Chapter in New Book on Music in the Digital Age

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

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

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

The Eagles of Death Metal on the Attack on their Concert in Paris

I regret being silent about the November 13th terror attacks until now, particularly since they affected so many people and places I got to know this July.

As difficult as this is to watch, I found it incredibly moving and important in understanding the band’s perspective on the horrors that took place at their November 13th concert at Bataclan in Paris. You can see how traumatized they were, particularly band co-founders Jessie Hughes and Josh Homme (the latter of whom wasn’t even there for the show). When I initially discovered that one of the massacre points was at an EODM concert, it shook me even further. I’ve been a fan of this band for a long time (ever since seeing them in 2006 in DC), and may very well have gone to that concert if I’d stayed in Paris beyond this summer.

On a personal note, to the best of my knowledge, everyone I met and got to know this summer in France is doing well. Tragically, a colleague at the Universite L’Est wrote and told me that one of his fellow geographers died in this attack. All the best wishes to Matthieu’s department and to his family.

Cheers to the Eagles of Death Metal for their willingness to share this, their devotion to their fans, and particularly Hughes’ commitment to being the first band to play the venue when it reopens. Other videos of this show on Youtube show Hughes lavishing praise on the incredible Paris crowd, who had been spending most of that chaotic night having the time of their lives. Cheers to Vice for their continued good work in shining a light on how music is powerful enough even to transcend the evil found in places around the world.

 

Dr. Michael Bishop on GWAR and Richmond, VA

I have so much to update on about my time across the pond (too much, actually), but I need to take care of all kinds of housekeeping before I do. So for now, here’s this.

This came across my feed yesterday, and a friend sent it along today, so I figured I would pass it forward. Some would be shocked that a member of GWAR is an established academic with a PhD in Music, but I would actually be more shocked if nobody in GWAR had a PhD. They’ve always seemed weirdly high-concept to me, and this talk from their longtime bassist and vocalist (out of costume) confirms how they’re as important to their hometown of Richmond, VA as they are to heavy metal, theatrics, and the fake blood industry.

Music Geography 101: It’s Casual (Los Angeles)

I recently assigned the students in my Geography 101 course a writing project whereby they select a song with geographically-oriented content and report on all of that song’s inherent regionalisms. In the body of their assignment text, I include a list of suggested songs for anybody who may be interested in them or may have difficulty selecting a song on their own. The following is one of them.

It’s Casual – “The Red Line”

I deeply admire how It’s Casual represents and interprets Los Angeles. In both their songs and videos, L.A. is the polar opposite of the place where dreams come true. It is a smoggy, violent pastiche of contradictions where fantasy only exists in some unattainable alternate dimension inside of billboards and bus bench advertisements. After spending a couple of years in the area, I find it remarkable how quickly my imaginary of Los Angeles moved away from the artificial public memory filled with sun, surf, and vapid blondes. Personally, I (somehow) never tried surfing while I lived so close to the SoCal waves, and the only sun I remember was the uncompromising star that scorched the streets and made it nearly impossible to see anything if you were unlucky enough to be staring directly into it while sitting in traffic for three hours on the 405. Fortunately, for that fleeting moment when you are crawling down the hot asphalt plain, cursing out everything within your peripheral vision, wondering why human beings do this to themselves, you’ve got a spokesperson. His name is Eddie Solis.

You can tell me about your romanticized mental landscapes of Southern California until your words have melted away into white noise. For my money, there is nothing more quintessentially “L.A.” than a Chicano dude playing metal and screaming about how godawful the freeways are. This song, along with this album’s other iconoclastic video “The New Los Angeles,” are exactly that. It is not pleasant, but it rocks, and perhaps more importantly, it’s completely honest and sincere, two qualities that few people would immediately associate with Solis’ hometown.

Another thing that most outsiders and a disappointing amount of Angelenos would never assume: the public transit is outstanding. Los Angeles grew generations of people handcuffed to their cars, but unlike from over the Hollywood sign, that smoke is finally clearing. Metro knows exactly what they are up against, and their growing system of light rail, subways, express bus lines, and city buses (all intertwined with GPS that lets those with smart phones know when they’re going to arrive down to the second) are responding. So, if you find yourself in the city of Angels, do take advantage of those resources. It will make your life easier and you may even run into Eddie Solis on the Red Line. I did once… it was a strange night. I really miss that metropolis.

