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.


* 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.

Colony Records, Times Square, and The Clash

My mom was in NYC for a meeting recently, and she sent me a message to say that Colony Records had gone out of business. I had forgotten if I had ever been there, but then she reminded me that she took me there once a long time ago. I was probably 16 or 17 at the time, and it was a late-night visit. Suddenly, the shop and the environs came rushing back to my brain. The first thing I remembered was finding a narrow staircase in the middle of the cramped Times Square store space that led down to a dimly lit (yet still publicly accessible) basement of vinyl records. I didn’t own a record player at the time, so I just looked around for a minute, finding a copy of The Clash’s 1981 triple-LP “Sandinista!”

It cost $45, and I think I actually said out loud “No freaking way!” I hadn’t really gotten into this record at the time (and to a degree, I still haven’t), but I thought it was strange how this was my only lasting memory of Colony Records. I don’t even remember what I actually bought.

Anyway, as Times Square has gone in the past twenty years, there isn’t really room for the dirty old record shops. There isn’t even room for the big, shiny ones.

By the way, did it break anyone else’s heart to discover that Paul Simonon didn’t actually play this amazing bass line on the record? Just asking.