Suicide

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.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 16 Edition)

A few #longreads for your enjoyment this weekend…

You might need to find something else to do this weekend than find new music articles to read, because we only have a few pieces to share with our readers for this edition.  One article that we do recommend is this discussion of Deafheaven’s new album New Bermuda in Pitchfork that somehow ties the album to Lana Del Rey, but is definitely worth reading if solely for the analysis of the record alone.  Also, since Deafheaven is set to perform in Portland on Monday, now is the perfect time to check it out.

Elsewhere on Pitchfork, Josh Langhoff has a fascinating look at the strange history behind the song “El Karma” and the saga of narcocorridos in contemporary Mexican culture.

In an amazing coincidence, there were two articles on the iconic and innovative group Suicide published this week.  The Quietus has an excerpt from a new biography on the band as well as a Q&A with the author of Dream Baby Dream, Kris Needs, while Noisey has a first-person recollection of the group.

Finally, it seems like we have a link to this story every few months, but here is another scientific explanation behind the cover art that was used for Joy Division’s seminal debut, Unknown Pleasures, courtesy of Scientific American.

Review: Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun

With their latest album Shadow of the Sun, Moon Duo takes the listener on a psychedelic journey whose thrills are often laced with a subtle menace.  Underneath the hazy guitars and bright keyboards, the band traffics in Krautrock-inspired motifs, with the recurring figures alternately grounding the songs and pushing them forward with an ever-insistent beat.  Though the constant repetition can have an overpowering effect of grinding down the listener if their attention is focused too much on the details, Shadow of the Sun is perfect background music for getting lost and zoning out.

Most of the songs revolve around a simple bouncy riff built atop the sparest of chord progressions; a catchy introductory melody ensnares the listener, but the lack of deviation creates an almost unbearable tension that can only be pierced by the addition of a new chord or a solo of some sort.  Moon Duo does a fantastic job of crafting specific melodies like the keyboard line in “Zero” that are seemingly self-contained but in fact keep the listener anticipating a true resolution.  However, the lack of a true conclusion to most of the songs works against the album as it often leaves the listener feeling unsatisfied.

Shadow of the Sun consistently evokes the work of Suicide, as each song is anchored by straightforward and persistent drumbeats that help give the impression of a dark undercurrent lurking beneath the surface.  The consistent repetition of simple patterns mirrors the mechanistic nature of the drum machines that help characterize Suicide, but Moon Duo distinguishes itself with the addition of live drummer John Jeffrey*, who helps add a touch of vitality to the music.  Other influences pop up as well, some more obvious than others.  One can easily hear the impact of the neo-psychedelic forays of The Dandy Warhols circa-Come Down, and a song like “Slow Down Low” is dominated by a vamp on a single chord that brings to mind the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” so much that one could easily sing “I said I couldn’t hit it sideways” as it bounces merrily along.  The delicate “In a Cloud” helps break the potential for monotony on the album and is a welcome change of pace, but is also the source of the most unexpected connection of the album, as its simple two chord progression bears a striking resemblance to Grizzly Bear’s “Knife”; Moon Duo add enough of a personal touch of their own, but I did spend a large amount of time racking my brain trying to pin down where I had previously heard the melody.

Moon Duo does a great job of blending the elements of psychedelic drone and Krautrock repetition to create an overall heady experience.  However, Shadow of the Sun does not exactly stand up to strict scrutiny, as the repetition of only a handful of ideas and motifs can potentially bore the listener; the album works best when the band keeps the mood as light as possible, as in the lively opener “Wilding” or the energetic finale “Animal”.  Nevertheless, Moon Duo has crafted an album that is one of the more pleasant surprises of the year so far.

*His presence increases the number of members of the group to three, making their band name a complete lie; if they wanted to be more accurate, the band should be called Earth Trio.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 22 Edition)

Kicking off the official beginning of fall (even if it begins a day later this year) with some new music and videos…

Jeff Tweedy is set to release the album (Sukierae) he recorded with his son Spencer tomorrow, and the duo stopped by the NPR offices to perform as a part of their “Tiny Desk Concerts” series.

The Antlers have another gorgeous, dreamy video from Familiars, this time for the song “Refuge”.  Not much actually happens, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying all the pretty colors.

If you’re in the mood for a little more action in your music videos, and don’t mind handling a bit of the bizarre, then check out the video for the Suicide-inspired track “Grid” by Perfume Genius, whose new album Too Bright is also set to come out tomorrow.

King Tuff’s new album “Black Moon Spell” is also set to be released on the 23rd, and if you’re quick you can listen to a stream of the glam-rock album on NPR right now.  The title track is the best song that T. Rex never released, if you ask me.

Kele Okereke from Bloc Party will be releasing his second solo album on October 13, and today released the second single from Trick.  Listen to “Coasting” here.

On Friday we linked to Pitchfork’s extensive interview with Richard D. James, but we we wanted to make sure that you saw this video that was linked to in the article of an early performance of “Aisatsana”, featuring a piano swung across the stage as if it were a pendulum.  That should be enough of a signal for you to watch:

And finally, Carl Newman and Neko Case from the New Pornographers talked to NPR about what it takes to write a good pop song, and the piece includes video of their performance at the Brill Building which gave their new album its name.  Unfortunately, the piece also didn’t include Neko’s cover of the Squidbillies theme song, but we got you covered.

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 1 Edition)

Everyone else seems to have settled into the August doldrums, so we’re keeping it short and sweet this week.

Jason Heller wrote an appreciation of Steve Albini for Pitchfork, highlighting some of his greatest moments as a musician.  It’s a nice change of pace for music fans of today that know only of his legendary work as a producer (or as an “engineer”, as he preferred to be called), and should help provide an intriguing playlist for your weekend.

That is, if you need a playlist for your weekend–Lollapalooza is happening right now in Chicago, and you can catch a stream here, courtesy of Pitchfork.

The Colbert Report had a couple of excellent musical guests this week, with Beck stopping by the studio to play from both Morning Phase and his Song Reader project, which just saw its official release this week.  “Heart is a Drum”, the song that was played on the broadcast, also had its official music video released this week, and it’s embedded above.  The next night, Colbert had Jon Batiste and his Stay Human group, and they proceeded to blow the roof off the studio with a memorable performance of “Express Yourself” that you need to watch now.

The AV Club reminds you that it’s a good idea to listen to Suicide, and also inform you that The Killers wrote apparently the weirdest lyric ever (personally, I think “I Am The Walrus” is weirder, and that’s not even getting into the fact that the list is just pop music and it’s easier to find “weirdness” when you go further beyond the boundaries of Top-40/Classic Rock).

With the news that TV on the Radio will be releasing a new album this fall, Stereogum took the opportunity to list their 10 Best Songs.  Not a bad list if you ask me (though “Staring at the Sun” is underrated), and I’m glad they didn’t decide to be pricks and avoid the obvious choice for number 1.

And finally, here’s what looks like an interesting piece in SPIN that talks about a composer who “after coaxing Kevin Shields and Mark Hollis out of hiding” is finally releasing an album, satisfying our longread requirement.