Heavy New Year from the Metal Parking Lot

Happy 2014, long lost readers! I do apologize for allowing to happen to my website what traditionally happens to websites for people involved in academia over the end of the year and holidays. I won’t let it happen for at least eleven more months.

This semester and year will be bringing a handful of great conferences (including the UTK Geography Research Symposium in February, the AAG in Tampa in April, and a few others I’ll be announcing as they’re confirmed) and projects, so get excited. Before I tackle any of that, though, I need to venture into the world of cult video on this week’s “episode” of Sonic Geography.

It’s no secret that, as D. Travis “Trav S.D.” Stewart wrote (2005)

“new technology actually encourages and facilitates the study of the past… in the centuries after the printing press was invented, recently rediscovered plays from the ancient world began to be disseminated throughout Europe, helping to spark an explosion of theater in the Renaissance. Similarly, by the 1980s, video- and audiotape technology, combined with the multifarious choices offered by cable television, combined to expose a generation of young people to a flood of “new” entertainment from the first half of the twentieth century” (p. 291).

(wikipedia)

So, of course, we should not be surprised whenever contemporary internet instant-archivist technology aids and abets the renaissance of certain cultural traces stamped by that aforementioned video- and audiotape technology. One of my personal favorite examples of this has been the reconceptualization and rise of Jeff Krulik and John Heyn’s completely unwitting 1986 verité masterpiece Heavy Metal Parking Lot over the past decade. HMPL has become something of a starting point in the conversation of “found video,” despite never truly being lost as it was disregarded for over a decade. By the early 90s, multi-generation VHS dubs of HMPL had made it into the hands of various cultural taste-makers, including, notoriously, Kurt Cobain. The internet made it possible for millions more regrettable-culture-fixated consumers to see the documentary.

For those of you who are uninitiated, the film is accessible online and only 17 minutes long, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I would recommend going to watch it right now, then come back here to continue reading.

I’ll wait.

NYdailynews

Now, wasn’t that ridiculous? People once dressed like that and acted like that. In front of cameras. HMPL has grown into its role as prototypical evidence that open-access, streaming video has directly impacted human behavior nearly world-wide. In 1986, if a pair of unaffiliated nerds walked up to a drunk/high you with a video camera, your instinct would likely be to perform rather than worry that your parents, boss, or millions of people would ever see this video one day. The geography of media access and approach has changed more in these past fifteen years than it had in the prior 100, and it has changed more in the past century than it had in the previous 10,000 years. At any rate, the drunken metal fans immortalized on that day in Landover, MD had little reason to suspect they would ever be…immortalized… as anything, especially not an image embedded to the right of this paragraph.

John Heyn and Jeff Krulik today (decibelmagazine)

Admittedly, I never saw this until a few years ago, well into my life in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, certain connections allowed me to strike up a friendship with one half of the tandem responsible for HMPL’s existence, Jeff Krulik. I always ran into him at cultural events around the DC Metro, and he always had some great news about his past and current projects popping up in places he never expected. As you’ll read from him below, the biggest surprise in his decades-long dynasty of public-access and all-purpose A/V dorkdom is that he’s still talking about these productions nearly thirty years after he and John Heyn decided to take some cameras and mics to the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert to see what would happen.

In light of Jeff’s latest locally focused rockumentary Led Zeppelin Played Here, I decided to drop him a line to say hello and ask him a few questions. The topic of media geographies came up often in my seminar on Public Memory, so I thought I would get some insight directly from the man whose ascent to cult icon status has been anything but linear.

First and foremost, WHY was there such a mystery whether or not Led Zeppelin, one of the most celebrated and popular bands in rock history, played the Wheaton, MD show in 1969? Were accounts that contradictory and was there no photo/video evidence? And why not (if not)?

