Odds/Sods

Twitter Hates Punk Rock

For the past four months, I have been locked out of my personal Twitter account. This punishment was for the crime of answering a friend’s question about music with the name of one of my favorite bands. This is not an exaggeration.

Back in December, a friend spent some time talking up John Mayer’s stint with the most recent touring version of the Grateful Dead and was marveling at his musicianship. In the midst of this euphoric posting, he gave the prompt “Actually name a band John Mayer couldn’t improve I DEFY you”. Without considering the merits of Mayer’s guitar-playing skills, I took the question seriously and gave a one word answer. This was the band.

Now, I know many people have different opinions about John Mayer, the majority of them dependent on when they first encountered his music or last paid attention to his career. Personally, I remember him from his debut album, which was filled with chords you normally only hear in jazz band (a plus from this guy who played guitar in jazz band!) that supported decent soft pop-rock songs (a plus for my sister who actually bought the album and played it a lot more than I preferred). In other words, I never was a big fan of Mayer, but it never was an opinion that was set in stone. Over the years I’ve read interviews from musicians I respect who praise Mayer’s skills, so my assessment these days whenever I see his name is more along the lines of “good for him, but not sure I’ll check out the new album.”

In other words, my answer was not given because of any animus towards the man; quite the contrary. It was a serious and thoughtful response to the prompt, and I would argue the definitive correct answer. Suicide was a landmark punk band from the 1970s, and their music could not be farther from John Mayer’s normal work. Suicide was an aggressively confrontational group, who gave no thought to alienating their audience at their live performances. Suicide’s music was harsh, minimalist, and repetitive; in other words, not a match for John Mayer’s ostentatious and pyrotechnic noodling. The point was to reduce music to its most primitive level, relying on artificial sound from early synthesizers and drum machines. The addition of a guitar to this would in and of itself defeat the point of the band. And to further distinguish themselves from other good answers like Kraftwerk, Suicide was always a duo, with Alan Vega and Martin Rev being the sole members of their decades-long run. In this case, three’s definitely a crowd.

So, what’s the controversy? For a few hours, there was none. In fact, my friend responded to my answer in good fun, with “You know he’d bring them to a whole nother level” [sic]. Nobody seemed bothered by it, but later that night I open up Twitter on my phone, and I can’t load up my Timeline. Apparently at some point that evening, either somebody reported the tweet (unlikely) or it was auto-flagged by Twitter itself.

And that’s when I began my battle with Twitter’s totally non-responsive bureaucracy.

In the big block of text preventing me from accessing my account, there’s a link to an appeals form. I fill it out, expecting it to be a quick fix. Surely a brief explanation with a handy link to Suicide’s Wikipedia page will fix the matter!

Nope.

I kept receiving generic “we’ve received your request and will process it as soon as we can” responses, and kept filling out responses with lengthier and lengthier explanations. At first, I was understanding–it’s not like everyone is familiar with the work of old punk bands, especially if the people handling content moderation are either not from this country or are younger than say 30. But after multiple attempts, it seemed nobody at Twitter wanted to believe that a band whose debut was twice ranked one of the 500 greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone actually existed.

A couple of days into the process, I was fed up. I understand the band is somewhat obscure, but how obscure are they really when they figure into the plot of an independent Greek film? (Quick note: the actor in that scene is the writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favorite”, “The Lobster”, “Dogtooth”)). How unknown is the band when they’re mentioned in the reviews of albums by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Flaming Lips, when they’re name-checked by LCD Soundsystem (skip to 3:06), sampled by artists like M.I.A., and when they’re covered by The Boss?

[Fun fact: Bruce Springsteen was next door recording his own stuff when Suicide was in the studio recording their second album. He loved the band, and noted their influence on his classic album Nebraska]

One might be tempted to characterize Twitter’s response as Orwellian or Kafkaesque, but those terms don’t really fit–though this classic Kafka doodle characterizes my reaction. Apparently most authors never really considered the possibility of a completely unaccountable power, one that is immune to any complaint whatsoever because they can simply ignore them forever without consequence.

