that you were born here. And neither of us really did anything to deserve it. And so, and so like, saying that some people don't deserve it and others do is...just makes no sense to me?
NAZANIN: And, like, like you, it's like my most, I think like that kind of patriotism, I guess is the right word for it about the United States, is like, it's really like my most earnest feeling.
NAZANIN: Like, it's always been my most earnest feeling. Like I'm embar - I feel like a little embarrassed about it. Like, it's not, it's never been cynical. Like, I really have always felt like, yeah. Like it's [laughs] it's like you're lucky if you live here and it's fuckin' awesome to live here. And like, and it's, it's like just by virtue of being here you're like one of the luckiest people on earth. I really feel that way.
NAZANIN: And it's, and I think that that felt and feels like threatened. And that's why I think I was reacting that way.
SRUTHI: You can follow Nazanin on Twitter @nazraf. And also, definitely check out the episode of, of Twice Removed that features her and her family. It is incredibly moving and the ending … just wait for the ending.