About Tyler

Geographer who likes comedy and records and probably you.

A Brief Look Back at the Oral History Association Weekend in the Twin Cities

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As predicted, I had a fantastic time in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Thanks to my friend and former colleague Liz for being a great host and accompanying me on a tour of Paisley Park, thanks to the Oral History Association for putting on a great little conference and bringing Staunton and Alice Lynd to speak, and thanks to the Twin Cities for just being so cool. I know I should have expected as much from the metropolis that somehow produced (among many, many others) Prince, Dillinger Fourand Mitch Hedberg.

It’s going to take me some time to go through all the photos, sift through all of the links to other great oral history projects in the pipeline, and write anything substantive about the conference and my time up there. But, I’m grateful I decided to go and present this year.  I learned valuable new interviewing techniques, as well as a diverse set of recently uncovered histories including that of the Anoka State Hospital, the cultural landscape of 20th Street in Saskatoon (short documentary here), Denver’s legendary Band Box Record label, the NoDak* press (documentary here), and an enticing program to help keep everything in order, the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS).

The best decision I made all weekend, however, was joining a guided tour of the American Indian cultural corridor on Franklin Avenue. Just in time for Indigenous People’s Day on October 9th, we walked through North America’s strongest urban concentration of native american (in this case, Ojibwe and Dakota/Lakota) life. Our guides, Alan Gross and Tom LaBlanc, did not mince words when it came to the States’ and cops’ perpetually horrid treatment of indigenous Americans, which was as refreshingly honest as it was cringe-inducing.

Also, bonus respect is due to Adrienne Cain’s meticulous use of Prince GIFs in the OHA twitter account and inspiring me to do the same above (but I’ll probably tone it down in the coming entries, though…maybe).

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this somewhat brief update, and if you’re from the OHA, feel free to pass this along via email, social media, or even word of mouth. Here are some extra pictures from around Minneapolis, St. Paul, and their outskirts this weekend. I can’t wait for my next excuse to go back. Next time, I’ll actually remember to bring some of the Ben Irving postcards, too.

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* I’ve never been to North Dakota (outside of passing through it on a train trip in 2013), but I picked up this shortened term for it in 2011 from a MPLS friend who grew up there, and it stuck with me. NoDak/SoDak. You’re welcome.

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New Article Published in ‘Arts and the Market’ Journal

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aamcoverJust a quick announcement that I have a new article out this week! I wrote a piece about the idea of the vinyl record as a souvenir for the Emerald Publishing journal Arts and the Market. Thanks to the editorial staff for helping me sculpt this one, which originated as a research paper for a seminar on tourism. I drew equally on some older MA thesis research on the marketplace around vinyl as well as some PhD research on the seismic legend around harDCore.

Sonnichsen, T. (2017). Vinyl tourism: records as souvenirs of underground musical landscapes. Arts and the Market 7 (2), 235-248.

You can check out this issue as well as prior issues of Arts and the Market on the Emerald Insight page here. Depending on your institutional access, you may be able to find the HTML or PDF version of the article directly from there. If not, then don’t hesitate to contact me and I can help get you a copy.

Oral History Association Meeting This Week in Minneapolis

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For the first time in six years, this week I’ll be returning to the land of Prince, Mitch Hedberg, The ‘Mats, D4, Hüsker Dü, Extreme Noise, the North Stars Wild, the Juicy Lucy, and so much more. I couldn’t be more excited to be back in a place with (1) temperate weather and (2) stuff that’s actually open on Sundays. North-Country paradise!

This will be my first year attending the national meeting of the Oral History Association, and my first oral history conference in general. I look forward to all of the historians I may meet and the variety of valuable lessons I’ll get to learn in quantitative methods, digital archiving, and anything else in which OHA members specialize. For anyone interested, I’m presenting “Memories of Violence and Punk’s Challenge to Oral History” in a session called ‘Oral History at the Intersection of Place and Culture’ this Thursday at 2:15pm, Conrad B Room in the Hilton Minneapolis, right downtown. Program Link.

Otherwise, I’ll be all over the place per usual, hitting landmarks and buying records. If you’re in the Twin Cities, I would love to see you and catch up.

Ben Irving Visits Historic Westwood Tomorrow (9/15) at Noon

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I’ll be bringing my presentation about the life and somewhat-unintentional legacy of Ben Irving (and our collective digital heritage) to Knox Heritage tomorrow for their ‘Lost & Found Luncheon’ series. This will be my first time presenting about Irving in Knoxville since I presented a (heavily truncated) version of the talk at Pecha Kucha last November, and my first time presenting the full version since Western MA last Thanksgiving. I’m very excited to bring this to Historic Westwood.

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More info on the event is available at their website, which I’ll paste below. You can also RSVP to the Facebook event, which I found just now.

Lunch is available on a first-come, first-served basis at 11:30 a.m. The talk will begin promptly at noon. Please RSVP to Hollie Cook at hcook@knoxheritage.org or at 865-523-8008. FREE. ALL ARE WELCOME.

Reagan Bombs – Wind Me Up

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Though he moved to LA a few years ago, superstar DJ Jesse Tittsworth can’t escape the pull of the DC music he grew up with. Partnering with filmmaker Scott Sanders, known for the 2009 blaxploitation comedy Black Dynamite, Reagan Bombs updates DC’s indigenous go-go sound with Techno and House influences to create “DC GoWave”. Their self-titled album was released on cassette and digital by the DC label Swedish Columbia run by Shelby Cinca, formerly of the DC bands Frodus and The Cassettes. The album’s first single is “Wind Me Up”, a well-known go-go catch phrase, and Sanders edited this music video with some of the same classic go-go VHS footage that contributed to the samples in the album.

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…Supergeil

In August 2015, I left Paris after a month of fieldwork to do some travelling in the low countries. One of my best college friends and her husband, who was in the German Air Force, were living in Bedburg-Hau, a pastoral Rhineland community outside Kleve. I had a couple of days to spend out in the country with them before returning to Amsterdam to fly back to the States. This turned out, by the way, to be a wonderful coda for a month of work abroad, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

In order to get to Kleve (where my friend’s husband, whom I had never met, was planning to pick me up, I needed to take one train from Amsterdam to Nijmegen, then quickly transfer to a bus that crossed the border, rode through some suburbs and into Kleve’s small bus depot. Because I had no cell phone service outside of France, and there were no evident sources of WiFi in the plaza where this stranger had apparently (hopefully) been dispatched to pick me and my bags up, I stood around on the curb next to Kleve’s quiet railroad depot. I debated going into a bar full of elderly locals to try to get a WiFi signal or use their phone to call my friend, but I didn’t speak any German and I was worried my ride would roll by, not see me, and return home to the countryside. So, I waited there, occasionally pacing around the traffic entry, naively hoping that every car that approached was the one sent to get me. I don’t remember how much time passed, but it felt like an eternity. ‘This is how our parents used to travel,’ I figured, wondering how many hours people whittled away waiting for rides in foreign countries in the twentieth century.

I eventually got restless and wandered over to the opposite side of the street, trying to get a read on whether this bar was worth trying to drag myself and my massively heavy suitcase into, hoping someone wouldn’t start yelling at me in German. As I would find out later, this pocket of the Rhineland had little use for English. They didn’t entertain many tourists from the UK or USA. Right as I was about to step inside, I saw a car roll up with a young man in a Red Sox cap on. “Are you Tyler?”

We got acquainted on the drive over to pick my friend up from her new job (the reason she had to send her husband to come pick me up). My friend and I shared a big hug and the predictable platitudes about how many years it had been since we had last hung out in Boston or Syracuse or wherever our paths had last crossed (probably Syracuse). We excitedly caught up as we got back to their gorgeous duplex house in Bedburg-Hau, both of them telling me about the sleepy life in the Rhineland. I asked my friend how she had adjusted to German life, and what was so different from that of the US.

What happened next is up for debate, as I don’t remember exactly how it happened. The important element was that it happened.

My friend’s husband interjected, “you should show him the video!”

My friend lit up; “Oh god, the video! Ty, have you ever seen ‘Supergeil?'” I hadn’t. Apparently, ‘supergeil’ is German slang for cool/hip/fun/etc. We sat down in their living room, they turned on their TV, and this was what happened next:

After the commercial ended (and I had taken a moment to compose myself), I told my friends “If I ever get to teach a class on the Geography of Europe, that’s what I’m going to start with on Day One.” Last week, I got to make good on this promise to a class of 40+ at the University of Tennessee, and now I have shared this with you. YOU’RE WELCOME.

If you’re interested in the story/demystifying what you just saw, you can read up on Friedrich Leichtenstein here.

‘Exploring Europe’ Preview: The Time I Got Very Lost in Segovia

CIMG9195This fall, I will have the privilege of teaching my second 300-level Geography course at the University of Tennessee, and my first focusing specifically on Europe. I am still in the teeth of designing the curriculum, but I have been enjoying combing through my Europe travel archives for possible lectures and lesson plans. I’ve already found at least four places of interest for separate case studies, one of which I’m excited to share here:

The Time I Got Very Lost in Segovia

In July 2015, I took a weekend trip to Madrid to see some friends in the middle of my fieldwork month in Paris. After spending time in northern France, it truly struck me just how off-center Spain (particularly Madrid) was from the socio-economic core of Europe (clustered between Paris, Frankfurt, and the Low Countries). Prior to this trip, Spain had always been my base of travel and tourism in Europe, so it never really hit me how relatively distant Spain was from the core of the continent. It wasn’t necessarily a positive or a negative attribute; it was just the first time it hit me.

On my second day there, I saw my hosts off to work and walked over to the nearby RENFE station. Apparently, Spain (or at least the Capital region) had upgraded its regional rail system a bit since I had last visited in 2009. The most profound difference was that, because I took a commuter bullet train up there, it dropped us off in a brand new, state of the art, station in the middle of nowhere. In 2009, my train stopped at the station on the south side of town, a lengthy walk from the Cathedral and Aqueduct but still walk-able. Because I was leaving Northern Madrid, I was taking an AVE train to the specialized AVE station, which had clearly been built within the previous few years. It stood in the middle of a giant pasture off of the highway, connected to downtown Segovia by incredibly inexpensive shuttle buses. I got in line to wait for the shuttle, eager to get there realizing that trying to walk would end with me recreating the opening scene from Paris, TX.

CIMG9180On the shuttle, I met a friendly newlywed couple from Massachusetts who complimented my Red Sox cap. I quickly admitted that I’d shifted my allegiance to the Nationals, but still loved being from New England and I’d had the hat forever. We broke into conversation about our experiences in Spain over the years. He explained that he was a Spanish teacher who periodically led high school trips there; his new wife had never been, so there was little doubt where they were going to spend their delayed honeymoon. When we got to the Aqueduct, we grabbed coffee and I told him that the reason I fell in love with travel, geography, and Spain at large was because I went on one of the high school group trips that he fought administrations and budget cuts to lead. Even though none of us had ever met before, it felt strangely full circle to be back in Segovia with a Spanish teacher from New England, talking about the importance of foreign language education. Tragically, I have forgotten both of their names. I probably wrote them down somewhere, but it’s been two years. I am pretty sure I gave him one of my cards, but I know how easily those get misplaced. On the outside chance that anyone who sees this knows these kind people, let me know.

After we said our goodbyes, I honed in on my mission for this visit. Ever since I first visited Segovia in 2000, a little cathedral outside the city walls had piqued my curiosity. My sense of perspective was a little off, so I assumed that it was a few kilometers (not an impossible walk) outside of the city walls, next to the Alcazar. Keep in mind here that I did not have an international data plan, so unless I could duck into or saddle up next to a cafe or business with free and open WiFi (a rarity in any tourism epicenter), I was travelling largely unmoored by technology. Strangely, it felt like 2000 all over again.

Here is the spoiler: the little cathedral, which was called La Iglesia de la Veracruz (simple enough) was actually not even one kilometer outside of the city’s northwestern entry point; it turned out to be, as I would find out later, sweaty and exhausted, about a five minute walk back into Segovia proper. It just seemed like a mysterious little outpost, a tiny monastery-looking thing residing in my memory on the outskirts of the city. In 2000, when we were touring the Alcazar and looking out over the vast, beautiful plains that surrounded the town, I was really into Sierra Role Playing Games like Quest for Glory IV and my all-time favorite, King’s Quest VI. La Iglesia de la Veracruz reminded me of those outposts your character would encounter after screens of vast nothingness. Somehow, you needed to get your character into that outpost, because somewhere in there was a key to your journey, or at least a weird but friendly loner who had a valuable piece of information for you.

If I had walked to the Alcazar, then I may have spotted the church from the city’s northern wall. However, I wandered along a road toward the city’s western expanse, stopping at the Bar Los Claveles for some tapas. Further down el Paseo Ezequiel Gonzalez, I saw an interesting set of signs, which included a fancy view of the city’s southern wall and a… Jewish cemetery?

I headed further out, not realizing how desolate the landscape got so quickly. Undeterred, I kept going, convinced that this would turn into a ring-road that would hook around the Alcazar right to this mysterious little church I’d been wondering about for almost two decades. What I found wasn’t just a Jewish cemetery – it was a Jewish necropolis.

As most of you know, the Spanish regents Ferdinand and Isabella cast all Jews and Muslims out of Spain in 1492 as part of their historically short-sighted decree to “unify” the Spanish peninsula under their Catholic God and a strange new law of the land that somehow had no use for a middle class. This meant that this cemetery predated 1492, which was interesting in itself. The fact that Judaism was essentially put in exile by a despotic order less than one kilometer from where this necropolis sat made it even more geographically and symbolically unbelievable.

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I took this picture of the castle where Ferdinand and Isabella ruled standing less than 500m down the hill from a Jewish necropolis.

I continued down the road, spotting a faded painting of Marty Feldman as Igor on a rock outcropping (see above). I’m glad that Mel Brooks’ influence is still as pervasive in Spain as it is in the States. Granted, it could have been American street artists who painted it, but I’m going to assume it was locals.

And then I kept walking. And walking. And walking. The city’s walls and all signs of tourism infrastructure (the shuttle bus routes) started to disappear. The cloud system I saw on the horizon wasn’t getting close enough to protect me from the sun’s searing heat. I wandered by what felt like a portion of Segovia’s hinterland; I stopped to take a photo of a shuttered plant of some kind. After what felt like another kilometer, I finally came to a right turn. I saw a restaurant that had a few cars parked in front of it, so I decided to stop in and see if anybody had any idea what I was looking for, and where I could find it. Bear in mind that I was covered in sweat and people rarely, if ever, just walked in there on foot from the walled city over three kilometers away.  After looking at this area on Google Maps, I remember that this restaurant was called San Pedro Abanto, and it was part of an old Inn. I ordered a Coke and asked the young woman at the bar about this little church. She started asking me some specifics that I did not know the answer to, but fortunately, a group of elderly folks was leaving lunch and they overheard my question. One older woman told me the name of the church, and that I had to walk a few minutes back and take the road up the hill to my left. I thanked everyone profusely, too grateful that I had directions to realize how much more walking that entailed.

As I headed up the road for the next two-kilometer stretch, the clouds that I had spotted an hour earlier were now overhead. I took a few more pictures of the sky, which now looked stunning, draped over the scenic hillside. Then something occurred to me; I was probably about to get soaked. My fourth trip to Segovia had already been my most interesting but had been veering towards officially becoming my worst. By the time I reached the next stop, a little township called Zamarramala (HOW HAD I WALKED TO ANOTHER TOWN?), I had walked at least 5 kilometers due to a wrong turn and didn’t even have any disease research to sponsor. I wound up stopping in yet another restaurant, an empty bar built next to a yellow train car.

CIMG9221All I remember was seeing a placard having to do with Antonio Machado, the legendary Generation of ’98 poet. I went inside and had a similar conversation with the woman behind the bar, asking her if she could call me a cab if it started pouring. Fortunately, the rain held off and she told me I could get back to Segovia proper (and the little church) following the road headed Southeast. The clouds started to pass, so I set back out on foot.

After another kilometer back in the direction of the Alcazar, I reached the crest of a hill. There it was. La Iglesia de la Vera Cruz. It looked just as secluded, mysterious, yet oddly inviting as I had remembered it for all those years. I took a moment to be furious at myself, seeing how close it was to the North wall of the Alcazar – I had left the city on the wrong side. As it turns out, I could have also doubled back over a hill with another landmark cathedral and saved myself a solid hour and a half of walking. But what would the fun have been in that? I chose to look at the bright side and reflect upon the random spots outside the city I would likely have died never knowing existed had I not taken that stupidly wrong turn past the Jewish Cemetery. Writing this now makes me want to go back to San Pedro Abanto someday for a proper meal, in fact.