Amid the generic responses, there was a single actual reply. Apparently my case was reviewed and it was determined…I violated the rules “against promoting or encouraging suicide or self-harm.” Apparently not only are the people of Twitter culturally illiterate, but they’re just plain old illiterate! By simply reading the prompt and response, there is no way to interpret my tweet as a “threat”, at least if you want to follow the basic rules of grammar. It would take ridiculous leaps of logic to conclude that my response could be viewed as a threat, and that’s only if you decided to read it without knowing how English worked in any way whatsoever.

Now, this incident in and of itself is deeply silly, but it points to a more serious problem with how Twitter functions in general. Despite the ample evidence shown to the contrary, and because they chose to ignore all context to the discussion, had Twitter decided that the mere MENTION of “suicide” was a suspension-worthy offense? It’s the precedent of this incident that truly matters.

Would it now be forbidden to discuss the Eugenides novel/Sofia Coppola film/Air soundtrack to “The Virgin Suicides” in any capacity? That’s tough, because two of those three are favorites of mine as well (I will get around to reading the novel at some point, I promise). Could I also not discuss Pom Pom Squad’s song “Lux”, which is a reference to the story? Hell, would I be able to mention the fact that the album references an incident that also inspired the landmark experimental documentary “Landscape Suicide”? It sure seems like all these mentions would invite a suspension. It’s too bad, because the album rules (and will figure prominently in our Best of 2021 rundown).

Let’s keep this going. Will we now be forbidden to discuss the song about all that guy really wanted was a Pepsi?

Or how about the song about how much the singer loves his dog?

How about mentioning the name of the theme to the most popular TV show of all-time? I’m guessing that’s out of bounds now too.

I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but it’s all on the table because according to Twitter, context does not matter at all! It doesn’t even rise to the level of “nuance” in this case, and that is a serious problem.

The cherry on top of this shit sundae is that the week before my suspension, Twitter was full of jokes about ACTUAL SUICIDE PODS. That’s right, news came from Switzerland about a new assisted-suicide machine, and it prompted tons of jokes on my timeline. I did not join in, but I also didn’t report anybody, because that would be ridiculous. Some of the jokes were even good.

What might be the most remarkable aspect of Twitter’s punishment of my account is the fact that it is a secret. None of my followers would know about my suspension unless I’ve personally told them, because Twitter has not posted any warning on my page. All of my friends look at my profile, and they just see a guy who suddenly stopped posting (well, let’s face it, retweeting) back in late December. This led to multiple friends tweeting out “What’s up with @[me]?” I was able to see glimpses of this, because I was still able to view a line or two from my phone notifications. Could I see any more of the tweet, or perhaps yet respond? No. Even better, I received a few direct messages from friends checking up on me, because by all appearances I had fallen off the face of the Earth. I was only able to know about these DMs because I still got an email notification. Again, could I respond? Of fucking course not. I had to instruct a friend to relay the fact that yes, I still am alive, to those folks who reached out to me.

[As a proof of life to my followers: I told you Lil’ Penny was good, we’ll miss you 3J but you’re going to enjoy my original home, and hopefully Thrillard comes back this fall fully healthy and ready to kick ass]

There really is a wonderful irony to the fact that Twitter’s heavy-handed response was supposedly justified by their concern for the health of its users, but their shitty behavior in fact prompted deep concern from many of its users about my health.

Is there a way to escape this bureaucratic nightmare? There seems to be one. Though Twitter keeps giving me the option of filing appeals that they never intend on viewing, they also say if I choose to drop my appeal (which still is being decided after four months???), I can be reinstated. They’re not even asking me to delete the tweet–they already did that for me [if you go to the tweet in question, they note that it violated their standards]. They simply want me to confess in this ridiculous Soviet show trial of a process, and frankly, I’m better than that. Twitter is too ridiculous for me to abandon basic principles, like that punk rock rules or that the name of a band from 50 years ago is too controversial to mention. Again, a name that is so dangerous that mere exposure should provoke terror in those who see the word, and yet one of the members is still alive and the other died in his sleep at the age of 78. Yup, that dangerous.

So at the moment I’m going to keep holding out and hope that somebody, literally anybody, at Twitter comes to their senses. Because seriously, fuck these assholes for making me agree with the Worst People on the Planet in believing that they are incapable of monitoring themselves to any degree whatsoever. And goddammit, somebody should have to answer for that crime.

A Shout-Out to Good Business Practices

When the news of the EL VY collaboration first appeared a few months ago, we here at Rust Is Just Right did our due diligence and learned that this was not the first time that members of Menomena and The National had collaborated.  Danny Seim and Bryan Devendorf had teamed up with Dave Nelson to form the group Pfarmers, and released their debut album Gunnera earlier this year.  The record had a low-profile release, and it became clear that in order to secure our own copy of the album we would have to get in touch with the record label and order directly from them.  We put in an order, and waited for our copy to arrive, hopefully in time to compare it to the release of EL VY’s Return to the Moon.

Unfortunately, it seems our order got misplaced, and for a couple of months we did not hear back from the label.  We sent an e-mail to the label, informing them that our copy had yet to arrive, and that we would like an update on the status of our order.  Thankfully, this prompted a quick response from the label, and soon enough we had Gunnera in our hands only a couple of days later.

Not only that, but the good people at Jurassic Pop more than made up for the delay by sending us a bunch of free CDs and other fun stuff.  We appreciated this display of overwhelming generosity, and enjoyed listening to new albums from the likes of Helvetia, Reptar, and J Fernandez that we otherwise would have overlooked.  It is this kind of thoughtful gesture that ensures that customers will keep coming back for more.

So, kudos to Jurassic Pop, and remember to check out what they and other independent music labels have to offer!

A Few More SCARY Music Videos

Last year, we provided you with a non-exhaustive list of scary music videos to help you enjoy your Halloween.  This year, we have a few more additions to the canon, so your music video marathon goes on just a little bit longer.

First up, we have the video for Wolf Alice’s “You’re A Germ”, which finds the band in a slasher movie/Groundhog’s Day mashup, as the group constantly relives a terrifying night and attempts to figure out a way to evade the various killers that are out to get them.

Next, we have a selection that we unfortunately neglected to include with our previous list, Franz Ferdinand’s “Evil Eye”.  The video is equal parts gory, disturbing, and campy, which means it more than lives up to its title.

And finally, we have a video that we shared with you before: “Virgins” by Death From Above 1979.  Unfortunately, the band has yet to make a holiday-appropriate video for “Right On, Frankenstein!”, but this psychedelic freakout of Amish kids that evokes memories of Children of the Corn more than makes up for it.

There may be only three additions to our previous list, but it’s fair to say that the quality outweighs the quantity.

An Ode to “Roundball Rock”

With the 2014-2015 NBA season just now getting underway, (and with our beloved Trail Blazers tipping off for their first game tonight) we at Rust Is Just Right would like to take the opportunity to sing the praises of one of the greatest musical compositions ever written.  Do not dismiss the tune that a generation knows as the “NBA on NBC Theme” as just a mere theme song for a sports broadcast; no, the tune is an embodiment of the triumph of the human spirit.  That, and it is really fun.

Just listen to that jubilant melody, and try not to smile and bob your head.  Holy hell, not only are you primed to watch the Milwaukee Bucks take on the Sacramento Kings in an inconsequential mid-February matchup, but you are ready to tear away your sweatsuit and head onto the court to take on players twice your size.  The song’s power cannot be overestimated.

The craziest part is that “Roundball Rock” remains a popular touchstone, even though its heyday was in the pre-Internet 90’s.  A few years ago, I played with a band providing the musical accompaniment for a play, and we threw in an arrangement of “Roundball Rock” for a scene transition, and it got some of the loudest and most raucous applause of the night.  People go nuts for the song, even if they had not heard it in years.

Every single damn part of this song is awesome.  Even the more mellow second section, which exists only to provide a backdrop for Marv Albert’s summation of the storylines surrounding that Sunday’s particular matchup, is a brilliant callback to the main melody.  This song should play in the background of everyone’s lives.

And to think, the man responsible for this brilliance is John Tesh.  Watch this live performance of this song, where he explains the original inspiration.  The song was basically fully-formed from its inception!

I swear to God, that answering machine tape is the most priceless artifact in existence.

The “Happy Birthday” Copyright: An Update

Last year we published a piece discussing the controversy behind the copyright claim to the song “Happy Birthday”, and included a brief rundown on some of the legal claims cited in the lawsuit challenging the copyright itself.  This week, a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, in an opinion finding that the publisher Warner/Chappell Music Inc. did not have a valid claim to the lyrics of “Happy Birthday”.  Though one could find news of the result of the ruling from numerous outlets, it was difficult to track down a copy of Judge King’s opinion so we could analyze the opinion ourselves.   Eventually, we were able to locate a copy thanks to the Los Angeles Times, and the very least we could do is share their upload or Rupa Marya v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. with our readers.

It is important to note the distinction between the melody and the lyrics, and the different copyrights that are attributed to each element; this point is discussed on page 10 of the opinion, with the court noting that at this point it is the copyright on the lyrics that are in dispute.  The song that we all know as “Happy Birthday” uses the same melody as a song that sisters Mildred and Patty Hill had previously written, “Good Morning to All”, with a new set of lyrics substituted in their place.  The opinion provides the timeline of how the two songs were intertwined, and the convoluted history is why determining the origins of the copyright has been so difficult.

The rest of the opinion goes into deeper detail about the facts specific to this case and the precise legal standards involved, and their relative importance to you may vary.  But the case should serve as a reminder to the public about the importance of owning the compositional copyright.  Every song has two copyrights–one copyright for the composition (what is written), and one copyright for the performance (what is heard)–and it is the compositional copyright that is the money-maker.  That is the copyright which generates the most royalties, including the mechanical royalty that kicks in for covers, as well as the royalties from public performances (live performance and digital transmission).  Now you can see why “Happy Birthday” could be a great source of revenue for a company.

The saga of “Happy Birthday” is not over just yet, as many loose ends remain.  However, it became much harder for someone to make a claim on the next public performance you hear of that song.

An Ode to Amoeba Music

Heaven is a place on Earth

Heaven is a place on Earth

The highlight of just about every trip I take down to Los Angeles is our visit to Amoeba Music.  Usually it is a struggle for my friends and I to agree on something to do, but whenever a stop to Amoeba is mentioned, a consensus is reached immediately.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Amoeba, it is one of the largest independent record stores in the world, with hundreds of thousands of titles available for perusal to the discriminating music junkie.  Not only will you able to find the latest album from even some of the most obscure artists working today, but there are aisles and aisles that are filled with rare EPs and singles that you did not even know existed.  With this information in hand, you now understand why it is a must-see destination for every trip we take down south.

Usually one trip is enough, but on our journey back home we stopped in San Francisco for the night and had some time to kill before dinner, so we dropped in to that location as well.  When all was said and done, the damage was twenty-one albums, EPs, and singles covering a wide variety of genres.  For this go-around, my biggest score was picking up a wide variety of early post-punk albums that I previously had trouble tracking down because of limited pressings, and it has been a blast listening to all these lost classics since we returned.

Los Angeles is a hellhole, but at least it is a home to this wonderful oasis.

Rust Is Just Right In LA

Figure 8 mural, 4334 W. Sunset Blvd.