(weta.org)

Led Zeppelin had just landed in the states not even a month earlier. Their first US concert was December 26 in Denver. They then just crisscrossed the country—some gigs were set up in advance, some in haste. Weeks earlier on this first tour–which concluded mid-February 1969–was the apocryphal January 20 concert at the Wheaton Youth Center outside of Washington, DC, but there is no documentation to verify that show, and the promoter only says there were 50 people watching Led Zeppelin perform in the youth center gymnasium. It’s hard for people today to get their head wrapped around this notion, of a failed Led Zeppelin concert in a small, modest location, without any documentation to back it up—no posters, advertisements, reviews, ticket stubs, etc. All we have are  eyewitness testimony, or the many doubting skeptics, to tell this tale, and I’ve gathered a lot of this storytelling in a nearly 90-minute feature length documentary.  

January 20 was the Wheaton Youth Center concert in suburban Maryland. Right now, the official Led Zeppelin website has the date listed as ‘rumoured.’ That same day also happened to be the Presidential Inauguration of Richard Nixon. It was only Led Zeppelin’s 26th day in the United States, and the first album had only been released eight days earlier on January 12. So nobody really knew who they were, and there are many factors that contribute to this event being a tantalizing mystery, almost a ghost concert, and that’s why I like it. 

Do you think this Led Zeppelin-mystery could have originated from anywhere but the Washington DC area? What was it about DC that created this legend?  

I think this Led Zeppelin-mystery could indeed be from anywhere, and indeed there are a few other unconfirmed concert dates on that first tour, but I think what helps with my story is Richard Nixon and inaugural events, although it’s not really germane to the story, just a tasty happenstance. My goal for the documentary was to really be about the emergence of the rock concert industry, focusing on the mid-Atlantic and MD/DC/VA area specifically, and I think that’s largely been achieved by the response from our screenings. The concert industry was basically being invented at that time, and everything that we now take for granted—ticketing, promotion, security, safety, large venues, booking agents—had very humble origins. And what was happening at the Wheaton Youth Center was in many instances being replicated all over the country.
I know I may have asked you similar questions on the podcast, but how has the internet-shrunken world affected the way you approach film-making today rather than back in the day?

I honestly haven’t changed my approach behind a camera when I’m shooting, or concocting what to film or how to film—but distributing  my work is another matter entirely. Internet online video has revolutionized  all facets of bringing eyeballs to your work. When I was starting out, you couldn’t even project video in theaters (which is why Heavy Metal Parking Lot developed such a life by VHS tape trading), much less blast it out in moments to a potential global universe. Unfortunately, everyone else is doing the same thing, so to say there’s a glut of content out there is a huge understatement. But honestly, it took a lot of work back then, and it takes a lot of work now. And it was always competitive trying to generate an audience. And as much as film festivals, and especially the big name ones, carry great cachet, it’s incredibly difficult to secure a slot. So getting notice can come from other ways, most notably the internet. But often times the shelf life can be cruelly short, as another video, or hundreds more, are immediately ready to garner attention. 

What’s the most surprising thing about the Heavy Metal Parking lot bootleg diaspora/dissemination (so to speak) that made it back to you? Location? Person (Nirvana notwithstanding)?

I think the most surprising thing about Heavy Metal Parking Lot is that I’m still talking about it almost thirty years later. But that’s a good thing. No complaints, just a nice surprise. John Heyn and I will always be grateful for the ride, and hope it will continue indefinitely. I’m also always thrilled to hear from our ever expanding on-screen alumni, the Heavy Metal Parking Lot family. I dream of having a bona-fide reunion one day, and film it, but until then you have to settle for stuff like this and this.

Do you think Public Access had a heyday in the 1980s or any time else?

To be honest, I can still flip cable channels and stop dead in my tracks on a public access channel and watch, often bemused, or at least curious enough to try and Google some background particulars. But I think the only reason you could consider it something akin to a heyday is because there were few other options to watch really far out, weird, and eccentric content on television. Nowadays, it’s everywhere on your computer, and conventional TV watching as we knew it has been turned on its head. I will say that the public access community television from my perspective is still happening and viable, and if people want an outlet to expressive themselves, I can think of no better way. 

For more information on Jeff, consult his IMDB or follow him on Twitter.

