If you were a guy named Thor, would you wear a shirt? Like ever?
Seems more than likely that one of the perks of being named Thor would be the shirt-optional part of the pie. So it was not surprising at all that the Texas-based Thor Harris, drummer and percussionist of international note, shows up shirtless.
“Well, it was a little hot today,” he says via FaceTime from Austin. With the same blunted affect that makes his takes on life hacking true absurdist comedy. And a total departure from his “day job” holding down the heavy while playing drums for Swans whose canon of songs like “God Damn the Sun” and “Raping a Slave” seem to argue against anyone on that train having a sense of humor. And yet about 10 months ago, Harris had an idea.
“Did you know Chris Rock and I share a birthday?”
“I sort of wanted to evince this character who was so downtrodden and depressed that no one would take advice from him,” Harris says. Very public about his own struggles with depression, Harris started on Twitter and now on Instagram in an attempt to actually help people cope with despair and just get through the day.
“If you’re bored and life isn’t what you had hoped,” Harris stares into the camera, neither smiling nor laughing or even coming across as anything other than totally genuine. “You could take a clothes pin, like this, push down here and it jumps. Like a frog … Life Hacks.”
Cut. And that’s it.
To use a word like “absurdist” to describe his takes doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. Harris’ brand of anti-snark — similar to SNL’s Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts or amped-up Zen haikus — is both a reaction to a very modern world that not only seems and feels out of control but really might be, and designed to deliver a very specific message. That message? We can fix anything by not trying to fix everything.
“I noticed that comedians are sometimes some of the most sad people,” said Harris. “Even sadder than musicians.” A pause: “Did you know Chris Rock and I share a birthday?” And the best part of hearing Harris wind up with his “Life Hacks” addendum is waiting for him to say it. But he doesn’t, and this observation is very much a part of what makes the books he’s done and his own non-Swans music so … sweet. The unspoken “you know’s?” draws you into really, sort of, knowing.
So between or during tours, or recording other musicians like the fantastic Adam Torres, Harris does “Life Hacks.” Refreshingly for not a single business objective that anyone with a business plan would recognize. Like cash. No, the coin he’s trading in is the love of the people, and if people come up to him, as they do, and report having their load lessened, he’s happy.
“I like to watch them just to see and hear Thor,” says Jamie Stewart, from the band Xiu Xiu, who also quite famously — he’s got a record called Dear God, I Hate Myself — struggles with depression. “A soothing laugh seems in short supply these days.”
And now spreading out from Life Hacks, Harris is doing quick updates with pictures of animals and notations that let the world know that his cat has, in some cases, found a comfortable spot, when the cat has found a comfortable spot, among other trenchant observations. Anything to keep the darkness at bay and amuse fellow travelers.
“Would you believe me if I told you that you could have a full set of metric sockets with a pivoting ratchet and a nervous breakdown?”
Wait for it.
And now you have.