MOW Fest (June 1, 2001)

I’m convinced there’s a “Rule 35” for Instagram; if someone imagines an Instagram account, that means there is (or will be, soon) an Instagram account devoted to whatever they imagined. One thought I had, when I rediscovered this flyer from my senior year of High School, was that there should be an Instagram account devoted to archiving obviously-made-in-Microsoft Word gig flyers.

Speaking of rules, one of the first rules of designing a gig poster or flyer is don’t do it in Microsoft Word.

I remember thinking that when my friends in a high school organization called MOW (Men of the World…more on that in a second) organized a benefit show and this flyer started going up around our hometown. What made it even more confusing was how many people in positions of leadership in MOW were in bands, or had at least gone to enough shows to recognize that it’s always worth throwing some money at a graphic designer, especially considering how many talented artists we knew from our High School.

Let’s talk about the show itself. As stated, it was a benefit for the Madison ABC (A Better Chance) house, which allowed students from low-income backgrounds to spend a year or two living and attending our high school. It brought a lot of great people together, and, to speak to the elephant in the room, practically tripled my high school’s BIPOC population.

From what I remember at the Arts Barn that night 20 years ago, there were multiple video and still cameras around, but as of this writing, I haven’t found any publicly shared documentation of it. During the 2020 lockdown, I got especially obsessive about archiving, organizing, and making accessible so many documents of cultural performances, largely inspired by hate5six, copyscams, and, you know, the internet at large. In 2001, I was still formulating a lot of these ideas, but in 2021, I am an adamant proponent of the idea that no gig is too small or too insular to be culturally or historically significant. Tony Wilson (channeled through Steve Coogan) said it, and I’ll refrain that here.

As far as MOW itself, here’s a bit of background. A large confluence of guys in my graduating class (and a few underclassmen), many of whom were friends of mine, started an organization called Men of the World as a counterpart to the longer-established Women of the World (WOW), a charity and leadership organization for women in our high school. Twenty years later, a bunch of mouth-breathers who don’t understand why the patriarchy sucks have ruined anything that includes the term “Men’s” for the rest of us. However, MOW formed in a world before 4chan; the guys who formed MOW were all close friends with the leadership of WOW, and starting an organization for men to do similar work was simply a fun way to double our class’ charitable output. The fact that I felt the need to type out this paragraph to retroactively distance MOW from the contemporary umbrella of “Men’s Rights Activism” is a sad reality, but here we are.

One thing I do remember about this show was what a socially diverse crowd it brought out to the Arts Barn. Over the prior three years, the Saturday night gigs at the Arts Barn had gone through a weird transformation where the town (aka THE GROWN-UPS) wrested control from the kids. In the mid-90’s, before the town built a new police station on the opposite side of the parking lot, the place was a shithole. It was also completely packed the hell out every Saturday night, seemingly no matter who was playing. It was, ostensibly, the only all-ages venue where the “supervision” was whatever older siblings signed off on the rental. In 1997-1998, Kit, an elder statesman (21 or so was “elder” at that time) from a local hippie family booked hardcore, metal, and crossover shows. I wasn’t cool enough at 15 to know where all of the tastemakers started hanging out instead, but show attendance did start thinning out. As the millennium approached, the town took control of bookings. There were still plenty of good/loud bands who played, but the shows felt safer and more supervised, which is poison as far as rebellious kids in an upper-middle-class town were concerned. Every once in a while, the Flaming Tsunamis (in their early incarnation as a ska-core collective) would bring hordes of kids over from the town next door, but overall, a lot of Arts Barn Saturdays were smaller affairs.

MOW Fest, however, gave the whole thing a shot in the arm. At the time, my snide arrogance probably led me to privately deride all of these poseurs who I’d never seen at an Arts Barn show, but in retrospect, I have a deep appreciation for a group of people putting a lineup together with no reverence for scene divisions or genre. The lineup provided something for everybody. If you didn’t like one band’s style, you went outside. I remember a few of my friends (who were more in the Dave Matthews/Phish crowd than the Blink-182/Ataris crowd) commenting on Mad Mardigan’s set that “they didn’t really like that style of music, but [Bryan] was really good at playing it.”

I don’t remember the order the bands played (notice there was no real hierarchy to the bands billed, other than order on the flyer), but here are some of my other scattershot memories.

Revelaria were a hard-charging, acoustic-centered band led by a Shawn Mullins-looking dude named Josh Pomerenke, his brother Matt on guitar, and a drummer named DJ Gibson who resembled, as my friend Andrew pointed out to me, a height-of-fame Brad Roberts. I remember enjoying their set, and many of us wound up with copies of their self-produced 4-track CD. I still have it, so I’ll scan the cover in.

The biggest crowd filed in for Hey Driver, a jammy band led by Dan Zaccagnino, who would later go on to found Indaba Music in 2007, appearing on the Colbert Report shortly thereafter. Dan and his colleagues sold Indaba to Splice Media in 2018, so I imagine they’re doing pretty well.

Klatu (I think the proper spelling was Klaatu) was a progressive metal band that included a gigantic, dreadlocked singer (who I believe was named Charles) and bassist who was, I believe, the older brother of a classmate (and talented sax player) named Steve. They prided themselves on never performing the exact same song twice, and I did see them play the Arts Barn a good handful of times, but that’s really all I remember.

Cover of Mad Mardigan’s 2001 EP

Though I was closest friends with the members of Mad Mardigan and I did enjoy their set, I thought Call Me Donnie had the set of the night. Both bands formed after Proteus/Inprofect broke up; drummer Pete (who we called Phony Tony due to his resemblance to Tony Hawk) went on to Mad Mardigan, and guitarist Tim started Call Me Donnie. Looking back, this transition was reflective of the greater cultural shift away from Rage Against the Machine-bred Rap-Metal into the New Found Glory/Blink-182 bred pop-punk wave of the early 2000’s (as much as Nu-Metal and its white-collar cousin Butt Rock held on).

