Finding the 'Wit' in Twitter

January 20, 2010

in Bookish Babble,Musical Musings

Hardly leading-edge technologists, we at Scribbleskiff are no Luddites, either. We try to keep pace with newfangledness as best we can, though our vantage point is often the middle, rather than the front or the back, of the pack.

We’ve been faithful bloggers for almost two years now, for instance, though this still makes us relative newbies by comparison to many (one of the first blogs to be termed a “blog” was reportedly started in 1997). We have a groupies’ page on Facebook, with a small but dedicated following (visit and join our ranks, please). Etc.

Electric Aphorisms, by John Roderick

But one techno-gimmick I just haven’t been able to flock to is Twitter. Sure, I signed up for an account awhile back, and I log on as often as I can, reading what the folks I’m “following” are saying, responding in kind to my “followers,” and so on. But I just didn’t see what all the chirping was about. Until now, that is.

Much has been written about the value, longevity, and inherent silliness of this relatively new form of “social networking” (I still haven’t been able to grasp that term, either). I’ve read articles ranging from the sublime (why it will endure, according to the Times) to the subversive (why it shouldn’t, according to The Oatmeal), with everyone praising and condemning Twitter, its peculiar format, quaint rules, and infantile terminology (for example, all updates, or “tweets,” as they’re called, must be written with 140 characters or fewer).

But still I couldn’t get hooked. I was lacking a proper introduction, a way into The Castle that made sense to me. And then I read an entry in John Roderick’s new book, Electric Aphorisms, and it all became clear:

Sometimes I worry that Twitter is an undignified literary format. Then I look to my inspiration, the great Bazooka Joe, and I am humbled.

Now, I’m not expert (or interested) enough to discuss the cultural significance of the so-called “Twitterati.” But I can say that what Roderick makes clear is, tweeting — in the right hands, at least — can be an art form. An invaluable one? Who’s to say? But it’s one that I find downright hilarious, that’s for sure.

Roderick is best known as the frontman for Seattle indie rock stalwarts, The Long Winters, a band I’ve had a crush on for years. His songs almost always reflect an understated pop sensibility: lo-fi but catchy, with lots of hooks, and lyrics that swing between touching and tongue-in-cheek. (You can see what I mean on this video, a new song featuring Kathleen Edwards and written for a local charity event.)

In late 2008, Roderick hopped on the Twitter bandwagon, transferring his musical gift of glib to the written word, refining and condensing it to fit within the limitations of the form. For a period of about six months, he posted an average of three times a day. And what he discovered in the process is that the essence of tweeting is its precise insignificance: a whole lot of nothing can be said in a tiny space.

Whenever I despair about life’s pointlessness, I remember that one day Richard Gere is going to come carry me out of this paper bag factory.

With his characteristic wit — part haiku, part hi-jinx — Roderick used his Twitter account to provide a running commentary on a wide range of topics, everything from the boon of bachelorhood, and living the rock-and-roll life, to local Seattle and national politics, art, and pop culture. His perspective is often zany, off-kilter (and occasionally off-color), and insightful, just like his songs. Mainly, he’s just LOL funny. Judge for yourself:

It’s inevitable: first you take an interest in plants and gardening, eventually you find ceramic dancing pigs amusing.

* * *

I’m planting several Japanese Maple trees in my yard in anticipation of many stacks of delicious Japanese pancakes once they’ve matured.

* * *

When it’s my time to die, I hope that those closest to me realize that I’m only doing it facetiously. Just as I’ve done everything else.

* * *

When labor is cheaper than raw materials, you get the Chartres Cathedral, when labor is more expensive you get the 1977 Chrysler LeBaron.

Quite often, he speaks directly to my sense of humor and word-wonder:

Spent the first part of today searching for the grammatical derivation of Bread’s 1972 hit “Baby I’m a want you.” What is this “I’m a want”?

* * *

If you’re going to criticize my metaphors, be forewarned that the cat is out of the henhouse and cuts both ways!

* * *

I’m not some guy who just goes around correcting people’s grammar. I only correct the bad grammar.

There’s an everyman’s quality about these missives, too — or, at least, they reveal things that everyman has thought but would not necessarily admit:

My waffle-eyes are always bigger than my waffle-stomach, which is odd considering how closely my chicken-fried-steak eyes and stomach match.

What’s so rewarding to me is that Roderick figured out how to comment on the inanity of the technology while at the same time providing very insightful but totally useless comments about its users (and the rest of us, too). It’s the ultimate Scribbleskiff primer. Moreover, reading Roderick’s little brick of a book, which collects 365 of his messages, one per page, makes me wish I (and everyone else) could tweet in such a concise and cheeky manner.

Go buy Electric Aphorisms (you can get it here). It’s a great deal: for $15 you get the book and a “free” CD of musical “treats” from bands on the Barsuk Records label, many of which are on the favorites list at Scribbleskiff, like Say Hi, Ra Ra Riot, Mates of State, and more. And maybe it will inspire you to discover the “wit” in your Twitter feed.

As always, tell us what you think. Are you a fan of The Long Winters? Have you read any of John Roderick’s “aphorisms” on Twitter? What do you think about social networking in general? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And be sure to visit (and join) the Scribbleskiff page on Facebook (find it here), where you can partake in wall-to-wall conversations, find additional information and suggestions from readers, and more.

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A Triple Trifecta of Trivial Treats
October 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm

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Tom Atkins January 23, 2010 at 9:00 am

Great thoughts Chip – In general I have found that I am usually never sent down a wrong direction when I get inspired by thoughtful musicians, but to inspire in less than 140 characters!!!! Put away that Pink Floyd record with the 18 minute jam!!!

It seems to me that while the vast majority of great musicians have had the teenage dream, (pick up a guitar and be a rock n roll star, etc.) crushed by the reality of always changing music industry, we are freed from the constraints that those rock and roll stars we looked up to and find that they are not the gods we envisioned.

Your blog (and this particular post) is a great example of the changing marketplace for creative people, not just musicians. Thanks for the cool find… and I am now going to twit about it. LOL! I understood why twitter would work for the whole promotion business reason but I didn’t think of using it creatively… but now I see good niche. Thanks Chip!
I am still a “nitwit” (being a twit newbie) for not really seeing this great use for twitter, but in being so inspired, I found a new use for microsoft word and character counting. Now to get creative in a worthwhile constraint!!! ps. @treatreason

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