Tyler’s Favorite Records (1996): Ash – ‘1977’

The first time I saw Ash, I was in middle school. The band were a trio on a bizarrely packaged tour promoting their (arguably*) second and (inarguably) best record, 1977.

The second time I saw Ash, they were a quartet, and I was wandering around Irving Plaza under the directive to promote a tour-only EP they put out to help boost attention for their album Free All Angels. I was interning for their label at the time, and I was downright indignant that none of their singles had gotten any real attention in the US, especially “Burn Baby Burn,” a scorcher that had all the ingredients of pop chart success (including a couple of high-profile UK awards) but barely even scratched the United States. 

Six years later, while record shopping in London, I found an original vinyl copy of 1977, lamenting to the clerks that Ash were one of my favorite bands, but no matter what they did, they could barely even get arrested in America. The clerk replied that they couldn’t get arrested there anymore, either, citing how they hadn’t really put out any great records in a while. In the interim, they had released Meltdown (2004) and Twilight of the Innocents (2007), neither of which, despite the gaudy cover art of the former and the title of the latter’s opening track, really caught fire.

I don’t remember if the band announced it before or after that London record shop conversation, but Ash had floated the idea of stopping making albums altogether to focus on singles. It seemed like a bizarre move at the time, though history has certainly not proven it misguided. Ash were within their right to do whatever the hell they wanted, but looking back now as an American fan of 25 years, I can sympathize with their frustration at the time. 

I’ll never forget bumping into an old college radio friend (who ran WERW-AM from 2001-2002) at that Irving Plaza gig, watching his face light up when the band broke into their early single “Jack Names the Planets.” He repeatedly commented that he hadn’t heard, or even really thought about, that song in forever. Ash had spent their first decade (and four records) as a band being touted as “the next big thing,” and by 2003, even most music nerds in the states barely had any idea who the hell they were.

I think the importance of 1977 is self-evident in how the band have centrally the band have incorporated the year 1977 into their brand. I would argue that no record had a greater impact in simply helping remind Americans – who were, despite Weezer’s golden era and the ‘punk revival’ led by Green Day and Rancid, deluged with grunge’s watered-down cousin Modern Rock – that bands were still playing power-pop and garage-laden punk across the pond in 1996.

I’m going to assume I was watching MTV (or possibly M2 during a “free sample” weekend on my local cable provider) relatively late one night that year when the video for “Goldfinger” came on. I remember being intrigued. There weren’t a whole lot of other bands who sounded like that: sugary tenor vocals, grungy guitar that didn’t feel very “grunge” to me, and willing to take that commercial suicide-risk of resting their instruments almost completely several times per verse.


It took a sequence of life-changing events to arrive there, though. I had already seen the video for “Goldfinger” once, and likely heard it on the radio a couple of times, when I ran into a record shop in town adjacent to mine to see if they had a single for Stabbing Westward’s hit single “Shame” (an infectious bit of industrial-pop-metal with a music video so stupid I could write a separate essay on why). The clerk had no idea what I was talking about, but some dude in a leather jacket turned to me from down the counter and asked “Are you coming to the show tonight?” I had never had anybody ask me about coming to a show, much less a guy who looked like he could have been in a band as bad-ass (to 13 year old me, anyway) as Stabbing Westward. Stunned, I replied that I didn’t know. The labret-pierced Alt-Rock dude told me they had a bunch of copies of the single at Toad’s Place.

Intrigued, I convinced my Dad to take me to New Haven for the gig that night, a supportive gesture that has no doubt changed the path of my entire life. Stabbing Westward happened to be touring with Ash and I Mother Earth. Even at the time, that lineup seemed strange to me. If I ever meet Tim Wheeler, my first question would be how the hell that happened. I would assume some record company glad-handing, since a teenage Irish power-pop trio did not pair well with a brooding industrial quintet from Los Angeles (that weren’t even on the same label), but it may have just worked out that they played some festival together and Stabbing Westward invited them on board. If there weren’t just enough digital evidence to prove that the two bands played together in the Midwest that Fall, I would probably doubt my own memory. Brian Phelps’ new book about Toad’s place lists Stabbing Westward and I Mother Earth in their official band index, but not Ash. I don’t have any ticket stubs, photographs, or concrete third-party documentation that this show ever happened. I don’t have a copy of the “Shame” single, either, which makes me think labret-piercing dude was lying to me.

