For some reason, I was never notified that the video of my UTK Mic Nite talk last Fall was available online. Because it has been online, for almost a full year. Anyway, here it is, in all its glory. I hope you find it well worth your 7 minutes.
For some reason, I was never notified that the video of my UTK Mic Nite talk last Fall was available online. Because it has been online, for almost a full year. Anyway, here it is, in all its glory. I hope you find it well worth your 7 minutes.
From what I understand, Chicago developed its nickname “The Windy City” from it’s reputation of spurious, silver-tongued politicians ‘blowing wind’ for their constituents, so to speak. Of course, people still largely take the nickname literally, because Chicago is windy, and if you’re there at the right time of year, so, so icey. It’s like sticking your face in a freezer that Frigidaire recalled for being TOO COLD.
For this reason, on top of dozens of others I could list at a moment’s notice, I absolutely love Chicago. Like most of the Midwest, the unforgiving cold keeps the dilettantes away, which is fine. More rare vinyl, delicious Polish food and deep-dish cheesy-tomato pie (they call it “pizza,” which isn’t accurate, but I’ll allow it) for me. Until late last year, I had never been to Chicago during the cold season; I’d visited a few times during the summer, and once for a typically memorable AAG meeting in April 2015.
Until last week, however, I hadn’t gone to Chicago with any of the Ben Irving Postcards. At least, I hadn’t made any excursions to find the places they depicted. Before my train left Union Station to head back to Lansing, I had time to make two stops, which I had planned meticulously to lead me back to the Loop. The first was a stop-off in Uptown and the second was located downtown, tucked right inside the loop track on Wabash Ave.
In a few recent cases, I’ve lucked into staging repeat postcard photos miraculously close to the anniversary of the date which Irving mailed them. This was not one of those cases. He mailed this one (above) on the evening of July 13, 1942, commenting that he was “sweating like [he] were in a shower.” That’s rich, considering how my right hand went numb to get this photo. Don’t ever say I don’t make sacrifices for my art.
Like many of the hotels featured in the Ben Irving archive, the Sheridan transformed into private residences. It shut down as a hotel in 1974 after over 50 years of operation and became private residences by 1983. A decade ago, the Horizon Realty group bought the building for $10 Million and started refurbishing it back to “its Jazz Age luster,” as Chicago Magazine wrote. The Terra Cotta sculptures were cracking and falling off the building over the course of the prior ten years. I can’t find any direct sources on what happened to the residents when the bank foreclosed on it, but it probably wasn’t pretty. Oddly, the Jazz Age Chicago WP site never got around to elegizing the building.
EDIT: I did find this site, which gives a bit more detail into the building’s history and situation as an anchor of sorts in the Uptown district.
Because there isn’t much detailed information on the Hotel (at least, which I’ve been able to find in the limited time I have to write this), I have no idea what those pillar-like objects are on top of the postcard illustration. They don’t look like Terra Cotta designs. Either way, they’re gone today, along with those two gigantic apocryphal flags that the artist probably added, along with their inventive perspective on the building. It does appear that, even in 1942, most of the street-level spaces were commercial enterprises, with an awning leading guests into the hotel on the Wilson Avenue side. The sidewalk is also noticeably bigger (much bigger) in the artistic rendering than in modern reality, though that could also just be artistic license, too. Gone are the light posts and moved are the sidewalk trees (which, granted, were frequently fudged by illustrators to gussy up a street scene for tourist postcards). The second-story window awnings have also gone from a lime green to a navy blue – likely a combination of Horizon Realty’s branding and how it’s just a better color. If you’re looking for a place and can afford about $1,500 per month, they’ve got plenty of openings!
Given how vocal I’ve been about the privatization of so many places and spaces featured on antique postcards, it was a welcome relief how open the staff at the Palmer House Hotel keep their crown jewel: the Empire Room.
The Palmer House, being situated right inside the Loop, claims to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in North America. Apparently, the original iteration of the hotel opened on September 26, 1871… and then burned down along with most of the city less than two weeks later. Wow.