CMD was a collaboration between Tim and a Swedish exchange student named Parry (Pär or Per; I lost touch with him and don’t remember), along with a talented younger drummer named Mark. That was the only time I ever saw them. Honestly, I don’t remember if they played any other gigs, since Perry was on his way back to Sweden, but they brought the house down with their New Found Glory / Riddlin’ Kids love. I remember yelling, “Play Refused!” at Parry, which made him laugh, and we had a spirited conversation about Dennis Lyxzén after their set.

Regarding Shoe and the Melgibons, I don’t remember either of their sets. It’s possible that one of the bands didn’t show up, or they played at the beginning before I even got there. If anyone remembers (or was in) one of those bands, please comment below or reach out to me.


That’s all I have. If you were at this show and we haven’t spoken in years, know that I hope you’re doing well and would love to hear what you’ve been up to. If you have any photos, videos, or other materials that verify that this show happened, get in touch!

If you read through this never having been to Connecticut or never having heard of the Madison Arts Barn, welcome to this corner of the universe. There is some scant evidence of the Arts Barn’s mid-90’s era on the CT Hardcore Archive, which I just found on YouTube here. Apparently, Jawbreaker’s bassist went to high school at the Hammonasset School, which shut down in 1991 and became a part of the Town Campus.

Throwback Thursday: 2006 Interview with Drummer Bobby Vandell (Jesse Johnson’s Revue, Lipps Inc, More)

Bobby Vandell in 2016. Photo by Kimm Anderson for the St. Cloud Times

Storytime.

In 2005, when I first moved to DC, unsure of what I wanted to do with my life (something I still grapple with, 16 years later, with a PhD), I set up a website for TDC Productions, an informal “production company” my cousin, his friends and I, co-founded sometime in the mid-1990s. After the TDC crew dispersed in the mid-2000’s, I was the only one consistently using the name. Unfortunately, it took me a few years to get any video production work, so the website turned into more of a blog and repository for other projects and events I was starting to put on around town. In 2006, I started doing freelance writing for a briefly lived music and culture blog, and I remember the editor telling me that he liked my website, but he really had no idea what it was. Was it a music blog? Was it a comedy website? Was it a retrospective archive of some marginally funny DIY films my cousin and I had made over the previous decade (hindered, no doubt, by the lack of embeddable streaming way to share the films).

Nonetheless, I pushed on with the blog, using it as a way to keep generating what would, by the beginning of the 2010’s, be called “content.” Back then, “micro-publishing” would have been a better term for it.

Anyway, for my first two years after college, I worked for an audio company in Bethesda. It didn’t offer a whole lot of upward mobility (which was, to paraphrase my friend Jake Young of Wizard and the Bruiser, something of an American birthright, until around 2007), but it was flexible, cushy, and I actually liked my coworkers. During my lunch breaks, I had opportunities to wander around the fading landscape of “the old Bethesda,” filled with greasy spoon sandwich shops, an Olsson’s franchise, and a wonderful (long-extinct) used bookshop whose name I forget. All I remember was that it was located on/near the 7700 block of Old Georgetown Road. This dusty bookshop had bins of classic LP’s in decent shape for unimaginably cheaper than what they would bring today on the Bubble-driven Discogs. I could be wrong, but I bought a copy of Tom Waits’ Frank’s Wild Years for $8 and a copy of The Housemartins’ The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death for $3. I wish I had bought more vinyl from that place, but I lived in a small room in my friend’s apartment, without much disposable income.

It was in one of these dollar bins that I saw Bobby Vandell’s photo for the first time – he was one of five musicians supporting Jesse Johnson, the hot-pink-bedecked Prince associate best known for playing guitar behind Morris Day in the Time) on his 1985 “solo” album, Jesse Johnson’s Revue. Vandell, Tim Bradley, Mark Cardenas, Michael Baker, and Gerry Hubbard were all stylish as hell for Minneapolis ’85, but from where I sat 21 years later, they looked like characters in some Rocky Horror/80’s Prom b-movie. In fact, Cardenas was the only one in the band without a ghost-whisper of a crustache. Observe:

For reasons owing equally to me being too young to lack wisdom for what to place on the internet and having too much time on my hands (a deadly combination, we all know), I decided to scan the photos and roast the band, individually, on a blog post. I was thoroughly convinced that my audience consisted of about 10-15 likeminded college classmates, so I filed it away and didn’t think of it.

A few months later was when it got weird. I checked my email at work, and I saw a message from an AOL email address that I didn’t recognize. It was Bobby Vandell, whose wife had apparently googled him, found that post, and completely lost it in laughter. She called Bobby into the room, and between uncontrollable laughing fits, read the post to him. He found my email address and reached out to tell me that I was welcome to trash him anytime I liked. What a guy.

Not know what else to do, I called my friend Adam and left a voicemail. He called me back to say it was the greatest thing he had ever heard. That night, I told my roommate Tom, who told me that I should interview him for my website. Tom was (and still is) a genius. So, I worked up the nerve to email Bobby back, explain myself, and ask if he would like to answer some questions. Below is the result.

I’m excited to re-share/re-issue this interview now after 15 years, since it was the first interview I conducted for my own publication, and it really set in motion what’s become a life-long passion for oral history and musical ethnography. Also, I’m sure this would gel with the research on the Minneapolis Sound by Maciek Smółka as well as Rashad Shabazz’s work on the role MPLS had in nurturing Prince.


The Interview

TYLER: the general overview question. What have you generally been up to nowadays? Do you still live in the Minneapolis area? Wife/Kids? Still doing percussion much? As a side note, are you well versed in any other instruments?)     
BOBBY: I have been fortunate to make a “living” performing and recording music for my entire working life to this date. I got paid to do my first gig when I was 14. Today, 39 years later, I’m still doin’ it!  I have begun to broaden out a bit however. Presently, I am working with my friend Scott Olson, who invented Roller Blades, on a book about the subject. Roller blades are considered to be one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century and I was lucky to be one of the first people on them back in the early 80s [since] I grew up playing hockey. I am doing all the research for the book. We will be video taping interviews for a documentary also. It is an exciting project.

I continue to play drums mostly locally, where I live, in the Twin Cities. I still get off on playing in a band. I get around a guitar and a keyboard a little and I love to sit in with bands on bass, but I am not very good. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with the common Minneapolis talent of being great on every instrument. I have a wife, 3 pugs and 2 cats. No kids that I know of. 

