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.

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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.

NYdailynews

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.