“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.

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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:

 

 

 

 

California Excursion Part II: Three Comedy Videos to Supplement #EmoGeo

On the third day of the the Emotional Geographies Conference (or EmoGeo), I was in the fortunate position of chairing the 11 AM paper session for Jared Van Ramshorst and Natalia Equihua, who presented research on the overarching concepts of humor and love, respectively. The two other papers slated for the session needed to cancel, which gave Jared, Natalia, and the conference attendees more time to present and discuss their work. In between the two, I remarked how fortunate I was to be chairing such a positively-tinged session, giving the dark overarching timbre of much literature that mixes emotion and place.

That being said, Jared and Natalia’s papers both presented an array of hardships for their informants. Jared discussed his work with Central American migrants who were captured and detained in Southern Mexico, but used humor to foment ‘collective solidarity through shared vulnerability.’ Natalia presented her qualitative research on women who left Mexico and moved to Canada motivated by love. Many of these women faced the expected cultural and administrative obstacles, which led to a great commentary and discussion on the intrusion of the State on the nebulous concept of love.

1. Anton Jackson vs. the USCIS

During our discussion about the strange level of bureaucratization of love, I could not stop thinking of two things. The first, which I mentioned while chairing the discussion, was the affidavit I needed to write and submit last year on behalf of two of my best friends in California. She is American; he is Canadian and sought a Green Card to work legally in the States. They had been married for almost four years at the time, yet they were not interested in having kids or buying a house, which happen to be the two State-sanctioned expressions of “true love.” Never mind the crude heteronormativity and market-gouging there; it just seemed demoralizing that a Federal government refused to believe that they could really be married and love each other without those often-prohibitive investments.

The second thing I remembered was a classic In Living Color sketch where a woman of Caribbean origin (T’Keyah Keymáh) has the drunken vagabond Anton Jackson (Damon Wayans) pose as her husband as a ploy to get her green card. Like most of the racial, political, and observational humor on that show, it made fun of a common political tension that existed in the early 1990s and in many corners still does. Despite the sometimes dated humor and cultural references, I find myself using In Living Color a lot during lessons on race, class, and geography.

2. Little Mosque on Signage and Language Hierarchy

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Craig Stone talks about the ‘linguistic landscaping’ of the CSULB campus.

After lunch, Alexandra Jaffe and Craig Stone led the group in what may have been the single coolest presentation all week: ‘I Appreciate and Respect You’: Linguistic Landscaping of a College Campus. Jaffe, an Anthropologist, had already presented her research on the consumable tourist landscapes on Corsica, which anybody who has been to this site before (or read my dissertation, for that matter) knows is a subject of particular interest for me. On Friday, she joined forces with Craig Stone, the head of CSULB’s highly acclaimed American Indian Studies department, to talk about the hierarchy of languages and the political/emotional manifestations of signage (ditto re: subjects of interest to me). Both Jaffe and Stone wore their Cal State Puvungna t-shirts for the occasion, which made me wish I had packed mine for the trip.

Anyway, the conversation about the value of humor in understanding emotion and place was still fresh at this point, so my mind jumped to an episode I had seen recently of the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. In Season 2, by the time the characters had been established and allowed to develop a bit, one of the show’s protagonists gets a dream gig as interim Mayor for her hometown of Mercy, Saskachewan. Unfortunately, a couple of hosers accidentally crash a tractor into the town’s welcome sign, setting the show’s A-story into motion. The whole series, which is definitely a bit cheesy (but what lovable sitcoms aren’t?), is available on Hulu, and you can watch “Welcome to Mercy” here with a subscription or free trial.

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3. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog vs. French Canada

While on the subject of signage and the emotional geographies inherent in conflicts over language and place-naming further in East in Canada, I flashed back to my college years, when Conan O’Brien did a week of shows in Toronto. He sent Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to Quebec to talk to French Canadians about their culture and the idea of secession, and the results were predictably awkward and hilarious. I’ve actually used this clip as an introduction to our unit on Canada in World Regional Geography classes. If crude late-night TV humor won’t land you in hot water with your administration, I’d recommend it as a great way to introduce themes on Canada and ‘Canadianness’ in a funny and entertaining way.