Who is this Street Musician? (San Francisco, 1999)

Go ahead and file this entry under the alternate title, “Yet Another Reason I’m a Music Obsessive.”

I suppose I have relatively little in my life to regret. None of the ‘big’ decisions I’ve made (where to move, what career to pursue, relationships to develop) can be changed, so whenever I do get a pang of regret, it’s usually something arguably small: a concert I didn’t attend (e.g. Dillinger Four in DC this October) or a record I didn’t buy (e.g. that Brainiac reissue in New Orleans). Though, to be fair, Dillinger Four haven’t played their final show (just wait for them to get drunk enough and find the right bar in Minneapolis) and according to an old colleague Oliver Wang, those records will eventually find their way back to you if you’re paying attention.

So, here’s an anecdote about something almost twenty years ago that I regret to this day. In April 1999, my family and I flew out to San Francisco on a trip with my sister’s youth jazz band. Being an aspiring filmmaker at that time in my life, I hauled my little camcorder around the city with me. My sister’s band had a gig at Ghirardelli Square one afternoon, and I decided to film my walk down (what I can only assume was) Beach Street beforehand. I stopped for a moment to film an old man with an acoustic guitar, singing a wonderful rendition of “Georgia on my Mind.”

SF_Bluesman_1999

I glanced down at a small case of cassette tapes he had on the ground next to him, wondering if I had the cash in my wallet to buy one. I’d already spent most of my trip allowance (or conned my parents into spending their money) on CDs and I’m sure a small assortment of embarrassing souvenirs teenagers buy on trips to any big city.

Before I could act on that impulse, my Mom yelled for me to come join them over in the Square, since the show was about to start. I reached into my pocket and threw some change into the bin next to his tapes and left, already feeling pangs of regret for not buying a tape.

I have no idea what his name was, and no amount of video technology that’s been coded this century could focus and zoom in on the grainy video I shot of him that afternoon. Honestly, I’d have to go back to the tape in order to even see whether I’d even caught a glimpse of his merchandise case, but its doubtful. Not that having one of his tapes would necessarily answer these questions, but even at that age, I was incredibly curious about the stories behind his music. At any rate, I wish I’d been able to capture more than 15-20 seconds of him playing that one song.

So, I just figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw this out into the ether to my San Francisco friends or anybody who sees this that may have lived/worked around Ghirardelli Square at the time: does anybody know who this old man is? I would be amazed if he was still alive, considering how this was almost two decades ago and he already appeared to be well into his seventies. I wonder whether any of his tapes (I vaguely remember him having more than one different release) circulated locally, or whether any wound up in thrift stores after his patrons downsized? I recognize how unlikely it is that anything would come from this, but crazier things have happened on the internet. Come on, global village – redeem yourself!

 

Advertisements

The Mystery of Govi

I’ve been embroiled in trying to meet a couple of deadlines this week, so here’s another entry in a similar vein to the one about the Caretaker. Have you checked that one out? Because The Caretaker’s stuff is amazing.

Govi was an enigma to me for at least ten years. Maybe fourteen or fifteen, even. I realize calling him an “enigma” is appropriate, since he and Michael Cretu are both German-bred zen-seeking musicians with a flair for making music that suburban moms did crossword puzzles to in the nineties. Also, they both had ridiculous hair/general appearances while at their commercial peaks: Cretu looking more or less like you’d expect the person who made “Return to Innocence” to look, and Govi in full Alan Jackson cosplay on the cover of Cuchama, his third album and likely his first to be named for an indigenous holy site in the California desert. Because it was 1993 and fans of schitzophonic world music weren’t much for buying vinyl (it’s hard to flip the record over with wet clay all over your hands), the label Real Music (out of Sausalito, why not?) released it solely on CD.

cuchama_govi-600

Here’s a video somebody made for the song “Torero” accompanied by footage that appears to be taken from a Made-for-TV prequel to “The Prince of Tides.”

Now, I’ve never seen “The Prince of Tides,” and I have no idea what it’s about, but I think horses running on a beach wouldn’t be out of place in there. Here’s my story about why I love this song.

In June of 2000, I returned home from a coming-of-age trip to Spain with about 35 of my high school classmates. After sleeping off my first bout of jet lag, I went straight to the Napster-equipped family computer (possibly KaZaa, if it was after Lars Ulrich and his rich buddies detonated Napster) and searched for Flamenco music. One of the tracks that come up on the server just said “Govi-Flamenco.Mp3.” It had a very high usage rate on the network, which meant it would probably download in fewer than 3 hours. I double-clicked, and within a few minutes, I had a 5-minute long dream that transported me back to the whitewashed houses of Andalucía and the parched landscape on the outskirts of Segovia (my favorite place on that trip, and to this day one of my favorite cities on Earth).

The Mp3 lived on the hard drive of whatever computer I was using for years. I had a Compaq Presario laptop through my four years of college and into my first year living in DC. I burned it to mix CDs I would use for studying or really anything that required an ethereal Flamenco gypsy experience (so, you know…anything). Even as Wikipedia expanded into hegemony, it never occurred to me to seek out this recording’s origin story.

One day last year, I  was on YouTube, streaming music in my office when I wound up on some post-rock channel. Every now and again, I’ll decide that my work mode requires some This Will Destroy You (whose music, ironically, has the opposite effect on me). I listened to The Best Pessimist’s “Walking with Happiness,” an beautiful instrumental track that’s as great as its title is terrible.  YouTube, in its quest to make you listen to the same VEVO artist 35 times per day, slid me over into world-music territory on its algorithm. I clicked over to ensure that “Return to Innocence” wasn’t the next song in my queue, and I saw a few tracks by Govi lined up on the right column. I hadn’t thought of that name in ages, but I started stumbling through YouTube trying to remember what that song was called.

After a few false starts, I landed on one video with that unmistakable Flamenco guitar intro. This was it! It was called “Torero.” It certainly lent more credence to my idea that this was just some Spanish guitar guy backed by studio musicians. I didn’t expect, though, for Govi to look as vanilla as he did. After some light googling, I found out he wasn’t Spanish at all. He may have well been trying to fool people into thinking he was; he had an album called “AndalucÍan Nights,” for crying out loud. This would put him in league with Martin Denny, whose successful 1950’s Exotica records went to excessive lengths to put listeners in an Hawaiian frame of mind, despite being recorded by non-Islanders in New York City.

Speaking of Hawaii, guess who is based there now. Govi. He is German by birth (born Werner Monka in 1949),  played in various bands describable as “classic” rock in his early twenties, then went full-on New Age and moved to India. He adopted the name Govinda, which he shortened to Govi – how conveniently vaguely Spanish. I have no idea how well his albums have sold, but I guess he wouldn’t keep making them if nobody was buying them. He looks perfectly happy now at age 69, somehow looking younger with all of the gray hair and wrinkles than he did with the mustache and fluff-mullet thirty years ago when he put out his first album of pure moods. Speaking of which, it took long enough, but they included him on the fourth one.

discotop3

Of course, Govi has an official website with his authorized bio, if you want to check that out. I struggle to think of any other “mystery artists” I have, which is what makes me somewhat sad that the mystery of Govi has been solved. It doesn’t effect my enjoyment of “Torero,” but knowing what he looks like and his life story does strip the song of some of its power for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older and less imaginative, but when I hear the track, I don’t think as much about Southern Spain as I do about what Govi would look like playing it in some studio. This was at the root of the evil behind the cinematography of any novel, as well as MTV, open-access encyclopedias and streaming media: “We codify the image so you don’t need your own anymore.” Mystery is important, sometimes.

Texas punk cartoonist Ben Snakepit told a great story in his zine (it might be in the Tales from the Crapt zine; not sure) about once when he was a kid, he bought a Dead Milkmen tape at the mall. The cassette had a much more chaotic and abrasive band recorded onto it. Years later, working in a record shop, he heard the mystery band and all the memories of that moment, listening to this surprise recording in his room and being confused, came rushing back to him. That’s the first thing I thought about while writing this.

Alright, back to editing. If you have a similar “mystery band discovery” story, I would love for you to share it in the comments.

The Caretaker

I was going through an old notebook where I kept tabs on talks I saw at the 2015 Harvard Hearing Landscape Critically Conference, and I landed on a page where I didn’t leave myself much context. All it had was the name Jason McCool and “The Caretaker (Bandcamp)” written down. So, I checked it out, and I’m grateful I did.

 

I think “haunting” and “beautiful,” in that order, are two pretty accurate ways to characterize this. If that’s your thing, then check it out. Something about the music makes me surprised there’s a bit of reference for those interested here, on The Caretaker’s website. Manchester: So Much to Answer For!

I also found this great quote by Susan Youens from the same notebook: “Rememberance is more shaped by the moment than the moment by remembrance.” That’s some deep stuff, there.

 

Did YOU Have to Explain ‘Blossom’ to Your Students Today?

nickelodeon-time-capsule_5

In case any of you were wondering, yes my PhD is hard at work, discussing the dated early-career arc of Joey Lawrence to a group of confused students in my Population Geography class. Let me backtrack and explain how it came to this.

The University of Tennessee opened a 1906 time capsule left entombed somewhere in the Estabrook Building, one of my favorites on campus (and slated for demolition). I watched it on their Facebook Live video feed with my Population Geography students before they took their final exam this morning. I also paid attention the livestream of comments, which were a heady mixture of demands they stop blabbing and open it already, self-deprecating “jokes” about Tennessee Football, and (after they opened it and found… desiccated nothing) righteous anger and Geraldo Rivera references.

5a5beda4a5ae0-image

They historians on hand, including my colleague Bob Hutton (who would no doubt appreciate that last link), did a great job recovering from the disappointment. They had a comprehensive catalog of the items the 1906 crew left in the buried box, most of which had been preserved lovingly in the UT Archives behind them. They also took this opportunity to reiterate the value of well-maintained and funded archives, a sentiment upon which I’ve doubled down on multiple occasions.

Another curious byproduct of this experience was the seemingly inevitable reminscing about the Nickelodeon time capsule, which Mike O’Malley and Joey Lawrence buried in Orlando, on live television, on April 30, 1992. It was moved when Nickelodeon studios moved in 2005, but it is still slated to be opened on April 30, 2042 – fifty years to the day after it was buried.

The first epiphany I had was that 1992 was 26 years ago. 2042 is in 24 years. Society is more than halfway to the finish line of waiting to unearth this sealed box of early 90’s ephemera, most of which is readily available in thrift stores and vintage shops. Popular movies on VHS. An Orlando-distributed issue of TV Guide with Burt Reynolds on the cover. A hat embroidered with “WHOA! ’92” in honor of Joey Lawrence, then at the height of his teenybopper fame.

The latter item made me and an older student in my class (three years my junior) laugh out loud. When I saw the younger students looking on in confusion, I informed them that once upon a time, there was a show called Blossom that helped catapult their teenage cast to fame. I never watched the show, so I forgot that it starred Mayim Bialik , who is still incredibly famous as a star on The Big Bang Theory, perhaps the worst and most culturally caustic show ever produced (not a personal knock on Bialik by any means).

gi_153511_green20gak20lo20resIt’s impossible to predict these things, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the video camera they put into the capsule (after being unable to eject the tape) wound up being the most valuable thing upon unearthing in 2042. That, or the Barbie Doll in it’s original packaging. Or, maybe even the tube of Gak, a sticky slime compound cross-promoted with Nickelodeon shows whose name, somehow, functions as a stand-in for cocaine. You can’t make this stuff up.

So, in conclusion, time is like sands through the hourglass; I fear I may blink and it may be time for Mike O’Malley’s great-grandson to crack open that thing LIVE on YouComvrizoncasTube Mentalscreen Googlevision. There are more important lessons here, though, which can be applied to our experience from today. First, keep your archives funded and well-maintained by enthusiastic historians and lovers of material culture. Second, whenever your university gives you the opportunity, pull up a local Livestream to watch with your students. It may pull everyone on board, even temporarily, with campus civic life, and you never know what cultural revelation you may find, even if the capsule is empty.

RIP Steve Soto

oStopping by to leave a note in remembrance of Steve Soto, the longtime bassist and songwriter for the Adolescents. I don’t remember ever having the pleasure of meeting him, but multiple accounts from friends in and out of the SoCal punk community are unanimous that he was one of the nicest and funniest people in the history of that scene, as well as throughout the American ’80s hardcore underground.

I never played in a hardcore band, but I can’t overstate the importance of the Adolescents (especially their canon 1981 self-titled record) to me when I was getting into hardcore. They also played a role in unlocking my curiosity about the contrasts between Orange County and LA, a schism I would later dig into as a novice geographer sitting on the border of the two in Long Beach. Outside of my buddy Carlos’ mom’s amazing restaurant in Santa Ana, downtown Fullerton (one of the band’s home bases) would become, and remain, my favorite thing about the OC. A growing, collective interest in OC punk would also lead my Berlin colleagues Lucas Elsner and Lauri Turpeinin to present research on Californian suburbia at the 2016 AAG Meeting, where we met and have been friends ever since.

I had the opportunity to see the Adolescents play in 2006, when they toured through the Black Cat in DC. At the time, the original members were all in their forties, but the teenage son of one of the Agnew brothers was playing guitar in Rikk’s place, so the band’s name hadn’t lapsed into irony. When I heard that Soto had passed this morning, I thought back to that show, and I remembered how clearly Steve was doting on the young kid between songs, patting him on the back, smiling and shouting words of encouragement. The underground scene was lucky to have people like him.

Rest in power, Steve.

 

Thanks for reading! If you don’t own Adolescents, correct that immediately. I’ll be back soon with more geo-updates; I appreciate your collective patience. The summer has been much busier than I’d anticipated.

Remembering Tom Frazier

IMG_20110929_110421

Tom Frazier (standing) with our GEO 100 Class before their first exam, Fall 2012. Apologies for the poor focus (I blame my phone’s camera), but I always felt like this captured Tom in his element, surrounded my enthusiastic students.

Hi ProfTy,

I just wanted to wish you luck tomorrow and the next day, I know you will do great, as you are developing quite a winning teaching style, and the students love you too. Let me know how it goes.

Cheers, Tom

(November 13, 2012)

I was on the road this past Tuesday when I received word that Tom Frazier, an outstanding Geography professor and one of my major teaching influences, passed away. Tom was my mentor through my four semesters as a Master’s student at Long Beach State; I worked as his TA twice in GEO 100 (Intro to World Geography) and twice in GEO 120 (Intro to Human Geography). The Daily 49er published an article about his passing, and I’ve been receiving updates from old friends in the department, but as of now I don’t know any details.

Tom was one of the most engaging and enthusiastic people I’ve met since re-entering academia. He was naturally talented at presenting information in an entertaining way, something I been striving to do since my time in his classroom. Many of his techniques, including drawing local/regional connections with world regional geography and taking the class on local field trips where possible, have made their way into my teaching playbook.

Frazier1

Tom Frazier brings our GEO 100 class on a campus walking tour to the Puvungna site, sometime in Fall 2012.

I had occasional opportunities to get to know him a bit outside of class, as much as he was fairly mum about his personal life. Even his part-time and seasonal ABD status in Germany was never perfectly clear to me, as forthcoming he was in passionately discussing the Berlin Wall and everything he had been digging up on its legacy. I thought about him recently when press emerged on how the Wall had been gone for as long as it stood (28+ years). I wish I had sent him an email to catch up. Our only communication in the past few years was via an email or two. In 2015, I wrote him from Paris to see if he was in Germany to potentially meet up after my fieldwork was done. He wasn’t around, but he did unleash a list of recommendations.

Looking back through older emails, there was rarely any exchange where his trademark wit and supportive candor weren’t on display throughout. He encouraged the students to call me “Prof Ty” and routinely invited me to contribute material to lectures. I even conducted my first-ever college lectures under his guidance. I can’t imagine where I would be today without his mentoring over the course of those two years, and I’m truly sad I won’t get a chance to tell him that. As with everyone in the CSULB Geography community, I’ll miss him.

Condolence cards can be directed to the CSULB Department of Geography, who will be holding a memorial reception for Tom next Thursday (3/22 at 5pm). There is also a tribute thread on the Cal State Sub-Reddit. I’ll update this post if I find any new relevant information.

A Quick Thought on the Berlin Wall and the Distortion of Human Memory

This summer, I realized that I had spent more time living away from Washington, DC than I spent actually living there (6 years). It gave me a minor existential crisis. It was hardly the type of existential crisis that led me to lease an expensive car on credit or go on some barefoot walkabout in the Smokies, but some minute form of reckoning nonetheless.

This afternoon, I found out (thanks to my colleague Mimi, again) that the Berlin Wall has now officially been gone for as long as it stood (28 years). I’ve never even been to Berlin, and learning this fact nearly shut down my brain for a minute. I can only imagine that this should give the world an existential crisis. Can we, as Westerners, conceive of a planet without the footprint left by the iron curtain, and in microcosm, that wall?

I found it strange how quickly my span of formative years in DC came to mind when I discovered this milestone for Berlin that, unlike my personal coming-of-age, most people actually care about. But, the personal is political. Envisioning the type of person I would be had I not taken a chance to moved to Washington in 2005 is impossible, as is trying to imagine the current physical or mental state of Germany, Europe, and political geography in general if the DDR had pursued some alternate course of action in 1961. Both epiphanies are similarly remarkable, too, because of the tricks that our minds play on us – time is both an abstraction and a distortion. To me, the six years I spent in DC felt insurmountably longer than the six years I’ve spent between Long Beach and Knoxville. I have many theories as to why, some personal and others easy enough to ascertain for anyone who has taken Psychology 101.

To Berlin natives (many of whom have been depositing genuinely fascinating replies on this twitter thread), those 28 years must have felt like a solid eternity.  For a whole generation, life was always and would always be like this. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear an East German genuinely shocked at how relatively fast these past 28 years have passed. Either way, this makes me feel even worse for never having made it to Berlin, especially when I was a young professional in DC who occasionally had enough time and money scraped together in order to make that happen.

2017_09_26_33136_1506427808-_large

Four preserved panels from the Berlin Wall set up for a public exhibition in North Jakarta. (via the Jakarta Post).