Who is this Street Musician? (San Francisco, 1999)

Go ahead and file this entry under the alternate title, “Yet Another Reason I’m a Music Obsessive.”

I suppose I have relatively little in my life to regret. None of the ‘big’ decisions I’ve made (where to move, what career to pursue, relationships to develop) can be changed, so whenever I do get a pang of regret, it’s usually something arguably small: a concert I didn’t attend (e.g. Dillinger Four in DC this October) or a record I didn’t buy (e.g. that Brainiac reissue in New Orleans). Though, to be fair, Dillinger Four haven’t played their final show (just wait for them to get drunk enough and find the right bar in Minneapolis) and according to an old colleague Oliver Wang, those records will eventually find their way back to you if you’re paying attention.

So, here’s an anecdote about something almost twenty years ago that I regret to this day. In April 1999, my family and I flew out to San Francisco on a trip with my sister’s youth jazz band. Being an aspiring filmmaker at that time in my life, I hauled my little camcorder around the city with me. My sister’s band had a gig at Ghirardelli Square one afternoon, and I decided to film my walk down (what I can only assume was) Beach Street beforehand. I stopped for a moment to film an old man with an acoustic guitar, singing a wonderful rendition of “Georgia on my Mind.”

SF_Bluesman_1999

I glanced down at a small case of cassette tapes he had on the ground next to him, wondering if I had the cash in my wallet to buy one. I’d already spent most of my trip allowance (or conned my parents into spending their money) on CDs and I’m sure a small assortment of embarrassing souvenirs teenagers buy on trips to any big city.

Before I could act on that impulse, my Mom yelled for me to come join them over in the Square, since the show was about to start. I reached into my pocket and threw some change into the bin next to his tapes and left, already feeling pangs of regret for not buying a tape.

I have no idea what his name was, and no amount of video technology that’s been coded this century could focus and zoom in on the grainy video I shot of him that afternoon. Honestly, I’d have to go back to the tape in order to even see whether I’d even caught a glimpse of his merchandise case, but its doubtful. Not that having one of his tapes would necessarily answer these questions, but even at that age, I was incredibly curious about the stories behind his music. At any rate, I wish I’d been able to capture more than 15-20 seconds of him playing that one song.

So, I just figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw this out into the ether to my San Francisco friends or anybody who sees this that may have lived/worked around Ghirardelli Square at the time: does anybody know who this old man is? I would be amazed if he was still alive, considering how this was almost two decades ago and he already appeared to be well into his seventies. I wonder whether any of his tapes (I vaguely remember him having more than one different release) circulated locally, or whether any wound up in thrift stores after his patrons downsized? I recognize how unlikely it is that anything would come from this, but crazier things have happened on the internet. Come on, global village – redeem yourself!

 

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Knoxville in a Japanese Documentary, 2002 (Videos)

I don’t even know.

A few months ago, I published an interview with my friend Shane Rhyne about his myriad experiences with Knoxville music. One of the sticking points was his appearance on a Japanese documentary on the diffusion of Irish music in 2002. The full interview is available here, but here is that excerpt:

Actually, you’ve mentioned to me before that you made an appearance on some public television program in Japan about American Country Music? Do tell.

That was a fun and bizarre experience. In 2001, a Japanese television producer asked if I would agree to be a part of a documentary being filmed about the history of rock’n’roll. The documentary would be hosted by a Japanese rock star who was traveling across the world to explore the various influences. He was coming to Knoxville to look at the Appalachian influence and they had heard/read another interview with me talking about Knoxville’s melting pot influence downtown of Irish music, Jewish culture, African-American music and rural music traditions.

I agreed to do the interview but had little idea what to expect. I arrived at the Airport Hilton on the afternoon of the interview to learn that that rock star was named Daemon Kogure, who performed in a Kabuki-style makeup. He would be interviewing me while in his makeup and we would be driving around downtown Knoxville in a rented RV talking about country music. It was the one of the more surreal experiences in my life as we walked around the Old City and discussed Irish music on camera.

Well, far be it from Shane to disappoint, he rummaged for his old VHS, which I’ve converted for your viewing pleasure. Here, on my brand new Vimeo site, is that long-awaited clip of Shane meeting and speaking with Daemon Kogure.

One of the purest forms of discourse analysis is to consider that quintessential “outsider perspective” on a place. There could be fewer better case studies in that perspective than Japanese rock star turned media personality Kogure. Eastern Tennessee’s longtime residents have a wide variety of opinions on their local/regional cultural heritage, but seeing this is a loud wake-up call in understanding how Southern Appalachia is perceived by international music fans, especially non-Western ones. I really wish I spoke Japanese, but I’ve had some assistance thus far, and I can post more details on what Kogure is saying sometime soon hopefully.

It’s a lot of fun seeing what the Old City looked like in 2002, which is surprisingly not a whole lot different than it does today. According to Rhyne, Market Square (the current lynchpin of downtown Knox) was near-silent at the time, so Old City carried a much heavier load of the city’s nightlife. I feel like people in the Old City would react similarly to seeing somebody dressed like Daemon today, though. I imagine these interactions were staged, but still an interesting slice of local culture through foreign eyes.

This documentary’s treatment of race within the context of American history is also fascinating. The Japanese are one of the most homogenous nationalities on Earth, and the Americans are possibly the least, so that dichotomy right there explains why such a pragmatic, less-nuanced view on race relations is not as much of a surprise here. Where the “blues” as a concept has come to be almost completely co-opted by old white men (see King 2006 for further reading on this), here Daemon presents it as a mere curiosity for an audience with few African-origin members, widely disconnected from the ideas of modern slavery. That being said, 我が心のアイルランド [Ireland, deep in my heart] does present a fair share of blackface footage from the pre-War era, most of which has been scrubbed clean from mainstream American media. When certain subjects become taboo in one culture, sometimes that culture must rely on another for any type of understanding.

LINER NOTES

King, S. A. (2006). Memory, mythmaking, and museums: Constructive authenticity and the primitive blues subject. Southern Communication Journal,71(3), 235-250.

Let’s Give Ol’ Tennessee Credit for Music… [Part One]

via cityofknoxville.orgSo, I’m in Tennessee. The Eastern portion, perhaps best known by Geographers as the land of Oak Ridge Laboratories and the Great Smoky Mountains, equal parts remote sensing supercomputers and surreal Appalachian beauty. Of course, the process of moving has made it all but impossible for me to really experience either of those things in any measure, and the massive, predominantly wifi-less train journey I took (I do apologize for the lack of updates since I was in the Pacific Northwest) prevented me from preparing my brain for the onslaught of musical geography that this state contains.

In related news, not that I’ve formally mentioned this on the blog yet, I will be working toward my PhD in Geography here, at the University of Tennessee. I could not be more excited about it. The department is a great group of people, and Knoxville is a great (and growing ridiculously fast) medium-sized city. I will keep this updated with any news on my research here. I should probably finish registering with the department first…

Anyway, I was driving through Knoxville earlier today and a beautiful sentimental song about Tennessee came on the radio which my general desire to not crash my car into the Fourth & Gill underpass murals prevented me from grabbing a pen and writing down. In my online search for the song, I came across a pair of videos that will undoubtedly lead me down an infinite rabbit hole of Eastern Tennessee music. Considering how (relatively) little in-depth research I did on Knoxville prior to moving here (rewatching the classic Simpsons episode notwithstanding), I am still amazed how easy it is to forget that Tennessee may just possibly be the single most influential state in the development of modern popular music. NO BIG DEAL.

via alaskacoinexchange.com.

I don’t even have to begin explaining why I’ve come to the right place. Even without Memphis’ monolithic impact on RnB and Rock n’ Roll over the past eight-plus decades (which is easy to discount around these parts, since that city is about eight hours’ drive away), Tennessee remains the bellwether of both Country Music (Nashville) and Bluegrass Music (Knoxville). Hillbilly music in general owes as much to Tennessee as it does any state; the hills of Eastern Tennessee were where those auld [sic] English ballads wove their way through the nineteenth century and into the strings of countless fiddles and banjos. I’m going to spend the next few years of my life digging through all of it and attempting to provide insight, but for now, here’s (who else?) the inimitable Dolly Parton singing about it. Enjoy the rest of your week, everyone.

Tom Waits sings with the Rolling Stones in Oakland

Video

Considering how an English band have made a 50-year career out of appropriating old American blues standards (and doing it well, for the most part), why not bring the American master on board for a spirited rendition of the Willie Dixon standard? In NorCal, no less. Thankfully, a bunch of obnoxious people videoing the show on their cell phones have made it possible for us to see it.