Figure 8 mural, 4334 W. Sunset Blvd.

We at Rust Is Just Right are making a brief trip to Los Angeles this week, and despite the fact that no one can question the impact that the city has had in the music industry over the last fifty or so years, we believe that this is the only landmark in the city that is worth a damn.  A few years ago we set out to find the wall that Elliott Smith used to shoot the cover of his album Figure 8, and to witness the site that has become a memorial to the brilliant musician.  It is smaller than you would expect and somewhat hidden away from view, but it is certainly worth the effort to seek out and witness for yourself.

A fond farewell.

A fond farewell.

Farewell, Dave

On Wednesday night, America will say goodbye to David Letterman, a comedic genius who has been revolutionizing late night television longer than I have been alive.  I missed out on the NBC years, so I learned about all his most memorable bits secondhand.  Instead, for me he was always the guy on CBS facing off against the Leno juggernaut.  As a kid, I appreciated Leno’s easy humor more, but over the years I began to appreciate Letterman’s sarcastic wit and his ironic take on comedic conventions, and eventually fully embraced his approach.  In my mind, “Is This Anything?” is the pinnacle late night achievement.

An underrated part of Letterman’s legacy was his willingness to book unconventional musical acts.  In our brief run so far, we have spotlighted performances from favorite bands on the show several times, and we probably should have shared several more.  Over the years, the Late Show has provided several great groups with their first major exposure on a network, and it was always a joy to see Dave himself get a kick out of many of the bands that performed.  Of course, let us not forget the contributions from the brilliant Paul Shaffer and the CBS orchestra; there were few things cooler to watch than seeing Paul join in when he was digging what he heard, like he did with Red Fang a few months back.

So, thank you Dave.  You will sorely be missed.  And I hope you finally get a sweet drumset for yourself.

The True Terror of “It Follows”

One of the surprises of the spring season in the film industry has been the success of the low-budget horror film It Follows.  After weeks of buzz and strong word-of-mouth, the movie expanded to wide release and made back its budget several times over.  As a fan of horror, I eagerly anticipated seeing the film as soon as it swung by my neck of the woods, and was glad to hear that an original vision was getting so much praise and was being commended for actually being “scary.”  While I appreciated the skills displayed by the director and actors, and found it to be a well-crafted film as a whole, I felt It Follows ultimately failed to deliver on the terror that had been promised; perhaps the reason my assessment was so harsh was because of how impressed I was with another recent horror film, The Babadook, and felt that It Follows suffered in comparison.  Nevertheless, if there is one aspect of It Follows that I can unquestionably recommend for any prospective viewer, it is the film’s masterful and brutally effective score.

The music has long been an essential part of creating a successful horror film.  Who can think of The Exorcist without recalling its theme “Tubular Bells”, or remember Psycho without Bernard Herrmann’s whirling strings, or recall Halloween without John Carpenter’s unsettling and menacing piano score?  Even terrible movies have become classics in part due to their memorable soundtracks, like the goofy sound effects that serve as an alert that you are watching some part of the Friday the 13th franchise.  Last night, I even ended up doing an accidental experiment that helped confirm the specific power that music has in horror movies.  I saw a trailer for the upcoming Poltergeist remake in the theater, and chuckled a bit at the supposed scares, but those chuckles became full-fledged guffaws when I saw the trailer again later that night, but on mute.  There is nothing like seeing a silent killer clown toy trying to attack a little kid without the sound on.

In time, I believe that the score for It Follows will be recognized along with those legendary performances mentioned above.  Unlike those other examples though, it is impossible to single out a definitive theme or melody from It Follows; instead, the score is built on well-placed accents and unsettling motifs that help ramp up the suspense and build up a sense of dread as to what may happen next.  Disasterpeace, the score’s composer, does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension for long stretches of time, before punctuating the music with jolts of terror.  The score is so effective in startling the listener that even after multiple listens I find myself being caught off-guard when my attention drifts elsewhere.

