I’m Wand’ring Round in Boston Town #AAG2017

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It’s that time again… AAG 2017! Italian food in the North End, strolling through the Common, record shopping in Cambridge, comedy in Allston, and more crammed around the whirlwind of academia, mapping, and GIS happening over five fun-filled days at the Hynes Convention Center.

For anyone who wants to come see me give my paper, I’ll be presenting in Session 3566: QUALITATIVE METHODS IN HUMAN GEOGRAPHY, SESSION A on Friday 4/7 at 3:20pm in Columbus 1, Marriott, First Floor. I’ll be presenting along with Beyhan Farhadi (University of Toronto), Rae Rosenberg, Heather Maguire (Brock University), and Jeff Rose (University of Utah), none of whom I’ve met before.

I was also invited by my colleagues Joseph Palis, Severin Guillard, and Ola Johanssen to be discussant for a paper session about Spatializing Music Performance. Regretfully, the AAG algorithms-at-large scheduled these two sessions concurrently, so I won’t be able to attend or make my debut as a discussant, both of which I had been seriously looking forward to.

This will actually be my second conference in Boston; I went up in early 2015 to attend the Harvard ‘Hearing Landscape Critically’ conference and do some research about Frank Hatch, which I’ve chronicled on here before. I learned a lot about what sound semioticians (for lack of a better term, though I’m sure there are dozens) from all over the world have been doing then. This time, I’ll be grateful to be back in the city of my birth alongside at least nine thousand fellow geographers and well-wishers.

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Downtown crossing at sunset. Photo by Tyler.

Per usual, I’m looking forward to a bunch of great panels, speakers, and delivering my dissertation chapter about oral histories in underground music. It’s going to be a great time. Outside the conference, I’m going to attempt to follow up on some of the Hatch research, do some postcard re-photography, and I may even find another excuse to tweet at Damon Krukowski. (While I’m on the subject, I guess he’s got a new book coming out that looks really cool. If being in Galaxie 500 and rooming with Conan O’Brien at Harvard doesn’t give you all the cred in the world, I don’t know what would).

Can’t wait to see you again, Boston. You’re ridiculously expensive, cold, unfriendly, and absolutely the greatest. Don’t ever change, especially before I get there tomorrow night. By the way, if you can’t make it by the conference and want to say hello, get in touch with me. I’m around until Saturday and don’t plan on sleeping that much.


A note on “You Can Easily Find Your Way in Boston”: My great-grandfather sent this postcard to my great-grandmother and family in Brooklyn late on September 26, 1935: “Dearest – Will be here all week and maybe next week also. Will send you money Sat. Love you dearly & how. Hope you’re O.K. & my daughter the dear. Regards to all. Irv.” For anyone interested in his story, I’ll post my Pecha Kucha talk soon. 

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In Search of Frank Hatch (Part One)

If you’ve visited this site before, I owe you an apology. If this is your first time here, welcome to my Geography research and musical fun-times yet completely professional website that I update all the time!! If you’ve been to this site before, I know I have no good excuse to not have updated this page in over six weeks. Honestly, the first few weeks of this semester have been characteristically busy, and I haven’t had enough time to write and report on what I’ve been up to lately to a standard which I’m comfortable putting out there. If this is your first time here… forget everything you’ve just read…and.. that you.. know about Geography! Because I’m about to blow your mind? (That works). Visited before? I also despise over-sharing, which may be helpful if you’re preoccupied with validation on social media, but it can be harmful on Planet Academia. First time here? Then let me tell you a little bit about what I’ve been up to since my last transmission.

Due in large part to the gracious support of the McCroskey Fund, I took a hybrid conference/research trip (not so sure if I’d do that again; it’s so difficult to make enough time for both when you’re only in a city for less than a week) to Boston. I’ve always loved Boston, and because I was born there, it’s always felt like home to me. This, among other reasons, was why it was so exciting and rewarding to peel back all sorts of layers to the Boston that I never knew, nor did my family before we left 28 years ago. Honestly, I don’t have deep roots in the city; my parents both grew up in Connecticut and my father just happened to ride out the “Massachusetts miracle” working for FEMA more than two decades prior to them accruing wide-scale public hatred (he got out years ago, and was fairly relieved that he did). Whenever I’m riding the Green Line T, I still think about my Dad’s stories of riding to work in the dead of summer before any of those cars were air-conditioned. Perhaps even more remarkable, at least according to him, you could – get this – decide at a moment’s notice to stop by Fenway Park on the way home from work and enjoy a game from the cheap bleacher seats. These were not these Red Sox you’re thinking of who you need to arrange months in advance a mortgage your home to see, person reading in 2015; these were those Red Sox – the lovable losers who barely tasted greatness before Mookie Wilson, Rick Aguilera, and an upstanding young man named Darryl Strawberry swiped it from their mouths in ’86.

Anyway, whether or not you’re a first-time visitor or returner, you probably didn’t come here to read my family history or rants about baseball, as much fun as I have digging into either from time to time. I was in Boston for two purposes. One was to attend the Harvard Hearing Landscape Critically conference. A joint cross-pond production between our most prestigious university and the Brits’ most prestigious (Oxford) that focuses on the interaction between music, sound, and the ether which surrounds us, for lack of a better term. While I don’t have nearly enough of a music theory background to claim I could incorporate quite every paper presented there into my research, I did find numerous relevant overlaps (one, in particular, circulating the Baudelarian conceit of Flânerie and Maurice Ravel’s urbanized works). In fact, the scholars I met there, while few were geographers per se, had a lot to contribute to the realms of Urban Geography and theory, even if they do not consider what they do geography. More on that sometime soon.

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Monocle and top hat not pictured. (Apologies to my Harvard friends).

While I was attending sessions and meeting interesting theoreticians from all over the world (well, North America, Europe, South Africa, and Oceania, at least), I was doing double-duty as an researcher for the University of Tennessee. As some of you may recall, I presented a paper on the process of place-memorialization through song at last year’s AAG meeting (see my Work page). It focused mainly on the works of Francis Whiting “Frank” Hatch, Sr, a classic Bostonian who made his living working for a major advertising company after graduating from Harvard in 1919 while writing poems, songs, and plays on the side. I approached the trip with relatively few leads, but those I did have, like Duane Lucia at the West End Museum and author Dave Kruh, were incredibly helpful and led me in several potentially fascinating directions. On Friday the 16th, I paid a visit to the Harvard Archive, where Hatch’s student and alumni files are kept. I’m never going to sleep on visiting any University’s archives again. What a treasure trove, particularly for my research. Special thanks to the enthusiastic and helpful staff there! I would love to be able to share some of the pictures I took, but unfortunately, that will have to wait.

One of the places that Hatch worked tirelessly (and ultimately unsuccessfully) to save was the Old Howard Athenaeum. David Kruh very helpfully led me to a spot that words cannot even quite explain, so I’ll give pictures some breathing room to attempt it.

The Old Howard Fire, 1961. (bambinomusical.com)

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That (approximate) site, January 2015. Photo by Tyler.

Pretty harrowing what a difference five decades can make, right? Actually, massive-scale urban redevelopment that flattened a quarter of the city by the end of the 60’s certainly helped. It took me a while to find it under a thin layer of snow, but the site where the Howard once stood exists as a faint memory in the form of a plaque on a bench on that smoking grotto next to that guard house.

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“On this site once stood the stage of the Howard Athenaeum, known the world over as The Old Howard. Boston’s home of burlesque. Always something doing between 9 A.M. to 11 P.M.”

The rest, they say, is silence. All that’s left of Scollay Square is a patronizing road marker sitting across the street from a Starbucks next to the Government center construction pit. If there’s a better example of a city-as-(constantly injured) living organism than Boston, I would love to see it.

I raced to get here before the sun was completely down. A city's position within its time zone can pose a bigger challenge to visual methods than any weather.

I raced to get here before the sun was completely down. A city’s position within its time zone can pose a bigger challenge to visual methods than any weather.

I’d love to write some more about Scollay Square and the relics I found (or the remaining lack thereof), but it’s late and I need to continue a very busy week tomorrow. I’ll leave you all with a (marginally successful) attempt at re-photography, because what trip of mine would be complete without it? I was strolling around Government Center (which the city’s developers built on top of what used to be Scollay Square in the 1960s) and I spotted a vaguely familiar angle on the (if I may offer a popular opinion, hideous) City Hall building. I pulled out my phone and snapped this picture:

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… because I thought it was roughly where this brutality took place:

(via busingcrisissouthboston.wordpress.com)

From what I can gather at this point, I may have been facing the wrong way and a few hundred feet too far South, but I got the general vicinity and neo-brutalist aesthetic part correct. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with the Boston busing crisis of the mid-1970s, particularly any of you with interest in what’s happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, etc., take a few minutes, click that link above this photo, and please read up on it.

No matter how many imperfections my research exposes and alters my reality of the place, Boston is a fascinating city, and it will never not feel slightly like home.

I’ll speak to you all soon. For those of you who’ve been here before, I hope you keep coming back. For those whose first time it was on here, I hope I’ve interested  you enough for you to make it a habit. Thanks for reading, all of you.

Downtown crossing at sunset. Photo by Tyler.

Downtown crossing at sunset. Photo by Tyler.

Live from Athens, GA (#SEDAAG2014)

Hey, everybody. I’m taking a few minutes away from the proceedings at SEDAAG (that’s the SouthEastern Division of the Association of American Geographers for anyone keeping track) to give a quick update. If you’re at the conference or happen to be in the neighborhood of the UGA campus, I’ll be presenting my preliminary research at a session I’ll also be chairing at 8:20 am. It will be held in the Georgia Conference Center room TU. My presentation will be entitled “Frank Hatch and Memorialization of Pre-war Boston through Song.” It’s pretty straightforward, explaining how music is used to drive romantic narratives of a city’s “olden days” landscape.

The conference has been great so far; it has been my first SEDAAG conference, so it’s neat to see how the regional conferences operate in light of AAG. Prior to this, I had presented at both CGS (California) and APCG (Pacific Coast), but I had no real frame of reference back then. I’ve had the chance to watch great research presentations about everything from GISc students pushing for the creation of bike lanes in central Georgia to “The Walking Dead” to the governmental intervention of domestic work of African-American women in the South in the 1920s and on and on.

The only disappointing part of the trip so far (other than the most brutal near-freezing rain we drove through all of yesterday to get here) has been that I’ve been hanging out at Wuxtry Records for over an hour and Peter Buck hasn’t asked me to start a band! You lied to me, Athens mythology!

On a serious note, if you ARE in Athens, do stop by the Special Collections Library on campus in case you’ve ever wanted to see the closest thing to an R.E.M./Pylon/B-52’s/Oh-OK museum you’ll find. They have Bill Berry’s “Chronic Town”-era drum kit, and a really fancy clear bass that Mike Mills used to play, not to mention all sorts of ephemera from the time before they were one of the biggest bands in the world.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is having an excellent November. The end of the semester (and arrival of more frequent/substantive updates) is nigh.