A Postcard Mini-Assignment (GEO 121)

Here, I hold a stack of postcards written by my students in GEO 121 (Intro to Globalization), about to go into the post. As of this writing, they’re on their way all over the country.

I created this mini-assignment in equal parts as a tribute to the US Postal Service as well as a simple lesson on a lost art (or, at least a heavily niched one). So many students told me they had never composed or sent a postcard before. Well, now they have, and their friends and relatives are in for a surprise.

The World Regional Geography Song List: Spring 2020

Another semester of Intro World Regional Geography/Globalization = another set of musical geography papers. I always look forward to assigning this piece, and the variety of songs that students analysed always produces a few surprises. I was also fortunate to learn about a few new (to me) artists like Mr. Vegas, and the amazingly-named Tropical Fuck Storm (TFS), and Declan McKenna.

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The almost-full list is below, with any multiple submissions in parenthesis. I would make a Spotify playlist if I used Spotify, but you can find any of these in good quality on various online platforms. It bears mentioning, too, that almost every track is available on vinyl in some form from your local/regional record shop, who are likely suffering right now and subsisting on mail orders.

  • “America: Fuck Yeah!” from Team America: World Police
  • Gordon Lightfoot – “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (2)
  • Sean Kingston feat. Nicki Minaj – “Letting Go”
  • Mukesh – “Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein”
  • Evan Legler – “Michigan”
  • The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”
  • Pink Floyd – “San Tropez”
  • Kendrick Lamar – “Compton”
  • The Veronicas – “Change the World”
  • Men at Work – “Down Under”
  • Kid Rock – “Detroit, Michigan”
  • Declan McKenna – “Brazil”
  • Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind” (3)
  • NWA – “Fuck Tha Police”
  • Yusuf Lateef – “Eastern Market”
  • Alabama – “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta have a Fiddle in the Band)”
  • The Arcade Fire – “Here Comes the Night Time”
  • Lee Greenwood – “God Bless the U.S.A.”
  • Glen Campbell – “Southern Nights”
  • LCD Soundsystem – “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”
  • Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”
  • Lefty Frizzell – “Saginaw, Michigan”
  • The Beatles – “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
  • Tropical Fuck Storm – “You Let My Tyres Down”
  • John Denver – “Take Me Home, Country Roads”
  • Mr. Vegas – “The Voices of Sweet Jamaica”

Sonic Sunday Special: Baseball and Latin America (Lecture Video Public)

This week would have been the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball Season, which for some, is as good as New Year’s Day. I was looking forward to watching the Nats defend their 2019 title, but sadly we’re going to have to wait for at least a month or two.

In light of these events, I’ve decided to release this video version I recorded of a specialized lecture that I created my World Regional Geography classes about the geography of Major League Baseball and Latin American circulation. I hope you enjoy it, and please don’t be distracted by how I’m still learning where to look when I record these.

ON THE MLB AND LATIN AMERICA (Watch in a Separate Window)

 

A Pair of Geography Playlists for your Monday

Happy Monday, and Happy Finals Week (depending on where you are) everyone. I’ve been fortunate to bring some fun subjects into what’s normally a stressful time for students and faculty alike.

My Globalization class (GEO 121) submitted their 4th paper, which required that they pick a song and pick apart its geographical references. My North American regional class (GEO 350) had a group zine semester project, which they are just submitting today. One group, who focused mainly on the American Southeast, did a zine devoted to music and region. Despite their thwarted attempts to burn a mix CD, they were still able to share their playlist with the class, which I’m passing along here.


