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.

Your Sonic Sunday: May 17th (Punk Scholars, Jangle Pop, and Hardcore)

Happy Sunday! I have a few music documentaries to recommend (which are streaming, for free, on YouTube as of this posting), but first a couple of announcements about things near and dear to me.

First, per Dr. Matt Grimes, the Punk Scholars Network website is up and updated! For those keeping track, I published an article in the connected journal Punk & Post-Punk a couple years ago ahead of Capitals of Punk, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with this consortium more in the future. For now, take a gander at what they’ve been up to lately, and who makes up their team.

a2570743017_10Second, while working on the Sonic Geography Song Challenge, I’ve inadvertently discovered that Mark Mulcahy put the entire Miracle Legion discography up on Bandcamp (the second-best website on the internet, behind Cinema Treasures). For my fellow 90’s kids who remember the beautiful show The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Polaris were, ostensibly, a massaged iteration of Miracle Legion. Chris Viscardi and Will McRobb have said that Miracle Legion’s 1985 EP The Backyard directly informed the aesthetic of the show, and it makes perfect sense.

Under the “Hey! Free Viewings!” category: Lance Bangs made this appropriately slow-burn documentary about Slint’s 1991 masterpiece Spiderland, and it’s available to watch here. He does a good job pulling from his own super-fandom of the mystery that surrounded albums like this before the internet, as well as the fascinating little world of Louisville, Kentucky.

maxresdefaultDrew Stone has been breaking his back for a long time to not only keep the spirit of New York Hardcore (or as it’s properly pronounce “N’Yuk Hahdcowa”) alive through shows he organizes in Brooklyn, but hosting numerous live-streams with NYHC figures. I caught this one with Lou Koller, the singer of one of my favorite bands Sick of It All, and as I may have said on twitter, it felt like a warm embrace. Stone’s “The NYHC Chronicles” documentary (stream-able here) digs deep into that universe, and I recommend it. Also, somehow, Walter Schriefels does. not. age.

the-jane-projectSpeaking of hardcore (just a bit further North), every time I have the privilege of introducing someone to Converge’s 2001 masterpiece Jane Doe, I get excited about the record all over again. While traversing the algorithm for those previously mentioned videos, I found this video of Kurt Ballou talking about the album to a class at the Berklee College of Music in the band’s native Boston. As an academic who thinks Jane Doe deserves every bit as much respect as any other piece of critically-coveted “art music” of the past two decades, it’s always gratifying to see Converge getting that kind of institutional validation (not that they need it). Over the past couple of years, I’ve had an epiphany: Converge may be the greatest band in Boston history. Sit on that one, and tell whether you agree that there may be weight to that argument.

Sonic Geography BONUS (Blur Megamix)

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A mix so good that the algorithm flagged me at least twice while I was broadcasting the records on Instagram Live! My favorite band of all time (depending on the day you ask me), and certainly the band I traveled the farthest (and spent the most money, but that’s beside the point) to see.

This mix includes a few of my favorite deep cuts, a handful of hits (and variations on hits), and interesting b-sides (for being the best British guitar pop band since the Kinks, Blur had a relatively weak b-side catalog). I’d like to think it shows off a solid handful of the band’s eclectic catalog of strengths. Either way, it’s a fun way to spend an hour. I’m kind of amazed I forgot to play “End of a Century,” though.

  1. “I Know” (B-Side to the “She’s So High” 12″)
  2. “Hanging Over” (B-Side to the ‘For Tomorrow’ 12″)
  3. “Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club” (from Think Tank)
  4. “On Your Own” (7″ clear single)
  5. “Girls and Boys” (Pet Shop Boys Remix) (12″ Single)
  6. “Music is my Radar” (12″ Single)
  7. “There’s No Other Way (Rock Mix)” (12″ RBK dance single)
  8. “Stereotypes” (7″ pink single)
  9. “Trailerpark” (from 13)
  10. “You’re So Great” (stealth Graham single from Blur)
  11. “Freakin’ Out” (actual Graham single, off the eponymous 7″)
  12. “Trouble in the Message Centre” (from Parklife)
  13. “Under the Westway” (from ‘The Puritan’ 7″)
  14. “Chemical World” (from Modern Life is Rubbish)
  15. “Look Inside America” (b-side from the ‘M.O.R.’ jukebox single)
  16. “On the Way to the Club” (from Think Tank)
  17. “Ong Ong” (from The Magic Whip)
  18. “Yuko and Hiro” (from The Great Escape)

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Sonic Geography Ep. 5 (Disques Français de France)

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Paris, December 2019

Happy Wednesday, everyone, or as they say to the Brits and Americans who consistently flood Paris, Happy Wednesday! This week, we’ll be grabbing our cans of spray paint, hopping on nos vélos, and setting off on a journey of découverte.

