RIP Wombleton Records

20160810larecordstores09wombleton

via the LA Weekly

In planning my trip out to Los Angeles for EmoGeo (the Emotional Geographies Conference) next month, I stumbled upon some sad news. Wombleton Records, one of the three shops upon which I focused my chapter in The Production and Consumption of Music in the Digital Age (2015; B. Hracs, M. Seman, T. Virani, eds), closed its doors this past February. I somehow missed this news when it first came out in February; their normally fantastic newsletters stopped arriving and I guess I didn’t notice because I haven’t lived in California for a while now.

I’m mostly disappointed on behalf of anyone who stumbles upon my chapter in that book, gets excited to visit the store, looks it up, and realizes they’ll never get to. I hold no grudges over one of my case studies disappearing; it only emphasizes how transient these types of places are and how difficult it is to stay solvent in the modern urban economic landscape. It mainly sucks because it was such a cool little shop; the owners Ian and Jade emphasized design and atmosphere and curated their vinyl collection beautifully. I couldn’t even count the number of UK and European titles I found there that I would be highly unlikely to find anywhere else in the United States. I was already getting excited to flip through their 7″ section in the back trying to find any rogue single by the likes of Blur, Supergrass, or Manic Street Preachers.

At least LA (even the Highland Park area) isn’t particularly starving for good record shops these days. Wombleton was a clear labor of vinyl love, and the LA Weekly published a great retrospective on the storefront’s 7-year history the week it shut down. Best of luck to everybody who was involved!

Have a great weekend, everyone. More info about my California trip soon, as well as (while on the subject of Blur, ‘Grass, Manics, et al) a lengthy diatribe about the value of Britpop in Geography. Also, why Blur are categorically better than Oasis.

Chapter in New Book on Music in the Digital Age

9781138851658I’m excited to announce that I have a chapter in a brand new volume entitled The Production and Consumption of Music in the Digital Age. The editors, Brian J. Hracs, Michael Seman, and Tarek E. Virani, worked tirelessly in a process that ultimately took a couple of years. This actually began as a session that Hracs organized at AAG 2013 in Los Angeles. I presented some research I’d done about a few new (at the time) record stores in Highland Park, one of my favorite areas of Los Angeles. Brian and Michael (who I met shortly afterward at a dinner in, from what I remember, was an engine room/speak easy restaurant… you know, downtown LA) both thought my chapter would make a good contribution to their book, so here we are.

You can read up on the chapter list at the book’s catalog page on Routledge. A great cast of characters contributed, including my colleague Tom Bell, continuing his collaborations with Peggy Gripshover and Ola Johansson on a geographic analysis of music venues in Pittsburgh and Nashville. I can’t wait to look through a hard copy of this. If you or your professors/students are looking for a great addition for your course in Cultural Geography, Music Industry, Musicology, or anything involving the post-internet economy, make sure to check this out. And add it to your library! Don’t forget to do that, either. And follow the project on twitter. The list goes on.

While I was scrolling through older entries trying to find that one about AAG 2013, I passed by an entry about Heavy Metal Parking Lot. A quick word of congratulations to my friend Jeff Krulik on the 30th Anniversary Exhibit at the University of Maryland’s Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library. I was actually at that library for a couple of days the week before the exhibit opened, and it BURNED that I just narrowly missed it. But, if you’re in the DC area, you don’t have to! It’s runs through next spring.

Music Geography 101: It’s Casual (Los Angeles)

I recently assigned the students in my Geography 101 course a writing project whereby they select a song with geographically-oriented content and report on all of that song’s inherent regionalisms. In the body of their assignment text, I include a list of suggested songs for anybody who may be interested in them or may have difficulty selecting a song on their own. The following is one of them.

It’s Casual – “The Red Line”

I deeply admire how It’s Casual represents and interprets Los Angeles. In both their songs and videos, L.A. is the polar opposite of the place where dreams come true. It is a smoggy, violent pastiche of contradictions where fantasy only exists in some unattainable alternate dimension inside of billboards and bus bench advertisements. After spending a couple of years in the area, I find it remarkable how quickly my imaginary of Los Angeles moved away from the artificial public memory filled with sun, surf, and vapid blondes. Personally, I (somehow) never tried surfing while I lived so close to the SoCal waves, and the only sun I remember was the uncompromising star that scorched the streets and made it nearly impossible to see anything if you were unlucky enough to be staring directly into it while sitting in traffic for three hours on the 405. Fortunately, for that fleeting moment when you are crawling down the hot asphalt plain, cursing out everything within your peripheral vision, wondering why human beings do this to themselves, you’ve got a spokesperson. His name is Eddie Solis.

