human moment #3 : tim larson x ron gallo

hi welcome to REALLY NICE™️ human moment series. this project started with me in a moment of self-doubt going on twitter and posting “who wants to interview each other?” with the goal being to find random people that may not normally do interviews and just have a conversation, connect with people on a real level during a time when i can not in person. i learned a lot from just these first few – that all of these people had 1000x better interview questions than any music journalist i’ve ever talked to, that they were open and down to get deeply personal and share their stories which revealed we all share a similar internal experience and lastly, they all gave me a lot of perspective on the impact of what i do can have on others. which i rarely get the chance to know. and vice versa. thank you for reading and i hope that these conversations make anyone out there feel less alone, comforted or empowered by seeing themself in someone else.

human moment #3 is with a person named Tim Larson from Seattle, WA. Tim saw a show we played at the Showbox in Seattle in October 2017 and he was first to respond to my “who wants to interview each other?” tweet that started this project. I asked Tim about struggling with cerebral palsy, twin peaks, law school, government work, mental health, and music. He asked me about what i would do if not music, influences, skateboarding, books, food, my hair, humanity and 2020.

HERE IS PART ONE WHERE TIM LARSON INTERVIEWS RON GALLO.

TL : What did you do, or want to do, before you got into music? What was high school / college like for you, if applicable?

RG : I wanted to be a secret agent when I was really young, then at some point I wanted to be a real estate agent – I think I just really wanted to be some kind of agent. But once I got into music I didn’t want to do anything else.  I was pretty all in from the beginning even when I was terrible at it.  I was a psycho, super hyper, troublemaker kid but really mellowed out and got super tired and quiet in high school. Always felt pretty alien. That’s when I found music and it was the foundation for my entire social life. 

TL : Who would you consider your biggest musical influences? Role models (perhaps not related to music)?

RG : Influence usually works in phases with me based on what I am into at the time, even from song to song.  Here’s a few – Andy Kaufman, Tyler the Creator, Jeff Buckley, Iggy Pop. Lauryn Hill, Jonathan Richman.

TL : Do you still skateboard? If so, what kind of board(s) do you have? Do you have a favorite skater?

RG : I do still skate.  But I’m more strictly just a cruiser now because I really need my arms, wrists for music. I try and stay on the ground but might pop-shove it or kick flip every once in a while. Maybe a little 50-50 on a curb.  The board I have now I bought off a homeless guy on a street corner in LA for $20, it’s a RIPNDIP, pink and white with a cat on it. 

TL : What’s the most recent book you’ve read, or what are you currently reading?

RG : I recently finished “The First Bad Man” by Miranda July. And it was so good I got another book of hers called “No One Belongs Here More Than You”.  Also digging into “The Peoples History of the United States” and one called “The Secret Lives of Color”

TL : What’s your favorite movie? Favorite TV show, or stream?

RG : Very hard to choose. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air might be my favorite show, have watched that, Friends, Will and Grace, and a bunch of romantic comedies or 90’s sitcoms during quarantine period.  Just started “DAVE” and “RAMY”.

TL : What food or food product do you most identify with, and why?

RG : Probably look most like broccoli but I’m a sweet potato probably.

TL : Whenever I tell anyone about you, they comment that they love your hair. Do you love your hair?

RG : It’s a grass is always greener thing.  I think deep down I wouldn’t want to trade it, but I also really like hats and they are kind of opposing forces.

TL : Do you eat pizza? If so, what are your go-to toppings?

RG : I prefer a straight up Margherita – basil, mozzarella, tomato.  As of late it is mostly gluten-free crust be cause chiara can’t eat gluten.

TL : Tellingly, your website is for “a human being most widely associated with music,” and this t-shirt I got says “I am nothing and everything, just like everybody else…reality expressing itself through a character named Ron Gallo.” You make a point to emphasize your humanity, and equality, which is striking in its rarity. Tell me more. Where does that idea come from / what makes it especially important to you? 

RG : It feels way more natural to me then lying or pretending that I am above or separate or there is a line between me and other people.  The world is built on this idea of “me me me me me” of everyone living big important separate lives but deep down we all know we know there is no “me” and no one knows shit and all the way ways we measure our value are all bullshit and we are all just parts of the same thing living in a big mystery and I find that thought super comforting and want to encourage being oneself and uniqueness but also fundamental sameness.

