It Takes All Kinds

a Few Stories and Profiles by Erik Hedegaard
mainly from inside the pages of Rolling Stone
(with additional commentary and folderol provided by the author aka Charlie, sometimes)

John Mayer

Posted on | October 19, 2008 | No Comments

The Wonder of John Mayer Land

He’s a hyperverbal rock star hunting for a wife, a hugely. talented
guitarist and songwriter who needs to be a stand-up comic. But don’t
believe the tabloids–nobody knows what’s going on in his head.


When John Mayer finds a wife, he’ll finally be able to take it easy.
Lots of things will change. For one, the gossip-hound paparazzi
knuckleheads won’t bother him as much as they do now. Just recently,
this is what happened: He was leaving a New York City restaurant, his
then-girlfriend and Friday Night Lights star Minka Kelly on his arm,
when the paparazzi swarmed. “How you doin’, John?” this one video guy
asks, all friendly. And then… “Was Cameron Diaz’s body a wonderland?”
Normally, Mayer wouldn’t respond. But, really, this was too much. “Do
you see that I’m with a woman?” he asked the guy. “Do you see that I had
dinner with a woman and you’re asking me about another.…Man, that’s

“When I get married, all that stuff will be null and void,” he says.

Married guys have other problems, naturally, but Mayer is positive he
won’t have many of those. Let’s say he has to go to work. Right now,
he’s 30 years old. He has been a heartthrob singer, songwriter, and
guitar player for only the past seven years, but what he has
accomplished during that time is remarkable: three major-label hit
albums, including Room for Squares, his first, and Continuum, his
latest, as well as nine top-10 hit singles, including “No Such Thing,”
his first, and “Say,” his latest. He has won five Grammys. He has played
onstage with the great B.B. King and recorded with everyone from Kanye
West to the Dixie Chicks. He has called a Porsche dealer in New York
from Eric Clapton’s estate in England and, sight unseen, bought a
$134,000 Turbo S, just because it was the rock-star thing to do. He has
been named a Time magazine top 100 influential person. In addition to
Diaz and Kelly, he has gone out with Jennifer Love Hewitt and, most
tumultuously, Jessica Simpson. He writes a monthly column about anything
that interests him and maintains his own blog. Most recently, he has
decided he wants to be a stand-up comic and has gone onstage in pursuit
of yuks. In other words, anything he has wanted to do, he has done, and
he wants to do lots more.

But what about his future wife? Will his future wife bitch and moan
about it and tell him, for instance, that he can’t go on tour this year,
because she has other plans and what about her plans for a change? She
will not. She will be incredibly happy for him. She will say, “I
understand.” And she will say, “No complaints.”

“I think about my wife all the time,” says Mayer. “I kind of obsess on
it, and what I want to find is a person who can speak those kinds of
magic words. I mean ‘No complaints’ is a great way to live. Also, I want
a woman who doesn’t hear ‘How are you?’ as ‘I would like you to come up
with something dramatic now that will allow me to sit in front of you
and give you more attention than I would have if you had just said ‘No
complaints.’ When I find the person I can relate to on that level and
who is also a pinup and who also says ‘Can I please take pictures of
your ass?’ then I am going to get married to her. That I can promise you.”

But there is one small hitch, and it bedevils Mayer day and night,
because it’s largely out of his control.

“My fear,” he says, “is that I go up to the girl of my dreams and say,
‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got to say hello to you,’ and she slides the stool
back and gets up and walks away, saying, ‘Not for me, Bub. I don’t want
anything to do with you.’ And she says that because of something in my
past. I mean, I know how to be a celebrity. I know how to be a guy on
the street. I know how to roll with the punches. I know how to do the
whole thing. And my past is actually pretty sterling. But when I think
about my wife, I worry. I worry about what she thinks when she reads
about me in US Weekly. It’s all vapor, nothing, ether. But I worry about
it. I worry about what she thinks.”

So, that’s John Mayer at the moment: a worrying, thinking man living in
a land of vapor, nothing, ether, his perfect woman out there, sitting on
a stool, maybe knowing too much about him already. Conversely, she might
not know nearly enough–about his odd early years as an acne-ridden
shut-in, about certain “loopholes” in his brain and the Xanax in his
pants pocket, about his self-penned pornographic scribblings, about his
constantly flapping lips, about his love for Jessica Simpson (and it
seems he did love her) and how she changed his life. Things like that.
Things that maybe his future wife really ought to know before she goes
off half-cocked, deeper into Mayer Land, for better or for worse.