You can tell me about your romanticized mental landscapes of Southern California until your words have melted away into white noise. For my money, there is nothing more quintessentially “L.A.” than a Chicano dude playing metal and screaming about how godawful the freeways are. This song, along with this album’s other iconoclastic video “The New Los Angeles,” are exactly that. It is not pleasant, but it rocks, and perhaps more importantly, it’s completely honest and sincere, two qualities that few people would immediately associate with Solis’ hometown.

Another thing that most outsiders and a disappointing amount of Angelenos would never assume: the public transit is outstanding. Los Angeles grew generations of people handcuffed to their cars, but unlike from over the Hollywood sign, that smoke is finally clearing. Metro knows exactly what they are up against, and their growing system of light rail, subways, express bus lines, and city buses (all intertwined with GPS that lets those with smart phones know when they’re going to arrive down to the second) are responding. So, if you find yourself in the city of Angels, do take advantage of those resources. It will make your life easier and you may even run into Eddie Solis on the Red Line. I did once… it was a strange night. I really miss that metropolis.

Music Geography 101: Kendrick Lamar (Compton, CA)

I recently assigned my Geography 101 course a writing project whereby they select a song with geographically-oriented content and report on all of that song’s inherent regionalisms. In the body of their assignment text, I include a list of suggested songs for anybody who may be interested in them or may have difficulty selecting a song on their own. The following is one of them.

Kendrick Lamar – “Compton State of Mind”

A few short years before Kendrick Lamar made modern music history with Good Kid m.a.a.d City and To Pimp a Butterfly (two records that social scientists and journalists are going to still be pontificating on for decades), he was just another “good kid” trying to make something out of himself in a city notorious for holding people down. It’s hardly shocking that most people cannot imagine Compton without N.W.A. springing to mind, even though almost twenty-seven years have passed since they changed the world. Also, Ice Cube remains busy starring in family-friendly blockbusters and directing ESPN documentaries (to be fair, he did great work putting together the 30 for 30 on the cultural legacy of the Los Angeles Raiders).

My personal exposure to Compton was limited to Blue Line metro rides through there and about four friends who lived or had grown up there (three of whom were Latino; the black one was a librarian and Oi! punk fan who had been childhood friends with Easy-E. Go figure.) So what was it about Compton that still thrills so many outsiders? Like it’s anchor city to the north, it is full of violent contradictions and even in an era of heavy gentrification still presents itself without compromise. Kendrick Lamar has no pretensions about his hometown, and in his messy mix tape appearance, he raps his way through it. Fittingly, he would close out his 2012 masterpiece with another song called “Compton” featuring (who else?) Dr. Dre. But here, despite being destined for hip hop greatness, the “good kid” becomes the aural tour guide we never knew we needed.

The Casual Geographer Presents: “Intersection Songs”

For those of you who were not connected to me during my time at CSU-Long Beach, my friends Bret Hartt, Abel Santana, and I co-founded a podcast and weekly radio show called “The Casual Geographer.” We produced over thirty episodes, most of which were posted at our original blogspot site here (the audio links no longer work, but the descriptions and graphics are still there, and if I may say so, delightful). Each episode tackled a different subject and explained how geography enveloped said subject. It lasted most of the two years I spent in Long Beach, and we had a lot of fun.

This week, in a seminar on tourism geography, my colleagues and I discussed a wonderful article by Duncan Light on the commodification and consumption of place names. I found it interesting, as a musically-inclined geographer, how he used examples such as AC/DC (seriously, why is there no lightning bolt key?) Street in Melbourne as ways in which cities and regions place and focus what John Urry legendarily called “the tourist gaze.” In particular, Light (2014, 145*) wrote:

…It is the marker – the signage – that is important in affirming and validating the visit. As such the place-name signage (the most commonplace and banal of objects) becomes the principal focus of tourist interest and the setting for a range of activities and performances.