TL : 2020 has been pretty crazy, man. Lots of tension, anxiety, violence. How do you manage to have the energy to be creative and reflective in light of…everything?

RG : I’D SAY! Haha. I really don’t have that energy.  I try, but I struggle to get anything meaningful done and usually end up spiraling into some negative thinking that really doesn’t help anything more than not.  In the beginning of the quarantine I got a surge of inspiration about how to work with these new limits but that was probably a weird coping mechanism.  REALLY NICE has helped me a lot because my brain is all over, I am having trouble finishing a song though.

TL : One of my favorite lyrics of yours is, “Stay close to the ground because everything above the billboards and everything above the highrise is nothingness.” Tell me about how you came to that concept.

RG : That was actually a reference to me being terrified of being high. I’ve only tried weed a few times in life many many years ago and each time was just zoomed out existential crisis paranoia. So I prefer to stay “close to the ground”, I don’t want to know what’s up there.

TL : Your new song “YOU ARE ENOUGH” seems directed to a society (myself included) that has reached a kind of critical mass of anxiety, with constant feelings of inadequacy. The rest of us can crank some Ron Gallo tunes when we feel that way, but what does Ron Gallo do when he feels that way? 

RG : YES. Ok, good. I’m glad it comes through like that. Haha, Ron Gallo is really good at giving advice but not taking his own, so I struggle with that feeling a lot – I usually deal with it by trying to work on something creative to remind myself why I do anything, or get in a “fuck everyone!” mode – that helps because the inadequacy comes from comparison right?

HERE IS PART 2 WHERE RON GALLO INTERVIEWS TIM LARSON:

RG : You mentioned you suffer from Cerebral Palsy.  Can you give an explanation of your daily experience and any limitations you deal with?  As vivid or brief as you want. (I always feel like seeing through someone else’s eyes or a first-hand perspective here can be really powerful in opening people up.)  Part 2 to this question – Can you talk about how this condition has empowered you? 

TL : So yeah, Cerebral Palsy. It’s “a group of permanent movement disorders” if you ask Wikipedia. I always put it in layman’s terms as kind of like having a stroke at birth that caused damage to the part of my brain that controls motor function. As I was told it, I was born dead, or otherwise not breathing, and the doctors got me on a breather pronto, but there had already been some damage done. Cerebral Palsy causes poor coordination, muscle spasms, and limited range of motion. It means I can’t do physically demanding things. I can’t run, can’t play sports, exercise is difficult, and very much NOT a stress relief. I don’t drive. That’s a big one. I can’t dance, can’t carry kids, can’t do a lot of household chores, and I fall down a lot. When you have frequent spasms or tremors it kinda feels like your whole body is a clenched fist, like you’re tight all over and you can’t relax it. To be honest, you get used to the physical limitations in and of themselves. What you don’t get used to is the isolation, loneliness, and feeling like you’ve been robbed of or otherwise lost out on so many opportunities.
See when I was a kid, we just played Ninja Turtles, video games, or Magic the Gathering. Kids aren’t all that mobile yet. They stick around the neighborhood and play games or pretend a lot. If my friends were riding bikes I’d go out in my walker and hang with them. I couldn’t ride, but I’d watch their tricks or spills and they’d congregate near me when they were just chilling. If we were playing superheroes or something like that, I’d be the “psychic power” guy and the other kids would gladly give my powers some leeway. The point is that, my physical limitations aside, the happenings were happening AROUND me, and I felt largely included, and even welcome.
That changes in high school. In high school teens start driving and the happenings happen wherever parents AREN’T. I managed to be pretty popular in school, but only in a very particular way. I was liked by nearly every group or clique (maybe because I was so non-threatening), but I never really belonged to any of them. I was a big deal in the classroom or the cafeteria or at assemblies, but then I went home and played video games by myself. I don’t mean to say I never got invited to anything, I did, but even then it’s harder. Are there chairs, or at least a place I can lean? Is there a friend in the group who will get my food or drinks for me? What’s my contingency plan if people blow this place and head somewhere else? I’ve got a flexible (because I have cool parents), but nonetheless set pick up and drop off time. I started to feel a little depressed and isolated as everyone else around me grew in their abilities, which widened the gap between us in ways you don’t sense when your whole world is a cul-de-sac and its houses rec rooms. College and law school amplified the trend of widening that gap, and really starts to show you that your role in the rat race is going to be FUNDAMENTALLY different. The experience gap remains pretty wide post-school where everything is a production-based numbers game, and you’re constantly aware of being slower in places, or having to put more effort into projects that for others are much easier, relatively speaking.
That’s the big one, Ron. That’s the killer. That gap. Does it suck that I can’t play football? Sure, but you learn to deal with that stuff fast. What hurts most is feeling left behind in the big, cosmic sense. As life gets more frenetic, more spread out, more mobile – you’re still stuck in and around that cul-de-sac, but you’re not Professor X with bonus powers anymore, there aren’t anymore improvised bike ramps or magic tournaments, and the kids that were there with you have their own families. Mobility is king. Everyone wants to travel, go on adventures, dance, party, and feel alive. After thirty some years of limited mobility, your social circle is much smaller and you aren’t exposed to as many new experiences or opportunities. It isn’t because people don’t like you, in fact, they may like you a great deal. Rather, it’s because you just weren’t there. There where the happenings were happening and people were building lasting relationships based not only on personalities and sunny dispositions, but SHARED EXPERIENCES. You were just at home, still holding down that cul-de-sac.

