California Excursion Part III: Revisiting Los Angeles

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OPENING SIDETRACK: THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL

As I plan to return to Los Angeles at least once a year for the foreseeable future, I’ve started to build a mental list of landmarks to see that I never had the chance while I was living out there. Believe it or not, I’d never been to the Hollywood Bowl until my visit a couple weeks ago. Also believe it or not, I had never seen The Specials either (I’ve been a ska fan for well over half my life now; Dick Hebdige would either be proud or pity me). Fortunately, the Hollywood Bowl’s Reggae Night on June 18th helped me check off both of those bucket list items. Here is a fuzzy photo that accurately reflects my thoughts on the matter:

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You can’t make out the details in that photo, but Lynval Golding, 65, was rocking out after loudly declaring that Black Lives Matter, a true testament to Rude Boys everywhere. My longtime friend Kat, my new friend James, and I saw them play a slew of classics, including “Gangsters,” “Monkey Man,” and the eternal crowd-pleaser “A Message to You Rudy” as the sun set over the Hollywood Hills. It was euphoric. Here are a couple of better pictures…

 

The Hollywood Bowl is a true marvel of landscape architecture and engineering; I wonder if it gets enough credit as such. We had to leave a couple of songs into Ziggy Marley’s headlining set in order to get me to LAX in time for my flight, but it was still a night I won’t forget anytime soon.

Now that I’ve gone off on my musical tangent, I’ll rewind to earlier in the week and get to the focus of this entry: the Ben Irving Postcard collection and depictions of wartime Los Angeles to now.


ACTUAL INTRO: REPHOTOGRAPHING LOS ANGELES

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On Tuesday night before heading down to Long Beach for the start of EmoGeo, I had the rare opportunity to talk about Irving on Modern Vaudeville, a weekly variety show held at the Lyric Hyperion Theater in Los Feliz. It was a rare opportunity because not only did it represent my professional and performing life intersecting, but I was also on a bill with a number of great comedians, including Scott Thompson (doing a new Buddy Cole monologue) and the always-delightful Sklar Brothers (don’t miss their Netflix special). Despite the broken A/C and my own lack of time to prepare and refine the 8-minute set, it was well-received and the crowd joined in to sing one of his songs, the first time it had probably been performed in over 70 years. Thanks to Christy Coffey and Ian Abramson for the opportunity.


THE HOTEL ALEXANDRIA / PERSHING SQUARE

One of the DTLA landmarks I featured in my presentation was the old Hotel Alexandria, located at 500 S. Spring Street. Though I was in the area for over a week, I did not get a chance to visit the site, which I’m pretty confident I’ve walked by dozens of times without knowing Irving had once stayed there. I Sweded an image via Google Street view, commenting on how a once-upper-grade hotel had turned an SRO by the time that Tom Waits or Charles Bukowski could have lived there in the 70’s. The message on the back of the postcard that he sent on August 15, 1940 read “Hotel Alexandria: Where you meet America’s most famous people.” It may have been a bit of a stretch then; now, you might luck out if one of them’s filming something in there, but probably not.

 

I hope to ground-truth this image the next time I’m in LA and take a proper photo that I didn’t need to hijack from Google’s server. That being said, another place I have clear memories of visiting is Pershing Square. My classmates at CSU Long Beach and I did a walk-through as part of Norman Carter’s encyclopedic tour of downtown LA in 2012, and then we revisited the block as the (Millennium) Biltmore Hotel was one of the venues for AAG 2013. Unsurprisingly, when Pershing Square became a watering hole for many of the city’s homeless, the Biltmore re-oriented their main entrance away from the park side. What’s funny about looking at an early-1940’s depiction of Pershing Square and the Biltmore Hotel versus seeing how it looks now (at least as it did in February) is how relatively little the Hotel façade has changed, but how drastically the park across the street has (post-)modernized. As much as I can’t blame the Google Street View car operator for driving in one of the middle lanes down Olive Street, I’m putting a re-photographing of this vantage point at the top of my priorities for the next time I’m in DTLA. Either way, I hope you find this interesting.