Are you still in touch with Jesse or anyone from the Revue?     
I just got Mark Cardenas’s email address. He is in Seattle. Jesse is in the Phoenix area. He had to move there due to extreme allergies. I just got his [phone number] recently. I may give him a call. He had a rock trio last time I saw him in the early 90s. It was a great band. Very loud, tons of Marshall amps, really good. He is a great guitar player. The others, I don’t know.

Until when would you estimate you actually resembled that sexy photo of yourself on the back of the album?   
I would say I held on to it a bit [too] long, the 80s were hard to let go of for me. I met a woman 20 years younger than me in 94′. She eventually influenced me to change my hair and some of my clothes. But, I am embarrassed to say, that didn’t happen till about 1999. After she changed my look, I married her in 2000! 

Who were your favorite drummers/percussionists while growing up? Anyone that you pay particular attention to today?    
I like drummers for different reasons. Some for their chops and others because they are simply so musical. In my early years, I loved Ginger Baker from Cream, Jon Bonham from Led Zeppelin, Mitch Mitchell from Jimi Hendrix’s band and Buddy Rich. My biggest inspiration was probably David Garibaldi from Tower of Power and Mike Clarke and Harvey Mason, both from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Tony Williams was a true giant, I dug him a lot. There are so many great drummers now. Keith Carlock with Steely Dan is a really cool drummer. Guys like Dennis Chambers and Vinnie Calliuta are true heavy weights but I also like drummers who are simply musical, I don’t need all those chops to be impressed. Don Henley with the Eagles is a great example. The guy with Maroon 5. I could go on listing great drummers for days. 

What were your thoughts on the Minneapolis music scene (any/all of it) at the time? Were you guys positive or negative about Purple Rain mania?    
Looking back, it was cool living here and being part of it. When Prince began breaking this city wide open, we were all playing in bands around town. I made it a point to be in the best, funkiest band in town at any given time. Prince would come to our gigs often just to hang out or steal one of our members. The Time would come to our gigs and we would let them perform on our gear for a whole set. There was a really cool energy going on in the early 80’s in Minneapolis. Because of Prince and the Time, the ears and eyes of the musical world were on Minneapolis. It did not suck.

If you could conjure them up (I know you said a lot of it was a blur, haha), we’d love to hear one or two of the greatest stories you’ve got from your time playing/touring with the Jesse Johnson Revue.    
You must understand, Jesse Johnson’s Revue did not really exist, at least not in the way that you and the public perceived it to exist. That in itself is a long story you are probably not interested in. As a band, we did the video for the single, “I Want To Be Your Man”, only showed on BET. I wore a red suit that people still comment on to this day! A bass player friend of mine got that suit as a hand me down and sold it for a gram of cocaine! I would love it back, if you ever see a guy in a red suit, I’m sure it is mine so just take it!

We also did the Soul Train television show. That band did not tour so I really have no wild stories to relate but I remember the whole JJR experience teaching me the power of television and the media. In 1985, I worked for a short time for the group Chicago. We were in Canada and one night, Robert Lamb, Jimmy Pankow and myself went to a disco after a show. Now keep in mind Robert and Jimmy are very successful and rich rock stars in a band that has many, many top 10 hits but is virtually faceless. Our table was frequented by fans throughout the evening who wanted autographs, but not from my rock star friends, from me! Jimmy, Robert and I got quite a kick out of it. I will never forget it.

Also, I was in Africa shortly after that and I was recognized on a safari in a very secluded part of the bush country in Kenya. A very [bizarre] experience to say the least.

By the way, I was on a break at that photo shoot having a cig when that shot for the album was taken. I begged Jesse not to use it. I didn’t relish glamorizing cigarette smoking for kids but he loved the shot and the rest is history.

As what may possibly be an addendum of sorts to that last question, your first email made it sound like the groupies were flowing back in the day. What sort of audience and ‘backstage friends’ did the JJR shows attract?    
As I said, we did not tour as the JJR. but I will say that where ever I went back then, there was an abundance of women. Mostly young, black or mixed and fine. More times than not, they thought I was quite something. Those times were very good for my ego and other parts of my body as well. The good thing was that the worst STD you could get back then was treated with a trip to the doctor. Let’s just say it was a good time to be young and known.

What have you been listening to primarily as of late? Any favorite artists out there today?    
I listen to a lot of different stuff, I always have. Mostly I listen to obscure stuff. I love Jon Cleary. He is Australian but has lived in New Orleans for years. He also plays keys with Bonnie Raitt. I dig this group called Soulive, I just got hip to a group called CAB, their CD “CAB4” is really cool. I love Donald Fagan, Mark Brussard, Maroon 5. I like country guys too, Vince Gill is awesome, so is Brad Paisley.  I dig Latin music. Big band Salsa stuff.

What do you think you’d be doing today had it not been for your experience with this band?    
Quite honestly, even though we never did a gig, The exposure that band got me was quite amazing. I definitely would not have gotten known as much as I would have without JJR. But I would be doing the same thing now regardless.

Any final reflections on the state of music/the world/the lack of pink cars with “Jesse” license plates today?    
I have played music all my life. JJR was a small fraction of the experiences I’ve had. I have been fortunate to play for many great artist’s. Bonnie Raitt, Roy Buchanan, Al Wilson, Sam Moore, Bruce Conte, The Time and Chuck Berry to name a few. I even produced the music for Rosanne Barr’s comedy album and backed up The Amazing Jonathon and Soupy Sales. I was a member of the band Lipps Inc. who had the number one hit in the world at the time, “Funky Town”. I performed for 65 thousand people with Alexander O’Neal at Cincinnati’s River Front Stadium and RFK Stadium in DC, We also sold out Wembly Arena in London 10 nights in a row. I have earned 4 gold records. I have also performed as a Lion in a fast paced stage show with costume changes and pyrotechnics for one passed out drunk at a smoke filled casino in Wendover Nevada on a sunny Sunday afternoon! I remember opening the Soul Train Awards show on live National TV and the next night playing blues for a bunch of cowboys in a funky bar in the Colorado Rockies that had bra’s and panties hanging from the ceiling! All have been rich and rewarding experiences. 

