Eric Alper is a music publicist. But if social media is any gauge, he spends a good part of his day sparking conversation by crafting questions on Twitter, like “What opening lyric of a song gives you chills?”
More than 45,000 people responded to a question he posted about the film that traumatized them the most as children (“Poltergeist, “Salem’s Lot,” oh and “Dumbo”). And his question about perfectly-cast film roles generated 5,000 responses, including one from someone who tapped the entire cast of “Casablanca,” another suggesting Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and a third nominating the actors in the Harry Potter films — responses that give a sense of the wide of people chiming in.
Sure, other Twitter accounts have more followers. Just within the entertainment sphere, for instance, comedian Ellen DeGeneres has 79 million followers, compared to Alper’s considerable but much smaller base of 750,000 Tweeps. Few if any of Alper’s tweets go viral. But the Toronto-born music enthusiast is perfectly fine with that.
“I know how to get popular on Twitter, and it is never even a consideration,” he told CNN in a recent interview.
Amassing a massive following is not Alper’s intent. Instead, he’s said he’s just trying to tap into a shared sense of nostalgia. Witness the 3,000 replies in less than 24 hours earned by his tweet asking for the album we can “objectively” consider a masterpiece. (And the answer is: Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall.” Or Manu Chao’s “Proxima Estacion Esperanza.” Or is it “Tapestry” by Carole King?)
His questions are such a fun, walk down memory lane that his Twitter account may just be one of the reasons not to delete yours.
While Alper frequently asks about music (a topic he knows thoroughly even though he doesn’t play any instruments himself), he deliberately posts threads that tap into knowledge everyone has rather niche stuff. Topics like the first record you ever bought (for Alper, that was “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis; the year was 1978, and Alper was eight years old.) Or he’ll ask his followers about the first concert they attended (Alper: ABBA in 1977 with his parents).
“It is not a grand experiment. It is not a way to scrape data — just a really great way for people to keep talking,” Alper said.
He added, “The ability to make the questions as broad as possible is a way for people to calm their nerves during a time when social media and normal conversations are tight and narrow and full of emotion.”
Alper said even some artists have responded where they’ve been tagged.
Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith said it made his day when a fan references him or one of his songs in a response to a question from Alper on Twitter.
“Twitter can be an angry, unforgiving place but Eric’s Twitter feed is a force for good,” Sexsmith told CNN.
Beth Ward has been following Alper on Twitter for five years and she said she considers his feed “a free-form democracy” where “everyone can interact.”
“It’s not political. It’s not angry,” Ward told CNN in an email. “There’s an element of joy, it’s like when your favorite song is played on the radio or in the supermarket … Everyone can come to the table and share their preferences in a judgement-free zone.”
Alper said his direct message inbox is full of people who say they check his account first thing in the morning or before going to bed at night because “it’s a place for positivity.”
“It’s like an open call-in show,” says Alper, who also hosts a show in SiriusXM.
And while he’s naturally nostalgic for the 70s and 80s when he was growing up, he has an appreciation for current music, too.
“Drake is their Bruce Springsteen,” he said about his younger followers.
The former record company executive, who once worked for Ringo Starr (“You don’t bring up the Beatles unless he does”), is also motivated to teach the younger generation about what came before.
“I know there were people who have never heard of Pink Floyd, as amazing as that sounds,” he said. “There are 15-year-olds who have never heard of Nirvana.”
A desire to educate new music fans is one thing that keeps him going. The other thing? The simple thrills that music gives him. He can still viscerally recall that first concert back in 1977, and the hum of anticipation he felt in front of the curtain, waiting for it to lift, waiting for it to reveal ABBA.
“There is nothing like [that] excitement,” he said. “I am still chasing that high in a natural sense every day.”