I’m certain that 1977 wasn’t the first album I evangelized to anyone who would listen, but boy did everybody I know get an earful about Ash around the time. I remember showing the CD insert to my friend Alison (no idea why I had it with me), who gave me a blank cassette to copy their music onto just because they looked like a cool band. My 8th grade art teacher, who played us Echo and the Bunnymen tapes while we drew, allowed me to put 1977 on in class. All I remember was my friend Jeff joking that the intro to “Kung Fu,” which sampled a fight scene from a Sammo Hung film, sounded like his house when he pissed of his parents. I even scanned the album cover (my first time I can ever remember using a scanner) for a class project explaining how Compact Disc technology worked. 

I can’t quite compare 1977 to anything else I remember hearing as an adolescent. The naivete and strings on “Oh Yeah” and “Let It Flow” both felt equally sincere. “Girl from Mars” featured moments of the nastiest guitar distortion imaginable for a pop group, but was still somehow the most sugary punch on the album. Though it wasn’t my priority as a listener at the time, Rick McMurray’s drumming is incredible on this record (and, without combing through dozens of retrospective reviews, I’m unsure whether he got enough credit for such). The band tacked several minutes of drunken vomiting as a “hidden” track onto the fireworks-laden finale of “Darkside Lightside” – a bit of buffoonery that they probably laugh off/regret now, but still the edgiest shit in my whole music collection at the time (provided I hadn’t bought that One Fierce Beer Coaster cassette yet). It seemed punk as fuck, although the band’s connection to punk was about as specious as their connection to Britpop.  

1977 would be a first-ballot record in the Power-Pop hall of fame no matter what year it had been released, but releasing it in 1996 doomed the band in several ways. A decade later, after the Libertines had revived the British garage movement, the Arctic Monkeys kicked up a (well deserved, now that we know about the staying power of Alex Turner and Company) shit-storm of hype on the heels of their first record – a storm that Ash may have gotten a solid chunk of had they been born a decade later. 

Or not. It’s pretty clear that American music fans are fickle about which British artists to which they’ll lend a moment of their time. Considering how ginger and toothless so much British crossover success has been, it’s hard to imagine a moment in the post-punk era where Ash would have gotten as big as they seemed on the heels of even their best work. Even Two Door Cinema Club, whose Millennial fans nearly trampled me to death at Coachella in 2013, didn’t seem to lead a new crop of indie-dance-pop fans down that Irish rabbit hole. 

I kept up with the band for the remainder of that decade, though I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t paid too much attention to their new singles-oriented output. Not that I had necessarily written them off (unlike another Irish band of note, they had put out some good material since 2000), but I couldn’t stop returning to 1977 whenever I did revisit Ash. 

This changed, though, when I took my first trans-Pacific flight in 2019. On the way to Sydney from Los Angeles, somewhere over Oceania, I got restless and started browsing the airline’s music catalog to sample through the tinny, shitty proprietary headphones they passed out in their pre-COVID way. This was how I found out that Ash had, despite their promise not to^, released a new LP called Islands. I clicked play on the first track “True Story,” and enjoyed it quite a bit, but it didn’t strike me as a “return to form” where their teenage bursts of energy were concerned. 

Then, “Annabel” started.

NOW THE PATH AHEAD IS GONE
NOW THE FIGHT IS REALLY ON

What a catchy opening! I felt my heart rate going up.

I CAN SEE REAL TROUBLE IF WE WAIT
DON’T HESITATE

My eyes were nearly welled up with tears even before the chorus hit. What a fucking amazing song.

ANNABEL 
HAVE NO FEAR
YOU CAN BE
MY GUINEVERE 

Oh god yes! Tim Wheeler is still a master popsmith. I wanted to fight somebody over this.

IN THE STORM I WILL
DRAW YOU CLOSE
IN THE TEMPEST
IN THE SNOW

I hit “repeat” and listened to “Annabel” at least 10 times before moving onto the third track, the admittedly corny yet memorable “Buzzkill.” I felt like such an idiot for falling off with this band, especially since I’d been a fan since I was thirteen. Tim Wheeler hadn’t lost his ability to write an amazing song, and Ash hadn’t lost an ounce of relevance. I put “Annabel” firmly within my list of 10 favorite songs of the decade, and it felt great being able to do that nearly 25 years after Ash became one of my first favorite bands. 