I interviewed Jeff in 2010 for a podcast I was working on at the time called The Big Takeover Radio Show (no relation to the magazine), but I’m having difficulty finding that recording on my old hard drive. If anybody reading this may still have their digital hands on a copy of Season 5, Episode 15 of that and could email me at sonicgeography (at) gmail, I would be forever grateful. My radio archives have been down for over a year now since I blew up my old website, but they still exist and are available upon request. Hopefully more will be uploaded and made available via the iTunes store or just directly from SonicGeography.
And if anybody has access to the 1997 Krulik gem Ernest Borgnine on the Bus, please do share.
Sources Cited

Stewart, D. (2005). No Applause – Just Throw Money, or The Book that Made Vaudeville Famous. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc.

Everything Else Matters: Thoughts on the “Metal” East [Part Two]

Mapping metal, especially its active “underground,” is a messy task at best. No laws or sharpshooting border guards keep bands playing within one style, nor are there any official music guardians or academic gatekeepers enforcing the standardized usage of terminology by critics, publicists, or fans. Moreover, styles are not watertight containers: they leak, bleed into others… With borders more porous than those between Mexico and the United States, or Pakistan and Afghanistan, not even fans or critics know where to draw the lines (Weinstein 2011, 41).

I should revise that  title to “punk,” to accurately reflect some research I’ve embarked upon lately, but then I would lose that amazing pun. Actually, given the overarching material on the project, Metal is a more appropriate term anyway. That being said, Deena Weinstein’s quote here is perhaps more applicable to metal, considering the orthodoxies that certain critics and fans hold punk rock to while metal is encouraged to diffuse and transform in more respects.

popmatters.com

Anyway, I’m currently working on a paper about the ethnomusicology behind punk rock in a post-Suharto Indonesia. Kevin Dunn published a great on-the-ground piece on punk in Indonesia in the latest Razorcake which deserves a read by anyone interested in the intersection between DIY music and the homegrown radical politics of Southeast Asia. It started me thinking about how modern outsider perspectives on Indonesia have grown over the course of the past century, particularly since the nation-state is such a messy agglomeration of so many different scenes, styles, and ethical foundations. The United States would be part of a similar conversation if it were fifty different islands rather than a union of one gelatinous mass of forty-eight states, an arctic landmass, and a tiny tropical archipelago. But, we’ve got a world bound (and in most cases, choked) by flags, so in order to really understand the actual nations left on Earth, underground music that operates (ideologically, at least) outside the confines of these governments is a good place to start.

Ask any American fan of pop-punk about Málaga, and they probably couldn’t tell you much about the city other than her Ramones-loving sons Airbag. Or, as Weinstein referred to in this chapter, ask a Lithuanian black metal musician about Malaysia and they’ll answer similarly, but with plenty of depth:

Toward the end of the piece [in Malaysian magazine G.O.D.], he is asked: “What are you know about my country Malaysia, especially about Black Metal bands?” The Lithuanian replies: “About Malaysia I know very little, sorry. About bands? I know Aradia, Bazzah, Misanthrope, Nebiras – fine Black band. Death Metal I know Brain Dead, Suffocation [sic], Sil-khannaz, Kitanai Chi, Silent Death. Yeah! Nothing more!” (Weinstein 2011, 49).

Yeah! Indeed. Anyway, back to reading. Have a great week, everyone.

References
Dunn, K. (2013). One Punk’s Travel Guide to Indonesia. Razorcake 76. Los     Angeles, Gorsky Press: 34-45.

Weinstein, D. (2011). “The Globalization of Metal.” In (Wallach, J, Berger, HM, and Greene, PD, Eds.) Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music Around the World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 34-59.

Everything Else Matters: Thoughts on the “Metal” East [Part One]

(Onion AV Club)

I have a bad habit of taking a long time to catch up on popular media. I mean it when I say a long time. I recently watched the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster for the first time. It came out in 2004. The events depicted in the film transpired among the band members over a decade ago, which is almost as difficult to believe as realizing that Robert Trujillo has been playing bass in Metallica for ten years. Granted, the point in the documentary when he joins the band is probably the group’s emotional peak, so it’s not a major surprise that he’s stuck around.

