Time to shake off the dust and clear off the cobwebs! After a year bereft of conferencing, I’m excited to announce that I will be presenting my research on using music videos to teach Geography this Friday morning at 11:30 AM ET. Anyone interested can access the Zoom Link here, and the password is “geosym2021.”
My presentation is entitled ‘Dreaming of Distant Pleasures: Teaching Geography with Music Videos,’ and I’ll paste the abstract below. I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends/colleagues and finally getting a long-in-the-works piece of pedagogy work out there. Hopefully this will see the light of day in some journal before too long.
Music videos are unmistakably geographic. Academics have been preoccupied with them since long before MTV, culminating in what cultural critic Simon Frith said, by 1988, had “generated more scholarly nonsense than anything since punk.” Despite videos’ potential for communicating and understanding sense of place, however representative, geography research on the cultural constant has been limited. Even more limited has been any approach to using music videos to teach geography. In my time teaching undergraduate courses on World Regional Geography, the Geography of Popular Culture, and related cultural topics, music videos have consistently provided valuable perspective into how artists represent and reproduce place. Additionally, the reoriented access to music videos in the streaming video era, especially those previously propelled by heavy rotation on MTV, MuchMusic, and an array of upstart cable networks in the late-20th century, has given life to countless forums of (often highly personal) open-access ethnographic content. This paper seeks to build off of Smiley and Posts’ (2014) foundation on the valuable role that popular music plays in geography pedagogy. Using multiple examples of videos and video-related assignments, I argue that music videos provide an excellent foundation for communicating and understanding the relationship(s) between music, memory, and place.
Sources Cited: Frith, Simon. Music for Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop. New York: Routledge, 1988. Smiley, Sarah L, and Chris W Post. “Using Popular Music to Teach the Geography of the United States and Canada.” Journal of Geography 113, no. 6 (2014): 238-46.
If you wanna scream, SCREAM WITH ME. In honor of Glenn, Jerry, Doyle, Bobby, and the various other players who composed New Jersey’s greatest horror-punk export (Michale Graves excepted), this month’s challenge issues 30 days of pure, uncut horror business with a side of brains (which can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or brunch).
I should probably explain where I’ve been.
Living, mainly. As I mentioned last month, I got somewhat burned out and decided to let some other maniacs take the wheel. In my stead, my internet-friend Matt (who I met through a Facebook group of DC-diaspora friends who really took to these song-a-day challenges) stepped in and filled the gap for February with his excellent Not-by-ABBA challenge. Like a man after my own heart, Matt turned right around from one of the glitziest, poppiest pop groups in history and suggested “Misfits March.” The result is what you see up there.
I’m excited to have a new song-a-day challenge up here of my own co-creation. Per usual, download it, share it, tell a friend (or foe), and remember there’s only one rule. Don’t forget to hashtag it #NotByTheMisfits!
BONUS CHALLENGE My friend Marissa, who has been running similar photo challenges on her pandemic Facebook group, has once again collaborated with the Not-By theme for this month. It is the Misfits-based photo challenge! No photos of any of the Misfits necessary.
In early 1938, Ben Irving took his third (documented) trip through Florida, stopping around the Tampa Bay region on the 16th-19th of January. It’s unclear what his specific business was in Clearwater, but he wrote on the reverse of this postcard (above) that he was on his way across to Tampa, likely around Safety Harbor on route 17.
Shortly after the Great 2020 “Lockdown” began, my partner and I took a drive across to check out Clearwater and seek out a pair of postcard sites from Irving’s collection. We spent half the day there without realizing that Clearwater is basically to Scientologists what Salt Lake is to the Latter-Day Saints. We should have noticed it when we saw the intense glow-up on the Hotel Fort Harrison, which Irving had visited previously in 1936 (and will likely earn its own entry sometime). If you want a harrowing gaze into the Scientologists’ relationship with Clearwater, check out these documents from the Seventies.
Anyway, this entry is about Clearwater Beach, which is a municipality of Clearwater on a long, skinny offshore archipelago across the causeway into the Gulf. It has a more distinct beach-tourism orientation with a major aquarium and, apparently, 100% more Hulk Hogans. On the northern isthmus of the island, right before it tapers off and becomes Caladesi Island State Park, lies the Carlouel Yacht Club, established in 1934.
It would be interesting to see an analysis on the discourse of the term “yacht club” during the Depression versus now (whether the emphases on privatization and exclusivity were different at the time), but either way, Clearwater Beach used a photograph of a Cabana scene there to advertise itself in the pre-Disney era. There were enough families in the area by this point two decades past the city’s incorporation who could afford the $100 membership (roughly $1,950 in 2021), and the Cabanas, facing out into the Dunedin Channel (a smart move, given storm surges off the Gulf), were a good image to sell the area to snow-bound Northerners. It must have worked, since the club operated exclusively in the winter months prior to 1954, when I assume Clearwater’s permanent resident population ironed out. An official 1950 count put the population around 15,000; today it is well over 115,000.
