A Conversation with Ian MacKaye at AAG DC [AUDIO]

“[Geographers] are good people. They’re really f–kin’ good people.”

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Ian MacKaye and Tyler Sonnichsen at ‘A Conversation with Ian MacKaye,’ presented by the AAG Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group. Washington, DC, April 5, 2019. Photo by Emily Fekete.

My Conversation with Ian MacKaye

Audience Questions for Ian

One of the highlights of this year’s AAG meeting came on Friday afternoon, when punk legend Ian MacKaye stopped by the Wardman Park hotel to share some stories about his career as an underground musician and touring artist (Fugazi, Minor Threat, The Evens, and more), as well as Dischord Records captain. As numerous participants reflected afterward, it could easily have gone on for another hour. Though it was not intentional, the bulk of the conversation focused on how much geography can learn from the network and influence of early harDCore, which we realized worked well for the Media and Communication Geography group’s focus.

This was such a privilege. Special thanks to Emily Fekete (Chair of the MACGSG and AAG mainstay) for helping coordinate this event, as well as to Joshua Pitt (Palgrave MacMillan) for recording the session. Joshua, Steven Donnelly, and other participants took some great photos, as well as of the DC Punk walking tour on Saturday, which I’ll post here soon.

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Take GEOG 101 at UTK this May-mester

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Are you an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee who will be around this May? Are you in need of a quick 3-credits that would satisfy most programs’ core requirements? Would you enjoy taking a fundamentals-class (that normally hosts over 100 students) in a more intimate, laid-back environment?

Well, you’re in luck! I’m going to be teaching GEOG 101: World Regional Geography as a Mini-Semester course this May. The class will meet every morning for three weeks, from May 8th until May 29th. That is likely the most efficient way you’ll ever be able to take this class, and it will open up your summer and fall session schedules for other requirements of your major or your other responsibilities.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or for a draft of the special 3-week syllabus. I look forward to seeing you in May.


Coming Soon to Sonic Geography

  • An Exclusive Interview (Audio) with Ian MacKaye, recorded live at AAG
  • An Overview and Retrospective on AAG in DC (April 3-7), including the premiere of my DC Punk Walking Tour
  • A Look at the Ben Irving Postcard Series in Memphis & Western Tennessee
  • Announcing my new book Capitals of Punk (Palgrave Macmillan)

 

Zack (Knox Brew Tours) and Jordan (Clinch River Brewery) Visit Popular Culture Class

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Zack Roskop (L) and Jordan Skeen (R) speak to my GEOG 423: American Popular Culture class, 2 April 2019.

A quick post to say a hearty “Thank You!” to Zack Roskop and Jordan Skeen, of Knox Brew Tours and Clinch River Brewing respectively (as well as both leaders in the Knoxville Area Brewers Association) for stopping by to speak with my American Popular Culture class today.

Our conversation provided a perfect launching point for our unit on “Beer, Spirits, and Neolocalism.”  Speaking as someone who’s been around the local craft beer community for several years now, it’s always amazing how much you can learn from talking to folks who are on the ground level about your city/region as well as the relationship between the industry and geography.

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Coming soon (likely when I’m back from AAG): A New Chapter from the Ben Irving Postcard Collection (West Tennessee Edition).

AAG 2019: Ian MacKaye Q&A, DC Punk Walking Tour, and the First Ever Academic Talk on Florida Man

The long wait is almost over: AAG DC starts this week! Because the meeting’s in the AAG’s (and my former, for a while) home base this year, I’ve been working to arrange a few special events that I’ll be announcing here, on twitter, and via the AAG’s social media as well.  It’s going to be a busy but good time. You can find me at one of the following three events (or of course by just hitting me up).

FRIDAY: A CONVERSATION WITH IAN MACKAYE

ian-mackay-john-frusciante-ultimate-guitar-interview-may-29th-2012-500x2871:10 – 2:50pm
Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
AAG Session Page – Event Page

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be moderating a discussion with Ian MacKaye for the keynote session of the Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group. Thank you to Ian for his interest as well as to my friend Emily Fekete at the AAG for making this happen. We’ll be talking about the relationship between the city and punk history, as well as the history of Dischord Records and his own musical career (Minor Threat, Fugazi, Embrace, The Evens, and more). Get there early to get a good seat!


SATURDAY 4/6: DC PUNK WALKING TOUR [SOLD OUT]

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Marriott 24th St Entrance

I’ll be honest: I wrote a long, fun draft entry to publish closer to the event for a last-minute push in case it didn’t fill up, but it did. I’m grateful and humbled that this tour has generated as much interest as it has. I’m sorry if you missed a chance to register for a spot, but as with any walking tour, there’s a reasonable chance for a few no-shows. If any spots do open up, I’ll make sure to announce it on twitter and contact those registered.

For now, here is the gist of what I wrote originally. I’ll wait to divulge more details until we’re closer to the event, but there will be surprises, some brought to you by our good friends at Palgrave Publishing, and others brought to you by our tour sites.  You’re probably wondering, “AAG members offer plenty of great walking tours every year; why should I, a person of [indeterminate] interest in punk rock, be looking forward to this one?”

  1. You’ll have time built-in to enjoy some of the best Falafel, Empanadas, or food of your choice that DC has to offer. 
    We’ll be walking through a gastronomic epicenter toward the beginning of our tour that includes a couple of places I absolutely cannot miss when I’m in town. I’m building in some free time for eating and shopping, so you don’t need to eat a gigantic brunch beforehand. But if you do, you’ll have more time to focus on…
  2. Shopping for records, clothes, and other merchandise. 
    Get your souvenir shopping out of the way while learning about DC culture. Why spend your money on some Washington Monument snow globe when you could have something from a boutique where locals actually hang out? Grab that Fugazi record for your turntable or that photo book for your coffee table.
  3. You’ll meet luminaries of the DC punk scene. 
    Any stroll through Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant on a Saturday afternoon affords you plenty of chances to bump into somebody who played (and still plays) a key role in the DC punk story. For this tour, I’ve been coordinating cameos from some of my favorite people I knew from the scene when I lived there as well as some great folks I met while working on the book.
  4. You’ll get those steps in.
    Many landmark sites in harDCore history are right down the street from the conference hotel in Adams-Morgan and around the corner in Mount Pleasant. In other words, no hopping on and off of a shuttle, dealing with traffic, or battling tourists on the Metro. That being said, if you have a disability and require transport assistance, please notify us in your registration. From what I remember, all of the key sites we’ll be visiting (and most lunch/shopping options) are accessible.
  5. I will be leading it.
    Not that I would be the biggest selling point, but I’d be grateful to have you along for my first AAG walking tour, in a neighborhood that was so important to me when I lived there (and still is).  Over my time there, I heard so many stories and have so many great memories (not included in Capitals of Punk) I look forward to sharing.

Let me know if you have any questions [sonicgeography at gmail]. We will take off from Marriott Wardman Park’s 24th St Entrance on Saturday 4/6 at Noon. See you there!


SUNDAY: LIGHTNING TALK ON FLORIDA MAN

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Contemporary Issues in Human Geography
Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level

You read that right: I’m engaging with some  research on the Florida Man. This is a topic that, as a cultural geographer with a soft spot for Florida (that I catch heat for, no pun intended), I’ve been interested in for some time. It seems that every six months or so, the internet breathes new life into this apocryphal character. Recently, a meme went around imploring people to google “Florida Man” and their birthday. Much of my research focuses on circulation, and internet-mediated phenomena like these work wonders(?) to perpetuate (inter)national perspectives on what makes Florida assume the mantel of “our weirdest state.”

I understand many of you may have skipped town by Sunday afternoon, but this session looks like it will be amazing: talks on Kingston, Cincinnati, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), Climate security, and Uttarakhand.


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Anyway, see you in DC. If you’re not going, you’ll be missed and I’ll be happy to give you all a rundown of the highlights from this year’s meeting on this site sometime after I get back to Knoxville. I’m still reeling as I write this from a great time in Memphis at the Balancing the Mix conference, in fact. Thanks to Mark Duffett and Amanda Nell Edgar for putting it together. If I have time this week (that’s a big ‘if’), I’ll post an update or two about the conference as well as the West Tennessee chapter of the Ben Irving Postcard Project.

This Saturday: Balancing the Mix in Memphis

Memphis! I’m coming back to your city for the first time since 2011, when I took this iconic photo en route to California (below). What makes this even more amazing is that I’ve lived in Tennessee since 2013 and still haven’t been any further west (within the state) than Nashville. It’s a long state.

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I’m excited to debut some new work on MTV and the Symbolic Gentrification of the Music Video. If you’re in Memphis and/or at the conference on Saturday, it will be meeting at the Fogelman Center at the University of Memphis in Room 215 at 1:35 PM. The topic of the session will be “Music and Erasure.” I momentarily did a double-take when I saw that title, before realizing nobody was doing anything about the works of Vince n’ Andy. Looks like I’ll have to get on that.

Balancing the Mix is a conference about the convergence of music and activism that came together under the aegis of Mark Duffett and Amanda Nell Edgar. This will be my first time at a music conference that isn’t SEMSEC, and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone.

 

The Irving Postcards: Nashville

Spring Break! 2019! PARTY! By “party,” I mean… take a day in Nashville to buy some records, see some friends, and investigate a couple of sites from the Ben Irving Postcard collection. I mean, it’s a party to me… 

Before I go any further, I’ll provide a helpful link for any new readers who Ben Irving was, and why I have so many postcards he mailed to Brooklyn in the 1930’s.