From merely a sociological standpoint, the film is already fascinating. As the party line on the documentary reads: After Jason Newsted left the band in 2001, it accelerated an emotional and professional tailspin for the band’s remaining three members and their erstwhile producer Bob Rock. Considering how the band had been a money-making machine for Elektra and its parent companies for well over a decade, their management company hired a $40,000-a-month (that is not a typo) therapist named Phil Towle to get them to make up and make an album. Their label also sponsored an extravagant recording bunker in upstate California to force them back into the “organic” cradle.

Such is the tragedy of major-label success. You’re not really a band anymore as much as sustained capital, and many scattered workers within the pop-metal cloud rely on you for their sustenance. This dynamic is pretty recognizable to anyone who’s read enough Karl Marx, C. Wright Mills, or even Simon Reynolds and/or Will Straw. Despite innumerable reasons to do so at the time, Metallica did not break up. They did make tremendous fools of themselves, though, between James Hetfield’s highly publicized stint in rehab and subsequent bizarre work ethic, not to mention Lars Ulrich’s crusade against illegal music downloading (though Jonah Ray would have you think otherwise).

Well, the band as an entity suffered, their high-priced therapist exposed himself as highly unethical, and critics generally firebombed the record that emerged from it (St. Anger), but the humans behind Metallica emerged from the ordeal in four individual pieces and continued earning massive sums of money for Elektra, Warner Music Group, and all the other vested interests.

In thinking about my own research interests, Metallica are distinctively relevant for other reasons. In Suroosh Alvi’s fascinating 2007 documentary “Heavy Metal in Baghdad,” the featured band Acrassicauda doesn’t wake up a crowd at a Damascus cafeteria show until they creep into the opening chords of “Fade to Black.” Alvi comments that the rock fans at the show came to life because they’d never had the opportunity to see Metallica live, and this was the next-best thing. They could practically close their eyes and imagine being at a Metallica concert.

After I watched that documentary a few years ago, I immediately flashed back to being in Rabat in 2004. I stayed with a wonderful host family for a few days in the medina, where my host brother Zak, my friend Arnd, and I sat in the kitchen. The small satellite television played a succession of music videos from Lebanon, Egypt, Great Britain, and the United States. The first American video to play was, somewhat surprisingly, “St. Anger.”

The video was filmed on location in San Quentin State Penitentiary, focusing on individual inmates’ stories of how they got locked up. Zak’s little brother Mohammed ran in, sat down, and started singing along with the chorus. At the time, Mohamed was nine and barely spoke any English, and he was learning it from the worst music Metallica had ever produced*. Arnd turned to me and whispered, “not the most positive depiction of the United States.” Of course it wasn’t, but the video did present a brutally honest depiction of life for many Americans. It was hardly glossy, but it was more in line with the generalizations and propaganda that Americans spend their whole lives being fed, visually and subliminally, about the Muslim world.

Given Metallica’s fanatical following in the Middle East (and across the entire planet, despite losing their best musician and secret weapon 27 years ago), the band does seem to understand (and be at terms with) their power and influence. The same reasons that their management would not let them fold are the same reasons that they need to remember that they are ultimately pop stars and cultural ambassadors. Of course their popularity only tells a shred of the story of metal’s role within the interstices of cross-cultural geographic thought, and so this infinite line of thought begins. I highly doubt that Bob Rock had little metal-heads halfway around the world in mind while he was overproducing Kirk Hammett’s guitar riffs, but as the world shrinks, cultural influence tightens, and it may surprise you when you witness it. The music lover in me still regrets not going out and digging up a copy of Ride the Lightning^ for Mohammed, but I can only assume he discovered it eventually.

LINER NOTES
* I generally do not partake in bashing artists or any such entities online. But, to be fair despite certain misgivings I expressed here, this is honestly approximately the 192,439,822nd most-offensive thing that has been written about Metallica on the internet, and I am among the legions of fans who have nothing but praise for their near-perfect first three LPs.

^ To understand what got me into (classic) Metallica after many years of apathy, check out the intro sequence to the hilarious 2009 romp “Zombieland.” Certain readers probably already know what I mean.