I walked into the hotel lobby. Maybe it was just poor eye-timing mixed with pessimistic paranoia, but I felt like I got suspicious stares from the hosts in the fancy lobby restaurant. However, after asking a few questions to a concierge around the corner, he told me “oh, the Empire room! Yeah, if there’s nothing going on in there, then you should just be able to walk in, up the stairs on the opposite side of the lobby.”
I felt a bit of anxiety walking up the steps, almost as if everyone in the lobby momentarily turned to glance at me. I opened the doors, and there it was.
What a beautiful room. For a brief moment, I felt as if I’d been transported back to 1950, or at least the ending of The Shining.
Here are the postcard image, and 2019 photo juxtaposed:
The ceiling design, chandeliers, even adornment above the curtains were immaculately maintained. I highly doubt those are the same curtains behind the stage, but they kept the color scheme and general aesthetic the same, too. The obvious changes were as straightforward as they were understandable: the dance floor carpeted over, a higher stage, and the bandstand replaced with a conference table. Also, the 2019 chairs looked comfier than the wartime ones. I have no idea how they got that tuba to levitate back then; I guess WWII was just a strange time.
I realize that the Palmer House postdate (1950) falls outside the time span I advertised on the Instagram (1932-1944), but there are going to be a small handful of outliers. Also, if literally one person cares, I’ll be amazed. Either way, I don’t know why Irving was in Chicago in 1950; all he indicated was that he was going to be there until that Thursday, having mailed the postcard on a Sunday. I had also completely forgotten that the USPS postmarked and shipped stuff on Sundays back then. In fact, this was a few short months after the USPS reduced their deliveries to one per day:
On April 17, 1950, “in the interest of economy,” Postmaster General Jesse M. Donaldson ordered postmasters to limit the number of deliveries in residential sections to one each day. The only change made in business districts in 1950 was that the number of Saturday deliveries would be one fewer than the standard number of weekday deliveries (USPS.com).
Have a great Thanksgiving, everybody! Check back here soon for more high-quality content (by my standards).
For anybody who is either around the Dow Science Complex on the Central Michigan campus tomorrow (Friday 11/1) or enjoys eating gratis lunch, I’ll be giving a talk at Noon! Join me and my colleagues in DOW 270 to learn about my research, the overlap between Geography and Pop Culture, and see me break down what I mean by Symbolic Gentrification. I look forward to seeing you.
Those details again:
Friday, November 1, 12pm – 1pm
Central Michigan University
Dow Science Complex Room 270
There will be lunch. And cookies, probably.
Between 1932 and 1944, Ben Irving mailed more than a thousand postcards and souvenir packets home to Brooklyn from all cities and towns all over North America. This is the story of his postcards from one of those towns.
How’s that for a gripping introduction? I have an unimaginable amount of housekeeping to do on this site, but for starters, I figured I would keep the Ben Irving Postcard Project entries separated by city, rather than clustered together by trip. Living in Michigan now will enable me to do more day trips and work Irving Postcard recon into my excursions, which is exciting. Whether this will result in any type of publication while I’m here remains to be seen. The demands of the new semester at a new job have prevented me from doing much writing at all, but hopefully September will be a productive month of catching up on the multiple proposals and abstracts I have floating around out there.
Anyway, I suppose I should put my money where my mouth is and talk about Battle Creek. Prior to stopping there en route to Kalamazoo (separate entry coming soon), the only space it occupied in my brain was a reference point for small-town Michigan’s post-industrial downturn. My dad mentioned driving through there in 1981, and being overwhelmed even then at how empty it felt. 38 years later, I found myself looking for landmarks based off images sent out into the world at the town’s peak period in 1938.
The first of which was the Kellogg Auditorium. If I ever knew that the eponymous cereal company was headquartered in Battle Creek and essentially keeping that whole city afloat, I had forgotten. The Kellogg food company, who originally produced health food for the Battle Creek Sanitarium (one second; ordering some t-shirts for my new prog metal band), essentially traced the city’s twentieth century history with their own successes. One landmark prominently displayed in a postcard that Irving mailed on October 18, 1938 was the Kellogg Auditorium. The Battle Creek Enquirer posted a wonderful history here on their garbage fire of a website (USA Today‘s fault, not theirs).
