Being gifted with otherworldly powers of humility – the kind of humility that mere mortals cannot possibly summon – it’s not my way to brag about myself. But I’ll do so, just this once….
I was a trailblazing pioneer of a global social media phenomenon long before it became a thing. That phenomenon is ASMR. If you’re not familiar with ASMR, it stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. In short, it’s when you hear sounds that make you relaxed and often help you drift off to sleep. The sounds are usually gentle and soft, and include everything from a monotone voice to the crinkling of paper or tumbling of leaves.
ASMR is a big, big thing right now. Thousands of YouTube videos are specifically dedicated to ASRM, and millions of people worldwide are tuning in. The videos are dedicated to providing relaxing sounds designed to either chill users out or send them on the express train to Sleepytown.
Most of the videos feature human voices. Some, dubbed “accidental ASMR,” feature people with relaxing voices who just happened to make videos, for whatever reason. Then there are intentional ASMR videos, specifically made to approximate gentle sounds, usually with strained and hilarious results that end up distracting you so much by their forced mellowness that you can’t relax.
I was way ahead of the curve on all this, folks. Thirty or so years ago I made a habit of watching relaxing PBS shows on weekend afternoons, just so I could Zen out and fade into a nice nap.
The undisputed heavyweight champ of these shows, of course, was the immortal Bob Ross, he of the happy trees and fabulous Afro. Ross was a painter who hosted a weekly show for years and years in which he instructed viewers on how to paint landscapes. But his real claim to fame was his friendly demeanor, soft voice, and laid-back vibe, all of which served to send viewers into various states of blissful lethargy.
I also watched cooking shows, home building shows, and that one show with Norm who built furniture in his shop and had a most excellent Baaaaahston accent. Those shows led to a decades-long hunt for relaxing, tingly, sleep-inducing shows late at night. These were mostly talk shows, often on local cable access, where the interviewers were uniformly inept, the guests were uniformly uninteresting, and the boredom would send you straight to sleep.
(I was on a couple of those shows as a news reporter about 25 years ago, BTW. My voice was flat, monotone and wholly uninspiring, and one of my interviewers so expertly mangled my name and my newspaper’s name that I still get reminded of it to this day).
Which brings us to today, and YouTube. While most people use YouTube to watch popular streaming channels, music videos, cat videos, influencers, etc., I’m on a constant prowl for the mundane and obscure. My favorites are everyday folks explaining how to do some task: replace watch batteries, change fuel filters, cook curry, clean vinyl albums, replace bicycle chains, knit socks.
Some of these videos might have a couple hundred views, tops. Many were made a decade or more ago, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who still watches them regularly. There is something very relaxing and satisfying about watching an unknown somebody from nowhere spending 18 minutes telling you how to paint shutters.
Anyway, as part of my “Lucky 13” series of listicle blogs, this one is devoted to 13 YouTube videos that have the right combination of the mundane and the dozy. Links are provided in the bold areas. Hope you enj…..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Bob Ross: You can’t have a list like this without the King of ASMR. Bob Ross has attained a kind of cult status in the USA. Unless you live there, or are a fan of his “Joy of Painting” show, it’s hard to describe why he is so revered. He was a decent enough artist in a landscape sort of way. He specialized in wet canvases that made it easy to blend paints together. But that wasn’t his real charm. He just seemed to really enjoy painting, and enjoy teaching others his style. And that voice. And that ‘fro. And that calm, friendly demeanor. And Bob’s complete lack of condescension about painting. His mantra was to just have fun, paint what you like, take it where you will. He was an ex-Air Force guy who became interested in painting while stationed in Alaska. He eventually got good enough to land a show on public TV in Indiana. The rest is TV history. He sadly passed away of lymphoma in 1995 at the age of 52, but he lives on in YouTube videos. ASMR score: 150 on a scale of 10.
Zen Indian Office Supplies: This might be the single most sleep-inducing video on YouTube. It features a man from India unwrapping and discussing cheap office supplies. Pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, notebooks. His voice is so soft and mellow it practically rubs your temples and slips a triple dose of Nyquil into your brain.
Tailoring, London Style: Savile Row is where men in London go to buy tailored suits, and one of the shops there is called Maurice Sedwell. The man in charge of the Maurice Sedwell shop is Andrew Ramroop, a Trinidad native and former tailor who took over the business in the 1980s. When Andrew talks about the signature style of his suits, how the lines match up and the seams are just so, his voice is like a Quaalude followed by a shot of warm rum.
Japanese Fountain Pen Shop: This is a video of a fountain pen shop in Nagasaki, a city that is best known for the U.S. atom bomb that hit there in 1945. There is something entrancing about this video. I think it’s the passion the store clerk has for fountain pens. The man knows his fountain pens, and could probably talk about them for hours. I often wonder how someone becomes a fountain pen professional. Did he grow up around fountain pens? Did he go through some kind of apprenticeship? It’s a very calming video.
Casual Jazz, Mad Men Style: “Jazz Casual” was a public TV show in San Francisco in the 1960s. I had never heard of it before a few years ago. Being a jazz fan, it’s like a treasure trove of the music. The show was hosted by Ralph J. Gleason, a renowned jazz writer who later founded Rolling Stone magazine. His guests on “Jazz Casual” included a Who’s Who of jazz giants: John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Count Basie, Gerry Mulligan, Carmen Miranda. The studio set looked like your typical ‘60s-era living room. I could imagine men and women sitting down to watch it on a Friday night, with a martini and a cigarette. The show typically included a performance, an interview, and a couple more performances. The interviews weren’t idle chitchat, either. The players talked about their craft and their creative process. Very enlightening – and ASMR-friendly.
The Watchman: Somewhere in New Zealand, there is a business called OnTime that designs and sells watches. The guy who owns or manages it is Don Tappin. Don Tappin loves watches. Don Tappin can tell you how to change a watch battery. He can explain why you might prefer PU watch straps over leather straps. Don Tappin sells a wide range of timepieces – digital watches, pocket watches, talking watches, nurse’s watches, Harley-Davidson watches – and convinces you that his company has the best in the world, and guarantees the product, and will ship freight free anywhere in he world. He describes mechanical movement. He uses terms like “bloke” and “wee” and “cool” and “noggidy” (I think). In one video he wears a Bon Jovi T-shirt, after seeing their concert the night before. Very relaxing.
Los Tamales Son Deliciosos: All I know about this woman is that she appears to be una madre, or perhaps una abuela, who lives in rather rustic conditions somewhere in Mexico, and cooks the most delicious looking food on top of a wood fire-heated adobe block. She only speaks in Spanish, so I can understand maybe half of what she says, having taken four years of Spanish in high school and college, and learning about half of what I was taught. But being a lover of Mexican food, the language barrier is insignificant. She has a very calming voice that would be perfect for just before bedtime, if the videos didn’t make me want to sprint to the kitchen for something to chow on.
The Great Depression: Sometime in the 90s, a group of students and/or academics at Washington University in St. Louis made a series of videos interviewing older folks about their experiences during the Great Depression. Many of the videos score high on the ASMR meter. The one I’ve linked here – an interview with a gentleman named Lewis Van Hook – is a particular favorite. His voice is very soft and relaxing, he’s nattily dressed, he plays a mean piano and sings well, and he has an interesting story to tell. Mr. Van Hook moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Oklahoma in the 30s, landed a job at one of the shipyards, and got moved up to a supervisory role early on – at a time when black people rarely got that kind of promotion. This is definitely worth a look if you want to learn more about that particular stage of history. One complaint: the interviewer is annoying to the point of distraction, constantly interrupting the proceedings with this and that. Damn him.
Bike Repair, Straight Outta SLO: This video is part of the “Expert Village” series of how-to videos. This gentleman is based in San Luis Obispo, California, and has the kind of flat, monotone voice that is perfect for ASMR, accentuated by his descriptions of the tasks at hand, such as changing a tire or cleaning a chain. He occasionally tries to crack jokes, which land with a thud. I have no idea how old he is, but I guess he was easily in his 70s when the videos were made, maybe older. But he looks pretty fit, other than a slight paunch. He appears to be a serious gearhead, racking up miles and doing his own repairs and maintenance. That’s what I aspire to one day, being a fairly devoted cyclist myself. I keep telling myself I will learn bike repair one day. And one day I will. Probably. Maybe…..
Vinyl Audiophile Dude: The YouTube name for this series of vinyl/audiophile videos is BarakaPDub. I don’t know the host’s name, but he is a serious lover of music, vinyl records, and audio equipment. His videos tend to break down into three different categories: reviews of different albums, reviews of expensive stereo equipment, and discussions of how to care for said albums and equipment. I like his jazz vids the best, but he also talks about metal, pop, classic rock, experimental rock, whatever. This is an example of how the combination of geek passion and soothing voice can create perfect ASMR.
Vintage Cigarette Packs: Being an avid baseball card collector, I’m naturally drawn to videos of people discussing their various collections. This English chap happens to collect old cigarette packs. It’s oddly mesmerizing, hearing him chat in his monotone voice about the various packs he has collected through the years. And truth be told: This is some cool stuff, with interesting artwork and designs.
Duane Carter, Smooth Jazzman: Like Bob Ross, Duane Carter is a former military man who spent the first part of his career playing trumpet in the U.S. Army band in various posts in various countries. When he left the Army he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician. He specializes in a variant of smooth jazz, the pop/easy listening genre that first reared its head in the 1970s and became popularized by the likes of Spyro Gyra and Kenny G. Duane has a more funk- and Latin-infused sound that sounds better to my ears. His speaking voice is the draw here as he discusses the different tunes on his latest album. It’s like the definition of mellow. Duane is originally from Los Angeles, which is the mellow voice capital of the world. I’m convinced that if a fire broke out in Duane’s house, followed by a hurricane and a 8.5 earthquake, his commands to seek cover would still sound mellow. He also did a series of Expert Village videos on how to play and clean a trumpet. Very high ASMR scores.
Irish Ham Sandwich: An Irish football (soccer) broadcaster makes a ham sandwich and talks about it. The sandwich has whole grain bread as God intended, and lettuce for the color of Ireland, and tomato, and butter. He has a very ASMR-friendly voice. He sometimes switches to Gaelic. He says he wants a filling sandwich with lots of ham – “plenty of it, substance to it.” BUT THEN HE PUTS A COUPLE LITTLE WIMPY SLICES OF HAM ON THE DAMN SANDWICH. Lad, for real: Put some more mofo ham on dat damn sammich. Sorry, but as a longtime maker of ham sandwiches, I was frankly offended. But still relaxed. Very relaxed.