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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Sidetrack: Pavement and California Anti-Geography

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEOG 320 Visit to the East TN History Center ‘Come to Make Records’

My Cultural Geography class paid a visit to the Come to Make Records Exhibit at the East Tennessee History Center this Tuesday as part of our unit on musical geography. Photographic evidence below. We got there a few minutes late because we relied on the Vol Trolley (now the Orange Line) for transport from campus and had to navigate around more than one construction pit downtown, but otherwise the excursion was a complete success and the students enjoyed it. Special thanks to Eric Dawson of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS) for giving us a great tour, talking about how important the site and situation of Knoxville were in the St. James Hotel recording sessions of 1929 and 1930.

The exhibit runs through the end of October (last day on Sunday, October 30th), so you still have one week to go and see it if you haven’t yet. Admission is only $5 for non-members, and free on Sundays.

Was this your Dissertated Summer? (Paris 1988 & Paris 1926)

One of the things that nobody warned me about as I’ve slid down the slippery slope into dissertation mode has been the creeping guilt. I know everyone’s dissertation experience is different and I wouldn’t expect everyone to share my exact academic anxieties (everyone should harbor their own; it’s perfectly natural). But I’ve reached a point where, whenever I’m doing anything unrelated to my dissertation (academic, professional, or recreational/completely disconnected), I feel this benign (yet still jarring) guilt that I’m losing ground on my monolithic self-assigned finish line. I know my whole life can’t be reading and writing for the dissertation, because that would be insane. But concurrently, I’d be in a bad position if my own conscience wasn’t nudging me back toward my mostly-digital pile of notes and drafts.

Please don’t take this rare moment of vulnerability as a caveat about my progress (or any discouragement for potential employers, *wink*). I’m definitely going to finish it, and in all likelihood on schedule. I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy or cast doubt on myself. I still thank myself disproportionately often that I walked away from my 9-to-6 life in DC to dive into academia. I still occasionally stop and think… “wow, I get to write this for a dissertation. Rad.” The pressure of the dissertation isn’t even a guarded secret among academics; a member of a seminal 90’s band (a great drummer and label manager but hardly the scholastic type) even shouted friendly words of encouragement at me when after his new band’s show in SF when he found out what I did.

I have three primary reasons for wanting to bring this up, all increasingly relevant to what I’ll be sharing here.

  1. I want to impart what little wisdom I’ve accumulated from the writing process thus far to anyone reading this who may be thinking about pursuing a PhD. Most of those people probably already have their minds made up but are just stopping by on their daily blogroll (thanks!)
  2. This is why I haven’t written anything on here for almost a month. I know I’ve had similar gaps before, but in this case, I’m honestly too preoccupied with reading, notating, and writing, and that aforementioned guilt has kept me from trying to produce unrelated material for my site. I’m also pretty subdued about works in progress, so I’m loathe to share much material about my dissertation, which (again) composes a vast majority of my recent productivity. I’ll relax this a bit tonight, though, because…
  3. The ostensibly last-minute mad-dash for literature and source material has yielded a few things in the last 48 hours that I couldn’t keep to myself.

A wise(au) man once said “Don’t plan too much, it may not come out right.” One piece of advice I’d gotten ages ago from a colleague was to avoid handicapping myself by doing anything other than expecting the unexpected when it came to research, especially given any umbrella as wide as a dissertation’s. I do have my proposal to reference whenever I forget, but I could never rewind my brain to whatever mode it was in when I first landed on my topic. The qualitative researcher is no different than their subject(s)- fluid and subject to an endless stream of external and internal influences. It’s just as important to keep as open of a mind in qualitative research as anywhere in life. This applies equally when digging through cluttered archives as accumulating the most iconoclastic of oral histories from folks in another country (both of which I’ve done over the past year).

Two research practices that have yielded mouth-nearly-agape results-level material for me in the past 48 hours range from superbly post(?)-modern (YouTube) to the downright old-fashioned (library stacks).

