The Dirty Mind and Lonely Heart of John Mayer

He has everything a 32-year-old man could want. So why can't rock's biggest playboy shut up and enjoy it?

February 4, 2010
John Mayer
John Mayer on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Mark Seliger

John Mayer goes out to a club, any club, he feels bad about it if some big host man makes someone get up from the banquette and take their Grey Goose elsewhere so the skinny rock star with the weirdly elevated hair can sit down. It doesn't exactly thrill him, either, when he's got to take a leak, and the line is long, and now the big man guarding the bathroom is making some dude hop on both feet so that Mr. Your Body Is a Wonderland can cut in and go first. It's embarrassing. But you know what he says is even worse? He sees a girl, any girl, and makes his move. He's a little tipsy. They end up in a room. Good things start happening. But then suddenly the girl's up on her feet and walking out.Mayer says this has happened to him more than once, so he knows what she's thinking: "Wait till I tell my friends I turned down John Mayer!" And it doesn't stop there. She turns to him, this girl he had longed for, however briefly, felt a connection with, felt hope. "Hey," she says, "before I go, can I have your autograph?"

John Mayer Swears He's Done With the Fame Game

Some time after the latest awful episode, he's downing a few Old-Fashioneds at a Los Angeles beautiful-people watering hole. Resplendent in a black-leather slant-zip jacket, obscure Japanese kicks and insanely expensive vintage Rolex, he's charging forward in his typical hyperbolic Mayerian way, saying stuff like "Blowing me off is the new sucking me off!" and "This is the death of rock & roll!" Suggest that maybe he's exaggerating, and he takes deep umbrage, jackknifing his long body forward. "No, man, and after that happens eight, nine times, I'd rather just go home and RedTube, good night. I'm serious."

And he looks serious, too. So maybe that really is his situation, despite who he is. Sure, lots of people don't like him and his music, too poppy, too sensitive, his head is too big, he uses the word "meta" too often. But his guitar chops, especially in the bluesy area, are unquestionably great, and he can count Eric Clapton among his admirers. Since 2001, he's released four studio albums, starting with Room for Squares, that have all been big successes, with hit songs like "Your Body Is a Wonderland," "Daughters" and "Waiting on the World to Change." And while his newest record, Battle Studies, isn't up to his previous one, Continuum (an assessment even Mayer agrees with: "I know that I'm supposed to say that my newest is the best one. Bullshit. Continuum is my best one. And I think you gain more than you lose by saying that"), it debuted at Number One. In fact, commercially, Mayer has never come close to failing. He's a golden boy (whose label, Columbia, had the good sense to sign him to a 10-year Fort Knox-size deal in 2008).

Meanwhile, for better or worse, he's become a kind of inescapable pop-culture staple. He's huge on Twitter, where he is an acknowledged modern-day master of the lowbrow bon mot, having amassed a fan base of 2,919,691 souls who hang on his every "My mouth is the Don King of my penis" and "I thought I had to fart but it turned out it was just a poop." He's everywhere in the gossip press, often in connection with celebrity ex-girlfriends, the last being Jennifer Aniston, who followed Minka Kelly, who followed Jessica Simpson, etc. And every time he sees a paparazzi, he can't help himself, he's got to act out; just the other day, he and his friend the well-known lesbian Samantha Ronson engaged in a bit of hot up-against-the-wall-oral-sex silliness for the cameras. Really good stuff.

But here he sits tonight, leather jacket pulled in tight against an early-evening chill, big soulful puppy-dog eyes looking more pensive than usual. Momentarily, he stands up to try to get a propane porch heater started. It frustrates him. He clicks away, no luck, turns, sits down, gets up, tries once more, no luck, gets someone else to do it, eyeballs some girls at a nearby table, says nothing to them ("When it's time, my mouth will just start going"), returns to his drink. Soon enough, he starts in on that one area of his life that he is most consumed by and least happy with.

He thinks about it constantly. He talks about it endlessly. He wants a girlfriend, a real life-partner girlfriend. It's been a long time. And it's just not happening.

"All I want to do now is fuck the girls I've already fucked, because I can't fathom explaining myself to somebody who can't believe I'd be interested in them, and they're going, 'But you're John Mayer!' So I'm going backwards to move forward. I'm too freaked out to meet anybody else."

He puts down his drink.

"What do you think?" he says. "Do you think it's going to take meeting someone who I admire more than I admire myself? But isn't it also about a beautiful vagina? Aren't we talking about a matrix of a couple of different things here? Like, you need to have them be able to go toe-to-toe with you intellectually. But don't they also have to have a vagina you could pitch a tent on and just camp out on for, like, a weekend? Doesn't that have to be there, too? The Joshua Tree of vaginas?"

And so the search continues. He knows she is out there. And he will not stop until he finds her, and her Joshua Tree of vaginas.

It's 4 a.m. at his place in Calabasas, 30 miles northwest of L.A., which he rented to record Battle Studies in. On any given night, he's still awake. He's maybe watched a little 30 Rock, South Park or Family Guy, his favorite TV shows. He's smoked a little weed, gotten a nice little buzz working, hit the send button on a few Twitters and lost himself in Modern Warfare 2. All cozy in sweatpants and a hoodie, he usually turns in now; if he hasn't by 7 a.m., it's time for a Xanax or an Ambien. When he gets up, usually around noon, he drinks some coffee, eats breakfast, brushes his teeth, hits the shower and stands in front of a great big closet (he spent about $200,000 on clothes last year) asking himself one of life's more important questions: "Who the fuck do I want to be today?"

His choices, he says, generally boil down to "urban technical, Japanese schoolboy, white Jay-Z or skinny, sleek rock guy." He hasn't done Japanese schoolboy in a while but today slips into skinny, sleek rock guy, in black cargo pants and a pair of white Mastermind sneakers. As the day wears on, he might call his shrink, which he does on "an as-needed basis." He might practice the Israeli fighting art of Krav Maga, which he got totally into after breaking up with a girl and deciding to "get good at something she doesn't know about." He might call his friend Bob, a fellow vintage-watch nut, to discuss their collections. Mayer's is worth at least $20 million; he can recite his holdings by heart; he knows all the numbers; he once stumbled across a rare Rolex dial variant, which is now known as "the Mayer dial." An obsessive, he has also collected sneakers, ladies' handbags, cameras, lots of stuff. He owns a bulletproof vest — "I looked up California penal code 12022.2, subsection B. In this state, I'm legally allowed to wear it" – and wants to own an M4A1 assault rifle, "just to go, 'Look what I have that no one else has.'" He once got magician David Blaine to teach him how to hold his breath and then did so for four minutes, 17 seconds, no tricks involved, which says a lot about the kind of guy he is: tenacious, nutty and blue-in-the-face sometimes.

Later on, in a restaurant or club, he will have to take a leak and head straight for a stall. ("I've got to go to the stall. I can't get a good flow going when I'm out in the world. But then, of course, you run the risk of people thinking you shit all the time." He endures.) In the evening, he favors single-malt Lagavulin scotch (and drinks about a bottle of it a week), but only in L. A. In New York, where he owns a home, he doesn't drink that much. It has to do with the hangover. "On the West Coast in the morning, it's like Bob Dylan with a coffee; on the East Coast, it's socialites getting penicillin shots," he says obliquely. "I can't drink in New York."

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