Our Spilt Milk looks at our favorite things this week, including the NYT Popcast on late Alan Vega and Suicide, and So Sad Today's transition from Twitter to book.
If David Lynch had needed an Elvis to sing in his movies, Alan Vega would have been his guy. Just as Julee Cruise boiled down every ‘60s girl group singer to a breathy, heartbroken sigh on Twin Peaks, Vega emphasized every fully alive gasp, gulp, hiccup and shriek when he sang. The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff called it the “anti-music” in a recent NYT Popcast on the influence and career for Suicide, the band Vega formed with keyboard player Martin Rev. Vega died July 16 in his native New York City.
Since Suicide is one of those bands that is namechecked in a number of contexts—industrial music, electronic music, minimalist music, and punk—Ratliff’s conversation with critic Geeta Dayal is a good starting place for the uninitiated, including more samples of the band’s music than the podcast usually offers. They touch on Vega as a link between the Beat era poetry and punk, Iggy Pop’s influence on Vega’s confrontational notion of theater, and Rev’s genius with thrift store instruments including the primitive rhythm box that ticked with the insistent menace of a time bomb in Suicide’s songs.
Ratliff and Dayal never address the level of sonic murk in Suicide’s sound that makes every song live in a shimmering, dreamscape-like place, or the warmth in many of Vega’s songs. Suicide’s best known for “Frankie Teardrop,” the 10-minute account of a guy who loses his job, loses his mind, kills his wife, his daughter, and himself, then ends up in hell, but its sonic horror show is matched elsewhere by the blissed out admonition “Dream Baby Dream” and the hint of sweetness in the Bowery love song “Cheree.”
Many punk bands that started after Suicide became more famous and their stars have become deservedly important to the way the story of rock ’n’ roll is told. The deceptive breadth of Suicide—from the Velvet Underground nod “Mr. Ray” to the Kraftwerky “Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne,” from imagistic poetry to plain-spoken confessional—makes the case that conversations and histories that leave out Vega are cripplingly incomplete. (Alex Rawls)
Over the past four years, poet Melissa Broder has cultivated an anonymous online persona—@sosadtoday on Twitter—only to come out and reveal herself to close to 400,000 followers with the release of her book of the same name at the beginning of this year.
Both the Twitter account and the book explore Broder’s struggles with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and addiction. But by the nature of the medium, the Twitter account flattens her, reducing a human being with complexities into consumable, retweetable 140-character-or-less quips any emo teenager could relate to, including “confuse me like you mean it” or “insecurities so deep the abyss be like whoa.”
The book allows Broder to expand on the universality of suffering with anecdotes from her own life. No longer anonymous, she merges the dark, self-deprecating humor of her tweets with her poetic talents. She turns a record of her sexting conversation with a former lover into a piece titled “Love Like You Are Trying to Fill an Insatiable Spiritual Hole with another Person Who Will Suffocate in There” about, well, that. Taking an Internet addiction quiz becomes an analysis of escapism and dopamine-seeking in the search for connection. She writes about such things as her vomit fetish and her nicotine gum habit, yet aims them at the desire to fill the void, to be taken care of and accepted. She makes the grotesquely abject and stigmatized relatable, bringing it out into the open with the beauty and humor of her language.
So Sad Today’s success originates with the community that being sad online creates. A technology constructed with the purpose of literally connecting people, the Internet forms connections between people living privately with mental illness, existential dread, self-loathing, and the like. It allows them the privacy of anonymity in a digital space while also facilitating recognition and kinship among others who retweeted one of Broder’s tweets. So Sad Today, the book as well as the Twitter account, exists at the intersection of identity and expression, anonymity and fame, autobiography and art, and resonates deep within the void we’re all desperately trying to fill. (Nicole Cohen)