Look at him. Look at him in his chair at an Indian restaurant in the
SoHo district of New York, near where he lives. Look at his big shock of
tousled black hair, at those big, soulful, smoky-brown eyes, at that big
head sitting atop that muscular six-foot-four-inch frame. Look at Mayer,
in his black sweater and green slacks. Everything about him is big,
oversized, exaggerated. Now listen to him talk.

Pushing back from the table, Mayer squares his shoulders and says, “I
tell you this without fear. I don’t feel like anybody knows my personal
life. My personal life is 100 percent intact. Where I ate last night or
who I ate with is not my personal life. You want to say the name Jessica
Simpson? Say the name Jessica Simpson. You want to say Cameron Diaz, say
Cameron Diaz. That’s not my personal life. My personal life is what
happens in my heart and my head. Nobody knows what’s going on in my head.

“You know what else?” he rolls on. “If you really like doing this, if
you really feel like you’re born for this, then you have to get so meta
in your consciousness that even the worst parts of it seem about right.
People being nasty to me or not knowing how to relate to me…I almost
have found a way to acknowledge what the positive is by way of how to
look around the negative. So, if the negative is present, it’s got to be
there because there’s a positive that has created that negative. So, I
go, Oh, wow, I’m getting picked apart left and right. I must really be
somebody. In a way, you kind of understand your place by understanding
what the trouble is. You know what I mean?”

The honest answer is, of course, more or less, because whew, what a
great big overstuffed load of verbiage. But that’s typical of Mayer, to
never say simply what can be said with Fourth of July fireworks. “I
think I’ve always been verbose,” he says. And with that admission, you’d
think he might slow down a little. But then off he goes again,
full-steam ahead, this time talking about his yearlong on-again,
off-again relationship with Jessica Simpson, which ended early last
summer, and how difficult the media circus surrounding it was for him.

“Let me bring you into the mind-set now,” he says. “When you take two
people who are trying to get together and relate, that’s already kind of
a cluster f–k. But then, with us, there was this whole looming threat.
And at a certain point, I got so many tension headaches just from
magazine covers. Real tension headaches, from the mention of my name
with someone else’s name and how people felt about that. Literal
physiological responses where I was like, Oh my God, oh my God, oh my
God, oh my God. I thought to myself, Are you sure you want to do this?
And what I said to myself was, You know what? There are times in your
life when there is nobody to confer with but yourself. And you know
what? This is my life, and this is a person I want to spend more time
with, and I’m not going to let that other vapor get in the way. And I’ll
defend that decision till the end.” He pauses, then marches on. “I also
want to say about Jessica that I don’t want to talk about her or my
experience with her as a dark cloud or something tumorous or cancerous.
That’s all perception. It was very comfortable and very soothing. I
never went, Gee, I sure would like two or three days away from this.”

It’s interesting the way he spills this last bunch of words. No one here
has mentioned cancer or tumors, nothing even close. On the contrary, his
time with Simpson seems to have been good for him. But up come these
ugly thoughts and images, ushered forth for no apparent reason. It’s as
if he doesn’t know when to put a sock in it, and you have to wonder
where it comes from, that uncontrollable urge to talk, come hell or high

One thing he doesn’t like to talk about so much is his childhood–or,
rather, he likes talking about only what he has talked about before. For
the most part, it’s pretty basic stuff. He was raised in the richy-rich
Connecticut town of Fairfield, the middle child of three. His dad was a
high-school principal, his morn a middle-school English teacher. At the
age of 13, he took up the guitar and became obsessed. If he wasn’t in
school or with his high-school girlfriend, he was behind closed doors in
his bedroom, strapped to his guitar, working out the licks of guitar-god
heroes such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, and Robert
Cray. When he was 15, he told his parents that he might as well drop out
of school, because he was going to become a famous guitarist. They
weren’t buying. In his 17th year, he landed in the hospital with an
irregular heartbeat that was diagnosed as cardiac arrhythmia. The
episode so upended him that afterward he began writing songs with lyrics
for the first time, “with a depth I didn’t even know I had as a person.”
After graduation, he attended Berklee College of Music, in Boston, but
packed it in and moved to Atlanta in 1997. He began playing the local
club circuit there, developed a reputation, went to Austin to play the
annual South by Southwest festival, caught the ear of some record-label
types, and a year later, in 2001, released Room for Squares. He was
immediately labeled “sensitive,” for his “empathetic voice” and
“emotional fearlessness.” Girls loved him. Guys weren’t so sure. When he
went onstage to collect his Grammy for “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” he
said, “This is very, very fast, and I promise to catch up,” a
heartwarming statement that he made good on in short order, with 2003’s
Heavier Things (which was only slightly heavier), 2005’s Try (his
terrific blues exploration, as part of the John Mayer Trio), and 2006’s
Continuum (which was indeed just that and produced the hit single
“Waiting on the World to Change”). And that’s how it has gone for him,
more or less: everything young, everything fast, everything great.