My main observation about performing now is that audiences don’t seem to listen like they used to – the passed-out drunk in Wendover excluded! – It seems like live music doesn’t have the same effect on people it did years ago. Almost as if the music is bouncing off them, like it’s disturbing their television watching.  I blame MTV for a lot of it. People seem to listen with their eyes now. It also seems like people are unable to discern between quality and crap in live music and there is a lot of crap! Everyone now wants to be on stage and it seems like everyone is in a band. News flash: Not everyone is a musician or a singer!

Audiences in Europe are more discerning. I know a number of American artist’s that have moved to Europe for the very reasons I’m talking about. I realize my comments seem a bit jaded and tainted with anger and bitterness. I accept that criticism but I don’t feel that way. I can only observe from my perspective of years of performing and that is what it feels like. I also acknowledge that there is an enormous amount of talent in young people. Those are my observations today, tomorrow, who knows!

The Spinto Band and Blog-Rock Nostalgia

The other day, I posted a picture of the Spinto Band’s 2005 album Nice and Nicely Done on Instagram, along with a photo of my ticket stub and handbill from a gig they played at the Knitting Factory in late 2004. The band’s founding guitarist/songwriter Nick Krill commented to thank me. That gig was truly a game-changer for me, so I decided to share the images here, with a little backstory.

The Spinto Band were started in Delaware in the mid-90’s by the titular Roy Spinto’s grandson Nick Krill and a group of friends (including two sets of brothers). At the end of the 90’s, two members of the band, Jon Eaton and Albert Birney, left to attend college in Syracuse. It was there that I made their acquaintance through a group of creative older friends, three of whom started the Perry Bible Fellowship. Those were strange and wonderful times. I had several chances to see the Spinto Band play small venues in Western New York, including Planet 505 (which will garner several mentions on this site in the coming months), but somehow, I never saw the band perform until converging on a show in Tribeca’s Knitting Factory on December 21, 2004. See the flyer and ticket stub (above), noting that the headliners were technically Hijack Jupiter, another band composed of Syracuse friends who organized and promoted the show. Anyway, the Spinto Band’s set that night remains one of the ten (give or take) best live sets I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it was the cold-outside/sweaty-inside juxtaposition of the Knitting Factory’s basement, how recently I had turned 21 (it may have been my first time in NYC since I had), or the band’s no-holds-barred DMX adaptation^, but the whole thing melted my brain in the best way imaginable. Thankfully, some evidence still exists on Flickr of how the night ended:

spinto band
The Spinto Band ending the evening at the Knitting Factory, December 21, 2004. Photo by Toni Sheppard (Flickr).

Now that I’m somewhat far removed from that moment, I can gaze back through the inevitable multivariate filter of hindsight, critical media geographies, and just simply getting old. The mid-2000’s “boom” in mass-visibility of millennial culture and viability of the now extremely dated (at least in nomenclature) genre of blog-rock is starting to retreat off the pale of our rearview mirrors, so look forward to plenty of essays like this one explaining just what the hell blog-rock even was. Some artists I affiliate with that era built long and successful mainstream careers over the 2000’s, even flirting with celebrity (e.g. Death Cab for Cutie, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Arcade Fire, and Vampire Weekend, in rough order). Others got “the bump” from websites like Pitchfork and other hype factories that pretended to not know (or, just didn’t care) how much power and influence they held – a viable canary-in-the-coalmine for what would happen with Twitter, Facebook, and all of the latter’s holdings in the 2010’s. Some of these ‘others’ were perfectly decent to me (e.g. Wolf Parade, Tapes n’ Tapes, !!!), but didn’t enjoy the same enduring level mainstream appeal.

Then again, over the prior three decades, consolidating media conglomerates had mixed up a generous cocktail of deregulation, privateering, and conduit expansion (i.e. perpetually speeding-up internet) and snuffed out any semblance of whatever ‘monoculture’ the blog-rockers had been born into. Dannagal Goldthwaite Young, whose book Irony and Outrage I’ve been reading recently, dedicates a chapter to this shift across the Reagan-Bush-Clinton administrations, all of whom were preoccupied with the horribly misguided promise of deregulating media ownership. Though not a media geographer, Young expertly points out the geographic dysmorphia with a quote by former Washington Post editors Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert Kaiser, who “see this dire situation as the result of corporate motives prevailing unchecked across the media landscape” (p. 39):

“Most newspapers, television networks, and local television and radio stations now belong to giant, publicly owned corporations far removed from the communities they serve. They face the unrelenting quarterly profit pressures from Wall Street now typical of American capitalism” (2002, quoted in Young 2020, emphasis mine).

This sticks with me for several reasons, not the least of which being how I came of age across the millennial divide, when we were suddenly all expected to want to live in Brooklyn or Silver Lake. Everyone in “ad world” was suddenly a hipster. The great promise that the internet would help music scenes transcend place, thereby rendering geography inessential, had fizzled. I can only speak for myself here, but this felt strange, considering how the pre-internet era of my youth had been dragging the journalists to all corners of the country less than a decade prior. Even worse, my generational tags, which had been “Gen Y,” “The Pepsi Generation,” and “the MTV Generation” for my entire life, were slowly being replaced with “millennial,” which was (to me, anyway) condescending shorthand for somebody who didn’t remember life before the internet. At the time, I was walking up and down Columbia Road NW in DC, listening to The National’s Boxer like every good Gen-X dork, fairly oblivious to all of this, but in retrospect I’m pretty pissed, honestly.

Strangely, but not shockingly, the heated conversations my punk-loving friends and I had in high school about “selling out” were fading from relevance. I may have cited this following passage here before, but Ronen Givony’s concluding manifest about Jawbreaker in his 33 1/3 volume about 24 Hour Revenge Therapy bears repeating:

“Maybe this is a symptom of the general passivity and quietism of always-online American life in the twenty-first century; or maybe it’s just another example of settled debates, bygone values, and obsolete terms… In a time when almost no one still buys albums, and tens of thousands of streams will earn a band pennies, the reasoning goes, artists deserve to get paid any way they can manage, and rightly so. Who are we to blame them if the only people still paying musicians their true worth are corporate advertising and branding companies? It’s a difficult claim with which to argue, which is why almost no one ever still does.”