You asked how Cerebral Palsy has empowered me. It hasn’t, by and large. I could come up with some positive, inspiring shit to say here, but it’d be a quarter genuine, and that’s not a game I want to play here, with you. I get the sense you want the real true true, so here you go: Disability is awful. Full Stop. Just wretched. It drains you, taxes you, steals your motivation, brings you down when you’re up, and kicks you when you’re down. It’s a constant reminder of “otherness.” You remain empowered in spite of disability, or you try to at least. Sometimes it feels like a Sisyphean task. Most of the time it does. And you’re just tired. Big shout to my friends and family who’ve certainly endured some of it with me. Love and support is key, for sure. That’s the counterforce to the disability, that’s where we empower each other.

RG : Being from Seattle, are you a Twin Peaks (TV Show) fan and either way – have you ever had the pie at the double R diner in North Bend?

TL : I am a Twin Peaks fan. Not like, a big fan, but I’ve seen the original a couple times, and most of that new-ish(?) season. It’s definitely up my alley, my kind of show. One time I went to a Twin Peaks improv thing with this girl I kinda liked, that was pretty cool. I have never had pie at the Double R, or Twede’s Cafe, though I definitely will make it a point next time I am out that way. I like pumpkin pie and blackberry / marionberry pie the most, how about you?

(RG SIDENOTE: THE BOYSENBERRY PIE AT TWEDE’S CAFE IS 11/10)

RG: What is something in regards to self-image that you have consistently struggled with in life that you have made/want to make progress on?  

TL : Something about self image I’ve struggled with or made / want to make progress on. Probably my physical fitness. I could stand to lose a good 60 pounds or so. When I was six I had an operation called a dorsal rhizotomy where they dug around in my spine and cut some nerves to free up muscle tension and range of motion. It worked. I lost the walker and the braces eventually. Graduated to a cane with a snake on top. But…”freeing up range of motion in your legs and torso” also just means you have like no muscle tone, and so a permanent beer gut. I also think regular exercise / therapy would help me be MORE active and mobile, relatively speaking. All that said, now that I’m in my thirties I think it might be more important to work on my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. I guess it’s all interconnected, eh? I can definitely say I wasn’t prepared for the mental and emotional weight of my “physical” disability. I get by. I have great support. But when physical change is so much harder, the trick just might be changing one’s own perception and metric by which you measure self image. I’d like to learn to better SEE myself as my character, my intellect, and my metaphysical “being.” To be able to own, internalize and project confidence through that, rather than just desperately hide behind and cling to it when the “standard” metric of worth in our society leaves me feeling broken, beaten, inadequate and alone. I guess we all kinda struggle with that. 

RG : Taking your whole experience with Law School – what advice would you give your younger self before pursuing all that you did?  I’m sure you felt a lot of pressure to begin that path, but then again when realizing you hated it and didn’t want to practice law yet stuck it out. Is there something deep down you really want to be doing that maybe you find a bit scary to take a leap on?