In order to recreate the image, I had to stand in the middle of McCamly St, next to the Battle Creek Central High School. For a handful of reasons, which become plainly obvious here, I had to move around to get any clear shots of the exterior. In addition to removing the parking lot and restructuring the McCamly side, the city (as far as I could tell) planted some trees, two of which had grown massive enough to obscure the building.
Also, in what I might assume was part of the 1981 renovation, they added a vestibule onto the main entrance, with dummy doors designed to replicate the original 1933 doors. I tried my best to take a photo where both were visible:
The building was locked and dormant, though it appeared to be still in prime condition to host special events in the main concert hall. Too bad I’m never anywhere near these place when they’re open to the public, or even available by special request. It would be great to see their immense house organ whenever I next pass through there, at any rate. Moving on…
The downtown strip across Battle Creek from Kellogg’s Auditorium felt dead on that Saturday afternoon. I saw a few food trucks setting up on McCamly Street off of Festival Market Square for some burger festival that evening. Maybe my timing was just off. Around 4pm, the only places that showed any signs of life at first on the Michigan Ave strip were a cricket bar and a Subway (which may have been due to the sandwich artist out front on his smoke break). A pair of young women with a nice camera were taking modeling photos next to a dormant construction site on the LEFT tower on this image below:
The two towers at the center of this postcard, which Irving mailed from Battle Creek on October 8, 1938, made it incredibly easy to recreate the shot. Here’s my best attempt.
In this shot, you can see the scaffolding hanging off of the tower at 25 W. Michigan, a landmark in the midst of a serious renovation. The one further back and to the right has already been renovated and transformed into Battle Creek Tower, a high rise of luxury condominiums (read their brochure here). Their website has a brief history:
Construction on the Battle Creek Tower began on August 20, 1930, and was open to the public on June 20, 1931. Originally home to the Central National Bank, it was complete with modern features and was the first high-rise to be built in downtown Battle Creek. To preserve the history and significance of the Tower, a copper box time capsule was sealed inside a building cornerstone during the dedication ceremony in 1931.
It goes on to talk about Roger Hinman’s purchase of the building in 2000 as well as how the building’s location in a so-called “renaissance zone” could provide tax benefits to residents. Well, isn’t that nice. I’m sure the 60-year-old homeless gentleman I met walking through Friendship park who has been sleeping under awnings and carrying paint cans at a facility a distant bus ride away to afford food would appreciate that.
I hate to sound pessimistic or contrarian here; I’m genuinely supportive of the local spirit that Battle Creek has, and support any sustainable efforts to regain some of the glory they seemed to encapsulate at (ironically) the Depression era. The key word, though, is sustainable. Heritage Tower, on the left and closer to my vantage point, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer, has been undergoing renovations for well over two years. They were initially eyeing a completion date in early 2019, but from what I saw it looked like they still had plenty of work to do.
One other noticeable landmark shift was the extinct Hotel Milner. In the 30’s, they charged the whopping rate of $1 per day (which is a little more than $15 per day adjusting for inflation – still an incredibly cheap rate). I was somewhat surprised to find a historical placard commemorating the hotel on the Parking Lot sign, considering how blatantly the building had been ripped out of the lot. The signage, placard, and the old building’s bone cage are more visible on this shot here. It just looks…off.
Additionally, had I not had the Heritage and Battle Creek Towers for reference points, I would have had fun tracing that gorgeous, highly recognizable trim in the postcard image back to the building at 26 W. Michigan:
So what did I learn about Battle Creek? A lot. As easy as it may be to be skeptical of language developers use to sell luxury high-rises to one of Michigan’s struggling small cities, Battle Creek does appear to be a canvas for young entrepreneurs to experiment, most of whom I imagine have been there for generations. Also, I found out that Sojourner Truth spent her twilight years living in Battle Creek, and the city finally gave her her due with a memorial at a major intersection.