I reached out to Krill to see if he remembered that era in any similar light, since he spent much of that time touring internationally with the Spinto Band. For example, they did a run of opening slots for the Arctic Monkeys when Alex Turner and Co. were barely into their twenties and riding an an unconscionable wave of hype around “I Bet that You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” They toured the UK with other acts on Bar/None Records (the Hoboken label that gave the world the first two brilliant They Might Be Giants records). Even “Oh Mandy,” a single off of Nice and Nicely Done (that may have been inspired by Mandy Moore; reports vary) appeared in at least one national ad campaign. Guitarist Jon Eaton called into my Georgetown radio show in 2008* when they released the “Summer Grof” single and their second album Moonwink, telling me about said UK shows as well as Spanish festivals like the brief-lived Summercase.

I always felt like the Spinto Band were in as a good a position as any to epitomize the highwater mark of “blog rock,” but the term doesn’t hold much of a meaning to Krill these days, and he has no recollection of it meaning much to him and his bandmates 15 years ago, either. He does remember, though, feeling expected frustration with the new music media landscape.

“[Around the mid-2000’s,] I do remember being a little peeved that if a record didn’t get a ‘Best New Music’ shout out, it could kinda get immediately lost in the noise,” he recently told me, referencing Pitchfork’s ostensibly career-making designation given to albums ranked higher than 8.0 on a 10-point scale. Years of continued service to indie rock, however, have endowed Krill with retrospective wisdom one would expect from a seasoned veteran.

“The more time I’ve spent in the music business, the more I realize that it really is a lot down to the hard work of an artist and the team they assemble around themselves,” he wrote. “Someone can shine a spot light on an artist, but that only can do so much. Artists that persist and make a career out of that initial attention truly have a vision for their work, and the work ethic to create amazing music and not stop until it is great.”

Nick Krill mixing a recording (photo via his website).

Today, Krill is still highly active as a producer and engineer, working with bands like The War on Drugs, Dr. Dog, and the aforementioned Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. As he put it, SoundCloud and Bandcamp are, in essence, a continuation of the function blogs served as a way for people to “scratch around and hunt for new tunes.”

I can’t help but agree, considering how much music still resides on my hard drive that I discovered via blogs during my downtime at various office jobs (prior to what Aesop Dekker termed “the great file sharing holocaust” a decade ago). There are still a few blogs I punch into my search bar on occasion simply to check in, not particularly expecting their proprietors to have picked the lock, cleared the cobwebs, and lurched the weathered, rusty machinery back to life.

The so-called “vinyl resurgence,” which had been going on for a solid half-decade before most any major media outlet noticed it, is even more salient considering how much digital music has been buried in the past 25 years. Hell, half of the music I bought from touring DIY bands at the time were on CDr’s they probably burned at 48x. My personal laptop doesn’t even have a built-in disc drive. Givony’s quote referencing how relatively few people buy music anymore does carry some weight, but our relationship with music has always changed depending on way which we discovered it, not just relegated to the digital era.

Given how much love, documentation, and reinterpretation Millennial pop has been getting of late, we are dangerously close to full-on 2000’s nostalgia. It may well already be here (don’t be stingy with case studies in the comments, if there’s anything I’m missing). Hopefully, the Spinto Band will be able to reap some of those spoils, whatever that may mean in the 2020s.

Thanks for reading.

“Your work looks good / Your look works great”

^According to Krill, this was a rap song the group wrote in high school that they performed whenever Albert Birney, who left the band in 2003, made it to a gig. I’m grateful he was there that night.

*If I ever locate this interview, I’ll plan to append it to this post.

The GEO 121 Song Assignment (Spring 2021)

Happy Almost-May to anyone who has stumbled back here. The home stretch of the Spring semester has put a whole bunch of entries/essays on hold, unfortunately, but there will be a song challenge for May that I’m sure many of you will appreciate (especially a surprising number of millennials).

Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley

A few weeks ago, students in my two sections of GEO 121 (Intro to Globalization) submitted their third paper, which asked them to do a geographic analysis of a song of their choosing. I know I have done this at least once here, but I wanted to keep up the tradition. Here are, in no particular order, the songs which students chose (an asterisk indicates that I assigned this one, per request) for this semester’s music geography paper.

Connecticut Youth Jazz in New Orleans (1998)

My first visit to New Orleans, which I’ve mentioned before in light of the 2018 AAG Meeting, came on the coattails of my talented younger sister. She played sax for a couple of bands in the Connecticut Youth Jazz Workshop. The director, Reid Gerritt (who passed away in 2014), collaborated with some CTYJ parents to coordinate large-scale performance trips in 1998 and 1999, the former being to perform at various stages around New Orleans, including the Parade Day of the French Quarter Festival.

At the time, most of us teenagers who either played in one of the bands or operated as a documenter treated the trips as vacations and opportunities to socialize with our friends in faraway cities, even chances to grow up a little bit. We certainly didn’t realize what an inconceivable amount of work must have gone into planning this out in a mostly DIY setting, which Mr. Gerritt did when the internet was only running at 52k. I would love if he were still around so I could ask him about that process. The influence he had on me, even as a non-musician, was unparalleled by most of my secondary school teachers (except perhaps by Reid’s wife Christine, a star Spanish teacher who coordinated a similar group trip to Spain in 2000 that likely steered me down the path culminating in you reading this blog right now. But that’s another story).

Here are a few moments from that New Orleans trip, pulled from my original VHS-C tapes filmed in April 1998. Please ignore anything that came out of my teenage mouth. I knew so little about the world then.


“Just Another Closer Walk with Thee” (April 17, 1998)


The group rushes inside to avoid a downpour and plays in the bar, and then performs Stan Kenton’s “The Peanut Vendor” back outside (April 17, 1998)


The Intermediate Band performing on the Natchez Steamboat (April, 1998)


The French Quarter Festival Parade (April 17, 1998)
Keep an eye out for then-Mayor Marc Morial (now the President of the National Urban League) around 30 seconds in.

On the off chance that you were there, or recognize anybody in these videos, feel free to comment and/or get in touch. Have a great week.

Beware the #NotByTheMisfits Song Challenge for March!

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.

My #NotbyREM Song Challenge Results

I had a lot of fun writing this one, and it also influenced me to revisit REM’s early and mid-era catalog on vinyl, which is always enjoyable. I had overlooked the second side of Murmur for so long! Anyway, here are my song choices from this month’s challenge. The matrix, for reference:

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  1. Worriers – “End of the World” (song of 2020)
  2. The Aquabats – “Pool Party” (it was a cool party)
  3. Cee-Lo Green – “The Art of Noise”
  4. Pinback – “How We Breathe”
  5. Herbie Hancock – “Chameleon”
  6. Common – “The Corner (feat. The Last Poets)”
  7. Jessie Ware – “Spotlight”
  8. Mrs. Magician – “There is No God”
  9. Def Leppard – “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)”
  10. Frodus – “The Day Buildings Mysteriously Vanished”
  11. Prefab Sprout – “Moving the River”
  12. Dan Deacon – “Wham City”
  13. Andrew W.K. – “I Get Wet”
  14. Travis – “Flowers in the Window”
  15. Goldfinger – “Superman”
  16. Grandaddy – “El Caminos in the West”
  17. The Dead Milkmen – “Watching Scotty Die”
  18. Orange Juice – “Falling and Laughing”
  19. The Ramones – “Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)”
  20. Meat Loaf – “Everything Louder than Everything Else”
  21. Snapcase – “Bleeding Orange”
  22. LL Cool J – “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”
  23. Sick of It All – “Clobberin’ Time”
  24. Buzzcocks – “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”
  25. Deftones – “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”
  26. The Replacement – “A Little Mascara”
  27. Cock Sparrer – “Working”
  28. Sunny Day Real Estate – “In Circles”
  29. Husker Du – “I Apologize”
  30. Ruth – “Polaroid Romain Photo”

Because I can’t stop won’t stop (procrastinating), you’re all getting a challenge for September, too. I am going to try to keep grinding one out for every month the US is in “quarantine” due to COVID, so you can all look forward to another year or so of these!

[cue bitter sobbing]

Anyway, tune in tomorrow at 9AM Eastern for that, and don’t forget to tell a friend or two or however many the Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram algorithms allow to see your posts (probably around 2).

Here’s a Video of a Whole Bunch of Schoolkids Singing “Minor Threat”

I’m sorry for (actually/no excuses) missing Sonic Sunday this past Sunday. There has been a lot to digest, and lot of information (and counters to misinformation) to spread, and the existential crisis of TWA (Thinking While American) had me a bit overwhelmed.

I’ll have a full-on series of “amplify melanated voices” links for this coming Sunday, and I will also have a special post on some updates for the Ben Irving Postcard Project this week.

In the meantime, here’s a video of a bunch of kids in the Wirtz Elementary School after- school program in Paramount, CA singing “Minor Threat.”

The caption by Rich Jacobs:

Wirtz Elementary School 5th graders go off with their version of MINOR THREAT Tim Kerr, Mike Watt, Mark Waters, Ray Barbee, Alexis Fleisig, Randy Randall, Hagop and a host of other musical champions musically backed up the 5th graders at Wirtz Elementary school in Paramount, California. Last year they did a Sly and the Family Stone song and the year before they did 2 Big Boys songs. They also do a ten minute FREEDOM improv jam where the kids play an instrument they bring to the experience. It is really rad. Here they sing the song: Minor Threat, originally written by the band of the same name. The power and vitality of the youth was palpable, inspiring and intoxicating. Eric Caruso is their teacher. He brought an idea to his principle to have an after-school art project since they did not have an art program. He gives them art assignments based on living artists work and at the end of each year, there is an awards ceremony. The artists give the students a prize. It is a really positive experience, as many of the students are underserved and have never been given the chance to do stuff like that.

Transmissions from Down Under: Week 3 and Conclusion

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This is Port Phillip Bay, as seen from the St. Kilda promenade, the final photo I took in Australia. It was pretty early on July 16th. A light morning drizzle had peppered an excursion that Joshua Pitt and I went on to get a photo op by Roland S. Howard Lane, but the clouds were beginning to part, and the view of the Bay was sublime while an older gentleman and I stood waiting for the Airport shuttle. I had spent the final four days of my trip Down Under in Melbourne, which was quite a way to conclude things. Joshua was the prodigal host, doing everything within his power to ensure I had returned to the states with nothing but positive affirmations about his hometown. As I’ll catalog shortly, my time in Melbourne felt like a victory lap after three jam-packed weeks of equal parts academic business and legitimate holiday-making*.

I believe I left Part II off with a gripping cliffhanger of an announcement that I’d booked a speaking engagement at Victoria Uni in Wellington. Let me tell you about my excursion there, the beginning of which saw me with a (deliberately planned) extended layover in Brisbane for musical reasons.

BRIZBN (Brisbane)

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Stopping by the Go Between Bridge, Brisbane, QLD. 3 July 2019.

I don’t understand the cultural undercurrent NSW, ACT, and VIC Aussies have where they rib Brisbane. It may be because it’s in Queensland, a target of some political antipathy given Australia’s contentious relationship with mining and fossil fuels**. From what I understand, given how much research I’ve done about the Go-Betweens, Brisbane was always the also-ran city of Australia, home to bogans and not to be taken seriously as a cultural center. Whatever it was, I found a beautiful city with quite possibly the best public transit I rode on while Down Under (not that Sydney’s mess of a bus system set the bar too high, but I digress).

I walked all the way from the Queen Street Mall across Victoria Bridge into South Brisbane and up to the south exit of the Go Between Bridge, where the city had placed a plaque honoring the eponymous indie legends. I snapped that photo (above) and crossed the bridge, finding a Metro station that I could hop on toward the suburb Toowong. I debated whether the excursion was worth it, but the unapologetic Go-Betweens fanatic in me (who caucused with the pragmatic side that knew I wouldn’t be back in Brisbane anytime soon) won out. Their earliest records, which they put out themselves on the Able Label, carried the address 19 Golding Street.

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I need to check my sources on this, but apparently Damien Nelson, who founded the Able Label, ran it out of the Toowong Music Center, which may have been in this building. It does look like the type of building to house a record label in the 70’s or 80’s, so that facet checks out. My initial (incorrect) assessment was that Grant McLennan lived in a house on this lot at the time and ran the label out of there.

I took the beautiful train back to the airport in a timely manner to board my flight for…

WELLINGTON

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Last year, a pair of my best friends from my life in DC announced to our extended friend group that they were going to be based in Wellington for the next few years. Although this entailed an additional international flight sandwiched in between a series of intra-national flights sandwiched in between a massive international flight, I was not going to pass up this opportunity. I am ecstatic to report that everything outsiders report back about Welly is absolutely true. It’s a big city that feels like a small town. You can easily walk to the “Shire” (or at least scenes reminiscent of it). Also, Kiwis are spoiled rotten with good beer. Every single thing I drank was delicious. My friend surprised me with a can of Fugazi, a fantastic low-gravity lager made by Garage Project, a brewery built into an old garage in the overwhelmingly quaint Aro Valley district.

What’s that? You want more beer tourism photos? Don’t mind if I do! I don’t normally go overboard with this type of content, but I can’t overstate how good the beer was in Aotearoa. On my last day in Wellington, my friends and I drove up to Paraparaumu to visit the Tuatara brewery and tasting room. I actually never bothered asking where the name came from, but upon some light googling, the tuatara is a spiny lizard, not unlike the iguana, endemic to Aotearoa. Who says that drinking isn’t educational?

When I decided to add a jaunt to Welly, I reached out to the Geography department at Victoria University, Wellington, who welcomed me to come and deliver a talk about Capitals of Punk. The faculty were incredibly enthusiastic, and Dr. Sara Kindon was a wonderful host. The timing of the talk (right before the term started back up) prevented a number of faculty from attending, but I had a great time meeting with Sara and her colleagues to discuss the path I’d taken to the book’s publication. I also learned about Shane Greene’s work on punk in South America from Eduardo Moreira, which was a bonus.

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After some more quality time hiking and learning about the regional landscape, I took off early on Monday, July 8th for Melbourne. This was only a brief stop-over before the IAG meeting on Tasmania, so I’ll hold off on making it a separate section, but it was a fun stop-over. I met up with Josh, who took me through the neighborhoods he used to kick around. We met up with his better half Julie at a Mexican restaurant/dive bar (which displayed an unmitigated love of the Descendents). I learned a lot more about Aussie culture than I’d bargained for. I’d already learned about “cultural cringe” from friends in Canberra, but Julie told me about “Tall Poppy Syndrome.” Such a good preview of Melbs.

Josh and I woke up quite early on Tuesday morning to catch a ride to the airport. It was time to take our very quick flight to…

HOBART

0710190822_hdrIf someone were to ask me what my favorite city was Down Under, I would be diplomatic and say they were all amazing, with so many unique qualities and charms (which would be the truth). But if someone got a few drinks into me and pressured me into picking one, I would go with Tasmania’s “fishing village at the end of the world” (h/t Chris Gibson): Hobart. My friend and erstwhile department chair Ronald Kalafsky (who travels to Australia annually) predicted that I would really like Hobart, and as with most everything non-hockey-related, Ron was correct.

As I mentioned, the Institute of Australian Geographers was what brought me and Joshua Pitt to Hobart in the first place. The IAG brass had been as welcoming as any academic organization committee from the day I initially emailed them last year. It was a fortunate stroke that Hobart was their location this year. Despite being in the middle of the winter cold*** period in what many claim is Australia’s coldest city, the days were gorgeous and sunny. Despite the conference’s setting at the Wrest Point Casino, it was still easily accessible on foot, and Hobart’s radial bus system used numbers for their stops – such a novel concept that makes perfect sense for the metro area.

Vickie Zhang hosted a pre-conference doco session with filmmaker Molly Reynolds, which was a fitting ‘welcome to Hobart’ moment. The conference itself was packed with fascinating presentations, few of which shared any serious thematic overlap with anything I’d seen at AAG. I rarely play favorites, but the highlight for me was seeing a paper on “political fatigue” and mental health in qualitative geography by Nat Osborne, a Brisbane-based geographer and host of Radio Reversal.

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Dr. Nat Osborne cleverly applies memes in her presentation on perceptions of powerlessness and activism fatigue at the IAG Meeting in Hobart (July 2019). Every single one got a laugh.

Outside of the conference, Hobart was also packed with highlights, including a game-time decision I made to visit MONA, which was clearly the work of a madman. Josh and I grabbed dinner at the Brisbane Hotel, a beautiful dive so clearly crucial to culture in that isolated city (so of course it’s being threatened). I also stopped into the Shipwrights Arms Hotel on my final night there, catching a performance from the Dave Sikk 4Tet and running into (and getting schooled on cricket by) Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren. I also bumped into Vickie Zhang on the walk home and we chatted for a few kilometers. It all just fell together so nicely. I love Hobart and want to go back pretty much all the time. Here is some photographic evidence:

With great reluctance on Friday afternoon, Josh and I hopped into a cab and headed back to the airport (where I snapped a photo of that adorable Tassie Devils statue above), and made our final return to….

MELBOURNE

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Here it is. The grand conclusion.


This is where I’m picking up this entry in May 2020, 10 months later. Please pardon my dust, but I do this blog out of passion (read: I don’t get paid anything) and the timing never really felt *right* to just hit “publish,” but it felt even worse, after all this time, to just let the conclusions just languish in my drafts. So, I’ll piece it together here; forgive the brevity and directness of the writing from here. 


Upon our return, Josh took me down to a bohemian bar in Thornbury, where we packed into a tiny room with about 50 locals and a four-piece band for a special screening of Wake in Fright accompanied by a live band. We also stopped for souvlaki on the way in, so if there was a more Australian way to spend the first night back on the mainland, I couldn’t imagine it. If you’ve never seen Wake in Fright (as I hadn’t), words cannot describe just how jarring and disturbing and good that movie is. After the band wrapped up their credits song, I turned to Josh and said, “That was a great documentary about Australia!” A few people chuckled and thankfully did not jump me.