TL : Ah, Law School. Everybody always thinks my folks put a lot of pressure on me to do that, but that’s not exactly right. It’s like you’re a blue collar Joe and blue collar Jane, and now you got this severely disabled kid you gotta help succeed in the world. How’s he gonna do it? Well, he’s gotta use his brain. Can’t use his muscles. Y’know, he’s pretty well-spoken for a kid. He goes through Hardy Boy books and Calvin & Hobbes comics like nothing. What kind of job does well with brain-power, public speaking, and reading? Meanwhile re-runs of Perry Mason or Matlock are on the TV, the kid argues with you about something and you say, “Haha, you should be a lawyer someday.” The kid picks it up, starts telling people that’s what he’s gonna do. Pretty soon the kid is taking the LSAT.
It was both of our plans. The pressure was to make decent money while being severely disabled, maybe enough to afford help, own a home, that kind of thing. Later on, I came to the same conclusion my folks probably did about the most sensible career for me. It made sense. At the time though, we didn’t fully understand the social gap and how it would widen and affect me later on. Didn’t understand the details of the legal world and legal work, and how it’s different from courtroom TV. I wasn’t prepared for the increased stress, with fewer outlets as my feelings of isolation grew in law school. My friends were young adults zipping around town doing young adult things. I traded the cul-de-sac for a campus apartment, but I was still relatively tethered there. I went to a law school fair while in college, and a woman at the booth advised me, “Y’know, it might be a good idea to take a year off and find out more about what you enjoy doing.” Sage advice, in hindsight, but even if I gave that advice to my younger self, I’d probably respond to future me the same way I responded to that lady. I said something like, “Oh, thank you…but this has been the plan for a long time, and I just want to go straight through. I’m afraid if I leave school for any length of time I’ll have trouble returning to student mode.” And in my head I was thinking like, “Oh yeah? What should I do exactly? Backpack Europe? Can’t. Road trip the USA? Can’t. Best just to accept my career-fate and keep plodding forward.” I guess the advice I’d now give myself back then would be to research more, shadow someone, or try to be an apprentice to actually see and understand what the work is like day-to-day. At the time I didn’t really know many practicing attorneys or have lots of connections. I existed in the classroom or the dorm room.
I love true crime. So I’d maybe like to be a private investigator or something. The stakes are so high (in missing persons or cold homicides, etc.), I feel like I’d never have the thought that my work wasn’t having impact. And the fulfillment you’d get by helping to bring justice to victims and their families. Wow. I’d also like to help do something for disabled kids / teens. Helping them to transition to adulthood and be as independent as they can. Not exactly sure what that would look like, but I should probably be volunteering at children’s hospitals and stuff. I’m not exactly scared to take a leap on those things, I just can’t afford to right now, financially.

RG : What does a whistleblower protection investigator do? And do you ever feel like you are juggling good and evil working for the government?

TL : There are a number of federal laws which prohibit retaliation against people who raise health and safety concerns, or report fraud, etc. As a whistleblower protection investigator I look into complaints that that retaliation has happened. So like, if a worker was injured, reported the injury, and then got fired or suspended the next day or week, he or she might complain that the discipline was actually retaliation for reporting the injury. I do neutral third-party investigations of those and similar situations.
Juggling good and evil working for the government?? Haha, can’t fool me Ron Gallo. I know who signs my paycheck. Just kidding. In all seriousness, though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my transition to public service. The investigators in my squad work hard and seem to reach what I think are fair, well reasoned conclusions. There are the same issues present in my work that I suppose pop up in any government agency – disconnection from the powers that be at the top, outdated tech or databases, little administrative help, etc. I think the juggling isn’t so much between good and evil, but more between the actual, meaningful protection of rights in merit cases and bureaucratic expansion for it’s own sake, to appear busier, more important, and in need of bigger budgets. I guess maybe that could be interpreted as good vs. evil. You decide :).

RG : You said you were diagnosed with “Dysthymia” or “persistent, mild depression”. And you seem to be super self-aware about how that could be result of “brain chemistry, a natural reaction to being a disabled adult in 2020 America, or if I’m not crazy and everyone else is – probably some combination”. Let’s talk more about the second half of that…do you ever feel like your level of awareness is equal to your level of struggle?  I’m of the opinion we are living in a time and place that is so deeply fucked up and insane and human beings have gotten so far away from their natural order that it would be hard to see it and not feel terrible on a daily basis. Do you think the struggle to feel joy, peace internally is an upward battle because we live in a world founded on the exact opposite of our nature??