On that initial visit to scope out the Yacht Club, for reasons of privacy and COVID, we were not able to talk our way in. However, I met the club’s General Manager Kelley Williams outside, and we exchanged info. A little over a month later, I was able to line up an appointment to wander the grounds with the above postcard. Kelley took great interest in my postcard, and it occurred to her that they had the original reference photograph somewhere. After some searching, she found it on the wall of a small bathroom upstairs from the central Palmer Room. I was dumbfounded:
Kelley was unaware of who framed the image and ascribed the “ca. 1940’s” caption on the plaque or when they did it, but the postmark on Irving’s postcard proved that the photo was taken sometime in the 1930’s. I have no way to prove my suspicion that the photo was completely staged, but that’s still my suspicion, along with how the picture was probably taken shortly after the cabana housing was completed. Why wouldn’t they have wanted to show it off, along with the mile-plus of sandy beach on their doorsteps?
As much as I hate photos of printed photos (especially those with frame glare), I couldn’t find a scanned version. Here’s the original with a special overlay of the postcard:
I also didn’t realize, even as I was searching for the original depicted site to re-photograph it, that the image captured a profoundly physically different era for the club. In the mid-1950’s, around when the club switched to year-round operation, a fire destroyed most of the original structure. From the history page on the Carlouel website:
During the reconstruction, the decor changed from casual to a more formal appearance. Later improvements included enclosing the bay front terrace, adding the Palmer Room, building a sea wall, roque court, swimming pool, tennis courts, and additional cabanas. The short-course Olympic pool was added in 1962.
I guessed that they would stage the photo right inside the club’s entrance, but I did not suspect how the original waterfront was basically extinct. Kelley did not have access to any old maps or other documentation about the reconstruction, and I suspect few, if any, members from that time are still around to recall it. All I could really do was take a guess based on how the main entrance and banquet hall sit on the club’s classic acreage. I am prepared to be told I am way off, but here are two of my guesses:
I’m partial to the latter, since it also worked with the current setup of the cabana housing, which is now formed of connected units, unlike the individual houses seen in the pre-1938 photo. The landscaping is so radically different from the original photo that I also took the horizon into consideration, as well as how much space the beachfront sand originally occupied.
I also looked up the satellite imagery of the Yacht Club (above), which only served to add to my confusion. If the Club has not acquired or last any land since the 1930’s (which is perfectly unlikely), then those Tennis courts are directly on top of what was once the voluminous beach. Interestingly enough, you can see on this satellite image where the public Mandalay Point Road ends and a private drive of mansions with boats (some appear to be yachts) docked across the street.
Per usual, cracking a little into the mystery behind a landscape depicted on one of Ben Irving’s postcards has generated a bevy of new questions. Maybe I’ll have to go back there sometime. Maybe someone who was there and then will see this and reach out to me. Either way, it was a privilege to do this. Special thanks to Kelley J. Williams and all the Carlouel members and staff on board that day. Until next time…
Through February 26th, the GeoSym committee (Geography Grad Students Research Symposium) at the University of Tennessee are accepting abstracts for their 2021 meeting (online), rescheduled from 2020. I’ll share their CFA below, with contact information for the co-chairs, Danny and Lindy. I had the privilege of chairing this biennial event in its second occurrence in 2016, and I echo their remarks that it’s a wonderful, congenial place to present new research, especially for first-timers.
CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: GEOSYM 2021
We are pleased to welcome you to GeoSym 2021, the student-led conference for geography at the University of Tennessee. This year, GeoSym will be held on Zoom from Thursday, March 18th to Friday, March 19th.
If you are looking for a place to share your research in a relaxed, genial environment, this is a great option. Opportunities exist for undergrads, grad students, and faculty to present their research in a series of panels and presentations. We also welcome professionals employed in geography and related disciplines to present their research.
EVENT KEYNOTE SPEAKERS
Dr. Latoya Eaves is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Dr. Eaves’ research focuses on critical approaches to race, gender, and queer geographies with a regional focus on the U.S. South. She is a member of the Governing Council of the American Association of Geographers and is a co-founder of the AAG Black Geographies Specialty Group. Dr. Eaves earned her PhD in Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University (Miami, FL) and previously served as assistant professor at Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, TN) before joining us at UT.
Dr. Stephanie Shepherd is an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Auburn University. Her research is focused on fluvial geomorphology, anthropogenic impacts on riverine systems, and GIS applications to these topics. Dr. Shepherd earned her PhD in Environmental Dynamics from the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR) and previously served as assistant professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (Bloomsburg, PA) and as visiting assistant professor at Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, PA).