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I walked past the church and into its nearly empty parking lot, save for one small car. I noticed there was an older man sitting in it. Strange, I thought. The church didn’t appear to be open, so I paced around it a few times. I felt somewhat dejected, going through all that I had to find this place and then finding it closed. I wasn’t shocked, though – I had no idea what it was called, and even if I had it would have involved a laundry list of complicated steps to contact them and ask if they were “open.” Did they even sell anything besides the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit? It didn’t seem to be much of a tourist destination, dwarfed by one of Spain’s biggest tourist magnets less than one kilometer down the road. As I rounded the opposite corner back toward the parking lot, I thought – at least I got to see it up clo-

The man was out of his car. He was standing on the ledge next to his parking space, looking out into the gigantic ravine with his hands in his pockets. Despite how many strangers I had engaged with in two languages that afternoon, I was getting a bad vibe from this man. He acted like there wasn’t a stranger there, wandering around and looking at the building inquisitively. I paced around and took a couple of photos, thinking that maybe I should leave. Without looking at me, the man turned, got down off the giant curb next to his car and walked toward the church door. He produced a key – a big lunk of a key.

‘Wait,’ I thought to myself, ‘Is this…’

He unlocked the massive door, slipped inside, and closed it behind him.

I stood there for a minute, rethinking my impending decision to walk back to the city wall. For all I remember, I could have boded my time by pacing around the church again. I had a lot of nerve I needed to conjure in order to go up and knock on that door. I was thousands of miles from home and I had nearly worn out my legs getting to this place, nearly collapsing from dehydration in the process. 17-year-old Tyler would have been furious if 32-year-old Tyler finally got to that little church on the outskirts and didn’t get inside. I walked up the steps, reached up, and knocked on the door twice. Three times.

After a pregnant moment, I heard something jostling the other side of the door. CLICK. The inset door opened; the quiet man saw me, said “espere” inaudibly, and shut the door immediately.

Uhhh. Huh. Had I just blown my chance? Or did I do something (read: existing) to annoy him and shut me out of the church? Either way, for the next 15 seconds, I was crushed. If I could have heard him better and he had enunciated, I would have realized he just told me to wait. As I turned around and stepped down from the stairs onto the parking lot, I heard the door creek open again. I turned and practically ran in the door. The quiet old man was sitting in a white booth, a box office on the left of the entryway, reading a newspaper and eating a sandwich. I wanted to minimize my interaction with this person, but I also wanted to avoid doing anything (read: breathing) to aggravate him even more. I saw a vague price guide, so I pulled out my wallet and a few Euro coins. “Eh, es gratuito” he said, waving his hand dismissively without even looking up from his paper.

CIMG9242At the risk of sounding sacrilegious: holy crap, I was inside that little church. After 15 years of wondering about it, I had finally made my way inside. I had to compose my thoughts for a second as I pulled my camera out, making sure that I had turned off the flash. The last thing I wanted, after clearly bothering the old man in the booth next to the door, was to give him an excuse to kick me out. I walked a circle around the pulpit, reading through some of the historical displays that surrounded it. I even took a selfie with a mannequin dressed as a nurse from the Guerra Civil. For those of you  who are curious, there are a lot of better-quality shots from the interior of the church on Wikimedia commons here. I’m still trying to discover what those red flags with the white arrows pointing inward are supposed to represent. It didn’t feel quite like the Church saw a whole lot of revenue from tithes anymore; it felt like a living memorial geared toward curious foreign visitors like me. The quiet man in the box office hardly had any game-winning strategic advice for me, but he did save me a couple of Euro by waiving the admission fee, so maybe he was sent out of some early-90s RPG. Either way, it was worth that trek, though next time I’m taking the short cut.

 

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I may need to lay clear my Spanglophilia on the first day of class, considering how its still the country where I’ve spent the most time outside the United States. Sonically, the course will probably include music from all over peninsula, including Asturian bagpipe jams, stereotypical Sevillano flamenco-style crooning, and even Malaguense power-pop from our friends in Airbag. One of my students contacted me from Basque country, where she is currently working on an archaeological field expedition. You can read her blog updates here.