Who Was Ben Irving?

Now that you’re caught up, I will say that it appears that Irving only visited Nashville two or three times during his Southern journeys in the depression era. In mid-February 1934 and again in November 1935, he was in bad way financially. In retrospect, it seemed fairly obvious that the South wasn’t going to deliver the goods to a travelling sales representative as the region limped out of the Depression’s (subjective) height in 1933. One could understand how life in Brooklyn might have distorted the economic landscape a bit for Irving. It may be worth looking into whether his shock at the South’s slowness tempered over the decade. Early on, though, this part of his journeys were always a slog.

February 1934

For his first (documented) visit to Nashville in February 1934, he mailed home a postcard that advertised the city’s flagship station WLAC. The station’s history often gets overshadowed by WSM, considering the role the latter station played in growing the country music industry, but it has a fascinating story nonetheless. Though it’s the home of iHeartMedia-financed reactionary hate speech today, WLAC is perhaps best remembered as the station that went against the segregationist grain and played black music in the late 1940’s. It originated as the station of the Life and Casuality Insurance Company of Tennessee, with studios on the 5th floor of their building downtown. Considering how both the studios and said building no longer exist (to my knowledge), I took the postcard to the (possible; I’ll explain these parentheticals, don’t worry) broadcast site depicted.

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2421 West End Avenue, Nashville TN. March 20, 2019.

So, this postcard is somewhat unique, in that it prominently features an inset image. I suppose there was a massive abyss in the sky between the two broadcast towers, so may as well show off the sleek 5th-floor studios. It’s an exciting new medium, after all.

The only address I could find for the towers’ location was 2421 West End Avenue, which doesn’t line up with a specific business address today because, well… you see the scaffolding. I have no concrete evidence that the towers depicted in the postcard were located here, but there’s definitely a possibility considering how the landscape does elevate a bit (when not full of new construction). The image on Google Streetview (as of this writing) shows a parking lot behind a row of trees, which was surprisingly demure for being right down the street from Vanderbilt’s campus. This was less than two years ago:

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So, in conclusion, this was the best I could do, given how I didn’t have time to dig up the original insurance maps, official WLAC archives (if they even exist anymore), or talk to a nonagenarian who happened to live around there in the 30’s. If you have better insights, or my site was way off, please get in touch.

November 1935

In late 1935, Irving came back for his second visit, this time down from Harlan, KY, at the end of 1,518 miles of driving since leaving Brooklyn the previous month. I know I beat this point into the ground when writing these entries, but the Interstate Highway System was still almost two decades off. Even the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which many believe sets those dominoes in motion, was more than two years away. That driving experience was pure PAIN.

What was almost as painful was finding a place to park, during rush hour, at an incredibly busy intersection with no street parking and only hyper-privatized lots nearby. Again, as far as I could tell, this was where the Hotel Tulane once stood. It’s now a giant pit.

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Church St. and Rosa Parks Boulevard, Nashville TN. March 20, 2019.

Most obviously, 8th Avenue was re-named Rosa Parks Boulevard several decades later. When Irving stayed at the Tulane in 1935, Rosa was an unknown 21-year-old domestic worker in the Montgomery area.

Again, I didn’t have time to look at any aerial images or flood maps that may have existed of downtown Nashville, so the SE corner of the intersection (which has been transformed by viaducts) was my best guess. This page, which details how the hotel was actually razed in 1956, was helpful.

Conclusion

Based on what I know from the postcards, Irving’s final visit to Nashville saw him spending November 1st-2nd in the city, staying at the Hermitage Hotel for a night before heading to Knoxville. I never found any postcards he mailed from there, but on November 2 (very close to Election Day), he mailed a postcard home that was just a photo of FDR, writing Every state in the South is for Roosevelt If only all the others were it would be fine. Will write from Knoxville.

Every attempt I’ve made to find Irving Postcard sites has been somewhat rewarding, but I have to say Nashville was the most frustrating yet. The basic act of driving around the city makes one clearly aware of how rampantly it’s growing. I didn’t particularly enjoy either of my re-photography attempts above; in both situations, I had to snap the photos quickly and hurry back to my car out of the fear it would be impounded and crushed into a small cube. As the photos I did get show, entire tracts of land have been razed with cranes looming overhead; to me, it almost recalls the uncontrollable growth of DC over a decade ago. The large artists’ renderings of yuppie markets not unlike the ones that have come to dominate Atlanta (speaking of uncontrollable growth) don’t make me feel good about the sustainability of this gargantuan landscape modification, but what do I know? I’m not a Nashvillian; I’m just a fan of its record shops, vegan options, and (unless they’re playing the Caps) hockey team.