Unsurprisingly, my mind immediately leaped to the corner of Fountain and Fairfax, where I drove by upon moving to the Los Angeles area, motivated by The Afghan Whigs’ dramatic 1993 song of that title**.  My mind then immediately jumped to Episode 3 of The Casual Geographer, where we discussed whatever background information we could find on a handful of songs named after street intersections. These included “53rd and 3rd” (NYC) by the Ramones, “Fountain and Fairfax” (Los Angeles) by the Afghan Whigs, “Queen and John” (Toronto) by Good Riddance, “9th and Hennepin” (Minneapolis) by Tom Waits, and “13th and Euclid” (DC) by the Dismemberment Plan. Thanks to Russ Rankin for his gracious email reply telling us the story of “Queen and John” (which I read during the episode), as well as Travis Morrison for his brief explanation of what happened at a gas station near 13th and Euclid (as well as giving me the go-ahead to use “The Face of the Earth” as a theme song for the show).

I’ll gradually work on wrenching more of these recordings from my archives. For now, have a listen to this episode and I hope you enjoy it. This was an early episode, and the production quality improved from here, I promise.

LINER NOTES

* Light, D. (2014). Tourism and toponymy: commodifying and consuming place names. Tourism Geographies, 16(1), 141-156.

** If you’re at all familiar with the Afghan Whigs or the greater spate of work by Greg Dulli, using the word “dramatic” to describe any of their songs could seem pretty redundant, I realize.

Drove Up from Pedro

It’s June 16th, known to some as Bloomsday, the day in which James Joyce’s epic Ulysses takes place. Because the Minutemen used that date to name an instrumental track on their masterpiece double-album Double Nickels on the Dime in 1984 (listen to the whole thing here), the date has earned an additional meaning to many of their fans, including yours truly.

(via Watt’s hoot page)

If I could write a book about why the Minutemen encapsulated everything that was essential about punk rock and great and rock n’ roll, I would. Maybe I still will some day. A spate of literature does exist about the band, including a 33 1/3 Book about Double Nickels by my friend Mike Fournier as well as a particularly landmark section of Michael Azerrad’s volume Our Band Could Be Your Life (aptly enough, named after a line in the Minutemen song “History Lesson (Part II)”).

The trio were at once irreverent and smarter than any of their contemporaries, at once shambolic musicians yet still a tighter unit than any of their counterparts that played by the rules. The Minutemen made it very clear that no song, no story, no band could be as important as the one that you create, and while D. Boon died almost three decades ago, Mike Watt still tours relentlessly and lives his message every day. Their politics were no joke and neither were their working-class backgrounds (the term “double-nickels on the dime” came from trucker lingo).

(via laexeclimo.com)

The trio’s working-class legend are what brings me to their sonic geography. There are few places on Earth, if any, where the Minutemen could have come from other than San Pedro, CA. For anyone who hasn’t been there, it is a beautiful slice of land suspended over the Pacific Ocean, a hinterland of Los Angeles without feeling at all like the city proper. Like the city to it’s north, it elicits passionate reactions one way or the other: a heavenly village draped over a hill, or a boring burnt-out former-Navy town. My perspective on Pedro (pronounced Pee-Droh) is overwhelmingly the latter. When I lived in Long Beach, I would regularly escape across the Bay to relax and do some writing, and I told anyone visiting the West Coast that it was my favorite place in California and impressed upon them how important it was to visit at some point. The Korean Friendship Bell, the Sunken City, William’s Book Store (R.I.P.), and so many more wonderful landmarks tie the beautiful town together. That the greatest band to ever record and tour came from Pedro is not a big surprise, considering how unique and staunchly working-class the city was, and in many ways, remains.

Here’s to the three corndogs who blazed a trail out of Pedro and spread the good word of jamming econo.

“There should be a rock band on every block, because it can happen.”

209257_976990805486_2870247_o

Me with Mike Watt, Washington, DC, 2011 (Photo by June Paek)

 

“Watch Me for the Changes and Try to Keep Up…” (Summer Update)

Here’s a quick update to what I’ve been up to so far this summer. If you have any questions about the status or background of anything I may have not explained thoroughly enough, please send me an email.