It was hard to compartmentalize in 1996, especially considering how young I was, but Ash were truly singular within the international pop-rock landscape. They were never meant to be clumped in with Britpop; they just happened to be British citizens putting out great pop music in the mid-Nineties. I misguidedly considered them punk because I didn’t have a much better frame of reference (having no idea who Teenage Fanclub were back then). Now that we’re not so shackled or silo-ed by calcified ideas of genre, it’s great to be able to enjoy the brilliant 1977 without scraping to figure out exactly where it fits. Ash still don’t, and one thing is for certain: they were always, and remain to this day, simply ASH. I’m so grateful they decided to be a band. 

LINER NOTES
*I refer to 1977 as Ash’s second album, even though it was technically their first album recorded and released as a full-length LP. Their “first” album Trailer, which came out before 1977, was a compilation of singles, b-sides, and EP tracks to get fans excited for the band’s next LP, hence the title. For reasons of congruity, I’ll refer to 1977 as their second album, mainly because it’s always felt that way to me.
^ I was so out of touch with the band in 2015 that I had completely missed out on their return to the LP format, Kablammo!  that year. I’m not proud of this. 

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.

Tyler’s Favorite Albums (1980): U2’s ‘Boy’

Inspired by similar lists I saw some musically-preoccupied friends doing on social media, I decided to challenge myself to list my 10-20 favorite albums of every year for the past four decades. My lists inspired others to reply with their own lists, which turned the project into even more fun than the pandemic could have mustered. To help buttress my summer writing goals, I’ve decided to revisit my favorite albums of the past four decades, providing some rationale and geographical context for each one. 


1980
U2 – ‘Boy’ (Island Records)

In seventh grade, my Reading/Literature teacher assigned us to read William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies. We dedicated the first 15 minutes of each class to write short entries in each others’ composition notebooks about our responses to each chapter of the main characters’ regression. Though the novel’s central theme passed me by at the time (likely the result of my own lack of interest in literary analysis more than my teacher’s lack of trying), but now I catch myself thinking about it all the time, especially every time U2’s debut album (and still their best) Boy reaches it’s closing track, “Shadows and Tall Trees.” Lord of the Flies had a clear impact on them, too, especially given the novel’s takedown of British polite society. Demystifying the book, Golding wrote that the book’s theme was “an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” Still, there was something timeless about proper British schoolboys reverting to bloody savagery when left to their own devices. 

Bono always claimed that U2 attempted to write the quintessential album about youth and adolescence on their debut LP, and the prodigious amount of press that U2 got, even while they were still teenagers (and 5 years before their performance of “Bad” at Live Aid, which I’ll put a pin in here) backs up those claims and aims. There’s no doubt that, by 1980, U2 were prepared to be the biggest band in the world. When they played at the Bayou in Washington, DC on December 7, 1980, Xyra wrote as much in her review in that month’s issue of the Capitol Crisis zine:

“The only cubby-hole one can fit U-2 into is the one marked ‘magical.’…. As with all of U-2’s songs, there is an urgency about it, as if the whole world depended upon singing and playing the song just the right way….As I left the concert I felt a sense of attachment to U-2 unlike any I’d felt before. It was a mixture of pride at being one of the few people in on their secret, and sorrow at realizing that they can’t stay unknown forever. For that would be a tragedy. U-2 are destined to be one of the classic bands of all time, and believe me they will.”

Whether or not U2 ever agreed they were a punk band, they certainly emerged from the post-punk era with a hell of a set of songs and a supernatural set of tricks; Xyra would have been honest had that not been the case. Of course, we all know how history proved her closing statement correct, but unfortunately, U2 have spent half of their career as a band making mediocre music. Which is why I still contend that Boy captured that early fire they had, between their choices in artwork, Steve Lillywhite’s production, and the way it keeps on revealing its secrets to the world with every listen. It also helps map out just what went wrong with the band, and how tied it was to geography.

On paper, the line “Someday I’ll die, the choice will not be mine” (which Bono sings in “Out of Control”) could be mediocre teenage poetry, but coming out of Bono’s mouth with the band’s on-point backing it does sound wise beyond its years. Bono also posed another question of mortality in “A Day Without Me,” a ballsy choice for Boy‘s lead single. One of Bono’s cross-Sea contemporaries who would choose death in May 1980, Ian Curtis, lent the song a whole new din as the year progressed. 

Like all great albums, Boy reveals new secrets with every listen – perhaps the most profound of which was an epiphany I had when playing the tape for my partner after she and I had been basking in Joy Division’s music for a few days. Thought I’d been listening to both bands for at least twenty years, it never occurred to me just how Joy Division’s influence is slathered all over early U2. I haven’t read enough interviews to verify it or not, but the blueprint of Unknown Pleasures (released one year prior to Boy) still echoes in a lot of the latter, as much as U2 were not content to slow down their tempo. The key exception here is “An Cat Dubh,” a rare appearance of Gaelic in U2’s catalog that stands on the shoulders of the finest early goth that they were mustering over in the UK (e.g. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” “Day of the Lords”).

As has been documented and dramatized, Ian Curtis took his own life right before his band was to embark on their first tour of North America. New Order’s eventual world-conquering notwithstanding, for U2, their Boy-ish dreams were impossible to contain within Ireland’s borders. By 1985, U2 were the biggest band in the world and led off their following (great, yet overrated) album with a song called “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a declaration that their sights were set on the whole world, not just their small North-Atlantic island country. Unfortunately, the more Bono has tried to save the world, the less enticing his music has become. From a geographical standpoint, that’s no disaster, since he’s done more to help those in need around the globe than almost any living celebrity. 

But I digress. This isn’t about what U2 would eventually accomplish as artists and celebrities, it’s about their first album and why it’s my favorite record of 1980. Relatively few people heard Boy first among U2’s discography (mine was Rattle & Hum, which is a whole separate conversation), yet nothing sounds immature or half-cooked about the album when juxtaposed with their later works. It’s alternately amazing and upsetting that U2 didn’t seem to improve as musicians or songwriters over the course of becoming the world’s biggest band. I mean, it wasn’t their final great album by any means, as some of their musical ideas did go a bit more left-field (some more successful than others) into the nineties. For me, Boy still constitutes the closest thing U2 had to a definitive Irish moment, when “the streets that had no name” were only images they had read about in books and in nature programs on RTE. Despite these ostensible limitations, U2 arrived on the scene as the world’s greatest rock band, and their debut album remains proof.

For anyone interested, these are my #2 – #10 favorite records of 1980:

  • Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth
  • Dire Straits – Making Movies
  • Prince – Dirty Mind
  • The English Beat – I Just Can’t Stop It
  • Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
  • The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight
  • Tom Waits – Heartattack and Vine
  • DEVO – Freedom of Choice
  • Gary Numan – Telekon

The ‘NOT-A-SHOWTUNE’ Song Challenge for November!

I’ve gone on the record, more than once, that I’m not a big fan of musicals. I especially dislike those “Oh, but you’ll like THIS musical, Tyler” musicals. The only musical I genuinely love is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Otherwise, there are a handful I will tolerate because people close to me love them, but even then I will still periodically wince when the belting begins. God, I hate when singers belt, especially with those assembly line vocal styles that the Andrew Lloyd Webbers of the world have forced us to agree are “good.”

But, I digress. This is why, among other reasons, that this month is a collaboration! My great friend Courtney, who lives in the DC area with her husband, small son, and slightly smaller dog, happens to be a Broadway fanatic. In fact, the last time we collaborated on anything, it was in the DC theatre scene, notably the 2008 Hexagon show (for which she did plenty of the heavy vocal lifting, and I hid in the chorus with my mic turned down).

Anyway, ye grande lockdown(e) of 2020 gave us an excuse to collaborate once again. Her sister Marissa (also a DC friend, with whom I bonded over Sunny Day Real Estate and the Dismemberment Plan) started a Facebook group in which these song-a-day challenges have assumed a whole new life. It only made sense that Courtney draw from her musical theatre past and create a 30-day-challenge. Also, it was her birthday this past Thursday, so…

Download this, share it with your friends, make sure to hashtag #NotAShowtune, and wish Courtney a Happy Belated Birthday! Her Instagram handle is next to mine under the title.

The only rule is… just as obvious in the past few months. And yes, musicals that became more famous as movies count, too. You theatre nerds should know!

My #NotByBillyJoel Song Challenge Results

At the outset, this one got even more traction than the Sonic Geography Song Challenge did when I released it via social media. I’m not sure what they says about the world of Sonic Geography, but I’m willing to accept the reality that Billy Joel’s music has more mass appeal than my research. Crazy, I know (I may be, too).

Anyway, here are the results from my own take on the challenge. In all honesty, I hadn’t queued up so many results in my head as I was writing it as I did with the other one in May.

For Reference:

NotByBillyJoelSongChallenge

  1. Pixies – “Tony’s Theme”
  2. The Spinto Band – “Brown Boxes”
  3. The Dismemberment Plan – “Girl O’Clock”
  4. The Afghan Whigs – “Uptown Again”
  5. The Housemartins – “Build”
  6. Descendents – “Weinerschnitzel”
  7. Bill Evans – “Lucky to be Me”
  8. F.Y.P. – “Die Young”
  9. Bob Dylan – “The Hurricane”
  10. Minor Threat – “Cashing In”
  11. The Clash – “Jimmy Jazz”
  12. Lifetime – “Airport Monday Morning”
  13. Minutemen – “History Lesson Part II”
  14. Jawbreaker – “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault”
  15. The Ergs – “Books About Miles Davis”
  16. Hunx & his Punx – “You Don’t Like Rock n’ Roll”
  17. Julia Jacklin – “Pressure to Party”
  18. The Jesus & Mary Chain – “Nine Million Rainy Days”
  19. Sick of it All – “My Life”
  20. Sunny Day Real Estate – “Pillars”
  21. The Bloodhound Gang – “Fire Water Burn”
  22. Replacements – “Love Lines”
  23. Misfits – “Bullitt”
  24. Minutemen – “Viet Nam”
  25. Pulp – “Sorted for E’s and Wizz”
  26. Throwing Muses – “Walking in the Dark”
  27. Chumbawamba – “Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire”
  28. Zwan – “Honestly”
  29. The Brian Jonestown Massacre
  30. De La Soul – “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays'”

Thanks for reading and/or playing. Tune back in tomorrow morning at 9am EST for the August Challenge!

It’s the Not-By-Billy Joel Song Challenge!

NotByBillyJoelSongChallenge

I try to keep all of the content on this website germane to Geography and my related research, but also sometimes…in the middle of the summer, I go walkin’ into admittedly dumb but fun ideas.

Download this image and re-post it on whichever social media account you would like with your pick for song of the day. The only rule is that it cannot be a song by Billy Joel.

Hashtag it as #notbybillyjoel so I can keep up on your selections. I’ll post my full list here, as I did with the #SonicGeographySongChallenge. I don’t know why I’m hashtagging that within the body of a blog post, but that’s just how we’ve been reprogrammed.

Happy July!

Come and get it, Boomers:

Charter to Offer Free Broadband Access (60 Days)

I was going to wait until my next Sonic Sunday post to put this out there, but our world hasn’t exactly slowed down to crawl as may be advisable. My department chair has sent this link, which I will be sharing with my students, and here, in case anybody needs to see it.

Charter To Offer Free Access to Spectrum Broadband and Wifi for 60 Days for New K12 and College Student HouseHolds, Etc.

This is not an endorsement of Charter (as we are discovering these days, internet access should not be privatized), but this may be a valuable service to many, so I wanted to pass it along.

Enjoy this whimsical commercial from 1999.

 

Recommended Sunday Reading & Viewing

Happy Sunday. It’s a rainy and cold day here in Michigan, and I’m taking advantage of that to catch up on a few things I’ve neglected over the past couple of weeks. I don’t have time to write a proper entry (yet) about my Ben Irving Postcard searching in Detroit, but it was a successful start. In the meantime, I wanted to signal-boost a great article in Sports Illustrated and a great new documentary. I don’t know how valuable my endorsement here is, but I wanted to at least commend the respective producers for jobs well done from this geographer’s perspective.