Registration for GeoSym 2021 is free. Sign up at this link between now and February 26, 2021. Abstracts and scheduling information are submitted at this same link.
We look forward to having everyone join us and please do not hesitate to contact us with questions.
Back at the beginning of the pandemic “lockdown” (as much it can be called that in the United States), when I put together a matrix for the #SonicGeographySongChallenge, I didn’t imagine my idea for the following month, #NotbyBillyJoel, would lead to a new challenge every remaining month in 2020. Over the New Year, I decided to take January off. I had a couple of ideas in the works for February, but before I could follow through, I got contacted by [NAME REDACTED] of a (mainly DC expats) Facebook group I’m in asking if he could use my matrix for his own idea. I gladly said yes and sent the Photoshop file over to Matt… uh, I mean [redacted].
Imagine my surprise when I logged into Facebook on Monday morning and saw not only the #NotbyAbbaChallenge, but also two others: one by Paul, a teacher down in Miami, and another by my friend Mike and his buddy challenging people to NOT post love songs all month.
I would be remiss if I didn’t post them all here. I should have done that yesterday, but the day got away from me for various reasons. Anyway, enjoy the “Not by ABBA” Challenge, the “Not a Love Song” challenge, and the “Not by Queen” challenge, all to keep your February filled with music in its 28 days.
In case anybody is wondering, my Day-1 choices for all three challenges were Refused songs. If you can guess which three, then more power to you.
Happy 2021, everyone. What a year it has been so far. I wish I could join those feeling a vague sense of relief and optimism, but over the past few days, to quote Micah Schnabel, “I’ve got a bad case of innocent-people-being-murdered-by-angry-white-men blues.”
I am not in the mood to go into much detail here (the link below will do that), but I will remind anyone that the casualties of the COVID era haven’t been confined to ICUs. There are plenty of people who would still be alive if they weren’t so blessed born in a country whose response to the pandemic has been rooted in passionate ignorance and contempt for the working classes. Suffice it to say that my friend Alexis would still be with us (and improving the world with her brands of charm and talent) if this country had anything resembling sensible mental health counseling and/or gun control legislation. Maybe if the state of Tennessee (and Cazzy’s Corner Restaurant) wasn’t so thoughtless as to let rich white folks keep on brunchin’ in the middle of a pandemic.
It’s all so maddening, and I’m grateful to the community who knew Alexis as well as my students for reminding me that as senselessly as she died, her death is going to motivate us all to take action and change this reality that nobody asked for.
Considering how much down-time 2020 has afforded us, I found myself surprisingly mobile this year. It turns out that driving across the country is a good socially-distanced activity, even when passing through states which are, with a lot of help from psychopathic governors and yell-talking Boomers who still think they have a shot with that 20-something bartender, COVID-addled nightmares.
Speaking of Florida, I found myself back in Mayo, the seat of the state’s thinly populated Lafayette County. The whole county’s population sits well under 10,000, and the Republican Party ticket dominated over 85% of the vote, among the most lopsided differential in the state. I hate to paint any state as “Red” or “Blue,” considering how Georgia proved that nothing is permanent, but Florida really feels like the quintessential nest for Trumpism (see previous paragraph). I’m still unconvinced that boats can operate in Tampa Bay unless they are flying at least two MAGA flags. Further into this tangent, the preponderance of Trump boat parades led some right-wing pundits to express sheer shock at their Dear Leader losing based upon this gaudy empirical evidence. It’s almost like they learned nothing from the 1936 Literary Digest election poll, but some a bizarre inverse version focusing on people whose identity and self-worth is expressed through boat ownership (that I’m not qualified to conduct).
Five years ago, I wrote about how some colleagues and I first wound up in Mayo in 2010 while interviewing locals about 2001 wildfires. In March 2015, my friend and I stopped through on a scenic drive between Tallahassee and Gainesville. A number of shops and eateries that I recalled from 2010 were no longer there, including one prominent smokehouse, which I believe had turned into a pizza place of dubious functioning status.
I only had time to grab lunch at a corner cafe (apparently defunct, even as of this writing 5 months later), take a few photos of the amazing Lafayette County Court House (and Chateau de Lafayette across the street, seen in this post’s cover photo), and stop into the Dust Catcher thrift shop, run by Vi Johnson.
I chatted with Vi for a few minutes before purchasing a one-time-use camera from 1999 and getting back on the road. Despite owning the building, Vi was hoping that somebody would buy her out, considering how many books and curios she had accumulated with no real hope for moving otherwise. Similar to many similar towns I’ve found via the Ben Irving Postcard Project (Belding, MI, for example), the Interstate Highways had long since redirected most traffic away from FL-27, sapping the tiny municipality of any real potential for sustainable economic gains. As if that wasn’t already an insurmountable challenge to any local entrepreneurs, she added, the opening of Dollar stores at opposing ends of Main Street “absolutely killed” her. Additionally, the biggest local company, a logging concern, had successfully petitioned to remove most of the parallel parking spots from Main Street in order to give their mammoth trucks unfettered access to tear through the mostly-vacant downtown. I’m not injecting any personal opinion here when I type that it’s a sad state of affairs.
Anyway, the last thing I want to do is look down my nose at small towns that are, through no fault of their own, aging out and clinging to life. I finally read Chris Arnade’s book Dignity this fall, and in it, he outlines the danger of romanticizing the struggles of those “left behind” in America. I also struggle with my love of small towns, considering how I have never really lived in one. As I’ve also written here, I grew up in a town that loved throwing that label around, but considering how much money (both New England-auld and 90’s nouveau-riche) swirls through the place, I would refrain from slapping John Cougar Mellencamp in the background of a video about it (more on that coming in 2021).
If anybody reads this and happens to know somebody opening up a retro-style café or bar, I have a lead on a functioning, vintage soda fountain for sale in North Florida. You can’t see much of it in this photo (below), but it’s under there, I promise, and it’s a classic.
Grab your $29, fill your jockey full of bourbon, and clap hands while whistling through the graveyard, it’s the NOT-BY-TOM-WAITS SONG-A-DAY CHALLENGE!
As I hinted yesterday, for most Tom Waits fans, the mere mention of Little Anthony and the Imperials elicits thoughts of “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” one of the truly saddest and funniest and most beautiful songs ever written. It’s also not the only Minneapolis song I drew directly from for this challenge; “9th and Hennepin,” a standout track from ‘Rain Dogs,’ gave me an excuse to ask everyone for songs about intersections (the topic of one of the first episodes of The Casual Geographer). Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out his songwriting (and life) partner Kathleen Brennan, since she co-wrote or inspired many of these alluded classics.
In honor of Mr. Waits’ birthday on the 7th of the final month of a year in which we all felt, at points, like the Earth was dying screaming, I couldn’t resist this. DIG IN:
Per usual, there is only one rule, and it’s self-explanatory. Be careful with this one, though; Tom is all over pop culture in places you may not expect. Download the matrix, have fun, don’t forget to tag it #NotByTomWaits, and keep asking around regarding where Mr. Knickerbocker’s at (even if nobody’s sure).
I try to refrain from using profanity on this site, but as your special treat for this unveiling, enjoy my favorite Tom Waits Letterman interview, which is probably the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.
Thanks again to Courtney for coming up with the vast majority of these! I’m so glad to be able to collaborate with her, even from afar. Since I’m hardly a Broadway expert, I wasn’t at all tempted to break this month’s rule, but it also sent me down a musicological path where I started wondering “what IS a showtune?” Because you could make arguments that certain pop songs that were never technically in stage musicals are still showtunes in the sense that ‘Die Hard’ is a Christmas movie.
Anyway, here is the matrix, for reference, and my list, below:
Spinal Tap – “Gimme Some Money”
Airiel – “In Your Room”
The Coup / Dead Prez – “Get Up”
Leadbelly – “The Bourgeois Blues”
Richard Marx – “Endless Summer Nights”
Carl Douglas – “Dance the Kung Fu” (the little-remembered miiiiilking-it follow-up to his legendary one hit wonder)
American Steel – “Maria” (this song is so good, I’ll go out of my way to link it here)
The Stone Roses – “I Wanna be Adored”
The Field Mice – “Emma’s House”
Rob Zombie – “Dragula”
ABBA – “Mamma Mia”
Scissor Sisters – “Take Your Mama”
The Zombies – “Beechwood Park”
Steve Martin – “Late for School”
The Chicks – “Gaslighter”
The Queers – “Everything’s OK”
Gang of Four – “Guns or Butter”
Red City Radio – “Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads”
The Pietasters – “Girl Take It Easy”
A.C. Newman – “Drink to Me Babe Then”
Groovie Ghoulies – “Hair of Gold (and Skin of Blue)”
The Hextalls – “I’m the Best (in Bed)”
Fountains of Wayne – “Valley Winter Song” (RIP Adam Schlesinger)
Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t” (feat. Busman’s Holiday!)
Jaya the Cat – “Shit Jobs for Rock”
The Get Up Kids – “I’m a Loner, Dottie, a Rebel”
Lungfish – “Put Your Hand in my Hand” (I had to go with Moss Icon on Instagram, since Dischord’s catalog isn’t on there)
New Order – “Touched by the Hand of God”
Poison – “Talk Dirty to Me”
Jets to Brazil – “Cat Heaven”
Thanks for playing and your continued support, everybody. The December Song Challenge will go up here tomorrow at 8am ET. Here is a clue to your December theme, below. It’s a bad clue, because almost everybody who loves the featured artist will immediately get it, but a clue nonetheless. NO (public) GUESSES.