 

Here are some photos I found that I took in 2013, including one which is actually not far from this vantage point, on the park side of the street. It seriously looks like Fritz Lang and Salvador Dali got together and directed this park. Seeing these photos again after a few years makes me even more excited to go back to Pershing and see what changes (if any) the city has made, and if any tent cities have figured out how to appear.


THE HOLLYWOOD PLAZA HOTEL

When I did have opportunities to ground-truth sites depicted on the postcards, it often times didn’t work out due to the encapsulating site not existing anymore. This happened to me in two separate manner in Savannah last month (which I completely ran out of time to write about here, but I plan to soon). Earlier in the week, I found myself in Hollywood to see what kind of deals Amoeba had to offer,  and I wandered over to Vine Avenue to see what had become of the once-luxurious Hollywood Plaza Hotel. All I had was a postcard (mailed June 9, 1941) that depicted the lobby lounge, rather than anything on the exterior of the building:

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What I found at the site was a strange combination of nostalgia and blatant disregard: the large neon sign remained on the roof of the block (as designated an LA Historic-Cultural Monument), but it appeared that little of the actual building had been preserved or made accessible. The second level was actually beautifully adorned on the outside (and possibly on the inside, but I wouldn’t know), but the chocolate-centric cafe on the street level outside hung an imposing banner. A historic placard about the Hotel hung on the light post nearby. I walked inside the main office entrance, greeted by a security guard with (I gathered) pretty strict bosses. I wanted to make up a story about someone I had an appointment with, but I didn’t have time to spin anything. Also, my brain was fried from the Hollywood heat and traffic I had navigated to get there.

The conclusion here is that I have no idea if that Lounge still exists in any architectural form. The historical information I’ve found indicates that the hotel had gone derelict by the late 1960’s and was converted into a senior living facility. Also, in 1937 (a few years before Irving passed through there), Clara Bow opened up the troubled “It” Club off of the Hotel’s Lounge. It closed within a year, so I guess Irving never got to experience that piece of Hollywood Babylon. A real shame.

 


LANGER’S DELI AND WESTLAKE/MACARTHUR PARK

For every LA landmark within the touristic purview that I feature here, I like to feature one that has, for whatever reason(s), straddled or slipped off of it. On Saturday, after EmoGeo had wrapped up, I had the opportunity to take my Mom (who was in LA to visit family) to one of Jewish Los Angeles’ legendary eateries, Langer’s Deli. Somehow, I had never heard of Langer’s prior to this trip. I had been through MacArthur Park a couple of times, but had somehow never noticed this prominent deli at the corner of 7th and Alvarado Street. For similarly dubious reasons, my brother-in-law (who grew up in Los Angeles and lives there now with my recently-relocated sister and recently-born niece) had never mentioned the Deli to us, despite it being the best one in the city (high praise indeed).

It just so happened that one of the Postcards that my great-grandfather had mailed home from California featured Westlake Park, as it was known when he posted it in 1940.

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A bit of admittedly overdue background: During his life as a salesman, he visited California twice, once in 1940 and once in 1941. From what I could tell, Irving was pretty amazed at what he found out there. Obviously, pre-War Los Angeles and Long Beach were much different cities. Many of the nodal cities like Pasadena, Inglewood, and Carson which eventually bled together into modern Greater Los Angeles were still somewhat isolated yet well-connected by… you guessed it…

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via Museum of the City.

Ironically, as the neighborhood around Langer’s Deli languished after the GM-led dismemberment of the Pacific Electric system by the early 1960s, it was the emergence of the Westlake/MacArthur Park Metro station that pumped new life into the block. Today, CiclaVia runs through there and gentrification bites at the area’s ankles. You can read more about it here at the restaurant’s official history.

What my Mom and I didn’t know as we drove down to MacArthur Park the other weekend was that we were about to stumble into a new moment in Langer’s history: its 70th anniversary celebration. The line of eager new customers and longtime regulars wound around a barrier by the entrance. Fortunately, much of the line was underneath an awning, with portable air conditioning units blasting sweet, sweet cool air on them, young women on Langer’s staff handing out “I ♥ Langer’s” pins and free bottles of water.

