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

‘The Last Scene’ Trailer & Campaign

I’m appearing in a new documentary called The Last Scene, which covers pop-punk’s millennial epoch and surprising transition. The director, Kyle Kilday, approached me with questions about scene dynamics and the social role of rock music, and I show up (briefly) in his sizzle reel, embedded here:

It’s always weird seeing myself on camera – particularly as a talking-head “expert” in a documentary. As someone whose love of bands like The Get Up Kids and Hot Rod Circuit helped him endure the end of high school, I can’t wait to see where the project goes. I’ve already been invited to (production pending) re-film an extended interview in LA this Fall.

Kilday has set up this IndieGoGo page for those interested in contributing!

Heavy New Year from the Metal Parking Lot

Happy 2014, long lost readers! I do apologize for allowing to happen to my website what traditionally happens to websites for people involved in academia over the end of the year and holidays. I won’t let it happen for at least eleven more months.

This semester and year will be bringing a handful of great conferences (including the UTK Geography Research Symposium in February, the AAG in Tampa in April, and a few others I’ll be announcing as they’re confirmed) and projects, so get excited. Before I tackle any of that, though, I need to venture into the world of cult video on this week’s “episode” of Sonic Geography.

It’s no secret that, as D. Travis “Trav S.D.” Stewart wrote (2005)

“new technology actually encourages and facilitates the study of the past… in the centuries after the printing press was invented, recently rediscovered plays from the ancient world began to be disseminated throughout Europe, helping to spark an explosion of theater in the Renaissance. Similarly, by the 1980s, video- and audiotape technology, combined with the multifarious choices offered by cable television, combined to expose a generation of young people to a flood of “new” entertainment from the first half of the twentieth century” (p. 291).

(wikipedia)

So, of course, we should not be surprised whenever contemporary internet instant-archivist technology aids and abets the renaissance of certain cultural traces stamped by that aforementioned video- and audiotape technology. One of my personal favorite examples of this has been the reconceptualization and rise of Jeff Krulik and John Heyn’s completely unwitting 1986 verité masterpiece Heavy Metal Parking Lot over the past decade. HMPL has become something of a starting point in the conversation of “found video,” despite never truly being lost as it was disregarded for over a decade. By the early 90s, multi-generation VHS dubs of HMPL had made it into the hands of various cultural taste-makers, including, notoriously, Kurt Cobain. The internet made it possible for millions more regrettable-culture-fixated consumers to see the documentary.

For those of you who are uninitiated, the film is accessible online and only 17 minutes long, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I would recommend going to watch it right now, then come back here to continue reading.

I’ll wait.

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Now, wasn’t that ridiculous? People once dressed like that and acted like that. In front of cameras. HMPL has grown into its role as prototypical evidence that open-access, streaming video has directly impacted human behavior nearly world-wide. In 1986, if a pair of unaffiliated nerds walked up to a drunk/high you with a video camera, your instinct would likely be to perform rather than worry that your parents, boss, or millions of people would ever see this video one day. The geography of media access and approach has changed more in these past fifteen years than it had in the prior 100, and it has changed more in the past century than it had in the previous 10,000 years. At any rate, the drunken metal fans immortalized on that day in Landover, MD had little reason to suspect they would ever be…immortalized… as anything, especially not an image embedded to the right of this paragraph.

John Heyn and Jeff Krulik today (decibelmagazine)

Admittedly, I never saw this until a few years ago, well into my life in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, certain connections allowed me to strike up a friendship with one half of the tandem responsible for HMPL’s existence, Jeff Krulik. I always ran into him at cultural events around the DC Metro, and he always had some great news about his past and current projects popping up in places he never expected. As you’ll read from him below, the biggest surprise in his decades-long dynasty of public-access and all-purpose A/V dorkdom is that he’s still talking about these productions nearly thirty years after he and John Heyn decided to take some cameras and mics to the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert to see what would happen.

In light of Jeff’s latest locally focused rockumentary Led Zeppelin Played Here, I decided to drop him a line to say hello and ask him a few questions. The topic of media geographies came up often in my seminar on Public Memory, so I thought I would get some insight directly from the man whose ascent to cult icon status has been anything but linear.

First and foremost, WHY was there such a mystery whether or not Led Zeppelin, one of the most celebrated and popular bands in rock history, played the Wheaton, MD show in 1969? Were accounts that contradictory and was there no photo/video evidence? And why not (if not)?

