#34 – “Twisting” (1990)

Flood

L.K.: Speak of the devil, a Flood song! I wonder how many people of our generation first heard of The dB’s and Young Fresh Fellows through this song. I can say it’s the first place I heard of them, at least.

A.S.: Scott McCaughey seems to be pretty thankful about that.
L.K.: Yeah, which is awesome of him. He could’ve been a total douche about it.
A.S.: This is also the first place I heard about Young Fresh Fellows, although not The dB’s; I believe my first exposure to them was through the Left of the Dial boxset, which contains “Amplifier”, the song that “Twisting” was largely based on.
L.K.: Ahh, yep. The influence of “Amplifier” in particular on this song was confirmed by Flansburgh himself in multiple interviews.
A.S.: A song that begins with the cheerful lyric, “Danny went home and killed himself last night.”
L.K.: It’s a little more melodramatic than “Twisting”, but ultimately “Twisting” is pretty death-centric too. The upbeat music is deceptive.
A.S.: I adore “Twisting”.  I think it’s one of those songs that can make an incredible case for the understated genius of John Flansburgh.
L.K.: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite songs from Flood. It drives me up a wall when people go crazy over “Particle Man” and ignore songs like this. (Oh man, I just realized that the DAS “Twisting” is the same thing as that “Twisting” remix.)
A.S.: (Strange that they’d decide to unearth that for the Podcast years later.) But yeah, the song’s new wave Farfisa organ twist feel combined with the seemingly innocuous title “Twisting” is perfectly poised to dupe audiences into thinking it’s some harmless dance tune when really it’s about an embittered ex who longs to see her ex-boyfriend hanged from a gallows.
L.K.: Oh yeah, lyrically this is pretty dark.
A.S.: And it’s even more brilliant considering Flansburgh wrote the song so that the ex’s fury is directed right at the listener.  She wishes death upon the listener! Upon YOU!
L.K.: Well, in live performances he habitually sings “she wants to see me again” at least one time; one wonders if this is semi-autobiographical. It’s also unusual in the realm of Flans breakup songs in that they usually just seem to involve the man sitting around being sad. Here, it’s a crazy ex who wants to see him die.
A.S.: Which is great.
L.K.: Though there could also be some typical unreliable narrator stuff going on here too, it’s hard to say.
A.S.: Now they have two songs that wish death upon the listener or could be easily interpreted as such! I don’t even know if Nick Cave has done anything like that. Some fucking children’s band.
L.K.: Well, they aren’t actually wishing death upon the listener in this, although it is weird to see a song written in the second person.
A.S.: But someone is wishing death upon the listener. I’d say that’s enough for it to be notable in that regard.
L.K.: You know, going back to the Young Fresh Fellows and dB’s again, both of those bands have TMBG connections!
A.S.: Yep, although these connections manifested themselves after “Twisting” was released, right?
L.K.: Yes, all of this was after “Twisting”, but it’s still interesting. Mono Puff also covered YFF’s song “Hillbilly Drummer Girl”, Scott McCaughey’s other group, featuring R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, The Minus Five, released their first EP on a Hello Club CD, and the YFF’s drummer designed a t-shirt for TMBG. Chris Stamey of the dB’s released a Hello EP too, as did Will Rigby.
A.S.: I’m surprised Flansburgh hasn’t just name-dropped other bands in his songs more frequently since this seemed to turn out really well for him, getting to work with a bunch of the guys who inspired him and whatever, although I guess he was able to do that anyway through Hello, what with Andy Partridge and The Residents and whatnot.
L.K.: Well, it also really worked out in this case since these guys weren’t just going, “Man, They Might Be Giants suck, why did they mention us in their stupid song?”
A.S.: Has anyone does that?
L.K.: No, but I’m still just remembering Ween and Sparks’s unkind words…
A.S.: Relentlessly disappointing.
L.K.: IT STILL MAKES ME SO SAD THAT THE MAELS DON’T LIKE/RESPECT TMBG, YOU HAVE NO IDEA.
A.S.: But anyway, “Twisting”.
L.K.: But yes, “Twisting”. I think this is the sort of song that has really benefitted from the live band! No offense to the drum machine, but it just has a ton more energy with a real rhythm section.
A.S.: Yeah, it’s definitely a song that calls for a standard pop-rock combo, although they seemed to do well for themselves without it, judging from the video at the top of this post.
L.K.: I was just listening to the Live From NYC version from 1994, where Flansburgh replaces The dB’s in the lyrics with Primus. Wait, no, or maybe he replaced the Young Fresh Fellows with Primus. I wonder what prompted that…
A.S.: Yeah, that’s an odd switch, considering that they are very different bands.
L.K.: Why Primus of all bands?
A.S.: Maybe Flansburgh wanted to work with Les Claypool.
L.K.: We’ll never know. I hate when they overextend the ending live.
A.S.: Yeah?
L.K.: In some live performances they drag out the ending a little too much for my liking; I like the longer endings, but not when they slow down at the end. It sucks all the energy out of everything.
A.S.: Oh okay, I thought you were referencing when they’d just vamp on the main lick for a while, which I don’t mind at all. I think it works well as a two minute pop nugget, but I’m totally cool with them jamming at the end too.
L.K.: Yeah. As long as it still stays uptempo the whole time, and it doesn’t go on for that long. I wonder if anybody’s ever done the twist to this song at concerts?
A.S.: Oh, I have. It’s an easy dance, requires virtually no extra space.
L.K.: Well, even the TMBG audience should have no trouble doing it then! Also, I took a video of a pretty good version of “Twisting”, but sadly it’s incomplete. It must’ve been a really long “Twisting” because i filmed for almost two minutes!
A.S.: Ah, the shameless self-plug.
L.K.: Of course! (Shame there were all those damn tall people in front of me…)
A.S.: Then there’s also the acoustic version on JB Television which contains a great flubbed intro and an even greater quiet, rather feminine scream in the middle.
L.K.: Oh god, the girly scream is the greatest thing. It also has a clarinet! You forgot to mention the clarinet!
A.S.: Oh yeah!  How could I forget the clarinet?
L.K.: Kurt Hoffman, right? I believe that’s him. Also, I would totally go to a baseball game if they played this.
A.S.: Seems like a no brainer. Nothing says baseball like crazy people wanting to see their exes hanged to death.
L.K.: PLAY BALL!
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