What to Do Tonight: John Mayer

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“Do I look like a big enough douchebag? No, seriously, do I?”
  • “Do I look like a big enough douchebag? No, seriously, do I?”

With a résumé that includes a Berklee College of Music education, platinum record sales, über-hot girlfriends, and a mantle lined with Grammys, it’s easy to hate John Mayer. And when he airs his cluelessness for the world to see — in the pages of Playboy, in off-the-cuff tweets, or to the media at large — it becomes impossible to generate any sympathy for the bonehead vivant.

At his worst — unedited, spontaneously glib, notoriously verbose — Mayer is Doofenstein Unbound, a socially awkward collection of body parts, missing the most critical organ of them all: the filter between his impetuous brain and his hyperactive mouth. Mayer’s feet are in his pie-hole so often, he probably gargles with Tinactin to avoid a debilitating case of athlete’s tongue.

Still, a little perspective is required. Mayer offended edgier musical sensibilities with the innocuous pop smear of his early work, and he’s certainly made his share of indelicate comments about former, current, and perhaps even future girlfriends. But he hasn’t killed any of them with a wrench and buried them next to his shed. Or impregnated them and then puked out his rhythm-method-and-scotch rage in a recording studio.

A few things get lost in discussions about Mayer’s shortcomings — most notably that he’s a massively talented guitarist. If you’ve avoided hearing Try! — the 2005 entry by the John Mayer Trio, featuring bass godhead Pino Palladino and drummer extraordinaire Steve Jordan — because you’re afraid of wonderlands and high-school halls, set aside your prejudices and give it a listen. Mayer was into Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan as a teenage guitar student and those influences are deeply ingrained on Try!

There’s also the fact that no one was more bored with Mayer’s pop success than Mayer himself. Just before Try! was released, he announced he was “closing up shop on acoustic sensitivity” and embarked on a series of collaborations with a stellar array of guitar talent, including Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King. He even dipped a toe into hip-hop, working with Common and Kanye West.

Despite his renunciation of sensitive pop balladry, Continuum (from 2006) was Mayer’s attempt at blending commercially viable pop with his love of blues music. It’s largely successful, if sales figures and a couple of Grammys are any indication. But the album is contentious. His record-company boss hated it — a rebuke so painful that Mayer pondered ending his music career to pursue graphic design.

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