Remembering Tom Frazier


Tom Frazier (standing) with our GEO 100 Class before their first exam, Fall 2012. Apologies for the poor focus (I blame my phone’s camera), but I always felt like this captured Tom in his element, surrounded my enthusiastic students.

Hi ProfTy,

I just wanted to wish you luck tomorrow and the next day, I know you will do great, as you are developing quite a winning teaching style, and the students love you too. Let me know how it goes.

Cheers, Tom

(November 13, 2012)

I was on the road this past Tuesday when I received word that Tom Frazier, an outstanding Geography professor and one of my major teaching influences, passed away. Tom was my mentor through my four semesters as a Master’s student at Long Beach State; I worked as his TA twice in GEO 100 (Intro to World Geography) and twice in GEO 120 (Intro to Human Geography). The Daily 49er published an article about his passing, and I’ve been receiving updates from old friends in the department, but as of now I don’t know any details.

Tom was one of the most engaging and enthusiastic people I’ve met since re-entering academia. He was naturally talented at presenting information in an entertaining way, something I been striving to do since my time in his classroom. Many of his techniques, including drawing local/regional connections with world regional geography and taking the class on local field trips where possible, have made their way into my teaching playbook.


Tom Frazier brings our GEO 100 class on a campus walking tour to the Puvungna site, sometime in Fall 2012.

I had occasional opportunities to get to know him a bit outside of class, as much as he was fairly mum about his personal life. Even his part-time and seasonal ABD status in Germany was never perfectly clear to me, as forthcoming he was in passionately discussing the Berlin Wall and everything he had been digging up on its legacy. I thought about him recently when press emerged on how the Wall had been gone for as long as it stood (28+ years). I wish I had sent him an email to catch up. Our only communication in the past few years was via an email or two. In 2015, I wrote him from Paris to see if he was in Germany to potentially meet up after my fieldwork was done. He wasn’t around, but he did unleash a list of recommendations.

Looking back through older emails, there was rarely any exchange where his trademark wit and supportive candor weren’t on display throughout. He encouraged the students to call me “Prof Ty” and routinely invited me to contribute material to lectures. I even conducted my first-ever college lectures under his guidance. I can’t imagine where I would be today without his mentoring over the course of those two years, and I’m truly sad I won’t get a chance to tell him that. As with everyone in the CSULB Geography community, I’ll miss him.

Condolence cards can be directed to the CSULB Department of Geography, who will be holding a memorial reception for Tom next Thursday (3/22 at 5pm). There is also a tribute thread on the Cal State Sub-Reddit. I’ll update this post if I find any new relevant information.


My Classes for Summer Session I (May 31 – July 6)

I’m pleased to announce that I will be teaching a pair of classes for Session I (May 31 through July 6th) at UTK this Summer. They will be GEOG 344 (Population Geography), which I taught this past Fall, and GEOG 361 (Regional Dynamics of the US and Canada), which I’ve never taught.

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I’ll copy and paste the description I originally posted late last summer in anticipation of Population Geography:

Earth’s population is at a point now where it’s (1) impossible to ignore the effects of the Anthropocene and (2) at a general tipping point in terms of humanity, resources, and our role as active agents in the Earth’s reproduction. Also, to phrase it less academically, 7 BILLION PEOPLE DEAR GOD HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!? This class effectively answers that question and discusses this crucial crossroads at which the human race has found itself. We will be discussing population science and why humans do the crazy things they do just to survive depending on their place in the world.

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How does one advertise a class about something so broad as “regional dynamics?” Well, one uses food, of course. No barometer of regional culture, particularly noctural, is more universally appealing. I made sure to include options here that were vegetarian and vegan in addition to the sheer excesses of a couple. Can you identify all of the foods pictured here? From the top, we have a plate of street tacos, found all over North America (anywhere lucky to have a reasonable taco truck, at least). Next down is doubles, a wonderful Trinidadian street food found in Caribbean-heavy regions like South Florida and (hopefully) Gulf Coast cities like New Orleans…this April. (Full disclosure: I haven’t had doubles since being in San Fernando two years ago this week and I’m seriously overdue for some). Next down, you see a pile of poutine, served uncharacteristically on a plate and not in a box or some kind of hutch out of a trailer in downtown Montreal, but I will let that slide. Next, a Los Angeles street dog, piled high with roasted peppers and onions as only several dozen of LA’s best sidewalk sausage roasters can roast them. They taste especially fantastic wandering out of a show in Echo Park or a game at Dodger Stadium. Last but not least, there’s a full cheese pizza from Pepe’s in New Haven, captured in the brief moment when it lands on a table before being pulled apart mercilessly by the consumers. Each of them will inhale piece after piece, wondering why time seems to be standing still. Before they even notice how much pizza they’ve eaten, it’s gone, just a pile of grease and charred dough flakes lining the wax paper, remnants that suggest there was once a large pizza in that spot. So ends a typical scene in North America’s greatest pizzeria, a mere twenty-minute walk from Modern Apizza, North America’s second-greatest pizzeria (but where you’ll probably get a table faster).