TL : I think my level of awareness is elevated by my level of struggle, certainly. I wouldn’t say it’s equal to, because I still struggle with selfishness or self-pity like anyone. To go back to your earlier question about disability and empowerment – there are certainly aspects of my “self” that I value and attribute heavily to my disability – things like empathy, perspective, worldview, etc. I wouldn’t characterize them as “empowerments” exactly. I think struggle acts as an amplifier. It might allow for a greater awareness, but that’s down to the choices you make with it. It might also allow for greater selfishness. We’ve all heard stories of people who struggled or suffered and then were consumed by it, and ultimately chose to amplify it, and inflict it on others in a misguided and hurtful attempt to achieve a sense of power or control. Others try to help those struggling as they have. It’s good and evil, man. Compassion or egomania. I definitely agree with your opinion that we are living in a deeply divided and backwards time and place. It is insane. We compete and tear down so much more often than we collaborate and build up. Humans are flawed, so I’m not sure what their “natural” order is, but unfortunately you’re spot on in that it’s hard to see it and not feel terrible on a daily basis. I can’t say it better myself. The struggle to feel joy and peace is an upward battle, yeah, and the incline is getting steeper every day. I think it has to do with our society idolizing wealth and power regardless of how it’s obtained. In that way we encourage competitive selfishness, dishonesty, and hurting others for gain. I hope the pendulum starts swinging back the other way soon.

RG : A close friend of yours who has never taken a plane is about to take a 20+ hour flight to Australia and is terrified.  You get to fill up a hard drive with whatever you want – books, tv, movies, games, albums, etc. – what do you put on it to comfort/entertain them?

TL : I think shared experiences with other people are where we can find the most joy. If I had a terrified friend on a 20 hour flight I’d fill the hard drive with stories and pictures or videos of happy or funny memories we’d made, or times they were there for me and helped me through a rough spot. Nostalgia is often very comforting, so I’d put a few of my favorite episodes of the old TGIF family programming block – you know that Perfect Strangers, Boy Meets World, Step by Step, Family Matters and Steve Urkel action. I’d also play some Magic with them (bending internet connectivity rules there, but still). I might throw on some of my favorite stand up comedy, some Bill Burr, John Mulaney, Hannibal Buress, Tig Notaro, Brian Regan. Definitely videos of animals being cute or funny. Some Heavy Meta would make it on there when I shared the “Hey remember that time at the Ron Gallo show…” memory.

RG : Top 3 places in the world you would like to go.

TL : I’d like to go to Sweden. I think my great great grandpa (something like that) was from there. I think it’s where the Larson name comes from. I hear they have good meatballs, and the Swedish Chef is one of the coolest muppets. I’d also like to go to Australia, just to see the wildlife like kangaroo and wallaby and visit things like Uluru, and the Great Barrier Reef. For my third place I’d want to take my Mom and Dad wherever they want to go. They’ve always sacrificed for me a great deal, and shared my struggles more than anyone else. It would mean a lot to me to give back to them, and experience something they’ve always wanted to do or see alongside them. I’m not sure exactly what they’d pick, but Mom would choose a sweet, secluded mountain cabin type experience, and Dad would want a big time exotic fishing trip.

RG : What is the #1 most nostalgic song from being a kid?

TL : Two sets of answers here. Weird Al is one. I always used to listen to his albums as a kid driving down to Oregon to see my Grandma with my Mom. Old stuff like off of the Alapalooza album, “Talk Soup” or “Young, Dumb & Ugly.” Weird Al is also the first concert I ever went to at the Washington State Fair with my Dad.
I always listened to my Dad’s music as a kid. Classic Rock stuff. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who. In a sense, that’s still nostalgic, but also I’ve continued to listen myself as an adult. Nothing beats TV theme songs for instant nostalgia. Growing Pains, anybody? Show me that smile again, Ron? Don’t waste another miiiinute on your cryyyyin? I’m instantly like 4 years old when that shit hits.

TL BONUS THOUGHTS – Thanks for the opportunity to share here. I think this is human moment project you’re doing is really awesome, really self aware, and (I hope) really uplifting for readers. You mention that it started from a place of self-doubt / uncertainty. I feel you, man. I think a LOT of people do. 2020 has been straight upside down. FOR. REAL. Reach out to people, connect with people, be really nice. Ron – proud of you, buddy, for your music, projects, and message. Really honored to meet / exchange with you. Stay cool. Keep shining light to darkness.

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