Recommended Reading : THIS IS BRAVES COUNTRY / THIS WAS BRAVES COUNTRY

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I’ll be honest; I subscribed to Sports Illustrated following the Caps’ Stanley Cup victory so I could get an Ovechkin print and a limited-edition Washington Capitals Collectors’ edition. I only care about a few sports, and my short list doesn’t include the gambling-heavy ones the magazine usually focuses on.  All that being said, Sports Illustrated deserves a LOT of credit for elevating their topical writing and specialized coverage in an age when some magazines (which shall remain nameless) have turned into tabloids in an act of desperation to retain physical sales. For one thing, their 2019 swimsuit issue made a point to feature an ethnically and physically diverse set of models, focus on the models’ lives and thoughts, and address the elephant in the room about why the swimsuit edition even exists.

For another thing, the latest issue (October 7th, 2019) includes an excellent article about race, class, and baseball in Atlanta. Brian Burnsed takes a critical look at how the Braves’ move from Fulton County to Cobb County is not only a gigantic middle-finger to the team’s middle- and under-class African-American fans, but also microcosmic of Atlanta’s accelerating privatization and segmentation of population along racial and political lines in its unyielding sprawl. Though several of my best friends live there, I would never consider Atlanta among my favorite American cities, and I’m hardly familiar with the MLS stars Atlanta United, but Burnsed’s article makes me want nothing more than to go and hang out with the team’s fans in “the Gulch.” I had the “privilege” of going to a Braves game at Suntrust Park last season, and (to give the most insightful, academic analysis) it sucked. We parked in a lot adjacent to an office park, paraded over one mile with thousands through at least one or two other office parks, and sat in a sea of fans who, following a spirited video of Jason Aldean telling them to do so, did the tomahawk chop (in 2018). It’s all disenchanting, and a little dispiriting, particularly considering the angry letters I’m sure SI is receiving from “100% not racist” white Braves fans in the wealthy, season-ticket holding pockets of Cobb County upset that Sports Illustrated had to “make everything about politics.” I’d be interested in seeing what happens when Atlanta beefs up and privatizes the Gulch around Mercedes-Benz stadium.

Recommended Viewing: PUNK THE CAPITAL, BUILDING A SOUND MOVEMENT IN WASHINGTON DC (1976-1984)

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The post-screening Q&A panel for Capitals of Punk. (L-R) Moderator Otto Buj, Andy Wendler (The Necros), director James June Schneider, Tesco Vee (The Meatmen/Touch & Go zine), Jeff Nelson (Minor Threat/3/Dischord Records).

Though I’m still processing the fact that it happened in the first place, on my way out of Detroit, I stumbled upon a screening of James June Schneider’s new Punk the Capital documentary at Third Man Records. I met James a few summers ago when I was in DC to do some zine research for my dissertation, so I wanted to say hi and congratulate him on completing the thing. I knew that the film’s release had been delayed for some years. On Friday night, I found out that he had been working on it for over 15 years, and it showed.

Punk the Capital is a MASTERPIECE, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I don’t think I had seen as much as five seconds of the footage, most of which came from Paul Bishow’s treasure-trove of Super 8 footage from the proverbial ‘back in the day.’ I can’t remember the last time a documentary made me smile and tap my foot this much, and in a strange way, it made me feel even more validated in devoting so much of my own life to studying and writing on how harDCore has seismically changed the world.

Also, the Q&A was a lot of fun, replete with stories from the handful of punk legends sitting on the stage. Tesco Vee mentioned the latest price tag he spotted on one of those /100 Necros Sex Drive EPs on eBay: $5,300. That’s not a typo. Five thousand and three hundred dollars. Good luck if you spot one for sale and have a 401k sitting around you can cash out.

James was joking with me after the screening that he and I would be competing on google now. I don’t imagine that will actually happen, but on the off chance somebody stumbles onto this website or Capitals of Punk, I’ll copy and paste the slew of upcoming Punk the Capital screenings here, in case you’re in one of these cities so you can drop whatever plans you have to go see the film (if isn’t already sold out).

  • October 13th, Milwaukee WI, Real TinselQ and A with Jeff Nelson ( Dischord Records / Minor Threat ) and filmmaker(s)
  • October 14th, Kansas City MO, Record BarQ&A with Jeff Nelson ( Dischord Records / Minor Threat ) and filmmaker(s) – co sponsored by Oddities Prints!
  • October 15th, Iowa City IA, Film Scene Q&A with Jeff Nelson ( Dischord Records / Minor Threat ) and filmmaker(s)
  • October 16th, Omaha NE, The Union for Contemporary Art Q and A with Jeff Nelson ( Dischord Records / Minor Threat ) and filmmaker(s)
  • October 17th, Denver CO, Aztlan Theatre 7:30 pm – no advance sales 
  • October 18th Reno NV, (flash screening! TBA)
  • October 19th, San Francisco CA, Artists Television Access Q and A with Chris Stover (Void), filmmaker(s) + bonus Void short film!
  • October 20th, Oakland CA, Land and Sea Q and A with Chris Stover (Void) and filmmaker(s) + bonus Void short film!
  • October 21st, Los Angeles CA, The Regent Q and A with Henry Rollins, filmmaker(s) and others moderated by Ian Svenonius
  • October 23rd, Tucson AZ, The Screening Room Q and A with co-director James June Schneider
  • October 24th, El Paso TX, Alamo Cinema Drafthouse (listing TBA) Q and A with co-director James June Schneider
  • Phoenix AZ, October 26th, Film Bar, Facebook Q and A with co-director James June Schneider
  • October 27th, Albuquerque NM, The Tannex, Facebook Q and A with co-director James June Schneider
  • October 28, Tulsa OK, Circle Cinema (POSTPONED BY VENUE!)
  • October 29, Memphis TN, (flash screening! TBA)
  • October 30th, Asheville NC, Grail Moviehouse – Q and A with filmmaker (s)
  • November 9, Washington DC area, AFI Q&A with filmmaker(s) and special guests TBA
  • November 10, Washington DC area, AFI Q&A with filmmaker(s) and special guests TBA
  • November 11,Washington DC area, AFI Q&A with filmmaker(s) and special guests TBA
  • November 17, Leeds, UK, Leeds International Film Festival
  • November 19, Leeds, UK, Leeds International Film Festival
  • November 23rd, Amsterdam NL, Occii

“13” Turns Twenty

13_28blur_album_-_cover_art29Happy Friday, everyone. I recently noticed that Blur’s everything-falls-apart masterpiece “13” came out twenty years ago today (March 30 in the States, to split hairs). I’d be remiss if I let that landmark slip by without mention here, because I completely missed the anniversary of their self-titled album (my entry point as a fan) two years ago.

Blur’s mid-90’s rivalry with Oasis (manufactured as it was to sell copies of NME), formulates one of my favorite lectures I include in my European Geography (GEOG 371) course. Popular culture reinforces geographic assumptions, especially the sense of place that permeates any discussion of “the North” and “the South” in England. Not since The Beatles vs. The Kinks had there been such a raw encapsulation of that dichotomy. For the record, I do prefer The Kinks, too (and not because of any predilection for Southern England; I just enjoy their music more than most bands in the first place).

Anyway, in 1997, Blur were shedding their Britpop skin and embracing Graham Coxon’s love of American indie rock, perhaps best manifested as the wonderful “You’re So Great.” As I said, Blur was my entry point as a fan, so I didn’t fall in love with the band’s foppish (in a self-aware way) era. Like many of my friends who were listening in this era, I remember being less enthused at 13 when it landed in 1999. “Coffee & TV” felt like the only marginally accessible song on the album, which didn’t matter much to critics, but to a teenage American, it felt like a bit of an affront. I recall putting the CD on at some friends’ house in Syracuse while we sat around as a party dwindled; by the time “1992” got to it’s third-level of noise, walked over to the boombox and turned to me and said “I’m, uh, gonna change it.” If you want to get a decent impression, feast your brain on this:

Knowing what we know now, though, makes the accomplishments of 13 all that more remarkable. Namely, the band had long since shed any sonic accouterments of what had ostensibly made them huge, defied every music writer in the UK, and more or less entered into the worst collective period of their lives. Again, I was too young and under-educated in life to recognize half of this album as a heady mix of cries for help and the other half as gleeful conflagration of their rental castle-mansions. I’ll never forget reading a story on Blur in SPIN in the wake of the trans-Atlantic success of “Song 2” that really harped on how much the members hated one another. It seemed pretty sensationalized (because it was), but I can only imagine how much resolve it took the four of them to remain a band. In 1997, Graham Coxon sang that “DT’s [delirium tremens] and coffee helps to start the day,” and in 1999 he sang “sociability is hard enough for me” to chronicle a years-long battle to overcome alcoholism. “Coffee & TV” sounded convincing enough, and one of the all-time great videos to dramatize his ‘coming home’ certainly helped this case. Stateside, it remains in contention against “Girls and Boys” for the vaunted title of ‘Blur’s most successful single that doesn’t go “WOO-HOO.”‘

Anyway, since it’s 2019, there are a multitude of ways to hear 13 in its entirety if you’re interested in doing that today. Twenty years ago, Blur played most of the album live at the Hippodrome Theater in London, and a fan named Claire Welles taped the gig off the radio. A little over a year ago, she digitized it on YouTube. Considering the teeming oceans of Blur material on the site, it’s only accrued 556 views so far. I’ll embed it here if you’d like to add to that count.

One dynamic that I can’t get out of my head while listening to this was how so many of those cheering fans, like so much of Britain on BBC1, were hearing songs like “Trailerpark” and “Battle” for the first time ever. I believe that Napster, Limewire, and Kazaa were all active by this point, which had fundamentally changed the lifespan of anticipated music’s release. Gone were the days of that hot new single arriving at the BBC on a CD encased in some briefcase with a combination lock.

Damon Albarn, right on brand, didn’t sound too enthused to be performing these songs, but again, the fact that the band still existed in 1999 was remarkable. Considering the worldwide success Albarn had waiting in the rafters with James Hewlett at this point, it’s even more understandable that it feels like he’s punching the clock here. Still, you can’t help but imagine he begrudgingly knew how insane and special this new album was. And no matter what your feelings are on Albarn, he headlined Glastonbury two years back-to-back (2009-2010) with two different bands.

Alright, I’ve said enough. Happy 20th anniversary to 13, hope you all have a great weekend, and if you’re anywhere near Oak Ridge tomorrow night (Saturday 3.16) come see me and Nina Fefferman (UTK Evolutionary Biology) talking science with comedians Shane Mauss and Dave Waite at the Grove Theater. It’s close to selling out, but there may be tickets for sale at the door!  More info in my previous entry or at Shane Mauss’ site here.

Mass Giorgini: Punk Rock Renaissance (literally) Man

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The state of my turntable last night.

I know I need to write a bit more about my upcoming book on Palgrave, Capitals of Punk, but one of the epiphanies I hit in the conclusion (spoiler alert sorta) is considering how much hardcore defined itself as antithetical to the mainstream, it’s a real testament to its universality how hard the mainstream has been working to catch up to hardcore four decades later. These are the things I think about while listening to Minor Threat playing on the stereo system at an indie coffee shop overcrowded with multiple generations of patrons on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, I braved the flooding roads and 908th consecutive night of rain here in Knoxville to check out a fantastic pop-punk show last night. A friend got his band back together for a night that felt like a family reunion I’d just been adopted into. In the spirit of the evening, I was listening to Squirtgun’s 2003 LP Fade to Bright beforehand. In case you haven’t heard their music, Side A Track 2, “Burn for You” [video] is one of my favorite songs in the whole subgenre (which is saying something).

This afternoon, I was looking for a YouTube video to prove to a friend that Mass Giorgini (Squirtgun bassist and producer extraordinaire) was a Spanish language sports reporter, and I happened upon this: Dr. Massimo Giorgini presenting a TEDx talk about “The Don Quixote Code.”

What a cool study. At the beginning, Mass discusses yet another in the litany of overlaps between punk and critical thought/research. It’s like Christmas morning whenever I find out another punk veteran is a PhD, especially in a topic I’m invested in academically. What a cool presentation, and it got me thinking about Don Quixote in a whole new light, which is the point of any research. Well done, Mass! And thanks for your hand in this Murderers’-row of records at Sonic Iguana.