We headed across the street into MacArthur Park, passing by a large strip of Mexican street vendors and a series of encampments spread throughout the periphery. MacArthur Park, like Pershing Square, has clearly become a magnet for much of the region’s homeless population. However, the city has not taken as much of a scalpel to MacArthur Park, letting it serve its municipal function even if many people who planners find undesirable are populating it. The easily recognizable Elks Club Lodge building sat at the far corner of the park, which made it a cinch to locate the original vantage point depicted in the Irving postcard above. Below are a couple of results:

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That’s better. The highly recognizable old Elks Lodge (now the Parkview Hotel) made this one very straightforward.

After taking these pictures, we headed back to Langer’s to get in line. After about 30 minutes, several free bottles of water, and giving a completely useless sound-byte to a KNX reporter, we got seated at the counter inside. My mom quickly charmed the owner Norm Langer, who had passed by to say hello and thank you to customers for the special occasion. Because he was almost as old as the establishment (his father Albert opened it in 1947), we asked him what he remembered about Westlake/MacArthur Park from his youth. He was convinced that there had never actually been water on the East side of where Wilshire Boulevard bisected the park; it had always been a field and the actual lake had always been confined to the other side of Wilshire. This seemed odd, but not unbelievable considering the liberties that Curt Teich postcard artists took when trying to sell cities with controversial water histories. That’s my theory, anyway; it’s possible that Norm was thinking about his childhood in the post-War era and not in the 1930s when the postcard was first published. This may require more digging.

I’ll finish this mammoth series of CA reflections soon with a bonus entry on Long Beach. For now, I’ll finish this post with a quick dedication to my Mom – she was really nice to put up with me and buy me lunch. She did, however, fill my ears with her rendition of the hit song of her teenage years “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, eventually giving up and playing it on her phone as we left Downtown LA. I’m not sure exactly how the park inspired Jimmy Webb to write the song, but I’ll link to this megapost about it and hopefully not regret that later. The song has an interesting history and and interesting cult, for sure. I can’t help but imagine a young Neil Hannon hearing it and having a light bulb appear over his head. Enjoy the majesty:

 

Sidetrack: Pavement and California Anti-Geography

As a thirty-something white person who wears glasses and has been to grad school, I love the band Pavement. I’m taking a quick break from my California Excursion updates (I have a massive entry coming soon for Part III) to bring back up one of my favorite Geography 101 assignments. I had the opportunity last night to see Spiral Stairs (aka Scott Kannberg) play a great set of songs with his current band that mixed Pavement classics on which he sang lead like “Date with Ikea,” “Two States,” and “Kennel District” with songs off his two solo albums. It had been a little while since I’d properly geeked out over Pavement, and last night’s show gave me a perfect excuse to, so thanks to Jason Boardman and the Pilot Light crew for that.

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As I alluded to in my entry two years ago, Pavement were hard to pin down geographically. The two founding members of the band, Kannberg and Stephen Malkmus, grew up together in Stockton, a Central Valley city that has become infamous over the past few decades for blight and poor urban planning around its social issues.  The other three members who rounded out the classic lineup of the band came from scattered points on the East Coast, which ultimately spelled the end of the band in 1999 when distance between them all made it unsustainable to keep going.

I just found this relatively new lyric video somebody made for their song “Unfair,” an album track on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (Matador, 1994) which runs through points on the California map similar to how Damon Albarn sang Blur’s way around England on “This is a Low.” I’ll embed it here for your enjoyment.

As I was telling my friend last night, one thing I really have grown to appreciate about Pavement over the years is just how overwhelmingly ordinary the five of them are. None of them really look like you’d expect them to be in a band, much less one of the most genre-defining of their era. To this day, I still get skeptical when I see a band who look like a band; take that for what it’s worth. Either way, my friend asked me which album to start out with, so I had to be honest and just rank their five studio albums for him rather than single one out in particular…

  1. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)
  2. Brighten the Corners (1997)
  3. Slanted & Enchanted (1992)
  4. Wowee Zowee (1995)
  5. Terror Twilight (1999)

Outside of Terror Twilight (which is still very good, don’t get me wrong) being last, I feel like a lot of indie rock fans would disagree with me on that order, which is encouraged here. Also, some of the band’s non-album tracks like “Frontwards” and “Debris Slide!” (which may be directly inspired by CA… hard to know) are essential as well. And though it isn’t one of my favorites, Pavement also contributed a single “Painted Soldiers” to the Kids in the Hall movie ‘Brain Candy,’ which leads me to end this entry and tease my upcoming one on the California trip: Scott Thompson will make an appearance.

California Excursion Part II: Three Comedy Videos to Supplement #EmoGeo

On the third day of the the Emotional Geographies Conference (or EmoGeo), I was in the fortunate position of chairing the 11 AM paper session for Jared Van Ramshorst and Natalia Equihua, who presented research on the overarching concepts of humor and love, respectively. The two other papers slated for the session needed to cancel, which gave Jared, Natalia, and the conference attendees more time to present and discuss their work. In between the two, I remarked how fortunate I was to be chairing such a positively-tinged session, giving the dark overarching timbre of much literature that mixes emotion and place.

That being said, Jared and Natalia’s papers both presented an array of hardships for their informants. Jared discussed his work with Central American migrants who were captured and detained in Southern Mexico, but used humor to foment ‘collective solidarity through shared vulnerability.’ Natalia presented her qualitative research on women who left Mexico and moved to Canada motivated by love. Many of these women faced the expected cultural and administrative obstacles, which led to a great commentary and discussion on the intrusion of the State on the nebulous concept of love.

1. Anton Jackson vs. the USCIS

During our discussion about the strange level of bureaucratization of love, I could not stop thinking of two things. The first, which I mentioned while chairing the discussion, was the affidavit I needed to write and submit last year on behalf of two of my best friends in California. She is American; he is Canadian and sought a Green Card to work legally in the States. They had been married for almost four years at the time, yet they were not interested in having kids or buying a house, which happen to be the two State-sanctioned expressions of “true love.” Never mind the crude heteronormativity and market-gouging there; it just seemed demoralizing that a Federal government refused to believe that they could really be married and love each other without those often-prohibitive investments.

The second thing I remembered was a classic In Living Color sketch where a woman of Caribbean origin (T’Keyah Keymáh) has the drunken vagabond Anton Jackson (Damon Wayans) pose as her husband as a ploy to get her green card. Like most of the racial, political, and observational humor on that show, it made fun of a common political tension that existed in the early 1990s and in many corners still does. Despite the sometimes dated humor and cultural references, I find myself using In Living Color a lot during lessons on race, class, and geography.

2. Little Mosque on Signage and Language Hierarchy

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Craig Stone talks about the ‘linguistic landscaping’ of the CSULB campus.

After lunch, Alexandra Jaffe and Craig Stone led the group in what may have been the single coolest presentation all week: ‘I Appreciate and Respect You’: Linguistic Landscaping of a College Campus. Jaffe, an Anthropologist, had already presented her research on the consumable tourist landscapes on Corsica, which anybody who has been to this site before (or read my dissertation, for that matter) knows is a subject of particular interest for me. On Friday, she joined forces with Craig Stone, the head of CSULB’s highly acclaimed American Indian Studies department, to talk about the hierarchy of languages and the political/emotional manifestations of signage (ditto re: subjects of interest to me). Both Jaffe and Stone wore their Cal State Puvungna t-shirts for the occasion, which made me wish I had packed mine for the trip.

Anyway, the conversation about the value of humor in understanding emotion and place was still fresh at this point, so my mind jumped to an episode I had seen recently of the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. In Season 2, by the time the characters had been established and allowed to develop a bit, one of the show’s protagonists gets a dream gig as interim Mayor for her hometown of Mercy, Saskachewan. Unfortunately, a couple of hosers accidentally crash a tractor into the town’s welcome sign, setting the show’s A-story into motion. The whole series, which is definitely a bit cheesy (but what lovable sitcoms aren’t?), is available on Hulu, and you can watch “Welcome to Mercy” here with a subscription or free trial.

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3. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog vs. French Canada

While on the subject of signage and the emotional geographies inherent in conflicts over language and place-naming further in East in Canada, I flashed back to my college years, when Conan O’Brien did a week of shows in Toronto. He sent Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to Quebec to talk to French Canadians about their culture and the idea of secession, and the results were predictably awkward and hilarious. I’ve actually used this clip as an introduction to our unit on Canada in World Regional Geography classes. If crude late-night TV humor won’t land you in hot water with your administration, I’d recommend it as a great way to introduce themes on Canada and ‘Canadianness’ in a funny and entertaining way.

California Excursion Part I: #EmoGeo 2017 in Long Beach

Last week, I returned to my alma mater Cal State Long Beach for the biennial Emotional Geographies Conference. This was the first time the heavily-international conference had been held in the United States, having been as far afield as New Zealand in the previous decade. As conference co-chair Deb Thien remarked, Long Beach had been selected as the host prior to the once-unimaginable political occurrences of the past year. A lot of members opted not to travel to the US for such reasons, which was disappointing at first, but it gave the conference a great silver lining. It enabled near-100% attendance for every paper presenter and a genuine intimate setting where it was possible to meet and actually have a meaningful interaction with everyone else there. At conferences like AAG or even smaller regional conferences, it may be impossible to have meaningful interactions with anyone, much less dozens of people devoted to your same sub-field. Such are the advantages of small conferences.

Bike Valet at the Art Theater

Via cobalb.com. A friend and I caught a screening of ‘Citizen Jane’ (a documentary about one of the 20th century’s great prophets Jane Jacobs) on Wednesday night. It wasn’t bad, but I mostly appreciated the two hours of down time in an air-conditioned theater.

Also, I can’t remember how much I’ve gone into it here, but Long Beach, California is a pretty sweet little city. Granted, nowhere in North America but LA’s shadow is a city of over 500,000 people “little,” but it can’t help if Los Angeles (45 minutes or 7 hours north, depending on what time you get on the 405) makes everything about it seem relatively laid-back and put-together. Also, seaside paradise San Pedro is a short drive across the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

I was able to present some of the emotional geography facets from my dissertation research on Wednesday morning. The diversity of papers and subjects was impressive; in just one session, the conference attendees learned about trans visibility in Roller Derby, queer spaces in Palestinian hip hop culture, DC punk’s impact on Paris, and the contested history of Long Beach’s rancho system (link for video).

It was also a real treat to be able to hear Liz Bondi speak about the relationship between psychotherapy and geography in her keynote. Another presenter, Mancunian Natalie Moss (who I mistook for Welsh based on her accent, for some reason) discussed the heavy psychological toll that human research can take on both the informants and the researchers, arguing for the value of therapy in praxis.

I’ll write more soon with some thoughts on the abbreviated paper session I was fortunate to chair on Friday morning and the bizarre places it steered my brain. For now, here are some pictures I took over the three days. More photos taken by Long Beach student Ken Fichtelman are available via Dropbox here.

Society for Conservation Biology Grants

After a rewarding and draining trip out to Southern California, I’m back in Knoxville and beginning the adventure of catching up. I have posts about the Emotional Geographies conference I attended in Long Beach as well as some urban investigations in LA in the works, and both should be up by later this week or next.

I write so little on this site about biology (especially conservation biology), that I figured the least I could do was give a slight signal boost to a great grant opportunity. It’s an area I know so little about, so rather than trying to publish uninformed opinions here, it would be more constructive just to pass this along. – Tyler


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This photo comes from the Orange County Society for Conservation, which may or may not be directly related to the Society for Conservation’s at large. I’m just putting it here because this owl is adorable.

The Society for Conservation Biology is pleased to solicit applications for the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program. These two year postdoctoral fellowships provide support for outstanding early-career scientists of any nationality who want to better link conservation science and theory with policy and management, improving and expanding their research skills while directing their efforts towards conservation problems of pressing concern for the United States.

Each Fellow proposes a team of at least two mentors: 1. an academic mentor who encourages the Fellow’s continued development as a conservation scientist and 2. a conservation practitioner who connects the Fellow and her/his research to practical applications. Fellows may be administratively based at either an academic institution or conservation organization in the United States, typically the location of either the academic or practitioner mentor. We encourage applicants to explore both options and consider being based at the non-academic institution as that is the world less familiar to most early-career scientists and can provide valuable experience.

Fellows will spend up to three weeks per year during their fellowship attending Program-sponsored professional development retreats. These retreats provide opportunities to cultivate skills typically not covered during their academic education including: leadership, communications, professional and funder networks, and to gain better understanding of policy making and application of research.

The Smith Fellows Program and its administrative host, the Society for Conservation Biology, are committed to equity, inclusion and diversity and invites individuals who bring a diversity of culture, experience and ideas to apply. We envision that the cadre of scientists supported by the Smith Fellows Program will eventually assume leadership positions across the field of conservation science. Fellows are selected on the basis of innovation, potential for leadership and strength of proposal.

The deadline for receipt of application materials is 8 September 2017. The Program expects to select five Fellows in January 2018 for appointments to start between March and September 2018. Fellowship awards include an annual salary of $55,000, benefits, and generous travel and research budgets.

For detailed proposal guidelines, please visit the Smith Fellow websiteQuestions may be directed to Shonda Foster, Program Director, by emailing sfoster@conbio.orgPlease share within your professional networks!

Catching Up with the Farragut Hotel

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I took this when I walked by the site on Wednesday afternoon, mostly because of the shiny new “Coming Fall 2017” Hyatt banner.

I can’t remember how much I’ve covered the Farragut Hotel and its intersection with the Ben Irving Postcard Project, but from what I can tell, he stayed there at least once in 1935 and then possibly again in 1940. That’s really all I could ascertain from the notes and the dates on the cards.

Regarding the development’s news, the Knoxville News Sentinel published this article last year about the official development plans, which stated their plan was to reopen during the summer of 2017. So, knowing the pace of development in Knoxville, I looked forward to being able to see their finished product in late 2019.

I was fortunate to be able to visit the project as it currently sits when Knox Heritage had a special event there last Fall. I took several pictures while wandering around the construction site and I never did anything with them in October, so I figured I would post some highlights here. Forgive any unintentional trespassing I may have done.

Knox Heritage has been teasing a follow-up event where their members will get a free preview of the hotel when it’s ready to officially reopen this fall. I’ll do my best to recreate these photos, but I can’t make any promises with the ones of gigantic death-hazard holes. I imagine they’ll patch those up.

RIP Wombleton Records

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via the LA Weekly

In planning my trip out to Los Angeles for EmoGeo (the Emotional Geographies Conference) next month, I stumbled upon some sad news. Wombleton Records, one of the three shops upon which I focused my chapter in The Production and Consumption of Music in the Digital Age (2015; B. Hracs, M. Seman, T. Virani, eds), closed its doors this past February. I somehow missed this news when it first came out in February; their normally fantastic newsletters stopped arriving and I guess I didn’t notice because I haven’t lived in California for a while now.

I’m mostly disappointed on behalf of anyone who stumbles upon my chapter in that book, gets excited to visit the store, looks it up, and realizes they’ll never get to. I hold no grudges over one of my case studies disappearing; it only emphasizes how transient these types of places are and how difficult it is to stay solvent in the modern urban economic landscape. It mainly sucks because it was such a cool little shop; the owners Ian and Jade emphasized design and atmosphere and curated their vinyl collection beautifully. I couldn’t even count the number of UK and European titles I found there that I would be highly unlikely to find anywhere else in the United States. I was already getting excited to flip through their 7″ section in the back trying to find any rogue single by the likes of Blur, Supergrass, or Manic Street Preachers.

At least LA (even the Highland Park area) isn’t particularly starving for good record shops these days. Wombleton was a clear labor of vinyl love, and the LA Weekly published a great retrospective on the storefront’s 7-year history the week it shut down. Best of luck to everybody who was involved!

Have a great weekend, everyone. More info about my California trip soon, as well as (while on the subject of Blur, ‘Grass, Manics, et al) a lengthy diatribe about the value of Britpop in Geography. Also, why Blur are categorically better than Oasis.