John Mayer and me
John Mayer and Jaquie Brown first met back in 2001, sparking something special - for her, anyway. To mark his latest visit, she refreshes her acquaintance with one of music's more polarising characters.
We first met 13 years ago, in 2001. He was a 23-year-old musician nobody had heard of. I was 25, no Grammys, and in my first year as a TV presenter.
He was to appear on Space, a music show I was hosting, to promote what would become his break-out single, 'No Such Thing'. To encourage some on-air rapport, my producer thought we should chat pre-show and get to know one another. So John came to my dressing room and, well, he totally John Mayered me. If you're familiar with vampires, it's similar to 'glamouring'.
He locked eyes with mine and, pulling his chair up to my chair, engulfed me in his open-leg triangle. He was intense, full of theories and self belief; six-foot-three and wearing a cardigan. I should have seen the warning signs. Mayer. He dominates the conversation, sparking quickly from one thought to the next.
He's funny, his anecdotes like practice for an imaginary stand-up routine. And it goes without saying that he's like catnip to the ladies. I was grilled about my recent break-up and when I gave details he pushed back, telling me I wasn't being honest with myself.
"I don't believe you!" he barked. He wanted to know all about me, including - quite tellingly - how famous I was. I played down that I was well known and sensed his interest levels drop.
An hour and a half of him talking at me went by in a blink. I was simultaneously overwhelmed and intrigued. He made me feel like I was the only girl in the dressing room that night, which to be fair was accurate. His eyes were focused - clear and hopeful.
Unsurprisingly, I fell a little bit in love with him, and despite his recent penchant for silly hats and ponchos, and despite the fact that when he plays guitar it's like he's having a painful orgasm while chewing gum, I'm afraid I've remained faithful as he became super-famous.
To give you an idea, he's released six albums, won seven Grammys and to date has sold over 20 millions albums world-wide. So, yeah. No big deal.
I next had the chance to interview him when he returned to New Zealand three years later. I was working as a TV presenter for music channel C4. Interviewing musicians and celebrities was, by then, what I did daily. I knew it was always hard to get something fresh from an international star; they were usually wise to the media and guarded. But I was confident this would be easy. After all, John knew me! We'd had a moment just a few years earlier in my dressing room.
I started planning my outfit. But things didn't go to plan. My BFF now had Mayer-goggles too, and - being the good friend I am - I offered to bring her along. Fine.
Except it wasn't fine, because she is a focus-pulling total babe, isn't she. Next to her I look like a potato. It dawned on me, as he entered the room and zeroed in on her and not me, that I really hadn't thought this through.
It got worse - my hopes of a blissful reunion were crushed when there was not a pip of recognition. I hadn't made the slightest ripple in his ocean. He seemed bored and answered my questions while stifling yawns and looking around the room. He also spent a lot of the interview chatting to my BFF over my shoulder.
While he was busy John Mayering her, I studied him. Something had changed. His eyes seemed distant and dead. It struck me that I was in a unique position having met Mayer before fame properly happened to him. Now, nearing the height of his popularity, the guy I met in 2001 wasn't there. He'd got his dream, but at a price.
John Mayer is no good for my self-esteem. When we talk on the phone for our third interview, I bring up our past meetings and he still hasn't a clue who I am. "No, I don't remember you, and I apologise. Hopefully I've not snuffed out your crush. But I do very much like this engagement we're having now, as a free-standing experience... so judging from this... "
A "freestanding experience"? That's classic Mayer. I'm fairly certain his eyebrow is raised as he says it. I wonder if he's flirting with me. I decide yes. He's in LA, about to embark on his 2014 tour to Japan, Europe Australia and here. I ask if he's packed a onesie or a teddy bear. He finds this amusing but doesn't confirm or deny. He could perhaps use some extra comfort after his recent 'uncoupling' with pop starlet Katy Perry.