This week’s mix is a curious bunch of vinyl I’ve acquired on a few trips overseas, with a few key exceptions of rare finds in the US. I tried to include a multitude of songs sung in French, though it was a challenge since so many punk and hardcore songs are recorded in English. French is a language best suited for hip-hop flow and chansons, where English tends to fit with punchier, more aggressive music. As a linguistics nerd, I enjoy this weird binary.

One of the threads that ran through a bunch of my interviews with French collaborators for Capitals of Punk was how France has always felt “late to the party” within pop music (especially rock and punk) among Western countries. This dynamic is what makes French pop music so interesting to me, especially that which is produced with no consideration of the all-powerful English-language tunes, or even that which is produced in direct resistance to the Anglo-American cultural dominance.

I hope you enjoy the variety of material you’re about to hear! I’m also excited to make an announcement on Your Sonic Sunday this coming weekend that is intimately related to this week’s Sonic Geography Mix. Sorry I missed this last Sunday. Sixteen straight Sundays to kick off 2020 wasn’t a bad run.

  1. Funeral Service (Riems) – “Pills”
  2. Schlitz (Paris) – “Destroy Babylon” (from Wondawful World 7″)
  3. Too Much (I have no clue) – “Silex Pistols” (from the Born Bad French Punxploitation LP)
  4. Kromozom 4 (Paris) – “La Tuture” (from 7″ split with Heimat-Los, which I found in Knoxville, of all places)
  5. Baton Rouge (Lyon) – “D’Année en Année”
  6. Sport (Lyon) – “Eric Tabarly” (LP bought at FEST 14)
  7. Maladroit (Paris) – “She Spent Valentine’s Day on her iPhone” (from 7″ split with Teenage Bubblegums)
  8. Kimmo (Paris) – “Clac Son”
  9. Frustration (Paris) – “Artists Suck!”
  10. Buried Option (Orléans) – “Mandrake Falls”
  11. Sunsick (Marseille) – “Holidays”
  12. Telephone (Paris) – “Regarde Moi”
  13. Berurier Noir (Paris) – “Hèlene et le Sang” (from Concerto Pour Détraques reissue LP)
  14. Computerstaat (Paris) – “Crypt” (some cold wave for your souls)
  15. Starshooter (Lyon) – “Betsy Party”
  16. Thrashington D.C. (Brest) – “Banned in B.M.O.”
  17. Metal Urbain (Paris) – “Panik” (Punk française starts here)
  18. Sherwood (Paris) – “Le Bourgeois”
  19. Watermane (Montpellier) – “Greetings from the Basements”
  20. Ferry “Rock” Berendse (Weird story/Indonesian born) – “Rock and Roll Mops” (off the Born Bad Record early French R&R comp)
  21. Amanda Woodward (Caen) – “Pleine de Grâce”
  22. Edith Piaf (Omnipresent) – “Mon Manège À Moi (Tu Me Fais Tourner La Tête)”

Sonic Geography Ep. 2 (Tennesseein’ is Tennebelievin’)

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Well, I missed Sonic Sunday this weekend, but I’ll make up for it with some quaran-tunes for your enjoyment. This week, I’m taking a voyage across the mercilessly wide state (almost as if it was added to the Union in some type of land-grab) of Tennessee. When I moved there in 2013, I made the argument that the Volunteer State has contributed more to popular music history than any other, and I still tend to agree with that idea.

This DJ mix, though, gave me the opportunity to share some wax tracks released by various friends I made in my six years of living in Knoxville as well as a few stone-cold classics.