I spent most of my day Saturday exploring the Melbourne CBD via bike-share. Like any good tourist, I paid a visit to Victoria Market for brunch. Like any bad tourist, I didn’t bother to check how far the bike-share stand network ran. In retrospect, I should be prouder of how far I biked (Brunswick), but getting there to find nowhere to park my massively heavy cruiser felt like a huge egg on my face. I biked all the way back down to the CBD, and once I found a bike-share stand, I parked and treated myself to an amazing vegan ice cream churro pile.

Moving on…

Saturday night: an entity cool enough to inspire songs by Elton John, Suede, and The Cure. I met up with Joshua and our NZ-based friend and colleague Tamara Bozovic in Collingwood, a district made legendary by years of punk documentaries. Naturally, the area has become so gentrified over the past two decades that The Tote, one of Australia’s most legendary punk venues, was forced to close in 2010. Fortunately, because the Tote was so beloved, it sparked an ahistorical public outcry about Melbourne’s stentorian liquor laws, leading to a rally two days later that drew somewhere between ten- and twenty-thousand people to the city’s CBD. What I wouldn’t give for Americans to have such a communal dedication to their cultural hubs, all of which are under siege by COVID (and capitalist accumulation) as of this writing (a-HEM).

Anyway, this story actually has a happy ending: The Tote reopened under new management a few months after in 2010. Nine years on, I would have the singular opportunity to see Slush, Pistol Peaches, and VOIID tear the roof off. What a great show, and I’m still grateful that Josh made it a reality for us.

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Brisbane’s VOIID, who rocked too hard to be captured clearly on camera, light up the Tote (Collingwood, VIC, 13 July 2019)

One additional note on that night: When I was in Sydney, I recalled an anecdote a friend in Knoxville, TN had told me about the local brewery Balter Beerworks. Apparently, they could not franchise under the name “Balter Brewing” because some brewery in Australia reached out and said they beat them to it. Australia, by virtue of ‘the tyranny of distance,’ has always necessitated notable branding controversies. I looked up where the Balter Brewing Company was located, and it turned up a Queensland town called Currumbin, not far from Gold Coast.

“Oh, well,” I thought, “It would have been fun to hit the brewery and send pictures back home, but I’m not going to be anywhere near there on this trip. Maybe next time.”

A few weeks later, I found myself at a very hip pizza place down the street from the Tote with Josh and Tamara, the latter generously offered to buy me a drink in honor of an IAG conference well done. As I was thanking Tamara, I interrupted myself with a shout, which I have no doubt frightened her. I was face to face with a Balter Brewing tap, in the heart of Melbourne. I had never bothered researching whether Balter distributed throughout Australia; I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

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Forgive the stream of consciousness here, but posting one Melbourne beer memory reminded me of another, perhaps the most serendipitous of the whole trip. Earlier that afternoon, I was walking around in Fitzroy when I spotted a Big Bad Wolf mural and decided I needed to get this picture:

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As luck would have it, a woman was photographing a colorful can of beer set against the backdrop of another mural nearby. I worked up the courage to ask if she would take a picture of this admittedly ridiculous pose with the Wolf mural, and she was more than happy to help. We got to chatting, and LeeAnne told me about her beer/street art Instagram project she had going with her partner Corey called “ForRicherForPourer.” I asked her if I could take a look at the can she had been photographing, and she told me about how the Mr. Banks Brewing Company, aptly located down on the Port Phillip Bay, had dropped a limited batch Pale Ale…aptly named “The Drop.” As I stood there clearly impressed at how cool the can and exclusive batch sounded (apparently, beer fans had to be lined up at the opening that morning to get it), it likely hit her that no other Yank on Earth might have the opportunity to drink it, and made my day: “Why don’t you just keep it?”

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The following night at Josh and Julie’s place in St. Kilda, we cracked open the can of Mr. Banks’ Drop over dinner. Waiting a full day and a half to do that was nearly impossible, and it was delicious. Thanks again to LeeAnne for her kind gesture, and I’m sorry it has taken me almost a full year to immortalize it here!

Back to the timeline: on Sunday morning, Josh and I headed over to Marvel Stadium for what would finally be my first Australian Football League match. Despite the cold and rainy weather, as well as the absence of Josh’s preferred club (see his hat), here was our assessment:

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I’ve never been a fan of American Football, but I do appreciate rugby whenever I have a chance to watch a quality match (which is usually relegated to highlights on YouTube). Watching a sport that combined rugby with the spatial elements of cricket and good-times tribalism of American Football was a lot of fun. I don’t remember the finer points of the match itself, but I felt like, similar to the baseball experience, a lot of folks were there for the spectacle and weren’t necessarily die-hards. I was expecting to learn about the rules and structure of the game, but Josh surprised me with a bit of history and geographic context for the sport. I had no idea that AFL had been (until recent decades, at least) largely relegated to Victoria and South Australia, whereas rugby proper dominated elsewhere in Australia. Neither had I realized that Aussie Rules Football grew out of necessity to use the cricket pitches during the off-season; I have to admit that one was truly in front of my eyes the whole time.

I spent much of the afternoon catching up on work before I took the train down to St. Kilda, where we split the aforementioned limited-release beer, ate a wonderful dinner, and watched Dogs in Space. It was the most Melbourne weekend that I could have possibly Melbourne’d. Revisiting it all these months later (again, sorry) makes me miss it terribly.

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Victoria Market, Saturday Morning, July 13, 2019.


LINER NOTES

* I picked up that term, perhaps my second favorite Australianism behind “Nice/Lovely day fer it,” from a recording on the Kurunda Scenic Railway, which I took out into the rain forest from Cairns. See Part II for more on that.

** One bank even centered the fact that they did not support the mining industry in many ads all over Sydney and Melbourne.

*** I’ll apply the term “cold” here to be respectful of my Australian hosts, who claimed it to be so. Most of you know I grew up in New England, did my undergrad at Syracuse, and moved to Michigan with the utmost enthusiasm. That’s all I’m going to say.