I've been warned by his record company not to ask about this, and if I do I could risk him hanging up the phone, so I don't. But to fill you in, John and singer Katy Perry were dating for more than two years, and it was serious. Meet-the-parents serious. She features on his latest album Paradise Valley in a loved-up duet, 'Who You Love'. Released in December last year, it was a public coming out for their romance. Four months later, amidst allegations that he cheated, they split.
Katy Perry told Vogue, "It's over... I was madly in love with him. I still am madly in love with him. All I can say about that relationship is that he's got a beautiful mind, a tortured soul." She's apparently undergoing hypnotherapy to get over him, and like any normal heartbroken girl, telling anyone that will listen that he has a strange-shaped downstairs sausage. But I wager I'm not allowed to ask about that, either, so it's back to the thrilling topic of packing for his tour.
"I've got packing down to a science," he tells me. "Packing these days is sort of charging and downloading - digital packing. To survive on tour I need an iPad stuffed to the gills with unseen content."
He admitted to Playboy in 2010 to having a bit of a porn addiction, announcing that "My biggest dream is to write pornography," so I'm hoping it's not that sort of unseen content.
Unless you're a guitar nerd and know how truly gifted he is musically, or a hopeless romantic who gets high from sniffing his lyrics, you'd be forgiven for thinking Mayer is, in all honesty, a bit of a dick.
From 2002 to 2008, he enjoyed commercial hit after commercial hit. 'Your Body is a Wonderland', 'Waiting on a World to Change', 'Daughters'. He churned them out like factory ham. The world loved it some Mayer. But when you get successful like that, it distorts reality. With his fame growing like an angry yeast infection, he started to indulge in the fringe benefits.
So instead of being known for his music, he got a reputation for dating famous women, getting stoned, drinking whisky sours and running his mouth off. He soon became a paparazzi honey trap, and 2010 proved a real fizzer. Two key interviews published simultaneously in Playboy and Rolling Stone made it clear his ego was running things.
"My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I've got a Benetton heart and a f****** David Duke c***," he said. We heard details about his celebrity sexual conquests, too: Jennifer Anniston, Taylor Swift and Jessica Simpson. Sex with the latter, he told us, was addictive, "like snorting cocaine". She was "sexual napalm", apparently.
Then, to top it all off, he dropped the N-bomb. He was labelled a sex-addicted, racist narcissist. It felt like everyone turned on him, including my BFF. "Congratulations John Mayer, you have left us absolutely speechless and repulsed," wrote celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.
The word 'douchebag' was bandied about - a lot. Hit by a tidal wave of hate, John deleted his Twitter account and went into hiding. I ask what advice he'd offer the 2001 John Mayer if he could go back in time. But he's concerned he'll mess up the time-space continuum. I assure him it's purely hypothetical. He seems relieved.
"Okay," he starts, "I'll look at you and I'll say, 'Look, this kid's got a lot of energy to burn off... when this kid blows up, I don't want to be anywhere near it - you wouldn't either - but he'll figure it out.' I'd be like this: 'Look at this kid! Look what he's doing! He's just doing everything he possibly can to reach out into the world; he has no idea where the end of the earth is.'
"Look," he adds, "he's smart enough to figure out that the stove is hot when he touches it and burns his hand. I don't want to be around this kid any more, I lived it, I know what this is all about; this is about rapid expansion without knowing any bounds. Today might be the day, [or] it might be a year from now, it might be two years from now. He'll figure it out - let him have some fun. So let's check back in on him in 10 years. Come on, let's go and get a drink."
He apologised for his racist and sexist penis rants, telling Rolling Stone, "I abused that ability to express myself," and later admitting to Ellen Degeneres that "I lost my head for a little while and I did a couple of dumb interviews and it kind of woke me up."
But it was as though his vocal cords had communed with his ego and made a pact to shut down while he pulled himself together, because the next year he was diagnosed with vocal fold granuloma, which forced him to zip it - and cancel his upcoming tour. Told that cancer itself would have been easier to defeat, he had two throat operations and eventually Botox injections to paralyse the vocal cords so they could heal. It wasn't until May 2013 that he could speak normally and sing again.