Did YOU know that Sojourner Truth spent the remainder of her life in Michigan after the decades she spent campaigning for the rights of women and minorities around the country? Did you know who Sojourner Truth was? Tend to that second question first. Did you know that New York didn’t abolish slavery until 1828? I didn’t! But now I do, mostly because my great-grandfather decided to send a couple of postcards from “the breakfast capital of the world” 81 years ago.
Tune back in soon for The Ben Irving Postcard Project Visits Kalamazoo!
Happy Saturday! I’m sorry to never have completed my entries on my trip down under, especially considering how fantastic Hobart and IAG were in general. I still hope to post about some highlights. In the meantime, I’m finally enjoying an hour or so of downtime out of my box-filled house, so I thought I would finish this post on one of the highlights of my first week in Australia – a meeting with author and archivist Ross Laird, known to the internet community as Scarce Sounds.
I’d been in touch with Ross off and on since I first began the Ben Irving project in earnest roughly five years ago. He came up in internet searches as an expert on the Okeh records catalog, so I emailed him to ask if he had any record of the Ben Irving Orchestra (or any proof that Ben recorded and released any music). He got back to me quickly and thoroughly, running through expansive evidence that there was no record of anyone by that name in Okeh’s catalog.
I got back in touch with him earlier this summer in the weeks leading up to my trip down under. It turned out that as a longtime employee of the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, he was based in Canberra and would be in town when I was there for the IASPM meeting. We met up in his old haunt on the Australia National Uni campus to chat a bit more about where our respective projects had brought us.
In an unanticipated bit of hospitality, he and his wife invited me to their home in the suburbs, where I’d be able to see one of the most unique and expansive record collections in the world. At least, I saw part of it. He mentioned that he had a shed full of shellac records (not so nimble and as prone to weathering as vinyl) and an additional office/storage room other than the one I saw. Here are some photos.
Thousands of records from his archive (including very rare ones) are for sale on his Discogs page, Scarce Sounds. As he explained to me, Ross doesn’t view himself as a collector as much an a curator. Pursuant to the name, most of his records are rare and don’t really exist within the public archive. He aims to change that for many great overlooked artists from the Global South, then sending the recordings afield to other music lovers. It’s a worthwhile pursuit and a point I hope I can reach one day.
He sampled a bunch of 78s and 45s for me, most of which were still shrouded in mystery (most, if any information that exists about them on the internet, he put there), but my single favorite song I heard all night was a bubblegum pop song by Rita Chao and Sakura, entitled “Bala Bala.” The song has a driving baritone sax lead, fantastic female duo vocals, about 4 different words in the whole song, and I loved it to death. Some good Samaritan put a piece of “Bala Bala” on a supercut they uploaded to YouTube about ten years ago.
Happy Thursday, everyone! I’ve got (abridged) stories to tell.
First, I began this entry in Cairns, a very cool little city in Tropical North Queensland. I swam with the most stunning variety of fishes I’ve ever seen on the Great Barrier Reef, and I took zero pictures. I did get my Certificate of Recognition from the Divers’ Den (which they clarify, in my favorite part of the certificate, is NOT a Scuba Certification). Considering how uncomfortable I am (1) underwater and (2) cycle-breathing, Scuba seemed like a terrible undertaking. That is mostly because it was. As I write this, my ears are still ringing from when my head nearly caved in on itself, and I’m still wincing at how I looked when I first saw myself in the mirror after returning to the boat. I managed to pop a blood vessel in my nose in attempts to expel water from my mask and equalize the pressure. I think “not looking like Tom Savini designed your face” after removing one’s goggles is a skill that some of the finer divers develop. Also, considering how far self-contained underwater breathing apparatuses have come technologically, I couldn’t stop thinking about how terrifying those early dives must have been for Jacques Cousteau and his antecedents.
All that being said, it was 100% worth it. Granted, the snorkeling session in the afternoon was almost as majestic from up on the surface, but we were parked by an atoll with relatively high towers of coral. I’m clearly no ichthyologist, but every single fish I saw felt like a revelation, considering how massive and rainbow-toned many of them were. The guides emphasized to apply sunscreen at least a half-hour before diving and to avoid contact with coral or fish at all costs. I didn’t see any sharks or lethal jellyfish, so you’ll all be happy to know I’m alive and well unless one of the species applied some kind of slow-burn poison on my skin thaa;fwoij;oi4j……………Just kidding. I’ll post if anything changes. Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a run-in with a particularly vicious Koala. [Update: I did not].