PARIS, 1988
From where I sit, not a whole lot of scholarship has been done on how useful YouTube can be in qualitative research, at least within geography. Some disparate articles using YouTube have appeared over the last decade (Longhurst 2009, Garrett 2011, Carter 2015), but streaming and participatory video is hardly even a generation-old phenomenon. Video recording has become more ubiquitous through smart phones, but that doesn’t mean a treasure trove of audio-visual research material hasn’t been digitized and uploaded by benevolent users all over the internet. A full year after gathering stories about the first two Fugazi shows in Paris (November 1988 and December 1989), I discovered that not only were they both filmed with excellent sound for the VHS era, but they are also now online, thanks to Philippe Roger.

Even if you aren’t a fan of Fugazi’s music, this is a fascinating watch. You can see the violence breaking out among this snapshot of Paris’ late-80’s punks scene. Watch how annoyed (and even scared) the band gets when people won’t stop stagediving and otherwise disrupting them, but they still take it like true professionals and unleash their set of early-era highlights. Guy Piciotto (whose near-fluent French he speaks here) wasn’t even playing the guitar in the first show, embedded here below. You can check out the second one, from 1990, here. For those of you who were wondering what the essence of my dissertation was, and were looking for a response to be in video form:


PARIS, 1926
Yesterday, I decided to go the library to dig up a 1984 edition of Pierre Bourdieu’s  Distinction. Normally, I just use the handy delivery service that UTK offers to save time, but the other day, I decided to give my legs and brain much-needed stretches and walked over there. I also needed to return a couple books to a different campus library, but that’s besides the point. Right before a seismic monsoon landed on campus, I ducked into the main library and wandered up to the third floor. The Bourdieu book was nowhere to be found. The staff couldn’t locate it either. I know how many books just disappear or slip under the radar within library systems every year, but at the time, it was a little frustrating. I did, however, grab a few books on a whim that have already jumped to the top of my reading list and begun to influence my writing. These included Utopia Deferred, a series of essays by the always delightful leftist quote-machine Jean Baudrillard. I also grabbed French Cultural Studies, a 1995 collection edited by Jill Forbes and Michael Kelly. I’m not sure how prominently this book will figure into my work, but I’m more confused as to why it hadn’t occurred to me yet to dig into French Cultural Studies as a resource. Last but not least (actually, least-least) was Nancy L. Green’s exhaustively-researched The Other Americans in Paris (2014), an exhaustively-researched history of the American community in Paris, from the gold- and culture-digging elites down to the petty criminals who escaped Uncle Sam’s grasp in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

On Page 1, Green clearly lays out her mission statement:

There is an untold tale of Americans in the City of Light, a history of expatriation that parallels the story of those who came to France for creative inspiration. But with an important twist. While many Americans came to France in search of (European) civilization, many more came to disseminate the American version of it. Even as the writers and artists of the well-known “Lost Generation” expressed angst over modernity and America’s role in it, other Americans overseas were participating in the debate over modernity in another way: by selling it or trying to.

The cultural and sub-cultural exchanges between the US and France, while I’m focusing on the past four decades, have been prominent for the entire lifespan of both Republics. These thoughts had been crossing my mind for the whole lifespan of my project, but until I grabbed Green’s book on a whim, I hadn’t really thought much about how much interwar American expats and tourists told us about the societies’ love-hate relationship. Did you know there was a vicious anti-American demonstration on Grands Boulevards almost exactly 90 years ago this week? Did you know hundreds of angry locals gathered to take out their frustrations on a cluster of the 200,000 American tourists in town that summer? Well, it happened (see Green, p. 204).

What I’m trying to say is, these are the things that have distracted me from this blog this summer, and take an hour a week to wander around your library’s stacks. Even if they don’t have the book you’re looking for, it can and will push/pull your research in different and fun directions.

Back to writing….

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Carter, Perry. “3 Virtual ethnography.” Social memory and heritage tourism methodologies 49 (2015): 48.
Garrett, Bradley L. “Videographic Geographies: Using Digital Video for Geographic Research.” Progress in Human Geography 35, no. 4 (2011): 521-41.
Green, Nancy L. The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Longhurst, Robyn. “YouTube: a new space for birth?” Feminist Review 93, no. 1 (2009): 46-63.