GEO 121 Musical Geography Paper Class Playlist

  1. King 180 – ‘I Ain’t Goin’ Back Again’
  2. Sufjan Stevens – ‘Oh Detroit, Life Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)
  3. Jason Aldean – ‘Crazy Town’
  4. Gordon Lightfoot – ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’
  5. Rise Against – ‘Help is On the Way’
  6. Kid Rock – ‘All Summer Long’
  7. Toto – ‘Africa’
  8. John Denver – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’
  9. The Kinks – ‘Waterloo Sunset’
  10. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’
  11. Nelly – ‘King’s Highway’
  12. The Manao Company – ‘Drop Baby Drop’
  13. Men at Work – ‘Down Under’
  14. Eminem, Royce da 5’9″, Big Sean, Danny Brown, Dej Loaf, Trick Trick – ‘Detroit vs. Everybody’
  15. U2 – ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’
  16. Logic – ‘Everybody’
  17. Lynyrd Skynyrd – ‘Sweet Home Alabama’
  18. Ray Charles – ‘Georgia on my Mind’
  19. We are the World 25 for Haiti
  20. The Hold Steady – ‘Confusion in the Marketplace’
  21. Arkells – ‘Michigan Left’
  22. Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett – ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’
  23. Highly Suspect – ‘Serotonia’
  24. The Specials – ‘Ghost Town’
  25. Jason Aldean – “Fly Over States’
  26. Shakira – ‘Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)’
  27. The HU – ‘Wolf Totem’
  28. OutKast – ‘ATLiens’
  29. Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Especially in Michigan’
  30. Panic! at the Disco – ‘Vegas Lights’
  31. Kid Rock – ‘Detroit, Michigan’
  32. Drake – ‘Know Yourself’
  33. John Denver – ‘Rocky Mountain High’
  34. Jim Jones ft. Fat Joe – ‘NYC’
  35. ‘Tear Me Down’ from “Hedwig & the Angry Inch”
  36. Tony Bennett – ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’
  37. Jack White – ‘Just One Drink’
  38. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – ‘Empire State of Mind’

GEO 350 Group Project Playlist

  1. OutKast – “Ms. Jackson” (oooooh)
  2. Lil’ Jon – “Snap Yo Fingers”
  3. Wes Montgomery – “West Coast Blues”
  4. Blind Blake – “West Coast Blues”
  5. Blind Willie McTell – “Statesboro Blues”
  6. Mississippi Fred McDowell – “You Gotta Move”
  7. Garth Brooks – “Friends in Low Places’
  8. Johnny Cash – “Ring of Fire”
  9. Randy Travis – “Forever and Ever, Amen”
  10. Louis Armstrong – “What a Wonderful World”
  11. Nina Simone – “Backlash Blues” (Live at Montreaux 1976)
  12. Nina Simone – “Backlash Blues”
  13. Joe Hertler (CMU alum) & the Rainbow Seekers – “Evening Coffee’
  14. The Velvet Monkeys – “The Creeper”
  15. Scream – “Caffeine Dream”
  16. Fugazi – “Waiting Room”
  17. Charlie Daniels Band – “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
  18. Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Sweet Home Alabama”
  19. The Allman Brothers – “Midnight Rider”

‘I’m not a woman / I’m not a man’ Geography and Gender (GEO 360) Available this Spring at CMU

Flyer_Prince_GEO360

I once told myself that if I ever had the opportunity to teach a course on gender and geography, I would feature Prince on the flyer. So, here is me keeping that promise to myself. On second glance, I’m not sure whether that’s Minneapolis sprawling out behind him, but it should be.

Anyway, for any Central Michigan students interested in the course (Registration Open as of last week – CRN 22387709), I have a draft syllabus available which includes focuses on numerous topics including the spatiality of gender, the role of gender in urban development, a crash course in feminist geography, toxic masculinity, and representations of gender in place in film, TV, and music. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions.

A New Life in a New Town (Central Michigan University)

or, I could just call this entry ‘Fire Up, Chips!’

0826191108a_hdr I would say I’m surprised I haven’t written anything here about my new position and base of operations in Mt. Pleasant, MI, but that would involve me ignoring how little I’ve posted in general over the past month. I’m still hoping to post some pictures from the IAG meeting in Hobart, I swear.

Right before I left for Australia, I accepted a position as a Lecturer in the department of Geography and Environmental Science at Central Michigan University.  I’m teaching four classes this semester: two sections of the world regional course GEO 121 WI (that means writing-intensive), one section of ENV 101 WI (Introduction to Environmental Science…writing-intensive), and one section of GEO 350 (The United States and Canada). So far, I have no complaints. I’m working with a great new faculty who have been overwhelmingly supportive, and from what I can tell now that classes have begun, really cool students as well. I had trouble preparing to teach my class today because so many people were stopping by to ask how I was doing, offer help wherever needed, or invite me to play pickleball (which I’m sure will be a blast, once I look up what that is).