POSTCARD BOOK REVIEW

via UI Press

I am currently reading this neat book about the “golden age” of postcards (I hadn’t realized that was a thing) from Illinois by John Jakle and Keith Sculle in order to review it for the journal Material Cultures. I’ve always been fascinated with the shifting discourse on depictions of place throughout the years, especially given how integral postcards have been in these constructions of twentieth century America. I’ve posted a few items about vintage postcards on this site, but Jakle and Sculle take that analysis to the next level with the book. From what I’ve read so far, they aim to juxtapose the images of pre-Depression Chicago with that of rural Southern Illinois, arguing that the two were light years apart ideologically, yet inextricably tied together via the icons of industry. I’m pretty excited to learn more about the Chicago of that era. I might argue that few world cities are more interwoven with the “Roaring 20’s” mentality and urban blue-collar America, even to this day. I love that city, and I can’t wait to visit it next year for the AAG Meeting. Who wants to join me at the Oakwood at 3:30 AM? I really hope that place is still around. Anyway, I apologize in advance for getting sentimental about my visits there. No apologies for rooting against the Blackhawks in the Western Final, though. I still have a soft spot for the Kings after those two years in Long Beach. Now that I think about it, I’m grateful to not be at the Oakwood while I write this.

PAPER ON THE USE OF THE S.W.O.T. ANALYSIS IN PEDAGOGY

I have been fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Ronald Kalafsky to be second-author on a groundbreaking work he has been piecing together on our GEO 451 – The Global Economy course. For those unfamiliar (which I was before TA’ing this course, with no real foundation in macro-economics), the S.W.O.T. Analysis is an analytic paradigm that companies use to evaluate locations before investing resources. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It was an interesting experience, especially since many of our students had never participated in a SWOT Analysis before, and should hopefully be interesting for anyone involved in the overlap between economics, geography, and teaching. More updates on this as it develops, but for now the research seems to be in good hands with Ron.

CHAPTER ON THE NEW ECONOMICS OF MUSIC

Wombleton, the best British record shop from the 1960s that happens to be in Highland Park, Los Angeles (Timeout LA)

At AAG 2013 in LA, I participated in a panel that Brian Hracs (Upsalla University) organized about the “New economics of the music industry.” Well he recently announced that he will be turning several of the papers presented into a published book about new approaches to studying the confluence of place, music, and money. My chapter is currently titled “Emotional Landscapes and the Evolution of Vinyl Record Retail: A Case Study of Highland Park, Los Angeles.” I still have a lot of revision to do, but my argument is, as my Master’s Thesis argued, that relying on consumers’ emotional attachment to places (both concrete and imagined) is a key component in operating a physical music retailer today. While artists do their part in luring listeners in with iconic cover art that evokes place, the retailers are doing the same, and three businesses I got to know in Highland Park (one of my favorite places in all of Los Angeles) were perfect examples. Stay tuned for more details about this one.

“HEY CHUCK! IT’S YOUR COUSIN, MARVIN BERRY! YOU KNOW THAT NEW SOUND YOU’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR? WELL LISTEN TO THIS!”

“Watch me for the changes and try to keep up…”

I don’t think I can leverage that as a title for the chapter, but I’m going to begin a chapter on the soundscapes of Hill Valley, CA. How exactly does the diegetic sounds (specifically, the music) in Back to the Future formulate our perceived landscape of Marty McFly’s hometown? We’ve had this project in the works for well over a year now, and we’re excited to see if slowly kicking into motion over this fall. I’m very excited to have a “Back to the Future” panel at AAG 2015 (naturally) featuring a number of the chapter authors in “Save the Clocktower! Imagined Geographies of Hill Valley 1885 – 2015.”

I’ve been getting more emails from interested writers for the project, and I’m still anxious to see what materializes over the next year. Ideally, I’ll get my own drafts done before long (including an introduction for the book with my good friend Teresa Anderson-Sharma), since I’m going to be teaching GEO 101 in the Fall here in Knoxville. A busy time, but I’d never get anything done if I didn’t stress myself out from time to time.

THE ERGS! on One Week // One Band

Philly, 2008

This one doesn’t have as much to do with Geography, but it’s nonetheless great for anybody interested in my music writing. I’m very excited to be contributing a week’s worth of entries on the kings of Jersey dork-pop for the great site One Week // One Band over the week of June 23rd. I wish I spent more time in New Jersey so I had more to write about their humble middle class middle-NJ origins… wait, no I don’t. But if there’s one positive thing New Jersey has given us by the boatload over the past few decades, it’s been great music. Perhaps no band has encapsulated the pissed off turn-of-the-century zeitgeist with as much humor as The Ergs! did. They stopped playing formally in 2008, all three members are still very musically active (Jeff in Black Wine, Joe in Night Birds, and Mike in every band that isn’t those two) and their legacy is growing.

So…. that’s what you can find me up to this summer. I’m also on board with your bike ride around the Knoxville area or spontaneous regional road trip. If I don’t see you around, I hope you have a great break, too and get out enough. See you back here soon.