Music on John From Cincinnati: The happiest messenger from God on the block

There are only two episodes left in this first season for John From Cincinnati, and one hopes many of the questions raised will at least be somewhat answered. One question on everyone's lips has to do with language, and how the characters communicate. The dialogue that David Milch utilizes to tell his narrative can be both breathtaking and frustrating in the same sentence.

Take the title character, John Monad (who we know isn't really from Cincinnati, and probably isn't named John.) His use of what Bill (Ed O'Neill) calls "parrot-talk" tells us he is more an empty vessel delivering his message, as he seems to only be able to repeat words he hears in order to communicate. This reminds me a lot of what's called 'toddlerese,' i.e., the language of toddlers.

One of the leading theories dealing with communicating with toddlers (Happiest Toddler on the Block,) is the thought that these young people are really like Neanderthals, who cannot understand our logic and reasoning. In order relate with them, as parents we must speak their language, which involves going down to their level and repeating back what they say using exaggerated facial expressions. Since we're all supposedly God's children, it stands to reason that He might communicate with us in the same manner, and John's parrot-talk and delivery is remarkably similar to this. If we assume that John is a messenger from God, then perhaps we're all walking wobbly in poopy diapers when it comes to understanding His purpose? If we go back to John's sermon, it's essentially a Neanderthal who first communicates with God using a circle and a line drawn on the wall. Perhaps God hasn't checked in on us in awhile and doesn't realize that we occasionally read Proust?

Contrast this toddlerese with the rich (to the point of cryptic) language that Milch employs for the rest of the characters, and it can be even more frustrating. For example, Bill's interrogation of John (or "I got my eye on you" as Bill calls him) is set up to fail when Bill demands there be no "parrot-talk." John looks lost and finally can only stab himself in the stomach to make his message heard. This exchange is really the centerpiece of the episode, and it takes place in Room 24, the room mentioned in the sermon ("Room 24 will give up its dead, and the dead will be forgiven"). That the lawyers meet in there as well is not an insignificant point.

John isn't the only one communicating with a higher power, though, as Freddy has a vision in a dream of Shaun going missing, and Barry has his own epileptic vision featuring Shaun and a couple orders of Roy Rogers (short and tall). Here David Milch uses his own voice to deliver the verbal insults over the jukebox while it played "The Tennessee Waltz," in a very Twin Peaks-like encounter. Barry envisions a theater here, and I couldn't help but think of the final season of Deadwood and imagine Brian Cox's Jack Langrishe appearing with his players to finish what they started on Milch's other series.

Like The Sopranos' David Chase, Milch also likes to employ music to add to the communication. Take the end of last week's episode, which ended with Matisyahu's take on John Lennon's "Watching the Wheels," which contains the verse "people asking questions lost in confusion / well I tell them there's no problem / only solutions," which sounds like Milch answering early criticism of the show. This week, there was even some more subtle references, like when Cissy shows up at Snug Harbor ruining a plan to keep the "Shaun is going to be gone" message from her for now. Dwayne says, "Mick is right again," referring to the Rolling Stone's "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

For the end credits this time around, JFC finds more religion, albeit Bono's version of it, with U2's "When Love Comes to Town." As the prophet Bono wrote:

I was there when they crucified my Lord

I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword

I threw the dice when they pierced his side

If John could hear his father's word through Bono he might stab himself in the stomach again. Toddlers sure have a tough time being understood.

Playlist: John From Cincinnati - Ep107-108

1. "Watching The Wheels" - Matisyahu - closing credits (Episode 107)

2. "Tennessee Waltz" - Patti Page - Barry's vision in the bar (Episode 108)

3. "When Love Comes To Town" - U2 - closing credits (Episode 108)

Previously: Logic is a limping stepchild (Episode 106); Second chance to catch this wave (Episodes 101-103)

drake lelane
fluent in toddlerese at the music/soundtrack blog thus spake drake