Also, I can’t say enough good things about living in the middle of the Mitten. Mt. Pleasant in particular is a wonderful place, with extreme walk-ability, wonderful cycling culture, a disproportionately high number of good radio stations, a cat-fé, and if you move here on a Thursday toward the end of the summer, Max & Emily’s may enable you to watch Brian Vander Ark and his band play a free show minutes from your house. For the life of me, I cannot remember a more fortuitous “Welcome, Tyler!” moment anywhere else I’ve moved.

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Brian also welcomed me to Michigan via Instagram (a proposition that would make less than zero sense to my thirteen-year-old self, enjoying a Verve Pipe video on MTV), telling me to say hello to Mustard Plug when I go see them at the Bell’s Brewery in October. I guess those rumors about the great Grand Rapids ska/alt-rock beef were unfounded after all.

As always, thanks for reading. Back to lesson-planning and life-organizing.


COMING SOON

  • Part Three of “Tyler Down Under” (It’s going to happen!)
  • Part One of “The Ben Irving Postcards Go to Michigan”
  • Updates on CMU Course Work and hopefully some news about Capitals of Punk

Take GEOG 101 at UTK this May-mester

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Are you an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee who will be around this May? Are you in need of a quick 3-credits that would satisfy most programs’ core requirements? Would you enjoy taking a fundamentals-class (that normally hosts over 100 students) in a more intimate, laid-back environment?

Well, you’re in luck! I’m going to be teaching GEOG 101: World Regional Geography as a Mini-Semester course this May. The class will meet every morning for three weeks, from May 8th until May 29th. That is likely the most efficient way you’ll ever be able to take this class, and it will open up your summer and fall session schedules for other requirements of your major or your other responsibilities.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or for a draft of the special 3-week syllabus. I look forward to seeing you in May.


Coming Soon to Sonic Geography

  • An Exclusive Interview (Audio) with Ian MacKaye, recorded live at AAG
  • An Overview and Retrospective on AAG in DC (April 3-7), including the premiere of my DC Punk Walking Tour
  • A Look at the Ben Irving Postcard Series in Memphis & Western Tennessee
  • Announcing my new book Capitals of Punk (Palgrave Macmillan)

 

Zack (Knox Brew Tours) and Jordan (Clinch River Brewery) Visit Popular Culture Class

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Zack Roskop (L) and Jordan Skeen (R) speak to my GEOG 423: American Popular Culture class, 2 April 2019.

A quick post to say a hearty “Thank You!” to Zack Roskop and Jordan Skeen, of Knox Brew Tours and Clinch River Brewing respectively (as well as both leaders in the Knoxville Area Brewers Association) for stopping by to speak with my American Popular Culture class today.

Our conversation provided a perfect launching point for our unit on “Beer, Spirits, and Neolocalism.”  Speaking as someone who’s been around the local craft beer community for several years now, it’s always amazing how much you can learn from talking to folks who are on the ground level about your city/region as well as the relationship between the industry and geography.

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Coming soon (likely when I’m back from AAG): A New Chapter from the Ben Irving Postcard Collection (West Tennessee Edition).

Teaching Cultural Geography with the Kids in the Hall

girl_drink_drunkLast week, my Cultural Geography: Core Concepts class tackled the relationship between gender and space. Many of my students volunteered personal experiences when their movement through space reminded them (some harshly) of their gender performance. One student mentioned a male friend of hers who specially requested cocktail drinks in a brandy glass in order to mitigate any ridicule he may receive for having a “girl drink.” So, being me, I decided this would be a good excuse to show this classic 1991 sketch from Kids in the Hall.

For a quick overview, the Kids in the Hall were a Canadian sketch troupe with a hit TV series that ran between 1989 and 1995. They released their motion picture Brain Candy in 1996 and have reunited on multiple occasions. All five members – Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough, Dave Foley, and Kevin McDonald (the latter two co-star in this sketch) – are still working regularly on television today.