  1. Dead Man’s Lifestyle (Morristown) – “Common Lush” (split lathe 7″ with Cop Funeral)
  2. Reigning Sound (Memphis) – “Time Bomb High School” (stone cold classic LP)
  3. Psychic Baos (Knoxville) – “Fluicide” (Two words: Will Fist)
  4. Faux Killas (Memphis) – “Anxious Love” (I saw this band set Shangri-La Records aflame last year when I went to a conference at University of Memphis)
  5. Daddy Don’t (Knoxville) – “Octopussy”  (The only band, to my knowledge, with a full-time bubble blower)
  6. Bark (Knoxville) – “Everything He Built” (7″ with beautiful artwork by Striped Light)
  7. Daddy Issues (Nashville) – “Locked Out” (Possibly my favorite cut from my third favorite LP of the 2010’s)
  8. Lavish Boars (Knoxville) – “They Accepted Me as One of their Own”
  9. Koro (Knoxville) – “The 700 Club” (Off the EP repress, because I’m not a millionaire)
  10. Big Star (Memphis) – “What’s Going Ahn”  (here’s a little heartbreak for you)
  11. Gamenight (Knoxville) – “Take My Time”
  12. Headface and the Congenitals (Knoxville) – “Beast is Better”  (The McBrides are America’s greatest rock n’ roll family)
  13. The Lost Sounds (Memphis) – “Better Than Something”
  14. Booker T. and the MG’s (Memphis) – “A Woman, a Lover, and Friend”
  15. Saint Thomas LeDoux (Nashville by way of Knoxville by way of Memphis) – “Me Time”
  16. Ex-Gold (Knoxville) – “I’m a Man”
  17. Johnny Cash (omnipresent) – “Goodbye, Little Darlin'”
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Knoxville, March 25, 2018. Never forget.

The Big Star Paradox

Alex Chilton died ten years ago today at age 59. Here are some words about what he and three other Memphians accomplished in their twenties with a little help from their friends.

Big Star Photograph © Michael O'Brien

Michael O’Brien Photo (C-heads)

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Radio City, the second (and arguably last) Big Star album. It’s my favorite thing they ever released, and it had me thinking: it’s almost paradoxical how beloved Big Star are. I find it impossible to parse whether Big Star were great because they were unsuccessful in their time. Would it cloud our cultural judgment if “Back of a Car” or “The Ballad of El Goodo” were on the same level of incalculable impact on Western society as the Beatles, Elton John, or Queen? If any of those three artists had been relegated to Big Star’s niche of history, would their music be so lionized? I understand that those are three imperfect examples, but no perfect examples exist. Had the Beach Boys not been in the right time-place when they changed their name from the Pendletons and hopped aboard the surf craze, would whatever they would have created in that alternate timeline (certainly nothing on par with Pet Sounds) possess such heavy caché today?

To add another layer to the paradox, Alex Chilton was a household name to baby boomers. When he died, a majority of the outlets I saw mentioned “The Letter” in their tributes, relegating Big Star – not to mention his influence on the late-70’s New York punk scene and his iconoclastic songsmithery throughout the 80’s – well beneath the fold. But, as the party line reads, Chilton’s decision to join Big Star was informed by feeling washed up by the time he was 20. He wasn’t the only teenybopper who pivoted into an artistic legend, but he managed to occupy such a unique space in both categories; millions more have heard the Box Tops, yet his unsuccessful second act has changed the world almost in spite of itself.

What these layers all reinforce was that Big Star were a generational band. They wouldn’t have reached the heights they did if Alex Chilton weren’t burned out by pop fame by age 18, nor would their songs be such a testament to the power of Memphis if they had blown up and transcended their hometown. One of my favorite anecdotes from Rob Jovanovich’s biography of the band was when a few North Carolina college nerds (who would eventually become the dB’s) took a pilgrimage to Memphis in the mid-70’s and found a despondent Chris Bell working at a fast food restaurant. They talked him into accompanying them to Ardent Studios for a meeting with Chilton. Within minutes, they could tell how little Bell wanted to be there.

I am not entirely sure why that anecdote stuck with me more than anything else from the book, especially since it puts such a tragic din on #1 Record. The album was a legendary flop, and Bell and Chilton grew apart almost immediately as a result. It was the most important thing in the world to the dB’s, but it was barely a footnote in the lives of the people who made it. This recalls what Chuck Klosterman wrote about a Guns n’ Roses cover band in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: “Paradise City care more about Guns n’ Roses than the original members of Guns n’ Roses care about the song ‘Paradise City.'” It also recalls an interview with Slash I recall seeing a little over ten years ago (perhaps with Larry King, as outlandish as that may seem), where Slash didn’t dodge a question about GnR reuniting but rather gave a perfectly straightforward answer: he and Axl just weren’t interested in trying to recreate the proverbial “that.” It struck me as surprising, since everything I’d heard since 1996 suggested that he and Bill Bailey hated one another. Whether or not they did share antipathy was immaterial; they had moved on, even if their fans hadn’t.

I suppose therein lies another layer to the Big Star paradox: speaking personally, I appreciate the ability to see that meaning-making at work from the level of the fans of an obscure band, rather than the insanely popular band curating their legacy, sometimes bitterly. The former is endearing, and the latter is usually uncomfortable. Thankfully, everything I’ve seen Jody Stephens (the one surviving Big Star member) curate has done nothing to tarnish the band’s legacy. It may owe a lot to the fact that he still lives in Memphis, keeps his drum kit at Ardent, and has no delusions of grandeur.

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Jody Stephens’ drum kit at Ardent Studios (Memphis, TN), July 2011

I felt the need to write all of this because (1) Big Star formulate a key part of any curriculum I compose about the strange (after)life of American Popular Culture, and (2) it’s a question for which I genuinely want to get other music fans’ perspectives. The Big Star Paradox dictates that it’s impossible to judge the band solely on their music in 2020, but no amount of post-whateverist academic thought changes the fact that I nearly cry whenever I hear “What’s Going Ahn.” Whether or not Big Star had ever become famous in their time, nothing can change how their music was just so, so, so, SO good. RIP Alex Chilton, ten years gone today, as well as to my fellow UTK attendee Andy Hummel, who died on July 19 of that same year.

Sonic Sunday 03.08: Read About Your Band on Some Local Page

I know this firmly places me in the “aging guy with advanced degrees who wears glasses” stereotype, but prepare for a deluge of pure, uncut love for the Replacements and Big Star over the next week or two. 

  • First and foremost, I discovered that this exists, and I’m going to have trouble thinking about anything else or accomplishing anything else on the internet in the immediate future.
  • Actually, just as foremost, my wonderful colleague Lola San Martín (EHESS) is organizing a new conference in Paris this summer entitled “Urban Nostalgia: The Musical City in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” I can’t think of a conference more curated specifically for me, but I hope to give it as big of a signal boost I can, because I love the work that Theatrum Mundi and EHESS do. The deadline is relatively soon (April 6th), and the full CFP is right here. Here is a nifty GIF advertisement for the conference, too:
    Urban Nostalgia
  • Here’s another conference in Paris that appears to have been curated exactly to my interests, happening in September. Something about Pop and Rock in the past two decades of cinema. Elsa Grassy will be there!

Here’s Paul Westerberg playing my favorite Replacements song to close out a solo set on KFOG-FM in 1996. Have a great week, everyone!

Just Another Sonic Sunday (03.01.20) – VHS and Vintage Games

And just like that, it’s March already.

  • Cool Maps on Instagram
    I haven’t really taken time to express how many fun maps I’ve seen on Instagram (and really, why would I?), but it’s definitely a fun-map-lover’s dream over there. Here is one particularly head-turning one for those of us who haven’t visited South Asia.
  • Shudder to Podcast
    Craig Wedren, who spent his teens through mid-twenties helming Shudder to Think and much of the past two decades scoring almost every show on television, is starting a meditation/ambient music podcast that sounds just as interesting as everything else he does. You can read about it here.
  • Bad Brains and Defiance
    Speaking of DC punk veterans, The Root published a great little piece on how defiance crafted Bad Brains in honor of Black History Month.
  • The Wild World of VHS Digitization
    A piece of non-journalism on VICE (which I’ve already RT’d; they don’t need any more exposure) clued me into The VHS Vault. Everything from the extremely copyrighted to the mundane. Further verification of my opinion on just how much data and media exists outside of the internet, especially given the way the home video market blew up in the 1980’s. What a time to be alive.

While we’re on the topic of the weird early-80’s techno-glut, I had the rare opportunity recently to visit a friend in Ohio who is a brilliant archivist, coder, and trader of vintage video game equipment. It was remarkable, given the legendary Video Game Crash of 1983 (Wikipedia), to be able to play some of the flopped systems and realize, “Oh…that’s why it happened.”

Here are a few of the digital antiques.

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A fluffball named Lucky poses with a pair of early Apple Computers. If I’m not mistaken, the one on the right was the model I used in elementary school in 1988.

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The Timex Sinclaire 1000. This thing was just the worst.

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A floppy disk with games coded for an old Commodore system.