Anyway, take GEOG 361 if you’re around for the summer session, and we’ll talk about regional street foods as well as many other exhaustively researched cultural geographies.

Brain Massage: The Radio Dept. and Fan Videos

The Radio Dept. are Swedish band who make perfect soundtracks for riding trains into stations at dusk, wandering around a beautiful city far from home, or just flipping through old photo albums and wondering where the years have gone.

When I come around to my unit on Sweden and the pop music industry in GEOG 371: Exploring Europe, narrowing down the bands I want to sample in my lectures is nearly impossible. Choosing one artist to represent a country,  language, or nation is always daunting, but for Sweden, I need to content with a nearly overwhelming volume. Stockholm and her smaller urban counterparts have been consistently grinding out both chart-topping hits and beloved indie pop gems for as long as I can remember. I remember seeing Refused destroy their instruments in the octagon back in 1998, which blew my teenage mind. In college, I sold some friends on Randy by simply naming off their song titles. Although I was reading Rolling Stone and devouring MTV news documentaries as often as they would air them at the time, I somehow missed that Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and many others owed their platinum success to Max Martin and the late Denniz Pop. Over the years, I would fill in these gaps in my knowledge while keeping tabs on the hottest Swedish artists diligently packaged and sold by indie labels. From what I remember of late 2006, it was impossible to go out anywhere in the DC area without hearing Peter, Bjorn, and John at some point.

In late 2010, I discovered Lund’s The Radio Dept. and wondered why it had taken me so long. Songs like “The Worst Taste in Music” and “Pulling our Weight” were exactly what my brain-soul Venn diagram needed at that time in my life. I included their music on my podcast (I believe they concluded an episode where I interviewed Harry Shearer, making for an odd but good juxtaposition), and sent their songs to anyone who would listen. I got one chance to see them at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel in Northeast DC on February 1, 2011. I was just out of touch enough with indie music trends to sleep on getting tickets; the show sold out fast. Fortunately, I found a face-value ticket on Craig’s List. The show was pretty good. No fireworks, no “duuuuuuuuuude you have to see this band before you die” sentiments, but pretty good. They took longer to come back for an encore (a ten minute wait for the demure and sweet “1995“) than any band I’d ever seen. I suspected that their blogger-bred reputation of being somewhat elusive and cranky was well-earned.

Recently, my friend in Long Beach sent me photos of The Radio Dept. playing a gig in Los Angeles, and I then spent the better part of the week catching up on the group. I was sizing up their music videos on YouTube for possible use introducing my Sweden lecture in a few weeks, and I discovered (or was at least reminded that) they have relatively few for a band of their renown. Again, this may have to do with their introverted, pointedly non-corporate approach to making and releasing music (see: their long gaps between albums).

In the course of this search, I found a handful of fan videos set to Radio Dept. songs. Fan videos, in a similar vein to fanzines, are publications created outside the artist’s purview. They use a particular song as a soundtrack to accompany film footage, and the Radio Dept. make exquisite music for this. Their dream-pop aesthetic, especially their more instrumental songs, creates a beautiful bed for equally dreamy footage.

There isn’t a heavy academic underpinning to this entry; I just wanted to revive my habit of spreading The Radio Dept’s musical love. I can see myself making something this an assignment in a future class, incorporating production, music, and geography. If I had a computer that could better handle video editing, I would start making these all the time, to procrastinate, inevitably.


New Book Review Published in OHR

413hv1znvbl-_sx332_bo1204203200_I just received word that my review of Playing with Tigers: A Minor League Chronicle of the Sixties, George Gmelch’s memoirs of his stint in pro baseball, is now published in the Oral History Review. My blurb will be available in the new I was fortunate to nab this book for review while at the Oral History Association meeting in Minneapolis. While not giving too much away (though my review alludes to plenty), the most fun I had while reading the book came from remembering so many assorted ballplayers’ names that hadn’t crossed my mind since I was a kid. I mention this in the review, but details had to be cut for time, space, and relevance.

Two of these were Gar Finnvold and Dana Kiecker, both of whom were pitchers in the Boston Red Sox organization in the early 1990s. One of my early baseball memories was watching Finnvold pitch a 7-0 complete game shutout for the AA New Britain Red Sox. Because of the internet, I can definitively say this was in 1992, and with a little more digging, I could probably find a date, too. Anyway, he finally got the big call-up in 1994, and never notched a Win despite losing four games before being injured in time for the Players’ Strike to end the season. He spent two more years with Pawtucket before either being released or calling it quits. Today, he sells real estate in Florida. As for Kiecker, I don’t have many specific in-game memories. I did, however, own his Fleer ’91 card and I always thought he had a funny, apt name for a pitcher. I vaguely remember watching a Red Sox game sometime in 1992 and hearing the announcers talking about how Kiecker was working some job for UPS that required him to wear a suit. I was confused because I was young and I didn’t know how the world (and pro baseball, as a strange microcosm thereof) worked. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find this retrospective piece the Boston Globe wrote about him in 2004. He’s doing fine.