During his enforced silence, he wrote two albums: Born and Raised while in New York, and his most recent, Paradise Valley, from his home in Montana, nestled in 15 quiet acres on the banks of the Yellowstone River. Both albums are a departure from his previous pop leanings.
"I'm starting to realise now that those two records came out of my sort of coming-of-age, in the sense that I was learning that the entire world is not going to become available to me 24/7," he explains.
"Also, it took me a long time to figure this out, but my voice was damaged to a place where I couldn't sing out loud. I wanted to sing but I couldn't sing the pop songs I was known for writing, so I think that subliminally changed my writing and made it very personal-sounding... slower, more confessional. I look at those two records as two little records where a guy got away for a minute and centred-up and focused; it was very much a meditation."
With his six albums spanning over a decade, each must serve as a sort of time capsule; a reminder of who he was at each point. "It's a gift - it's fascinating and it's great," he says.
"They are sort of memories but they also exist because you can still listen to them. You have your memories - they are things you saw, things you did - but with a record they are your memories but you always have this document of it."
With so many songs, it must also be easy to forget some of them?
"Yeah, I'm at the age now where I can go back and not even remember parts of songs that I wrote. I listen back and have no idea how the end of the bridge goes! I just don't remember."
The John Mayer I met in 2001 is shining through; excitable yibber-yabber. I throw him a compliment to keep him afloat: you have so much going on in your head, I say, so many different influences and inspirations, and yet despite it all you manage to consistently connect with your fans.
"That's hopeful for me when you put it like that, because for me it's a state of confusion," he says. "I think the same part of my career that makes it compelling to people who are locked into it, also makes it a little difficult for culture en masse to follow, because each record represents a different state of mind. But I have very conflicting inspirations. I'm constantly picking up radio waves of things that inspire me and make me think, 'Now, that's a cool way to be.' I mean, speaking of packing, you should see my pack for the tour; it's like: 'Are you packing for two completely different people? This is a schizophrenic pack.'"
It's probably more interesting that way, I offer, as you get to re-invent yourself with every new outfit. (I want to say poncho, but my mouth won't allow it.) "The real question," he says, "is what's the canvas and what's the paint?" I've no idea what he's on about, but make appropriate noises.
"Real artistic reinvention is about getting down to the core when you don't have a core; an entirely new arousal because of an aesthetic," he adds.
"Like, basically - if you are lucky enough to really be an artist - it's like being 15 years old and hearing The Who for the first time, every time you hear something. I could watch a John Wayne movie and go, 'I gotta wear handkerchiefs around my neck, that's awesome!'" One theme has been present in every John Mayer album: his desire for family and the stable comforts of a quiet home life. In fact, the words 'Home Life' are tattooed on his arm.
Paradise Valley to me sounds a lot like maybe he's found it. In the songs 'Dear Marie' and 'You're No One Till Someone Lets You Down', he sounds genuinely introspective and humbled. But is he happy? "Yeah! I'm happy. I don't really blow with the wind in terms of happy-unhappy. I'm very sort of stable. Here's what I'm happiest about: there are a lot of people that get to be 36 and they look back on when they were at age 24, 25, and they had a really brilliant career. But they were so busy getting their head around it, they didn't enjoy it, or they messed it up and they lost it. It's unbelievably rare and special to [be able to] go, 'I've proven what I needed to prove. I've gotten all my adolescent proving and showing off done. Now it's just about playing music because I love it.'"
"I don't do anything else better," he says. "It's a real calling, and it's not about any other purpose than just to play. For me to be 36 and finally settle into this ease, this pocket of, 'Yeah! We're going to New Zealand and we're gonna have a great time and the doors are gonna close on the airplane and I'm gonna be happy to be there,' is great."
We get the wrap-up from his management. I tell him I look forward to seeing him again when he arrives. He tells me he'll remember me this time.
Thanks John; I'll believe it when I see it.