But if you lean on Mayer about a few lesser-known childhood details,
mainly surrounding his bedroom guitar playing, a slightly more
complicated picture starts to emerge. He says, for instance, that he
took up the guitar only because he saw no other way for him to ever get
ahead in life. He felt trapped, and the guitar was his way out. Common
enough. But the strange thing is how he went about it, so
single-mindedly, nearly as a monomania. On two separate occasions, his
parents grew so concerned that they took him to shrinks to try to figure
out what was going on and maybe open the kid’s eyes to the wisdom of
more realistic career choices. Nothing doing. He stayed in his room. He
played his guitar. He fought with his folks. And though it all happened
years ago, he can’t bear to talk about it even now, and he stammers when
he tries.

“I uh, I uh, I think it’s for me in my life a really good idea to close
off certain parts of my past,” he says. “It was difficult. It was
difficult for everybody.”

And that’s pretty much all he’ll say about that…for now.

Out there, a potential future Mayer bride has been reading Mayer on
Mayer and knows a few things. She knows that, like most guys, he
collects stuff–in his case, wristwatches, sneakers, and guitars–and
that he loves his high-definition TV. And that he likes his fast cars.
And that he loves spending money, always has. She knows that his
dominant color is blue, that he is a huge fan of sugar-free Popsicle ice
pops, and that he is good friends with Elton John. She knows that
certain people think he sounds too much like Dave Matthews. Also, that
they hate the faces he makes onstage and think he is a pompous ass. None
of this bothers her. But she is confused by one or two things he has
said and she wants clarity. He once said that watching another couple
having sex is something that might make him “vomit out of pure arousal.”
On another occasion, he said that one of his girlfriend rules is “You
have to run every single fantasy you’ve ever had through me. You’ll
never cheat. You see acute guy at the gym, I’ll be him. Or we’ll get
him. I don’t care.” So the question is, Is this man a voyeur or what?

“That would be true,” Mayer says, forthrightly. “I’m an image-based
person, and for me it’s all about the detail. I’m not interested in
all-American…I mean, I can’t get motivated by what most people get
motivated by. But the problem is that most people can’t meet me where I
need to be. I find myself, in a lot of situations, collapsing my
expectations, because girls aren’t walking around saying, ‘Oh, I bet he
wants this.’ I’ve always been supermental with this stuff. And I’m not
talking about kinky. I’m talking about the detail. In other words, I’ve
never seen auto-arousal, or auto-whatever, as secondary. I never saw it
as a letdown. I remember when I first heard girls say, ‘It’s not the
same, I don’t wanna.’ Well, it’s not supposed to be the same. And so
when I cruise the Internet, I really am resigned to probably not finding
anything I’m into. I mean, there are times when I’ve written my own
stuff. I have written it just to bring my ideas to life for me.”

He pauses here, leans back in his chair, and shrugs. “The thread is
unbroken in my life as to the difficulty of being who I am,” he says.
“I’ve always had a relationship with being different. But the world
needs me to be wacky, I need me to be wacky, I need me to stay wacky,
and I’m never going to apologize for being wacky.” So there.

In his early days as a rock star, he made a big public deal about not
going down the road to rock-star ruin that he’d seen so often while
watching VHI’s Behind the Music. To that end, he wasn’t going to drink,
wasn’t going to smoke dope, and most especially wasn’t going to date
celebrities. “At every level of the career, there are gonna be
pitfalls,” he once said. “Level one is, like, don’t bang a celebrity.”
Soon enough, however, all that changed. He started to drink (Scotch,
though not heavily), smoke pot (through a vaporizer, though he soon
quit), and, most especially, date celebrities (ongoing). He made these
changes mainly because he wanted to be someone other than who he was,
and who he was mainly had to do with those parts of his guitar-obsessed
childhood that he’d rather keep closed off.

“Again, I don’t want to talk about it too much,” he says, “but when
you’re alone a lot and it doesn’t go the way you want outside, you make
it the way you want inside. You create comfort to make up for the
outside world. You create, create, create, create. It’s all in your
head, but you go to it, because it’s your safe place, and that’s what I

One problem he had to deal with back then was his skin. Throughout his
teen years and into his early twenties, he had terrible acne. “In
Atlanta, I had acne so bad,” he says, “that I would cancel dates and
plans and stay in the house. I would not go out. When I was a kid, I
remember thinking, Well, I’m not going to be a model, so I better get
real good on the guitar.” So the guitar became it, his life, furiously
and with a vengeance. “All I wanted to do was be a robot and kill it,
kill it, kill it, and take people’s heads off. If my blood were alphabet
soup, it would spell, ‘I’ll show you, motherf–ker.'” For a long while
then, he felt he was nothing without his guitar, that he didn’t really
exist except to the extent that his fingers continued to work their
fret-board magic. He didn’t drink, smoke weed, or date celebs. All he
did was play the guitar. And that was better than okay with him. It was
what he wanted.

In his early twenties, however, something shifted inside that private
little self-created world of his. He won’t say exactly what happened,
only that on one specific day, he realized that “you can create dark
neighborhoods in your mind as easily as you can create rural
wonderlands. And the day I realized that was one of the worst days of my
life. It sent me on quite a spin. I went on a bender. An anxiety
bender.” Which is why he keeps Xanax in his pocket even now: “Because
there are these incidental kinds of loopholes in my brain, where the
wires can cross for a second and the hard drive crashes.” But the real
turning point in Mayer’s internal life didn’t occur until 2006, when he
met Jessica Simpson and decided to exchange the tension headaches he
suffered in private for good times in public with his new girlfriend,
paparazzi be damned.

“I’d been a famous touring musician who had also been a shut-in for a
really long time, which was weird,” he says. “But I’d had it really,
really good. I had hit song, hit song, hit song. ‘Did you hear about
this kid?’ And I’m like, Look at my respect. Look how credible my
artistry is. I’m really perfect. I’m really doing it. It’s aces. And you
get addicted to cultivating that thing and making it perfect. I’m
telling you, man, I’m not f–king with you. But it stopped being perfect
the day I said to myself, Wow, my heart is involved in this. The one
thing I’d never been in my life is a person without a guitar. I used to
be really frightened that if I stopped, it would leave me. But I had to
evolve. If I wanted to see Jessica more, I had to grow up. And that’s
the day that I grew up. A lot of people say it’s the day I grew down.
Too bad. It’s the day I grew up.”

One thing about Mayer is he’s courageous like that. He is always
searching for new truths about himself and, once found, he’s unafraid to
move toward them as best he can. It’s like that with stand-up comedy. He
loves it, and while he might not be getting laughs all the time yet,
he’s not about to stop trying. “I go onstage, I will keep going onstage,
and nobody can tell me I can’t go onstage,” he says, “and that’s the
thing. Nobody’s going to tell me I can’t. I’d just say, ‘Don’t tell me
what I can’t do, motherf–ker. Of course I can.’ I mean, look at what
I’ve done in my life. I don’t have any reason to believe that anything I
think of is impossible. That makes me annoying sometimes. But it has all
come true. All of it.” Quite a guy, then, this Mayer. Although he is
right, it does sometimes make him a little annoying.

Mayer is getting a bit antsy. A couple of big-name Italian watch
collectors are in town, and he wants to go hang out with them and talk
watches: Omega, Cartier, Patek Philippe…they call them chronographs in
that price range. “I know all the reference numbers,” he says. “I know
exact market prices per day. I go home, I’m on all the message boards. I
don’t talk sports, but I can talk watches all day long.”

Before leaving, however, he wants to clear up one thing about his future
wife. He knows that it’s largely his fault that the girl of his dreams
may be so hard to find.

“I accept myself as a very specific kind of guy, and in that sense, I’m
a little like a woman, because my chemistry is so exacting,” he says. “I
can’t describe it in words, but I can see it in my head, its color, its
light, its shapes, and I’ve managed to synthesize my love for myself by
way of many different reasonings and processes, and I’ve been able to
really synthesize my own satisfaction and things that do it for me.
They’ve usually been self-taught, self-instructed, self-refined. So to
be with anybody else has to somewhat lie in that comfort zone I’ve
created with myself so well.”

Like much of what Mayer says, what he specifically means by this is
somewhat murky, but the great thing is, it’s okay. He’ll never put a
sock in it. The whys are unimportant. And now it’s time for him to go.
He stands. He puts on his winter coat and jams his hands into the
pockets. He shuffles his feet, starts to walk away, then thinks better
of it and returns. He thrusts his big head forward. “Let me ask you a
question,” he says. “Do you believe me? I mean, overall, do you buy me?
Do you at least believe that I believe me?” Yes, of course, maybe,
probably. But when the perfect girl comes along, she’ll both buy him and
believe him, and what obscures him to others will only illuminate him
for her. And when she agrees to be his wife, it’ll all be different
then, just like he has always hoped.

Story by Erik Hedegaard


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