This Saturday: Balancing the Mix in Memphis

Memphis! I’m coming back to your city for the first time since 2011, when I took this iconic photo en route to California (below). What makes this even more amazing is that I’ve lived in Tennessee since 2013 and still haven’t been any further west (within the state) than Nashville. It’s a long state.

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I’m excited to debut some new work on MTV and the Symbolic Gentrification of the Music Video. If you’re in Memphis and/or at the conference on Saturday, it will be meeting at the Fogelman Center at the University of Memphis in Room 215 at 1:35 PM. The topic of the session will be “Music and Erasure.” I momentarily did a double-take when I saw that title, before realizing nobody was doing anything about the works of Vince n’ Andy. Looks like I’ll have to get on that.

Balancing the Mix is a conference about the convergence of music and activism that came together under the aegis of Mark Duffett and Amanda Nell Edgar. This will be my first time at a music conference that isn’t SEMSEC, and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone.

 

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The Irving Postcards: Nashville

Spring Break! 2019! PARTY! By “party,” I mean… take a day in Nashville to buy some records, see some friends, and investigate a couple of sites from the Ben Irving Postcard collection. I mean, it’s a party to me… 

Before I go any further, I’ll provide a helpful link for any new readers who Ben Irving was, and why I have so many postcards he mailed to Brooklyn in the 1930’s.

Who Was Ben Irving?

Now that you’re caught up, I will say that it appears that Irving only visited Nashville two or three times during his Southern journeys in the depression era. In mid-February 1934 and again in November 1935, he was in bad way financially. In retrospect, it seemed fairly obvious that the South wasn’t going to deliver the goods to a travelling sales representative as the region limped out of the Depression’s (subjective) height in 1933. One could understand how life in Brooklyn might have distorted the economic landscape a bit for Irving. It may be worth looking into whether his shock at the South’s slowness tempered over the decade. Early on, though, this part of his journeys were always a slog.

February 1934

For his first (documented) visit to Nashville in February 1934, he mailed home a postcard that advertised the city’s flagship station WLAC. The station’s history often gets overshadowed by WSM, considering the role the latter station played in growing the country music industry, but it has a fascinating story nonetheless. Though it’s the home of iHeartMedia-financed reactionary hate speech today, WLAC is perhaps best remembered as the station that went against the segregationist grain and played black music in the late 1940’s. It originated as the station of the Life and Casuality Insurance Company of Tennessee, with studios on the 5th floor of their building downtown. Considering how both the studios and said building no longer exist (to my knowledge), I took the postcard to the (possible; I’ll explain these parentheticals, don’t worry) broadcast site depicted.

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2421 West End Avenue, Nashville TN. March 20, 2019.

So, this postcard is somewhat unique, in that it prominently features an inset image. I suppose there was a massive abyss in the sky between the two broadcast towers, so may as well show off the sleek 5th-floor studios. It’s an exciting new medium, after all.

The only address I could find for the towers’ location was 2421 West End Avenue, which doesn’t line up with a specific business address today because, well… you see the scaffolding. I have no concrete evidence that the towers depicted in the postcard were located here, but there’s definitely a possibility considering how the landscape does elevate a bit (when not full of new construction). The image on Google Streetview (as of this writing) shows a parking lot behind a row of trees, which was surprisingly demure for being right down the street from Vanderbilt’s campus. This was less than two years ago:

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So, in conclusion, this was the best I could do, given how I didn’t have time to dig up the original insurance maps, official WLAC archives (if they even exist anymore), or talk to a nonagenarian who happened to live around there in the 30’s. If you have better insights, or my site was way off, please get in touch.

November 1935

In late 1935, Irving came back for his second visit, this time down from Harlan, KY, at the end of 1,518 miles of driving since leaving Brooklyn the previous month. I know I beat this point into the ground when writing these entries, but the Interstate Highway System was still almost two decades off. Even the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which many believe sets those dominoes in motion, was more than two years away. That driving experience was pure PAIN.

What was almost as painful was finding a place to park, during rush hour, at an incredibly busy intersection with no street parking and only hyper-privatized lots nearby. Again, as far as I could tell, this was where the Hotel Tulane once stood. It’s now a giant pit.

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Church St. and Rosa Parks Boulevard, Nashville TN. March 20, 2019.

Most obviously, 8th Avenue was re-named Rosa Parks Boulevard several decades later. When Irving stayed at the Tulane in 1935, Rosa was an unknown 21-year-old domestic worker in the Montgomery area.

Again, I didn’t have time to look at any aerial images or flood maps that may have existed of downtown Nashville, so the SE corner of the intersection (which has been transformed by viaducts) was my best guess. This page, which details how the hotel was actually razed in 1956, was helpful.

Conclusion

Based on what I know from the postcards, Irving’s final visit to Nashville saw him spending November 1st-2nd in the city, staying at the Hermitage Hotel for a night before heading to Knoxville. I never found any postcards he mailed from there, but on November 2 (very close to Election Day), he mailed a postcard home that was just a photo of FDR, writing Every state in the South is for Roosevelt If only all the others were it would be fine. Will write from Knoxville.

Every attempt I’ve made to find Irving Postcard sites has been somewhat rewarding, but I have to say Nashville was the most frustrating yet. The basic act of driving around the city makes one clearly aware of how rampantly it’s growing. I didn’t particularly enjoy either of my re-photography attempts above; in both situations, I had to snap the photos quickly and hurry back to my car out of the fear it would be impounded and crushed into a small cube. As the photos I did get show, entire tracts of land have been razed with cranes looming overhead; to me, it almost recalls the uncontrollable growth of DC over a decade ago. The large artists’ renderings of yuppie markets not unlike the ones that have come to dominate Atlanta (speaking of uncontrollable growth) don’t make me feel good about the sustainability of this gargantuan landscape modification, but what do I know? I’m not a Nashvillian; I’m just a fan of its record shops, vegan options, and (unless they’re playing the Caps) hockey team.

COMING SOON TO SONIC GEOGRAPHY

It’s conference season! I’ll be presenting at the Balancing the Mix Conference in Memphis on March 30th as well as the AAG Meeting in DC (along with some other surprises there). Check back in soon. 

“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.

Stand-Up Science with Shane Mauss: Saturday in Oak Ridge

standupscienceillustrationI’m excited to be giving a talk about my research this weekend as part of Shane Mauss’ Stand-Up Science show! Tickets are available here at Shane’s site.

For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of seeing Shane Mauss live, you’re in for a treat. Shane was one of the headliners of the 2015 Scruffy City Comedy Festival, which was (I believe) his last time in the Knoxville area. He has been on Conan several times, as well as Comedy Central Presents and a litany of other shows. Over the past few years, he has become increasingly preoccupied with the greater meanings of existence, the natural and supernatural ways through which we are all connected, and spinning tragedy into comedy. His latest album My Big Break featured funny stories written around breaking both of his feet on a hiking trip and the slow road to recovery. He also hosts and produces the successful podcast Here We Are, which brings comedians and scientists into the fold to answer those greater questions.

This Saturday’s show is going to be amazing. Dr. Nina Fefferman (also of UTK) and I will be your guest scientists, and Dave Waite, a great comedian out of Los Angeles, will also be appearing. See you there. Here’s a preview video that Shane posted to give you a better idea of what to look forward to:

 

 

 

 

Submit Your Photos to the CGSG Landscape Photography Exhibit at the AAG

cropped-0612181040a_hdr_film31.jpgHi, everyone. I’ve been swamped this past week, but I’ve got some great pieces of news coming soon that are all somehow connected to said swamping. For now, I need to get back to correcting a digital mountain of midterms and papers. Here’s a signal boost for one of my favorite AAG side-shows, run by a trio of the Cultural Geography Specialty Group’s grad student members (one of whom is named very similarly to one of the original Ghostbusters). Are you going to the AAG meeting in DC? Have some great landscape photos? Well, submit them here! – Ty

Greetings fellow geographers,

The upcoming AAG Annual Meeting will once again include the Cultural Geography Specialty Group’s Landscape Photography Exhibit. All registered attendees are invited to contribute a photograph of their own. We do not limit participation only to members of the CGSG.

The Landscape Photography Exhibit has been part of CGSG programming since the 2009 meeting in Las Vegas. The exhibit showcases photographs with short descriptive captions both from fieldwork and also more everyday encounters with cultural landscapes. Unique at the conference, the annual exhibit provides geographers with an opportunity to share images and stories that perhaps receive less attention in their paper presentations or panel comments.

To contribute to the CGSG Landscape Photography Exhibit, please email a high quality (at least 300 dpi) digital copy of your photograph (limit one, please) with a caption (limit of 250 words) for initial approval to Mark Rhodes (mrhode21@kent.edu) on or before March 25, 2019. Upon notification of approval, bring a printed, high-quality photograph (approximately 8×10 inches) to the conference by Thursday, April 4th. The organizers will bring copies of the captions, and you will place your photograph next to your caption on a bulletin board in a high-traffic area of the conference.

This year, as in previous years, the approved submissions will be displayed for the duration of the conference. The photographs may be in either color or black & white and must have been taken by the person submitting to the exhibition. It is the responsibility of participants to collect their photographs from the display boards before the end of the conference. (The CGSG is not responsible for lost or damaged photographs.) The winning photo will be given the opportunity to submit their work to Material Culture: The Journal of the International Society for Landscape, Place, & Material Culture.

Please circulate this call for participation among potentially interested colleagues, and feel free to contact the organizers with any questions.

With thanks,

Andrew Husa, Ian Spangler & Mark Rhodes

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.

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.