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Journey to Planet JoCo: “Todd the T1000”

An interview between John Scalzi and Jonathan Coulton

For the past two weeks, John Scalzi has been interviewing Jonathan Coulton about the intersection of geek and rock on Tor.com. Now, just for Tor/Forge newsletter readers, we have one more Scalzi/Coulton interview. Enjoy the following look at Coulton’s song “Todd the T1000.”

SCALZI: Hello folks. This is John Scalzi for Tor.com, with a Jonathan Coulton extra. We’re going to talk about one of the deepest of deep cuts for him, a song called, “Todd the T1000.” Now, “Todd the T1000.” The T1000 is the Terminator number, right?

COULTON: Yes. I don’t think I realized that. I thought I had made it up.

SCALZI: When I was working at the Fresno Bee, which was a newspaper, back in the early 1990s there was a portable laptop called the Toshiba T1000, so every time the Terminator stuff came around, it would be called the T1000. I would just laugh, and no one would know why.

COULTON: Right.

SCALZI: So.

COULTON: There was also the TI-1000 was a…what?

SCALZI: Texas Instruments calculator.

COULTON: A calculator. That’s right. That’s right. Yeah.

SCALZI: So many T1000s, so little time. Now this was actually for Our Bodies, Ourselves, Our Cybernetic Arms, which was like an EP you did for Popular Science, right?

COULTON: Yeah, that’s right. They commissioned me to write five songs to go with a single edition of their magazine. And the magazine had a theme of the future of the body, so there were a lot of articles in there about artificial muscles and genetic engineering and all that sort of stuff. Yeah, this one was sort of meant to springboard off of an article about artificial muscles, but, of course, I made it about robots, which was not what the story was about. So…but you know. How far are you going to go with artificial muscles before you run headlong into the concept of robots? Not very far.

SCALZI: That’s true. It’s a very short hop, skip, and jump, as it were.

COULTON: Indeed.

SCALZI: And working with Popular Science, was that actually kind of a cool thing to do?

COULTON: Oh, it was great. They were great people and they were such fun geeks. And it was the kind of environment where you’d go into the magazine offices and meet everybody and it was just a bunch of nerds getting to try out cool gadgets and write about them and compare: see if learning to race cars in a video game was the same as racing cars in real life. And it was just an office filled with enthusiastic people doing enthusiastic things and it’s really—I think it would be fun to work at a magazine like that.

SCALZI: Yeah. Now, Our Bodies, Ourselves, Our Cybernetic Arms is almost like, I don’t want to say it’s like the lost JoCo EP or something like that, but I don’t think it is one that is generally as well known as the rest of your stuff.

COULTON: Yeah, it’s true. There are a couple of songs on there that have made their way into the canon but, yeah most of them. Well, there’s only five of them.

SCALZI: Right.

COULTON: But “I Feel Fantastic,” of course, has become a big important part of the canon, but the others are, I would say, B-sides or even C-sides.

SCALZI: Especially now that we don’t actually have sides to it. It’s all one MP3 or another.

COULTON: Yeah, exactly.

SCALZI: Just to go quickly off tangent, it almost feels like—and I’m not one of those people who’s like, things were better when we had reel-to-reel or anything like that—but, they do lose a little bit of something that you don’t have songs that are specifically mentioned as B-sides anymore. The whole idea of, “Here’s our hit. Now here’s a little bit of something else that we’re going to do. It’s going to be a little bit weird, but if you don’t like it, it doesn’t matter because you bought the hit anyway.”

COULTON: Yeah, it’s true. That was a nice tradition, that you were allowed to do something a little different. And nobody was going to say, “Hey, this is different.”

SCALZI: Yeah, so. I think that that’s in your future, an entire of album just called B-sides, or something like that.

COULTON: All B-sides.

SCALZI: All B-sides.

COULTON: They’re all not really worth the money.

SCALZI: All right. We are going to cut here. And then, thanks all for listening. For Tor.com this is John Scalzi.

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From the Tor/Forge June newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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