By the time that Seinfeld, the beloved show about nothing, concluded, comedian Jerry Seinfeld didn't have to do a damn thing for the rest of his life. He'd made enough money to spend his post-TV years collecting cars, drinking whiskey and spending time with his famous friends. But that all changed when Seinfeld made the decision to drive cross-country in a vintage Volkswagen Beetle. The trip would later inspire Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, the blockbuster web series featuring Seinfeld and a host of other personalities, most recently President Barack Obama. Somewhat bizarrely, that trip wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for Rubber Gloves owner Josh Baish's eccentric uncle Alan — who didn't even know who Seinfeld was.
In a Reddit Ask Me Anything last week, Seinfeld credited the genesis of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee to a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle that he drove from Albuquerque to The Hamptons with comedian and writer Barry Marder in 2000. According to Seinfeld, he purchased the car on eBay for $5,000 and flew to Albuquerque as “something fun to do.” Seinfeld didn’t realize it then — and likely still doesn't now — but the car he purchased originally belonged to Baish’s uncle.
Around the time that Seinfeld bought the Beetle, one of Baish’s grandparents died, which brought him to the family property in New Mexico, where Alan still lives today. “We were just making small talk, and he said that he sold a car to some real famous guy on TV,” says Baish. “I asked him who it was, and he said ‘Jerry something,' and I asked if he meant Seinfeld.” Turns out, Uncle Alan did mean Jerry Seinfeld, but no one in Baish’s family really believed that it was true. They just sort of blew it off.
Until a week later, that is, when Seinfeld appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. “I wasn’t even really watching the show, it was just on in the background, and then Seinfeld says that he just got back from Albuquerque, New Mexico,” says Baish. “Ten years later or so, I was talking to [Alan] about it, and he still didn’t realize who Jerry Seinfeld was, but said he was a nice guy. It doesn’t affect him. I could tell him that his car inspired Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee and that President Obama was just on it, and he would think it was cool, but it would be totally lost on him."
According to Baish, his uncle is a bit of an eccentric who “really, really enjoyed the 1960s.” Selling cars wasn’t a career for Uncle Alan, but he did frequently work on cars with his friends, selling one every couple of years to get by. “He wasn’t driven by money,” says Baish. “I think he probably just did it so he could hang out with his friends, smoke cigarettes and listen to Frank Zappa records, but he was really into cars.”
It was in those Frank Zappa records that Baish found his own sort of genesis, albeit musical instead of comedic. When he was a kid, he would go to Albuquerque to visit his grandparents, and Uncle Alan still lived with them. “I was 6, 7, maybe 8 years old, and I would just dig through his stacks of records,” he says. “I remember seeing the cover of The Who Sells Out!, with Pete Townshend and the rest of the band hawking deodorant and pinto beans and whatnot. As a kid, to see those things, it knocks you on your ass.”
Once young Josh showed an interest in Frank Zappa and the Who, Alan began introducing him to even deeper parts of the 1960s musical counterculture. Like most kids, Baish grew up listening to Top 40, and he says that being introduced to Zappa and Captain Beefheart and R. Crumb comics was incredibly affecting. “As a kid, you’re not aware that there is something so different out there. There was no Internet then, so if you were exposed to something different, it didn’t come easily.” For Baish, though, Alan kept introducing him to good tunes well into his teenaged years.
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In lieu of material Christmas gifts, every year Alan would present Baish with hours and hours of music he’d recorded onto cassette tapes from the University of New Mexico’s college radio station. “This was back in the late '80s, early '90s, when college radio still meant something,” says Baish. “He would just hit record and record the radio stations for hours, and send them to me and I would sit and listen, even though I didn’t know who these bands were.”
One birthday, Uncle Alan sent Baish a particularly special gift — a cassette tape signed by the Muttz. “The band had signed the inside and it was all to me. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I had never been to a show at that point. My take on my musicians were the superstars that I saw on TV,” he says. “And now, this was a band called the Muttz and they’re like, ‘Hey Josh, come see us!’ I thought, 'Holy shit! The Muttz know who I am.' As a kid, that affects you. I can’t help but think it plays a huge part in what I do today.”
Decades later, Baish and his uncle aren’t exactly close, but Baish does acknowledge that he owes Uncle Alan a lot. “I’m a lot more like him than I’d like to admit, and I owe him a lot,” says Baish, “much to my parents' chagrin. But music is music, and how you react to it, you’ll never know.” In fact, Baish imagines that Uncle Alan is still keeping up with music. “I like to think that he’s still listening to shit that’s going to blow my mind. I always wanted to impress him or ‘out-hipster’ him and he was always a step ahead,” he says.
In fact, while Baish’s musical tastes developed considerably, even his occasional attempts to show off his finds to his uncle can make for an intimidating prospect. “This is fucking embarrassing, but there was this one summer where I was really into Motley Crue,” says Baish. “I visited and made him listen, and he totally blew me off. How lame!" Uncle Alan may not know who Seinfeld is, but that doesn't mean he doesn't still have great taste: "I’ve owned Rubber Gloves for 19 years, and I’ve seen all sorts of bands, but I still have the impression that he might upstage me or know more or be more clued in than I am.”