Second, back to the tape. Before I get to my IASPM experience in Canberra, I’ll extend my gratitude to Maartje Roelofsen and Macquarie University’s GeoPlan Seminar for hosting me last Tuesday. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer setting and better group for my first international colloquium talk. Their seminar room featured a 19th century court room gate rescued from somewhere indeterminate in rural New South Wales, which most seminar rooms should have. Also, I saw my first Lorakeets. I probably confused Maartje with my overreaction, never having seen birds that beautiful outside of captivity before.
I’m looking forward to seeing several members of that faculty and student body again in Hobart next week. I would have enjoyed hanging out for a bit and seeing more of the campus, but I had to get back to Sydney to catch my coach to Canberra. IASPM was already well underway, and I’d missed a good handful of fascinating sounding papers.
IASPM was every bit as fun and insightful as a global conference of the world’s top popular music scholars (and me) would be, and Canberra was wonderful. I got to see a few old friends and meet some new ones, learn a nearly overwhelming amount about great new research in pop music studies, and watch Franco Fabbri bring down the house with “Space Oddity” at closing-night karaoke at the coolest bar in Canberra. Scotty Regan (Queensland Uni of Technology) DJ’d the set and closed with “New York, New York,” but replacing “New York” with “Canberra.” Feel free to dig into his Twitter for more details, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I was honored to be on the Punk session with Paula Guerra, the co-founder of KISMIF, a Porto conference I’ve been dying to go to since I discovered it a couple years ago, and Fakhran al Ramadhan, who splits his time between the Cultural Studies program at the University of Indonesia and his band No Slide (whose t-shirt I’m wearing as I type this). It was one of the best-attended paper sessions I’ve been on, and as on many conferences outside of my field, the way my ideas resonated with the attendees was highly encouraging. It’s a shame I might never be able to experience IASPM in Canberra again, but I count on returning to both the meeting and the city at different times in the future.
While in Canberra, I also had the opportunity to meet and talk archivism and records with Ross Laird, one of the top collectors/curators in Australia, if not the world. In the interest of time (and making another quick announcement about a talk I have in Wellington, where I’m actually finishing up this entry), I’ll move my meeting with Ross to its own future entry.
For now, I’m pleased to announce here that I’ve added a talk to my excursion to Aotearoa/New Zealand! The kind and enthusiastic people at Victoria University of Wellington (Social Theory & Spatial Praxis Research Group) have invited me in tomorrow at noon to talk about Capitals of Punk and some more recent research directions that have emerged from it. I’ve pasted their flyer below in case you know anybody in Wellington and would like to pass word along. From what I understand, it’s free and open to the public.
Thanks again for reading, and sorry I didn’t have enough time to go into further detail about IASPM. I can’t remember the last time I’ve taken that many notes at a conference. Not that I’m going to hold the IAG or AAG to this, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if all academic conferences concluded with the organizer(s) singing karaoke with all of the participants.
I’ll do my best to get a Week 3 entry up from Hobart at this time next week! I hope you’re all doing well, wherever you are.
Greetings from Australia! I survived my first 15-hour flight with minimal sleep deprivation. A colleague warned me that I’m not in the clear yet, though, so I’ll be cautious. I’m taking advantage of a cold, miserable Sunday night in Ultimo to work on my presentations for this week, which will be taking place on Tuesday at Macquarie University in Sydney’s northern suburbs and on Thursday at Australia National University in Canberra.
Let’s go to the tape:
The Official IASPM Program is available now! My session is Thursday at 2pm (see p.56).
More updates as I have time and reasonable access to WiFi. I’m the meantime, I’ll be trawling some of Sydney’s finest record shops and enjoying its nearly overwhelming amount of delicious Asian street food (in fully licensed restaurants, as they foreground in their ads). Here is a photo I took yesterday afternoon in the moment it hit me that I was, indeed, in Australia: