Code monkeys rejoice: Geek music icon Jonathan Coulton swings by Portland

When it comes to geeks making music, few people are more recognizable than Jonathan Coulton. And he’s got quite a range. Thing a Week broke new ground in music distribution, “Code Monkey” has become an anthem for an entire generation of developers, and his rendition of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” could be considered a pop masterpiece.

Well, Jonathan is playing the Aladdin on Thursday, June 21. And I didn’t want to let the opportunity to chat with him pass us by. So I asked him a few stupid questions and maybe one good one.

Silicon Florist: How often do you get hit up for boring email interviews by bloggers? Why do you continue to subject yourself to this torture?

Jonathan: Constantly. I grow weary of all the attention. It is such a terrible burden to have people care about what I think enough to want to ask me questions. Being a rock star is VERY HARD. Everyone knows this. <–joke

SF: You were among the first musicians to truly embrace the geek culture. Why would anyone in his or her right mind do that?

JC: At some point I noticed that I was writing all this geeky stuff. At the same time I noticed that there were a lot more geeks in the world than there used to be. That was one of the convergences that made me think I could actually make a living this way.

SF: Many of us were big fans of the the “Thing a Week” project. What surprised you most about that effort?

JC: How difficult it was. At the beginning I thought that writing a song every week would make it easier to write songs, but it was always hard. If anything, that’s the most important lesson that I learned – that it’s always sort of difficult and painful, so you’re not doing anything wrong if you feel that way, you just need to keep going.

SF: You get to see a lot of geeky cities. Anything stand out about Portland and its geek culture?

JC: For me, Voodoo donuts is the very essence of Portland. Maybe that makes me a tourist. But the weird combination of breakfast cereals, bacon donuts, donuts shaped like penises, and the surly tattooed people who serve it all to you feels very Portland. Also I like bacon.

SF: If you were to launch “Thing a Week” today, what would you do differently? What technology would make it easier?

JC: I would probably build less stuff myself. When I did thing a week, I did my own wordpress install, built my own wordpress theme, and created my own mp3 store. All that stuff is a lot easier to do cookie cutter style today, which is kind of awesome because it means lots of people can publish their stuff pretty easily.

SF: You’re the inspiration behind Radiohead’s online music release (maybe), you improved upon the perfection that was Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” and you’re prettier than John Hodgman. What’s the next challenge you plan to undertake?

JC: As for Radiohead, I doubt the inspiration flows in that particular direction. I merely polished the diamond that Sir Mix-a-Lot dug up out of the earth, and Hodgman is a beautiful man. I don’t really know for sure what’s next. My last album was a bit of a departure, and felt like a challenge that was exciting and scary. So I’d like to do something that feels the same way – just waiting for the right thing I guess.

SF: Anything we can do to convince you to call Portland your home? I mean, you don’t have to move here. You can just call it “your home.”

JC: Sure! Buy me a bacon maple donut and we’ll call it even.

Oh and one more thing?

Want to go to the show? Jonathan was nice enough to comp two tickets for the Portland startup scene. Tell me a sob story in the comments below about why you should get to go, and I’ll pick two random lucky winners.

(Image courtesy Lisa Brewster. Used under Creative Commons.)

  1. Sounds good to me. Worthy stories.

  2. Cool. So let’s give Dev Josh’s extra ticket and the winning sob story the other two. Sound good?

  3. Anyone have an email address for Dev?

  4. Give it to the Dev Sinha and the college students. But if they can’t make it, I’m a pretty big fan and would love some tickets.

  5. I’m a fan of JoCo and would like to take my fiancee to the show tomorrow. She was in a car accident last year and is slowly, but surely, recovering. We’re both students and she is the only one of us working. It would be awesome to get to see the concert tomorrow!

  6. Dev Sinha deserves a ticket. He did a great rendition of Code Monkey at PDX Startup Weekend October 2011!

  7. Silly Rick. I’ve had my tickets since the day they went on sale. πŸ™‚

    In fact, (turns out…), my wife can’t make it, and I find myself in possession of an extra ticket. If you want to toss it in your giveaway, I’m happy to offer it. I don’t know how we’d do the logistics of getting it to the winner, and it’s GA, so they wouldn’t even have to sit by me. πŸ™‚

  8. I was half worried that you might not know about it, Josh. I’m glad you’re all dialed in and stuff πŸ˜‰

  9. As a long time fan of Mr. Coulton, I’m very much looking forward to his show tomorrow night. I’ve been preaching the word to all my nerd friends, and have made a few successful conversions. Thanks for the interview, Rick, and make sure you get him that Bacon Maple Bar so we can get him to call Portland his “home”! πŸ˜‰

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