June 16

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Sometimes with people, I fake I’ve seen movies, to round off the edges.
Subset of history, I lose my identity, start bummin’ at parties…
(“Life as a Rehearsal,” 1982)

Happy Bloomsday, aka International Minutemen Day. The former’s a tribute to the 20th century’s greatest epic hero, and the latter is an unofficial tribute to the 20th century’s greatest band.

Here is a spiel I wrote about the Minutemen around this time a couple years ago.

Here is San Pedro, their hometown (and one of my favorite places in the world), in the news very recently.

Here is a book that my friend Mike Fournier wrote about the Minutemen some years back.

Here is an (unsuccessful) attempt my friends and I made to recreate the “Double Nickels on the Dime” cover during a visit to Pedro in April.

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And last, here is some validation for you all, in the spirit of the unofficial holiday. Be good to each other, and  just as importantly, let yourselves be heard.

Chapter in New Book on Music in the Digital Age

9781138851658I’m excited to announce that I have a chapter in a brand new volume entitled The Production and Consumption of Music in the Digital Age. The editors, Brian J. Hracs, Michael Seman, and Tarek E. Virani, worked tirelessly in a process that ultimately took a couple of years. This actually began as a session that Hracs organized at AAG 2013 in Los Angeles. I presented some research I’d done about a few new (at the time) record stores in Highland Park, one of my favorite areas of Los Angeles. Brian and Michael (who I met shortly afterward at a dinner in, from what I remember, was an engine room/speak easy restaurant… you know, downtown LA) both thought my chapter would make a good contribution to their book, so here we are.

You can read up on the chapter list at the book’s catalog page on Routledge. A great cast of characters contributed, including my colleague Tom Bell, continuing his collaborations with Peggy Gripshover and Ola Johansson on a geographic analysis of music venues in Pittsburgh and Nashville. I can’t wait to look through a hard copy of this. If you or your professors/students are looking for a great addition for your course in Cultural Geography, Music Industry, Musicology, or anything involving the post-internet economy, make sure to check this out. And add it to your library! Don’t forget to do that, either. And follow the project on twitter. The list goes on.

While I was scrolling through older entries trying to find that one about AAG 2013, I passed by an entry about Heavy Metal Parking Lot. A quick word of congratulations to my friend Jeff Krulik on the 30th Anniversary Exhibit at the University of Maryland’s Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library. I was actually at that library for a couple of days the week before the exhibit opened, and it BURNED that I just narrowly missed it. But, if you’re in the DC area, you don’t have to! It’s runs through next spring.

GEO 320: Core Concepts in Cultural Geography (Fall 2016)

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I’m excited to announce here that I’ll be teaching Geography 320, our department’s core upper-level cultural geography course, this coming fall. This class has no prerequisite, though general proficiency in global geography (GEO 101, for example) is recommended. I’d be happy to have students from other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, and ethnomusicology, especially those who haven’t been able to take a geography course yet while at UT-Knoxville.

Cultural Geography, like culture itself, is incredibly fluid. But with this course, I’m aiming to focus on how the relationship between people and place is interpreted through media, popular culture, religion, and public memory. By the end of this course, students should be able to understand and describe the effects of nature of culture, and vice versa.

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East TN music historian Shane Rhyne delivering a guest lecture in my GEO 101 class, October 23, 2014.

Similar to how I connected with the East Tennessee History Center’s “Made in Tennessee” exhibit in my GEO 101 curriculum last year, I’d like to continue that collaboration with their new “Come to Make Records” exhibit. This is one of a handful of interactive projects I’m looking forward to pursuing with this course, in addition to some great guest speakers and elements that students will be pleasantly surprised to find in a geography course. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach it while working on my dissertation.

The syllabus will be a work in progress over the summer, but if you’d like a preview of a some material I look forward to incorporating, check out (1) Duncan Light’s entertaining and informative 2014 piece on place names and (2) this article about Steven Lee Beeber’s research on punk rock’s manifestation of Jewish New York. Hopefully you enjoy this tip of the iceberg; if not, there is plenty more well outside of both those subjects. If you’re a UTK undergraduate student and interested in attending the course, don’t hesitate to write me and ask any questions at SonicGeography[at]gmail[dot]com.

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