(weta.org)

Led Zeppelin had just landed in the states not even a month earlier. Their first US concert was December 26 in Denver. They then just crisscrossed the country—some gigs were set up in advance, some in haste. Weeks earlier on this first tour–which concluded mid-February 1969–was the apocryphal January 20 concert at the Wheaton Youth Center outside of Washington, DC, but there is no documentation to verify that show, and the promoter only says there were 50 people watching Led Zeppelin perform in the youth center gymnasium. It’s hard for people today to get their head wrapped around this notion, of a failed Led Zeppelin concert in a small, modest location, without any documentation to back it up—no posters, advertisements, reviews, ticket stubs, etc. All we have are  eyewitness testimony, or the many doubting skeptics, to tell this tale, and I’ve gathered a lot of this storytelling in a nearly 90-minute feature length documentary.  

January 20 was the Wheaton Youth Center concert in suburban Maryland. Right now, the official Led Zeppelin website has the date listed as ‘rumoured.’ That same day also happened to be the Presidential Inauguration of Richard Nixon. It was only Led Zeppelin’s 26th day in the United States, and the first album had only been released eight days earlier on January 12. So nobody really knew who they were, and there are many factors that contribute to this event being a tantalizing mystery, almost a ghost concert, and that’s why I like it. 

Do you think this Led Zeppelin-mystery could have originated from anywhere but the Washington DC area? What was it about DC that created this legend?  

I think this Led Zeppelin-mystery could indeed be from anywhere, and indeed there are a few other unconfirmed concert dates on that first tour, but I think what helps with my story is Richard Nixon and inaugural events, although it’s not really germane to the story, just a tasty happenstance. My goal for the documentary was to really be about the emergence of the rock concert industry, focusing on the mid-Atlantic and MD/DC/VA area specifically, and I think that’s largely been achieved by the response from our screenings. The concert industry was basically being invented at that time, and everything that we now take for granted—ticketing, promotion, security, safety, large venues, booking agents—had very humble origins. And what was happening at the Wheaton Youth Center was in many instances being replicated all over the country.
I know I may have asked you similar questions on the podcast, but how has the internet-shrunken world affected the way you approach film-making today rather than back in the day?

I honestly haven’t changed my approach behind a camera when I’m shooting, or concocting what to film or how to film—but distributing  my work is another matter entirely. Internet online video has revolutionized  all facets of bringing eyeballs to your work. When I was starting out, you couldn’t even project video in theaters (which is why Heavy Metal Parking Lot developed such a life by VHS tape trading), much less blast it out in moments to a potential global universe. Unfortunately, everyone else is doing the same thing, so to say there’s a glut of content out there is a huge understatement. But honestly, it took a lot of work back then, and it takes a lot of work now. And it was always competitive trying to generate an audience. And as much as film festivals, and especially the big name ones, carry great cachet, it’s incredibly difficult to secure a slot. So getting notice can come from other ways, most notably the internet. But often times the shelf life can be cruelly short, as another video, or hundreds more, are immediately ready to garner attention. 

What’s the most surprising thing about the Heavy Metal Parking lot bootleg diaspora/dissemination (so to speak) that made it back to you? Location? Person (Nirvana notwithstanding)?

I think the most surprising thing about Heavy Metal Parking Lot is that I’m still talking about it almost thirty years later. But that’s a good thing. No complaints, just a nice surprise. John Heyn and I will always be grateful for the ride, and hope it will continue indefinitely. I’m also always thrilled to hear from our ever expanding on-screen alumni, the Heavy Metal Parking Lot family. I dream of having a bona-fide reunion one day, and film it, but until then you have to settle for stuff like this and this.

Do you think Public Access had a heyday in the 1980s or any time else?

To be honest, I can still flip cable channels and stop dead in my tracks on a public access channel and watch, often bemused, or at least curious enough to try and Google some background particulars. But I think the only reason you could consider it something akin to a heyday is because there were few other options to watch really far out, weird, and eccentric content on television. Nowadays, it’s everywhere on your computer, and conventional TV watching as we knew it has been turned on its head. I will say that the public access community television from my perspective is still happening and viable, and if people want an outlet to expressive themselves, I can think of no better way. 

For more information on Jeff, consult his IMDB or follow him on Twitter.

I interviewed Jeff in 2010 for a podcast I was working on at the time called The Big Takeover Radio Show (no relation to the magazine), but I’m having difficulty finding that recording on my old hard drive. If anybody reading this may still have their digital hands on a copy of Season 5, Episode 15 of that and could email me at sonicgeography (at) gmail, I would be forever grateful. My radio archives have been down for over a year now since I blew up my old website, but they still exist and are available upon request. Hopefully more will be uploaded and made available via the iTunes store or just directly from SonicGeography.
And if anybody has access to the 1997 Krulik gem Ernest Borgnine on the Bus, please do share.
Sources Cited

Stewart, D. (2005). No Applause – Just Throw Money, or The Book that Made Vaudeville Famous. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc.