Somewhere (no one knows where), someone (no one knows who) is boiling down the complete careers of influential musical artists into 140 characters and posting them to the Twitter account @Discographies. A few theories about this person’s identity—the most ridiculous included a hyper-intelligent gerbil, likely with opposable thumbs—have floated around Paste HQ and no doubt many other offices and homes that follow the account. The mysterious tweeter—@D, as s/he signed his/her last note, in which s/he expressed a desire to stay veiled in secrecy as long as the internet will allow it—recently swapped electronic correspondence with Paste to about the popular Twitter account.
Paste: What can you tell us about who you are? Sex/gender/hometown/connections to the music world/are you actually a robot/anything?
@Discographies: I’m definitely not a robot (unless it turns out that I’m one of those extra-complicated Philip K. Dick robots who don’t know that they’re robots). I’m not a musician, but I’ve been in and around the music business—or what remains of the music business—since the ‘90s. If you’re the sort of person who likes to read album credits, my name might be familiar. And I’ve been on TV and on the radio, so some people know me from that, too. I spend an inordinate amount of time talking and pondering and analyzing and arguing (and occasionally ranting) about music. And I’m someone who—for professional reasons, and not just for fun (even though it’s almost always fun)—has listened to a vast amount of music and acquired a fair amount of knowledge about it. I live in one of the two cities in the United States in which you’d probably expect me to live. And that’s all I’m going to tell you.
Paste: How did the idea come to you?
@D: You can blame Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Not long ago, I heard “Come On Eileen” on the radio for the first time in ages, and it started me thinking about that band. People in America only know them for their one hit, but they had a big impact in England and they made three very distinctive albums which all are worth investigating. I wondered how I might explain them to people who hadn’t heard them—especially their final album, which is completely insane. In real life, I’ve been on Twitter for quite a while, and the people I’m in contact with there often share opinions about whatever it is that we’re listening to at the moment. So I started mentally composing a tweet about the Dexy’s Midnight Runners discography, at which point it suddenly hit me that a) I would enjoy writing a lot more of these, and b) it should be its own separate thing, apart from my regular existence on Twitter. I’d been fascinated by the way that Twitter lends itself to providing feeds that are devoted to various types of quirky entertainment content—stuff like FakeAPStylebook or LitCritHulk—and it seemed obvious to me that writing discographies was something I was uniquely qualified to do that might resonate in the Twitterverse. I assumed that it would take a while to build a following, but the response came much faster than I’d expected—more than a thousand followers in the first day! That’s really gratifying, but I feel a sense of responsibility; there’s an audience that likes what I’m doing and wants more, and I need to deliver the goods.
Paste: What is your process like when you decide to write a new tweet—or do they just kind of come to you?
@D: Some of them just appear, full-blown. (I’m always very happy when that happens.) Others require a lot of tinkering and rewriting. I have a “work in progress” file of discographies that are half-written, or that I feel aren’t quite right yet; there’s also a large list of bands that I’ll get around to at some point. I’m not writing record reviews—no one would be interested if I simply wrote ”[name of band]: 1 good; 2 bad; 3 okay.” The crucial task is to write each discography from a strong point of view that will (I hope!) illustrate some fundamental truth about a particular artist and/or their work.
Paste: What has been the greatest challenge so far in writing a 140-character summary of an artist’s entire catalog?
@D: I look at the 140-character limit the same way a poet would view the restrictions imposed by writing a limerick or a sonnet; you have to figure out a way to communicate what you’re trying to say within an inflexible structure. But the structure is also what’s holding everything together, and successfully taking advantage of the structure increases the entertainment value.
Paste: How frequently are you receiving requests from followers and do you plan on making discographies for each of them?
@D: I get lots of requests. Some of them are obvious non-starters—I won’t be tackling Merzbow any time soon—but some are things that haven’t yet occurred to me. Left to my own devices, I’m sure I’d have gotten around to Smashing Pumpkins eventually, but someone requested them and as soon as I thought about them I knew exactly what to write. Five minutes later, I posted it.
Paste: Do you have personal favorites of the ones you’ve done so far?
@D: Early on, the number one most-requested discography was Prince. And judging by the number of re-tweets, that’s been the most popular one since, edging out Dylan and the Beatles. So as far as I’m concerned, the people have spoken.
Meanwhile, you can peruse a dozen of Paste’s favorites below: