About Tyler

Geographer who likes comedy and records and probably you.

Tyler’s Favorite Records (2001): Converge – ‘Jane Doe’

Via the Converge Bandcamp Page. Jacob Bannon’s cover art for ‘Jane Doe,’ released 20 years ago, tomorrow (9/4/2001).

I’ve always been of two minds about the relentless retroactive consumption of analog data into digital, considering how we are more than 80 years past The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. On one hand, certain images and texts were conceived to be transmitted in particular manners through specific networks. On the other hand, I get to watch more streaming video than I could conceivably view in my lifetime of bands I love at specific moments in their formative years. On the other other hand, it’s more material than I could possibly view in my lifetime. It gives me anxiety to think about sometimes.

Around the time of my birthday this year, I decided to dig a little and see and if live video miners like Hate5Six had published anything from my favorite Syracuse venue from my undergrad days, Planet 505 on Westcott Street. Of course they have: a pair of sets filmed by Daniella Dombrowski in May 2002. One of which was Converge, the greatest band ever to come from Boston, touring on the steam of their epoch-defining album Jane Doe.

Given the date of that gig, I should have been in town, probably burying my head in the sand over finals or something. It physically hurts that I could have walked down the street and been at this show. But then again, I was only cursorily aware of Converge at the time, and I missed the boat on any opportunity to be a “hardcore kid.” There were certainly plentiful opportunities to find community, maybe even start my own band (despite having very little musical talent), but I found other creative/social outlets throughout my college years.

More ink has been spilled about Jane Doe, Converge’s masterpiece, than almost any album in its style, so I don’t know how much my insights would contribute to the conversation. I agree with the assessment that this record did more for “loud” music than almost any record by a large handful of highly unlistenable metalcore arena-fillers who would follow. It elevated them to high art within whatever style of punk/metal it is they play. To put it bluntly, the record absolutely smokes. It takes you for a ride, and sometimes, it’s hard to get up after listening intently.

Ever since that bizarre moment in the mid-80s when metal became shockingly marketable (or marketably shocking), nerds had been fighting to defend the style from meddling parents, dilettante meatheads, and critics who overlooked the good shit. The subgenre’s greatest musician, Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, died tragically in 1986, missing out on the spoils of that cultural crest. MTV put Headbanger’s Ball on the air in April 1987, splintering metal world into the hopelessly commercial (Poison, Ratt, etc.) and defiantly underground/evil (Mayhem, Repulsion, etc.) with some Slayers bouncing between those worlds.

Right after the turn of the millennium, Converge, who came from the hardcore scene more than metal, released a record in that tradition that was impossible NOT to defend. I’d be loathe to call Jane Doe metal, since their greatest proponents were punks or college radio nerds (guilty), but it has most of the tropes we associate with metal, particularly the distortion that Kurt Ballou shoves up your ass as both guitarist and producer. The biggest “upgrade” from previous efforts (most of which were still very good) came in the form of new drummer Ben Koller, who is now almost universally regarded as one of the best to ever play in the style. He also firmly shifted Converge into the camp of “mathcore” with bands like Botch – playing in non-traditional time signatures – though many of the songs on Jane Doe still follow certain rules of pop music structure. One example is “Bitter and Then Some.” I may not be an expert on metal or metalcore, but moments recorded in that style don’t get any better than that *BREAK* at 0:32, one of my favorite moments on the entire album:

Though the members of Converge could not predict the future of the world when writing and recording this opus, the album’s release date one week ahead of the September 11th attacks feels eerily appropriate. Any American with access to a television was inundated with images of rubble and fires for weeks, lending the companion tracks “Phoenix in Flight” and “Phoenix in Flames” an especially morbid din. To Ballou’s many, many credits here behind the analog mixing deck, the latter really does make Jacob Bannon sound like a gigantic bird burning to death.

I’m not being hyperbolic. Listen for yourself. It’s the 21st century, and you can find any of these tracks pretty easily. This isn’t underground anymore. Not that there aren’t still plenty of jocks and/or meatheads in the scene, but thanks in large part to Converge, the thrashy, mathy punk they helped spearhead (and still run the table on) is unquestionable art and belongs to the nerds again. Only now, we stand in the back, but we’re still at the gig, all these years later.

For those interested in my full Top 10 list of 2001:

  1. Converge – ‘Jane Doe’
  2. The Coup – ‘Party Music’
  3. Aesop Rock – ‘Labor Days’
  4. Jimmy Eat World – ‘Bleed American’
  5. The Strokes – ‘Is This It’
  6. Life Without Buildings – ‘Any Other City’
  7. The Dismemberment Plan – ‘Change’
  8. Rival Schools – ‘United by Fate’
  9. Nymb – ‘So, this is How It Is’
  10. Andrew W.K. – ‘I Get Wet’

Crass Post-Script: Tirso de Molina (PHOTOS)

I recently found a couple of photos I snapped in 2015 at the Tirso de Molina anarchist market, which I mentioned in my prior post about Crass’ 1981 masterpiece Penis Envy. I actually updated that post with one of these pictures, but I figured this would be as good an excuse as any to share these here. I did find some 2004 photos from the nearby Rastro, but perhaps I was too occupied digging through bootleg CDs to take pictures of the punx by the Metro.

Macquarie Park, NSW (June 2019)

Two pictures of new construction in Macquarie Park, outside of Sydney, and one picture of an adorable Cockatoo trying to figure out what to do about this trash bag.

I felt the need to share these after my epiphany that two of the three could, realistically, have been taken somewhere in almost any major city on Earth in 2019.

Tyler’s Favorite Records (1982): Roxy Music – ‘Avalon’

If you enjoy reading about my favorite records and live in Central Michigan, then you can come hang out and hear me play my favorite records TONIGHT at the Larkin Beer Garden (next to the Dow Diamond in Midland). I’ll be spinning from 6 until 9 or so! [/PSA]

It would stand to reason that Milo Goes to College would be my top record of this year, considering what a watershed era it was for American punk music (and I have a Descendents tattoo), but instead, my favorite album released in 1982 was a largely maligned “comeback” record by an egomaniacal, dinner-jacket-wearing crooner. Granted, most of the maligning I’ve seen in online communities around Roxy Music’s masterpiece Avalon is done by what I can only assume are bitter Eno loyalists. I absolutely enjoy those early prog-fire albums the collective did in fancy space costumes – I’m technically in the middle of Michael Bracewell’s tome Remake/Remodel: Becoming Roxy Music as I write this. You just can’t heap praise on Avalon without dealing with the fact that “Virginia Plain” and “Editions of You” also exist in the same universe. In 1998, Rolling Stone saw fit to choose the Eno-free Siren (an entirely okay mid-70’s glam-pop album with maybe three or four great tracks) to stand above the rest of the band’s catalog on their “RS 200” list.

I should write, with utter transparency, that I haven’t reached Simon Morrison’s 33 1/3 book on Avalon yet in my reading queue (but I cannot wait to dive in). Because this is my website, I reserve the right to come back to this post and amend it accordingly if Morrison helps me discover that I’m completely full of it. But, there’s something refreshing about sitting down without the discursive baggage equivalent to at least three or four episodes of ‘Behind the Music’ on a record you love. Considering how much time I spend thinking and writing about music, it’s somewhat refreshing to just colo(u)r a record in verbal kindness because it’s wonderful and you love it.

That’s the hill I’m going to die on regarding Roxy Music’s 1982 album Avalon. It’s ten tracks, (partially instrumental) of thoughtful, temple-massaging, everything’s-gonna-be-alright slow jams which permanently established the 80’s iteration of Sophisiti-pop (later re-branded as the invented joke-genre Yacht-Rock) and retroactively established Bryan Ferry as the Godfather of New Wave. Perish the thought that a college radio colleague was about to apply that label to Morrissey ahead of Moz’ inevitably-cancelled Syracuse show back in 2004. I stopped him and said that Ferry deserves that title, if we insist on slapping it on somebody. So many of the “New Wave” tropes we took for granted pre-dated Duran Duran and MTV. Most of them even pre-dated Bryan Ferry, but I can’t think of one British musician of the post-Rock n’ Roll era who more encompassed so many of the New Romantic aesthetics.

Bryan Ferry in 1975 (Photo by Anwar Hussein for Rolling Stone / Creative Commons Usage)

It will undoubtedly strip me of cred to admit this, but the first time I remember hearing “More Than This,” Bill Murray was singing it in Lost in Translation. For those of you who haven’t seen Sofia Coppola’s elegant, insufferable romp through Tokyo, I would advise against it unless you enjoy watching privileged people being sad (Lost in Translation walked so Eat Pray Love could run). But, like a lot of mid-2000’s cinematic pablum whose apparent directive was to make young gen-xers (later renamed “millennials”) feel deep, it featured some quality tunes. From what I remember, the film brought Kevin Shields back from the dead, too, fourteen years after he dropped his own masterpiece Loveless (my 8th-favorite album of 1991). The most memorable moments of Lost in Translation all centered around music: Murray singing Roxy Music to express his disillusionment, a very young ScarJo crossing a bridge in a cab to Loveless highlight “Sometimes,” a stripper dancing to the teaches of Peaches (“Fuck the Pain Away”), and of course a pretentious ending slathered in “Just Like Honey.” The latter (putting a hip song over the credits just because you like it) felt like a device employed by countless student filmmakers in order to show off their musical taste (guilty), not something that Nic Cage’s cousin, born into Hollywood royalty, needed in order to wrap up her movie.

I’ll return to the topic at hand.

Some people ridicule that fantastic falconry cover, but I can’t imagine Avalon without it. As much as this was a departure from a lot of Roxy Music’s 70’s fare, the image fit into their singular fantasy world, drawing from the Arthurian legend and not using a sultry female model (or models) to get their point across. I would imagine that Morrisson’s book will address this, too, but I’m willing to wager that Ferry was seeking his own Avalon upon which to recover from the 70s, ultimately building a musical one. Either way, it’s appropriate, because Avalon is much more reflective and infinitely less horny than “classic” Roxy Music. Rather than playing like a raucous night out at some club, it feels like an ex-clubber approaching middle age, taking their coffee out onto the back patio and thinking about all of the mistakes they’ve made. It’s overwhelmingly tasteful music that still manages to be funky and doesn’t abuse saxophones like 98% of the coke-recovery (or coke-relapse) jams that followed in the decade. Andy Mackay deserves recognition on that feat alone.

I think I’m going to stop here. I did some light Googling in order to fact-check myself, and I wound up spending about twenty minutes reading up on Welsh mythology. Listen to Roxy Music’s Avalon. If you have a record player, buy it on vinyl. Get home from a particularly long day, put the needle at the beginning of Side 2, prepare a hot compress or grab a cold drink during “The Main Thing,” and make sure to lay down with either source of comfort by the time the mysterious, drifting into to “Take a Chance With Me” begins. It’s bliss.

For those of you interested in my Top 10 Albums of 1982:

  1. Roxy Music – ‘Avalon’
  2. Descendents – ‘Milo Goes to College’
  3. Angry Samoans – ‘Back from Samoa’
  4. Discharge – ‘Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing’
  5. Bad Brains s/t
  6. Zero Boys – ‘Vicious Cycle’
  7. Orange Juice – ‘You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever’
  8. Youth Brigade – ‘Sound and Fury’
  9. Yazoo – ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’
  10. Cocksparrer – ‘Shock Troops’

Tyler’s Favorite Albums (1981): Crass – ‘Penis Envy’

Growing up, I knew one kid who was into Crass. He lived in a big beautiful house and slept on his cheek so as not to disturb his liberty spikes. He didn’t like me very much, but we collaborated on a couple of film projects via mutual friends. Once, I remember him conveniently waiting until one mutual friend (who loved the Clash) walked away to badmouth the Only Band that Mattered. Something about them being “corporate punk” or some other predictable critique. But, he made me curious about who Crass were, since AllMusic (the most available resource to demystify them in 2001) didn’t really help. I remember it called them “the most brittle and hard-line of the first wave of UK punk,” which of course made me want to get my hands on their music. Thankfully, Napster and KaZaa provided a window into a few songs to which Geoff casually dropped references – “Do they Owe Us a Living?” (OF COURSE THAY FOOKING DO!), “Banned from the Roxy,” and perhaps the most disorienting and downright frightening of their early tracks, “Shaved Women.”

Chumbawamba, another anarchist collective from the UK, had hit it big 4 years prior with “Tubthumbing.” Most of the people I knew at school were buying the eponymous CD and reselling it while absorbing NONE of the band’s anarchist message. I didn’t even go through with the trouble of owning it in the first place, as much as I may get curious someday when stumbling upon it for a quarter in some used-media warehouse. Chumbawamba’s importance didn’t make sense to me until well after I’d gotten into Crass, which happened in 2004 when I bought a bootleg best-of Crass CD in Madrid at the “1931 market” by Tirso de Molina. If there was one time and place the music collector in me wishes he could transport back to now, it would be then and there. A bunch of Spanish Anarchists, carrying (and selling) the flags of their ancestors that the Clash sang about set up every weekend with a sea of DIY shirts, tapes, and records that I would have bought ALL OF if I hadn’t been a confused American trying to sort out where he stood politically.

DVDs and Badges at the anarchist market, Tirso de Molina, Madrid, July 2015. Photo by Tyler S. for SonicGeography.com.

That Crass bootleg, which contained the entire screed from (I believe) “Yes Sir, I Will” translated into Spanish, contained a reasonable overview of their musical output during their pre-ordained 7 years of existence*. Also, to address an elephant in the room, I’ll admit that the first two Crass records aren’t very good. They absolutely fit neatly into the silo of “punk,” according to people with a fairly myopic understanding of that genre-world, but I’m not the only person who think those records are much more interesting than enjoyable.

The third Crass record, however, is unassailable and boils my blood (in a productive way) more with every listen. Eve Libertine, who assumed lead vocal duties (a political act itself in 1981 DIY punk), sings every song on here (save for one, sung by Joy de Vivre) like she’s actively castrating a rapist and knows history will vindicate her for doing so.

Via Hear She Roars

The production, if my lack of technical expertise could be forgiven, is NASTY. The late John Loder, who is roundly regarded as a genius, had a touch that simply elevated bands without compromising any of their edge nor idiosyncrasies. There is not one track on Penis Envy that sounds like a rock song should sound, but it still sounded cooler than almost any other punk album released in 1981. The needly guitars and sharp-as-hell bass on “Systematic Death” wrap you up and asphyxiate you while Libertine defiantly yells about how “they fuck our minds so they can fuck us silly!” The line that closes the song (“they’d almost paid their mortgage when the system dropped its bomb”) is particularly brutal to hear in 2021, when most of us are spending our entire lives in debt, servicing a system that keeps moving the end zone back every time they feel like cycling wealth upward. And, to paraphrase Eddie Izzard, “people [are] just sort of fine with that.”

When I was building my curriculum for a course on Geography and Gender, a revisit to this album inspired me to create an assignment directing students to pick a song with some lyrical theme around gender to present and analyze critically. Penis Envy was hardly the first album within the realm of popular music to put feminism front and center, but there’s something otherworldly about how well, forty years ago, Crass anticipated our contemporary conversation about gender. Sexism, like racism, was baked into the greater capitalist system, not a variable defect, and to defy either, one has to ask and answer some very difficult questions.

Unlike their frenemies in Chumbawamba (who sold about 5 million more records), Crass’ message has never been anything but crystal clear. No matter where Crass (as a collective) fit into the greater pantheon of punk’s half-century of history, they solidified themselves as a great band with Penis Envy – my favorite record of 1981. Have a listen here and see below for the rest of my top ten of that year.

WHAT VISION IS LEFT, AND IS ANYONE ASKING?

My Top 10 Albums of 1981

  1. Crass – ‘Penis Envy’
  2. The Adolescents
  3. OMD – ‘Architecture & Morality’
  4. Gang of Four – ‘Solid Gold’
  5. The Judy’s – ‘Washarama’
  6. Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive
  7. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – ‘I Love Rock n’ Roll’
  8. Penguin Cafe Orchestra
  9. The Replacements – ‘Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take out the Trash’
  10. Soft Cell – ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’

*For the purposes of this entry, Steve Ignorant’s cash-grab reunion tour(s) don’t count toward the band’s legacy. You have to make certain compromises when forced to live within a system you didn’t create and don’t support, and I have no idea what motivated/pushed Steve into doing that. At any rate, he does not appear on Penis Envy.

Sonic Geography (Vinyl Night) Tonight in Midland, MI

Sonic Geography at the Larkin Beer Garden
Thursday 07/29 | 6 – 9 PM

Happy Thursday!

For those of you in (or with friends in) Central Michigan looking for a place to hang out after work this evening, I’ll be spinning records from 6-9pm at the Larkin Beer Garden. The garden itself is all-ages, there is no cover, and they will have a food truck on premises. Find it nestled on the North gate of the Dow Diamond, across the park from State Street. See you tonight!

More Info about the Larkin Beer Garden Here

Tyler’s Favorite Albums (1980): U2’s ‘Boy’

Inspired by similar lists I saw some musically-preoccupied friends doing on social media, I decided to challenge myself to list my 10-20 favorite albums of every year for the past four decades. My lists inspired others to reply with their own lists, which turned the project into even more fun than the pandemic could have mustered. To help buttress my summer writing goals, I’ve decided to revisit my favorite albums of the past four decades, providing some rationale and geographical context for each one. 


1980
U2 – ‘Boy’ (Island Records)

In seventh grade, my Reading/Literature teacher assigned us to read William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies. We dedicated the first 15 minutes of each class to write short entries in each others’ composition notebooks about our responses to each chapter of the main characters’ regression. Though the novel’s central theme passed me by at the time (likely the result of my own lack of interest in literary analysis more than my teacher’s lack of trying), but now I catch myself thinking about it all the time, especially every time U2’s debut album (and still their best) Boy reaches it’s closing track, “Shadows and Tall Trees.” Lord of the Flies had a clear impact on them, too, especially given the novel’s takedown of British polite society. Demystifying the book, Golding wrote that the book’s theme was “an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” Still, there was something timeless about proper British schoolboys reverting to bloody savagery when left to their own devices. 

Bono always claimed that U2 attempted to write the quintessential album about youth and adolescence on their debut LP, and the prodigious amount of press that U2 got, even while they were still teenagers (and 5 years before their performance of “Bad” at Live Aid, which I’ll put a pin in here) backs up those claims and aims. There’s no doubt that, by 1980, U2 were prepared to be the biggest band in the world. When they played at the Bayou in Washington, DC on December 7, 1980, Xyra wrote as much in her review in that month’s issue of the Capitol Crisis zine:

“The only cubby-hole one can fit U-2 into is the one marked ‘magical.’…. As with all of U-2’s songs, there is an urgency about it, as if the whole world depended upon singing and playing the song just the right way….As I left the concert I felt a sense of attachment to U-2 unlike any I’d felt before. It was a mixture of pride at being one of the few people in on their secret, and sorrow at realizing that they can’t stay unknown forever. For that would be a tragedy. U-2 are destined to be one of the classic bands of all time, and believe me they will.”

Whether or not U2 ever agreed they were a punk band, they certainly emerged from the post-punk era with a hell of a set of songs and a supernatural set of tricks; Xyra would have been honest had that not been the case. Of course, we all know how history proved her closing statement correct, but unfortunately, U2 have spent half of their career as a band making mediocre music. Which is why I still contend that Boy captured that early fire they had, between their choices in artwork, Steve Lillywhite’s production, and the way it keeps on revealing its secrets to the world with every listen. It also helps map out just what went wrong with the band, and how tied it was to geography.

On paper, the line “Someday I’ll die, the choice will not be mine” (which Bono sings in “Out of Control”) could be mediocre teenage poetry, but coming out of Bono’s mouth with the band’s on-point backing it does sound wise beyond its years. Bono also posed another question of mortality in “A Day Without Me,” a ballsy choice for Boy‘s lead single. One of Bono’s cross-Sea contemporaries who would choose death in May 1980, Ian Curtis, lent the song a whole new din as the year progressed. 

Like all great albums, Boy reveals new secrets with every listen – perhaps the most profound of which was an epiphany I had when playing the tape for my partner after she and I had been basking in Joy Division’s music for a few days. Thought I’d been listening to both bands for at least twenty years, it never occurred to me just how Joy Division’s influence is slathered all over early U2. I haven’t read enough interviews to verify it or not, but the blueprint of Unknown Pleasures (released one year prior to Boy) still echoes in a lot of the latter, as much as U2 were not content to slow down their tempo. The key exception here is “An Cat Dubh,” a rare appearance of Gaelic in U2’s catalog that stands on the shoulders of the finest early goth that they were mustering over in the UK (e.g. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” “Day of the Lords”).

As has been documented and dramatized, Ian Curtis took his own life right before his band was to embark on their first tour of North America. New Order’s eventual world-conquering notwithstanding, for U2, their Boy-ish dreams were impossible to contain within Ireland’s borders. By 1985, U2 were the biggest band in the world and led off their following (great, yet overrated) album with a song called “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a declaration that their sights were set on the whole world, not just their small North-Atlantic island country. Unfortunately, the more Bono has tried to save the world, the less enticing his music has become. From a geographical standpoint, that’s no disaster, since he’s done more to help those in need around the globe than almost any living celebrity. 

But I digress. This isn’t about what U2 would eventually accomplish as artists and celebrities, it’s about their first album and why it’s my favorite record of 1980. Relatively few people heard Boy first among U2’s discography (mine was Rattle & Hum, which is a whole separate conversation), yet nothing sounds immature or half-cooked about the album when juxtaposed with their later works. It’s alternately amazing and upsetting that U2 didn’t seem to improve as musicians or songwriters over the course of becoming the world’s biggest band. I mean, it wasn’t their final great album by any means, as some of their musical ideas did go a bit more left-field (some more successful than others) into the nineties. For me, Boy still constitutes the closest thing U2 had to a definitive Irish moment, when “the streets that had no name” were only images they had read about in books and in nature programs on RTE. Despite these ostensible limitations, U2 arrived on the scene as the world’s greatest rock band, and their debut album remains proof.

For anyone interested, these are my #2 – #10 favorite records of 1980:

  • Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth
  • Dire Straits – Making Movies
  • Prince – Dirty Mind
  • The English Beat – I Just Can’t Stop It
  • Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
  • The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight
  • Tom Waits – Heartattack and Vine
  • DEVO – Freedom of Choice
  • Gary Numan – Telekon

The Harvest of Hope Festival (2010): A Look Back

Two dudes being two dudes during Off with their Heads’ set at Harvest of Hope Fest, St. Augustine, FL (March 14, 2010)

Generally speaking, I hate music festivals. On one level, they are often overwhelming, expensive, and somehow at least 4 of the 5 bands you came to see are scheduled concurrently. On another level, music festivals (particularly the big-money ones) have become cogent reminders of how inherently contradictory capitalism is toward all forms of art and meaning. A vast majority of festivals that attempt to remain pure in meaning and focus only survive for a couple of years. The Harvest of Hope Festival, which ran for a couple of years in St. Augustine, FL, was case in point.

As of this writing, the fest’s website still exists and provides a fascinating window into the internet of the early 2010’s. It originated as a benefit for the Harvest of Hope Foundation, a Gainesville-based 501(c)(3) devoted to raising awareness of the struggles faced by migrant workers.  According to the Foundation’s standing Facebook page, the organization closed down in 2013. Thankfully, their work was not in vain, seeing how many activist groups online have picked up that mantle (one I recommend personally is @flowerinspanish on Instagram). Given how relatively short-lived the Festival was, you have to admire how they pulled off TWO three-day events given all the requisite red tape, booking costs, and finding a full lineup of artists willing to perform for free (or, for the headliners, significantly less than what they could pull in from a larger, for-profit festival). Then again, its important to keep in mind that in 2009-2010, festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo were still in transition from regional concerns to bloated international garbage plates. 

I don’t remember how I heard about the Harvest of Hope Festival, but it was probably somewhere on Facebook. Looking back at the lineup (which I’ve scanned and pasted below), there were only a handful of bands I would have gone out of my way to see. Many of the bands on the lineup were from Florida or adjacent states, and with few exceptions, the organizers put them in opening or closing spots.

HarvestOfHope2010_Program004

Some of the names that jump out on this list in 2021 were little more than cult icons in 2010, especially Portugal. the Man, who was several years prior his major crossover hit “Feel It Still.” Others, like Broken Social Scene, are hard for me to gauge in that respect; I do remember seeing “Cause = Time” at 12:30 AM on MTV when they broke out in 2004 and they did a big tour with Belle & Sebastian in 2006, as much as Leslie Feist left the group in her dust by the end of the decade. Even a couple of the punk bands, namely The Menzingers and The Wonder Years, were featured here before growing into two of the most successful bands in their genre. Of course I missed both of their sets.

One of the best performances I saw the entire weekend was also one of the biggest surprises: Chali 2Na. I had been a casual fan of his since I first heard his booming, 7-foot verses on Jurassic 5 songs, but his set on Friday night had a panache to it. He opened with “International” and just locked into a groove that didn’t lift until he left the stage. Another highlight (which I imagine would make some hirsute, 90’s-loving readers’ eyes pop) was Leatherface, architects of the gruff pop-punk that Floridians like How Water Music would build careers on, as well as the authors of one of my favorite songs ever recorded. Frankie Stubbs, a UK national, seemed to be dealing with perpetual visa issues at that time, resulting in the cancellation of stateside dates that summer. I’ll never forget how viscerally angry he was with the security, whom he stridently labeled “the fun police,” ending his set with a loud “fuck you!” and storming off. Legendary Stubbs.

On Saturday afternoon, I skipped out on the festival to head down to Ocala to see a friend and meet her new baby daughter. It was a nice visit, as much as I missed Good Luck (whom I had interviewed for an issue of Razorcake the previous year) and a few other bands I would later learn of, including Dan Padilla and Too Many Daves, whose singer Dave (DeDominici) Disorder I wouldn’t meet until a decade later in a Tampa grocery store*.

Looking back at this unique moment in punk history has been fun, especially since it happened so early in the iPhone (2007) and Android (2008) timelines, so relatively little video evidence of this festival exists online. To my surprise, I found that YouTube user “stdruler” uploaded most of Paul Baribeau‘s set shortly after the festival. I don’t know what they used to film it; it could have been a cheap flip cam or some early smart-phone with a low-res video function built in. It’s great to be able to re-live, even at a dodgy frame rate, the first time that his song “Ten Things” made my heart leap into my brain. I hope it does the same for you. Thanks for reading!

“Stage Five, y’all!”

*If you want to hear that mundane story, I will share it with you. Also, I found this while trying to see if TMD still had any web presence, and I can’t not share it.

Zisk #32 is OUT NOW

Happy to report that Issue #32 of Zisk is now available from my friends at Policymaker, and it’s jam-packed.

Order yourself up a copy (or, pick one up at Quimby’s if you live in Chicago, or reach out to PO Box 469, Patterson, NY 12563) and learn a LOT about the 1919 Chicago White Sox, the legacy of Bob Gibson, the retroactive nerdiness of WAR (Wins-Above-Replacement), the inanity of Chris “Mad Dog” Ruddo, and if you have time, my essay (that I churned out in one typewriter sitting) shortly after the Nationals’ 2019 World Series victory. It draws connections with harDCore and features an illustration by Reverend Nørb (Boris the Sprinkler) that, honestly, is worth more than the cost of the whole issue. I will not digitize said illustration (unless the good reverend tells me to), but trust me on this one.

Have a great week, and I hope you’re all enjoying the 2021 baseball season.

The Ben Irving Postcard Project: Ludington, MI

I began the Ben Irving Postcard Project in earnest in 2013 when I first inherited and began cataloging his collection of postcards. Even prior to my research into the history of the Postal Service and tourism in America, it made sense how many featured hotels. Of course the hotels wanted to make it convenient for lodgers to advertise the place, even if the recipients would never stay there or even visit the city. The penny it cost to send a postcard in 1938, run through an inflation calculator, would amount to only 19 cents in 2021 (17 cents cheaper than the still-paltry 36 cents it currently costs).  

It also stands to reason that, coming out of the Gilded Age, hotels were among the fanciest and more forward-thinking buildings in most American cities. As I’ve previously written, structures like the Hotel Floridan in Tampa were, as of Irving’s 1938 stop there, the tallest building in the state. Some smaller towns had little to advertise other than their spartan hotels targeting travelling salesmen. Others were more a cocktail of heritage, mythology, and utilitarianism. 

In the case of Ludington, a beautiful town on the Northeastern shore of Lake Michigan, the Stearns Hotel was just that. The Mason county seat, Ludington has long been a summer destination for sailors, golfers, and beach bums alike. It is also a boarding location of the car-ferry which crosses Lake Michigan into Manitowoc, another source of income and attention. In 1903, lumber baron Justus Stearns founded the city’s first “major” hotel at the corner of Ludington Avenue and Rowe Street, across from the relatively new Mason County Courthouse (completed a decade prior to the hotel). I assume the “major” designation means that, through the city’s 19th-century growth, the only lodging options were smaller boarding houses and temporary outposts.  

The above postcard, which Irving mailed in October 1938, is a bit more detailed on its inverse side than most. It mentions a manager named E.T. Moran, and it also references the “World Famous Ossawald Crumb and his Unique Art Collection.” Otherwise, the details on the inscription space were straightforward: 100 rooms, rates from $1.75 ($33.41 in 2021 – still a bargain), and a Dining Room (which I can only assume refers to the Grand Ballroom, detailed here).

One great thing about still-operational hotels from these postcards is that they’re ostensibly open 24 hours, so I can actually visit the interior of the depicted buildings at any time. Unfortunately, in too many cases (especially the grander hotels in larger cities), the hotel’s corporate ownership hires a revolving door of desk attendants and managers who couldn’t be bothered to learn about the history underneath their feet. I can’t say I blame them, since the job is stressful enough between having to dress up, spend most of the day on your feet, deal with whiney patrons and run things up to your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss at least once a week in order to afford rent, groceries, and gig tickets.

Bust of founder Justus Stearns atop the lobby fireplace, Stearns Hotel, Ludington, MI (SonicGeography photo)

Fortunately, the Stearns Hotel, which has been owned by the Bowden family since 1964, is not one of those. When my partner and I got to the hotel, we walked into the Rowe St entrance (engineered for loading in lodgers’ luggage and kids), passed by several historic photographs (more on those in a moment) and met Randy Bowden and his son-in-law Jeff Urka, who were helping customers at the front desk.

Randy was a font of information about the hotel, having practically grown up in the building. Obviously, his family purchased the hotel almost three decades after Irving stayed there. He mentioned that he had a vague recollection from his 60’s youth of the original Stearns Hotel neon(?) sign visible in the lower right hand corner of the 1938 postcard, but he couldn’t remember if the sign was preserved anywhere. He also said his father would likely have known (or known of) E.T. Moran, but that Thirties wave of management was long gone by 1964.

One comment that Jeff made regarded how the 1938 postcard pre-dated a door and stairwell cut into the Rowe Street entrance. He gestured over to a nearby wall, where a framed picture hung featuring a postcard almost identical to Irving’s, save for that key difference:

Image courtesy of the Stearns Hotel.

It appears that the hotel added the Rowe Street entry stairwell sometime in the 1940’s. As much as I can’t be arsed to care about car makes and models, it would be helpful to have my father’s memory of American cars from the post-war era just to more accurately date these things.

Another consistent feature from photos of the hotel’s first few decades was the ivy that blanketed the entire exterior of the building that was visible in the picture. As cool as ivy looks, it is a pain to maintain, can overwhelm a building with insects, and wreaks havoc on the mortar which hosts it. The north wall had grown so withered under these circumstances by the 1960’s that the building owners decided to tear it out and install some office space for extra rental income. The Tiki Video Nightclub, one of Ludington’s hottest week-end night spots, is split between the old space and the new both literally and aesthetically. I don’t know how many “video nightclubs” still exist, but something about that concept screams Eighties to me (which could be a good thing).

Today, the hotel has been reconfigured to 65 rooms, down from the original 100. Bowden attributed this to the shifting needs and desires of guests over the past five decades. In Irving’s time, the hotel served mainly travelling salesmen, who were typically fine with a bed and a sink. As the lodger base diversified and began to include more couples and families, their accommodation expectations expanded.

Bowden also mentioned that the Ossawald Crumb Art collection hung in the hotel for ages, but was removed relatively recently. Because I hadn’t grown up in the Mason County region, I had no idea who Ossawald Crumb was. According to this 2016 article in the Holland Sentinel, Ossawald Crumb was an apocryphal/mythical figure, invented by Justus Stearns’ son Robert in 1932. The collection is still in the Stearns family, apparently residing with Robert’s grandson Robert Gable somewhere in the region. It most recently emerged at a Ludington Area Center for the Arts special event in 2018.

Given the history-consciousness of the Bowden family, it didn’t shock me to see that they were way ahead of me on the repeat-photography. Anyway, here is the overlay. Enjoy the rest of your week(s)! Thank you again to the hotel owners and staff for their help with the hotel’s history.

The Stearns Hotel (Ludington, MI) in a 1938-mailed postcard, and in June 2021 (overlay). Both images SonicGeography.com.