Unlike many of the players mentioned in Playing with Tigers (including Gmelch himself), Finnvold and Kiecker had their respective moments in the sun. So many young men passed through the professional baseball underworld without making so much as a blip on the organization’s radar. In some cases that Gmelch had to work through in order to write this book, players don’t even have accessible extant records of their careers at all.

What I’m trying to say is: if you grew up watching baseball, then you will love this book. The academic and research-related reasons I enjoyed it are in my review, which you can access via the link here.


A Quick Thought on the Berlin Wall and the Distortion of Human Memory

This summer, I realized that I had spent more time living away from Washington, DC than I spent actually living there (6 years). It gave me a minor existential crisis. It was hardly the type of existential crisis that led me to lease an expensive car on credit or go on some barefoot walkabout in the Smokies, but some minute form of reckoning nonetheless.

This afternoon, I found out (thanks to my colleague Mimi, again) that the Berlin Wall has now officially been gone for as long as it stood (28 years). I’ve never even been to Berlin, and learning this fact nearly shut down my brain for a minute. I can only imagine that this should give the world an existential crisis. Can we, as Westerners, conceive of a planet without the footprint left by the iron curtain, and in microcosm, that wall?

I found it strange how quickly my span of formative years in DC came to mind when I discovered this milestone for Berlin that, unlike my personal coming-of-age, most people actually care about. But, the personal is political. Envisioning the type of person I would be had I not taken a chance to moved to Washington in 2005 is impossible, as is trying to imagine the current physical or mental state of Germany, Europe, and political geography in general if the DDR had pursued some alternate course of action in 1961. Both epiphanies are similarly remarkable, too, because of the tricks that our minds play on us – time is both an abstraction and a distortion. To me, the six years I spent in DC felt insurmountably longer than the six years I’ve spent between Long Beach and Knoxville. I have many theories as to why, some personal and others easy enough to ascertain for anyone who has taken Psychology 101.

To Berlin natives (many of whom have been depositing genuinely fascinating replies on this twitter thread), those 28 years must have felt like a solid eternity.  For a whole generation, life was always and would always be like this. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear an East German genuinely shocked at how relatively fast these past 28 years have passed. Either way, this makes me feel even worse for never having made it to Berlin, especially when I was a young professional in DC who occasionally had enough time and money scraped together in order to make that happen.


Four preserved panels from the Berlin Wall set up for a public exhibition in North Jakarta. (via the Jakarta Post).


Paul Pomerantz in the Alps, Sometime in the Mid-1940s



My grandfather, Paul Pomerantz, would have been 100 years old today. He passed away in early 2010, just shy of his 92nd birthday. My grandmother found this picture a few years ago. It stars him in his Army uniform and trench coat, some middle-aged Alpine man in what appears to be lederhosen, and the Alps rising in the background. I’m assuming this was sometime in 1943 or 1944, which would put Paul in his mid-twenties. To the best of my knowledge, he served at the rank of Lieutenant.

I wish I’d had the opportunity to ask him about this picture when he was still around. Does he remember the name of his friend in the lederhosen? Did he have a dog tethered to him, sitting outside the frame? Where exactly was this – Austria? Northern Italy? Southeastern France? Switzerland? At what point in the war was he even in the Alps? I don’t recall hearing a vignette like this mixed in with his war stories. I need to re-listen to what I did record a few years before he passed away. For now, though, take this as a tribute to a hell of a guy on the centennial of his birth.

On the outside chance that this post does somehow find the eyes of anyone who knows something that I don’t about that picture, please get in touch with me. Falls man kennen mehr Informationen über das Bild (besonders mit dem Mann, der steht Rechts im Bild, oder der Standort des Bildes), bitte rufen Sie mich an, oder schicken Sie ein Nachricht bei Email/Sozialen Medien. [Thanks to Mimi Thomas for the translation.]



NEW ARTICLE OUT. ‘Tout Faux’: Parisian landscape and hardcore punk, 1983–87

20441983Happy 2018! I’m excited to announce I’ve just published a new article in the UK journal Punk and Post-Punk. Read the abstract, order it, or find citation info here. It overviews the geographic history of Paris hardcore, focusing on the three or four years of the mid-1980s when the underground style first attempted circulation in the Ile-de-France region. I based this off of a range of accounts I gathered during my fieldwork in France in 2015 and through follow-up correspondence since then.

As far as I know, this story has never been told formally before,  and I’m grateful for this opportunity to give progenitors like Heimat-Los and Kromozom 4 their rightful place in the greater global post-punk timeline. Hopefully somebody who was there at the time can take the baton and publish a more authoritative and comprehensive history of that era someday. In the meantime, there is plenty of great material archived and linked via Euthanasie Records.

Thank you to Russ Bestley and all of his colleagues at this fantastic journal. You can look into the index of Punk & Post-Punk back issues and learn how to submit on the Intellect Ltd. page here.