Disasterpeace does an excellent job of giving the soundtrack a retro feel without falling into the potential trap of sounding derivative; the brilliant use of synths helps evoke memories of the 80’s, much like the soundtrack to Drive, and the unnatural sounds and tones help instill terror in the listener.  The score also does a great job of manipulating dynamics, lulling the listener into false feelings of peacefulness and security, before exploding in sudden shrieks.  There are also moments where Disasterpeace vamps on a particular dissonant chord or riff, then suddenly shifts into a relentless, pulsating figure, which instead of releasing the previous tension, amplifies it to an even greater degree.

I am not sure when I will see It Follows again, but I know I will be revisiting its soundtrack time and time again.

The Brilliance of The Wrecking Crew

The session musicians were the unsung heroes of the early days of rock and roll, often breathing life into the hit records that made up the soundtrack of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  The singers were the stars who got all the glory and attention, while the people who provided the backing music that drove the songs remained relatively faceless.  What audiences did not realize was that it was mainly only a small group of highly talented musicians that were behind most of the big hits of the era, a loose collective that would become known as “the Wrecking Crew.”  They were never a formal group, but together they played on hundreds of songs and provided the instrumentals for stars like The Righteous Brothers, Sonny & Cher, The Ronettes, and more.  To be sure, most people realized at least in the backs of their minds that someone was playing on those records, but they almost certainly did not know that these same musicians were also laying down the tracks for the albums of other touring bands, like The Beach Boys.

These fantastic musicians are finally getting some long-overdue recognition with the release of the documentary “The Wrecking Crew”, a project that has been years in the making and is finally seeing a release in theaters and online.  The film was directed by the son of one of the Wrecking Crew’s guitarists, Tommy Tedesco, and features interviews not only with several of the members of the “group” but with many of the artists and producers as well.  And of course the movie is filled with tons of great music, a veritable jukebox of legendary songs that you had no idea had this common connection.

The film does an excellent job of providing excellent insights into the dynamics of the music industry at the time as well as the recording process, especially the mechanics that went into creating Phil Spector’s famed “Wall of Sound.”  We get a chance to see the insides of his legendary recording studio, and see how all the musicians would crowd together in the same tight space with dozens of microphones perched all over the place. One of the nuggets that we learn is that an essential component to the sessions was running the musicians through hours and hours of takes, so that in the end the feel had just the right amount of looseness and raggedness to feel effortless.  It was also fascinating to learn that although most of these musicians are expertly trained in jazz, they earned their places in the Wrecking Crew because unlike the previous generation they were willing to work on this “dumbed-down” form of music; many of the musicians successfully make the argument that it really was not much of an artistic sacrifice at all, that “work was work” and that they still performed at the highest level.

Along with various great moments from Tommy Tedesco, the documentary provides multiple in-depth looks at other performers, including the legendary drummer Hal Blaine and the brilliant bassist Carol Kaye.  I always love learning about the work of Blaine, especially his memorable performance on the classic “Be My Baby”, and he is an especially engaging presence in the film.  I would have preferred an even more extensive look at the song which features the most memorable drum intro of all-time, but then again the story of its recording could probably fill up an entire documentary on its own (for some additional information, here’s a great article that provides even more details about the recording of the song).  The interviews with Kaye are also a highlight, as not only does she pick up her bass and shows an example of how the Wrecking Crew would come up with their own arrangements from what was written, she also illuminates some of the intra-group dynamics, including the fact that she was treated as “one of the guys” as a fellow musician.

“The Wrecking Crew” does have some flaws, namely that for the most part it lacks a definite structure and a sense of flow, and is more of a hodgepodge of engaging anecdotes.  To be fair, other recent music documentaries suffer from this problem, most notably recent Best Documentary winner “20 Feet From Stardom.”  But the passion is apparent on the screen, and the numerous wonderful stories that the performers provide make it a film worth watching for any music fan.