Tyler’s Favorite Albums (1984): Minutemen – ‘Double Nickels on the Dime’

Via artrockstore.com

I once devoted an entire episode of my first radio show to playing this record in its entirety, and I would do it again. Despite it’s prodigious length for a punk record, it still takes infinitely less time to listen to than Ulysses takes to read.

Not to be too hyperbolic, but this is the best album of the 1980s by the best band of the 1980s, and deserves to be considered one of the great works of Western Civilization. If you haven’t listened to Double Nickels on the Dime, just do so now and begin the next chapter of your life.

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.

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:

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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.

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:

NotByREMSongChallenge

  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).

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 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.

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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.