I had the opportunity to interview Kevin McDonald at a live show last summer, and I asked him about the changes he’d observed in sketch comedy over his decades in the industry. Though the satire and humor holds up, this sketch is reflective of a major shift he had noticed in how comedy was written, produced, and presented since the KITH show was on the air.

“One thing we were lucky about was that there was no YouTube. We couldn’t film stuff, so we had to do it the old Vaudeville way. We had to get our stage legs, and we performed all the time… It forced us to strengthen muscles that aren’t strengthened [as much today]. People on YouTube – they strengthen different muscles. They know how to be filmic. They know how to write for film; they understand “cut-to:” right away.”

Watching this sketch on YouTube in 2019, it’s easy to notice how much space they gave this short film to breathe. The dialogue is just as important as the visual gags, and the story builds slowly over a handful of scenes. Though memes (in the internet sense) did not exist at the time, the characters and cinematography lend themselves surprisingly well to that medium today. When I asked McDonald about what he thinks has contributed to the characters’ cult longevity (even early-era spots like The Eradicator, a Bruce McCullough character with a recent punk band themed after him), his answer was pretty simple: “I think that we found a rhythm in the troupe that was halfway between absurdism and real…”

The concept of what is and isn’t a “girl drink” brings a focus to that interaction of gender and place via multiple dynamics: namely, bodily comportment and subconscious “gendering” of flavor and decoration as ‘feminine.’ As they did in their strongest moments, the Kids in the Hall blended the real/tragic (a guy falling off the wagon and losing his job) with the absurd (needing some fruit and a tiny parasol in his booze). The sketch could easily be distilled (heh) down to one joke at its core, but playing to their strengths, McDonald and Foley inject masterful character work and subtle jabs. Though Foley and McDonald are hardly the punching-down type of comedians, having Scott Thompson in the writing process certainly provided a valuable voice in modulating their humor about sexuality and masculinity to avoid reinforcing gay tropes (unlike some other sketch comedy of that era … Buddy Cole, martini at his side, always dominated that conversation, anyway).

In general, alcohol plays a crucial role in geography, and vice versa. Obviously, site characteristics inform how and why brewers decide to open up shop, and local tastes often determine how certain brands of alcohol are marketed and distributed. A number of geographers, including my mentor Tom Bell, have published studies about regional dynamics in alcohol marketing, and the latest issue of the Journal of Cultural Geography contains an overview of brewing in New England. My friends Dave and Steph spoke to me and Bret Hartt about the relationship between beer and place on Episode 6 of The Casual Geographer back in 2011. I also include a case study/focus on alcohol and localism in my American Popular Culture course, especially the imagined geographies of Eastern TN and the legalized moonshine trade.

This is just one of many classic comedy sketches I use to teach cultural geography. I’ve previously written about how I introduce my Popular Culture lecture on Minstrelsy with my favorite SNL sketch of all time. I’d love to hear any examples of sketches and scenes you’ve found useful in your classes.

Nick Huinker (Central Cinema) Pays a Visit to the Geography of Popular Culture

My friend Nick Huinker, a co-founder of Central Cinema, came by my American Popular Culture class (AMST/GEOG 423) yesterday. We had a great discussion about how independent theaters have been reintroducing a distinct local flavor and sense of ownership to the moviegoing experience. As you can tell from how companies like Regal have been adopting practices held for generations by locally owned theaters (alcohol, personalization, fundraising events, screenings by homegrown directors and producers, etc.), it’s a pretty great idea.

As I’ve often discussed in the class, art-house theaters have been purposefully resetting film to its classic context, in many respects: produced for a communal, interactive experience. For the first half-century of film, it was considered a low-brow art, something that true thespians would never touch. In other words, it was a wonderful cauldron of innovative, thought-provoking, and genre-transcending/defining art. Unfortunately, a lot of this has been lost to history. Central Cinema and theaters of their ilk are doing great work in bringing it all back to the nickelodeon era (as well as the Nickelodeon era, screening Good Burger soon).

Thanks again to Nick for taking the time to come through! Stay tuned to this blog for more updates on new projects in the Geography of American Popular Culture, and if you haven’t yet, take a dive into the wonderful rabbit hole that is Cinema Treasures. You’ll be glad you did.