But Mayer’s not satisfied with merely reaping some mid-career goodwill. In fact, he has a new ambition: restore the role of the singer-songwriter as truthsayer, thought leader and moral guide. “Believe me when I tell you,” he says, “there is going to be a massive shift toward telling the truth again.” Which sounds, coming out of Mayer’s mouth, a little bit like trouble.
Last year, for his 40th, Mayer and some pals blew up a Winnebago. This was in Montana, a little ahead of his actual birthday. Chad Franscoviak, Mayer’s longtime sound engineer, arranged the whole thing, a surprise dinner theater-type excursion in which Mayer and some other “good guys” jumped in a vehicle loaded with paintball guns to chase some “bad guys” to their hideout -- the vintage Winnebago, tucked in a quarry. Mayer and Franscoviak loaded it up with actual explosives, Mayer fired an actual 50-caliber rifle into it, and ... kablooey. Then they sent their cars off a cliff.
Laying waste to the motor home gave Mayer the same “so giddy you need to pee” feeling he remembered as a kid with a group, ditching a boy they didn’t want to hang out with. It was not, in other words, a mellow embrace of middle age. Mayer only made peace with the onset of his 40s after a few more months of “kicking and screaming,” but what’s surprising is that he stopped kicking and screaming at all. “I probably had a run in my life where I wasn’t aware that there was anything I couldn’t have. And it made a monster out of me,” says Mayer, echoing, consciously or not, his comments about the male contract. “And there’s something very freeing about you can’t. And that’s about the right age in your life where you go, ‘Yeah, you can’t.’”
And why would the younger Mayer have realized there were things he couldn’t have? Here’s a guy who obsessively practiced guitar in his Fairfield, Conn., bedroom as a teen, defied his educator parents to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston and, about three years after dropping out, signed to Columbia and officially released Room for Squares, the debut album that eventually went quadruple platinum.
It’s easy to forget, in the age of Drake and Cardi B, that in the ’00s, “Mayer” was synonymous with “mainstream.” He’s a key figure in late-stage rock, with a record seven No. 1s on the Top Rock Albums chart and 25 entries on the Hot Rock Songs chart, the most for any solo artist. He’s also a king of the Adult Top 40, Adult Contemporary and Mainstream Top 40 charts -- the realm of supermarkets and dentist offices, of everyday people in need of a pick-me-up.