COMING SOON TO SONIC GEOGRAPHY

It’s conference season! I’ll be presenting at the Balancing the Mix Conference in Memphis on March 30th as well as the AAG Meeting in DC (along with some other surprises there). Check back in soon. 

“13” Turns Twenty

13_28blur_album_-_cover_art29Happy Friday, everyone. I recently noticed that Blur’s everything-falls-apart masterpiece “13” came out twenty years ago today (March 30 in the States, to split hairs). I’d be remiss if I let that landmark slip by without mention here, because I completely missed the anniversary of their self-titled album (my entry point as a fan) two years ago.

Blur’s mid-90’s rivalry with Oasis (manufactured as it was to sell copies of NME), formulates one of my favorite lectures I include in my European Geography (GEOG 371) course. Popular culture reinforces geographic assumptions, especially the sense of place that permeates any discussion of “the North” and “the South” in England. Not since The Beatles vs. The Kinks had there been such a raw encapsulation of that dichotomy. For the record, I do prefer The Kinks, too (and not because of any predilection for Southern England; I just enjoy their music more than most bands in the first place).

Anyway, in 1997, Blur were shedding their Britpop skin and embracing Graham Coxon’s love of American indie rock, perhaps best manifested as the wonderful “You’re So Great.” As I said, Blur was my entry point as a fan, so I didn’t fall in love with the band’s foppish (in a self-aware way) era. Like many of my friends who were listening in this era, I remember being less enthused at 13 when it landed in 1999. “Coffee & TV” felt like the only marginally accessible song on the album, which didn’t matter much to critics, but to a teenage American, it felt like a bit of an affront. I recall putting the CD on at some friends’ house in Syracuse while we sat around as a party dwindled; by the time “1992” got to it’s third-level of noise, walked over to the boombox and turned to me and said “I’m, uh, gonna change it.” If you want to get a decent impression, feast your brain on this:

Knowing what we know now, though, makes the accomplishments of 13 all that more remarkable. Namely, the band had long since shed any sonic accouterments of what had ostensibly made them huge, defied every music writer in the UK, and more or less entered into the worst collective period of their lives. Again, I was too young and under-educated in life to recognize half of this album as a heady mix of cries for help and the other half as gleeful conflagration of their rental castle-mansions. I’ll never forget reading a story on Blur in SPIN in the wake of the trans-Atlantic success of “Song 2” that really harped on how much the members hated one another. It seemed pretty sensationalized (because it was), but I can only imagine how much resolve it took the four of them to remain a band. In 1997, Graham Coxon sang that “DT’s [delirium tremens] and coffee helps to start the day,” and in 1999 he sang “sociability is hard enough for me” to chronicle a years-long battle to overcome alcoholism. “Coffee & TV” sounded convincing enough, and one of the all-time great videos to dramatize his ‘coming home’ certainly helped this case. Stateside, it remains in contention against “Girls and Boys” for the vaunted title of ‘Blur’s most successful single that doesn’t go “WOO-HOO.”‘

Anyway, since it’s 2019, there are a multitude of ways to hear 13 in its entirety if you’re interested in doing that today. Twenty years ago, Blur played most of the album live at the Hippodrome Theater in London, and a fan named Claire Welles taped the gig off the radio. A little over a year ago, she digitized it on YouTube. Considering the teeming oceans of Blur material on the site, it’s only accrued 556 views so far. I’ll embed it here if you’d like to add to that count.

One dynamic that I can’t get out of my head while listening to this was how so many of those cheering fans, like so much of Britain on BBC1, were hearing songs like “Trailerpark” and “Battle” for the first time ever. I believe that Napster, Limewire, and Kazaa were all active by this point, which had fundamentally changed the lifespan of anticipated music’s release. Gone were the days of that hot new single arriving at the BBC on a CD encased in some briefcase with a combination lock.

Damon Albarn, right on brand, didn’t sound too enthused to be performing these songs, but again, the fact that the band still existed in 1999 was remarkable. Considering the worldwide success Albarn had waiting in the rafters with James Hewlett at this point, it’s even more understandable that it feels like he’s punching the clock here. Still, you can’t help but imagine he begrudgingly knew how insane and special this new album was. And no matter what your feelings are on Albarn, he headlined Glastonbury two years back-to-back (2009-2010) with two different bands.

Alright, I’ve said enough. Happy 20th anniversary to 13, hope you all have a great weekend, and if you’re anywhere near Oak Ridge tomorrow night (Saturday 3.16) come see me and Nina Fefferman (UTK Evolutionary Biology) talking science with comedians Shane Mauss and Dave Waite at the Grove Theater. It’s close to selling out, but there may be tickets for sale at the door!  More info in my previous entry or at Shane Mauss’ site here.