Who is this Street Musician? (San Francisco, 1999)

Go ahead and file this entry under the alternate title, “Yet Another Reason I’m a Music Obsessive.”

I suppose I have relatively little in my life to regret. None of the ‘big’ decisions I’ve made (where to move, what career to pursue, relationships to develop) can be changed, so whenever I do get a pang of regret, it’s usually something arguably small: a concert I didn’t attend (e.g. Dillinger Four in DC this October) or a record I didn’t buy (e.g. that Brainiac reissue in New Orleans). Though, to be fair, Dillinger Four haven’t played their final show (just wait for them to get drunk enough and find the right bar in Minneapolis) and according to an old colleague Oliver Wang, those records will eventually find their way back to you if you’re paying attention.

So, here’s an anecdote about something almost twenty years ago that I regret to this day. In April 1999, my family and I flew out to San Francisco on a trip with my sister’s youth jazz band. Being an aspiring filmmaker at that time in my life, I hauled my little camcorder around the city with me. My sister’s band had a gig at Ghirardelli Square one afternoon, and I decided to film my walk down (what I can only assume was) Beach Street beforehand. I stopped for a moment to film an old man with an acoustic guitar, singing a wonderful rendition of “Georgia on my Mind.”

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I glanced down at a small case of cassette tapes he had on the ground next to him, wondering if I had the cash in my wallet to buy one. I’d already spent most of my trip allowance (or conned my parents into spending their money) on CDs and I’m sure a small assortment of embarrassing souvenirs teenagers buy on trips to any big city.

Before I could act on that impulse, my Mom yelled for me to come join them over in the Square, since the show was about to start. I reached into my pocket and threw some change into the bin next to his tapes and left, already feeling pangs of regret for not buying a tape.

I have no idea what his name was, and no amount of video technology that’s been coded this century could focus and zoom in on the grainy video I shot of him that afternoon. Honestly, I’d have to go back to the tape in order to even see whether I’d even caught a glimpse of his merchandise case, but its doubtful. Not that having one of his tapes would necessarily answer these questions, but even at that age, I was incredibly curious about the stories behind his music. At any rate, I wish I’d been able to capture more than 15-20 seconds of him playing that one song.

So, I just figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw this out into the ether to my San Francisco friends or anybody who sees this that may have lived/worked around Ghirardelli Square at the time: does anybody know who this old man is? I would be amazed if he was still alive, considering how this was almost two decades ago and he already appeared to be well into his seventies. I wonder whether any of his tapes (I vaguely remember him having more than one different release) circulated locally, or whether any wound up in thrift stores after his patrons downsized? I recognize how unlikely it is that anything would come from this, but crazier things have happened on the internet. Come on, global village – redeem yourself!

 

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Condition: Jawbreaker

41o2-subljl-_sx364_bo1204203200_I recently read Ronen Givony’s book on Jawbreaker’s 1994 album 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (Bloomsbury 33 1/3 series), which I highly recommend to anybody interested in the pre-internet circulation of underground music. While it’s so easy to wax poetic and nostalgic about 20th century pop culture, Givony illuminates the dark side of that era. The backlash that Jawbreaker faced for signing to a major label was downright savage. As many of their friends and colleagues have implied, it would likely not have mattered if it had happened five years earlier or later; the conditions in 1995 were just right for righteous indignation among their fans.  The Dismemberment Plan, who I’ve focused a lot of my music writing on, followed a similar early-to-the-party/first-to-leave timeline (though it took Jawbreaker 21 years to reunite, whereas the Plan reunited in earnest within 8).

Givony’s Jawbreaker story made my jaw drop exactly twice.

1979970_700682193307329_4809697842692758554_oFirst, I was genuinely amazed to discover that their bassist Chris Bauermeister went to high school in my hometown. He grew up in a German-speaking household in Connecticut and attended a prep school in Madison that closed down in 1991. I only have vague memories of the school; my mom recently told me she voted in the town’s referendum on whether to purchase the property (with the school building on it). I didn’t have any real overlap with Chris, who graduated and moved away to New York in 1985, the year before my family moved to town. Still, it’s a remarkable coincidence considering how (1) I always considered Jawbreaker to be a quintessential San Francisco band, and (2) I tended to assume nothing cool ever came out of my hometown. It’s taken half a lifetime away, a PhD dissertation, and some sprinkled-in hindsight to realize how wrong I was about that. Also, the youngest person to graduate from Hammonasset is in their mid-forties now.

Second, in the middle of a “get off my lawn” screed about the contemporary state of the music industry, Givony drops an incisive observation that I think bears block-quoting here (emphasis mine):

In the music and media industries today, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a band in possession of a good single must be in want of a fortune. In a time when almost no one still buys albums, and tens of thousands of streams will earn a band pennies, the reasoning goes, artists deserve to get paid any way they can manage, and rightly so. Who are we to blame them if the only people still paying musicians their true worth are corporate advertising and branding companies? It’s a difficult claim with which to argue, which is why almost no one ever still does.

As much as I balked at the assertion that “almost no one still buys albums” (pressing plants wouldn’t be backed up to hell if that were true), this bold statement hit me like a ton of bricks. The idea that musicians can only make a healthy living through licensing (title idea: Better Living through Licensing) has been analyzed comprehensively at this point. Todd in the Shadows broke it down beautifully in this video late last year. However, the specific angle that corporations were the only ones either capable of (or willing to) pay musicians their true worth has been banging around in my head for days. I am steadfast that Google and Spotify have both been instrumental in institutionally and purposefully devaluing music to create a paradox in which artists would be beholden to them. I’m aware that music piracy on the internet long pre-dates either of those companies, and label heads were freaking out over cassette tapes much more in 1987 than they were over MP3.com in 1997 (Thanks, Telecom Act!). Regardless, whether people want to pay for music is not the issue. That so many people feel entitled to not pay for music, or even own it, is noteworthy. Then again, this is nothing new, and people have still not slowed at creating art. Artists, as Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964, always have the advantage since they are sitting at the point of creation:

In the history of human culture there is no example of a conscious adjustment of the various factors of personal and social life to new extensions except in the puny and peripheral efforts of artists. The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs.

We can’t travel back to the point in time when 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was created, but fortunately the internet has enabled the next best thing: virtual flânerie! Here is some Super-8 footage that Adam Pfahler found of the trio driving around their adopted neighborhood in 1992. Just like Jawbreaker encapsulated the pre-internet era of underground America in their music, this video does well to provide a peek into pre-Google, pre-Facebook San Francisco, when the Mission was cheap and bursting with potential. Also, it gives “Boxcar” the long-overdue music video it deserves.

San Francisco, ‘The Room,’ and Teaching Geography with Bad Movies

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MARK: You guys are too much. Hey, are you running Bay to Breakers this year?
JOHNNY: I am, sure.
PETER: Not doing it this year.
JOHNNY: Hehe, chicken, Peter, you’re just a little chicken. Cheep cheep cheeeeeep [unidentifiable high-pitched noises]
PETER: Who you calling a chicken? I just don’t like all the weirdos. There’s… too many weirdos there.

I transcribed the above dialogue as accurately as possible from one scene from Tommy Wiseau’s self-produced 2003 film The Room.  In it, two of the film’s main characters, Mark (Greg Sestero) and Johnny (Wiseau) share a moment with their psychologist(?) friend Peter (Kyle Vogt) in Johnny’s living room. Wiseau, who also wrote the script and directed the film, seems to have little grasp on (1) how “guys” talk when they hang out or (2) editing. The script goes out of its way to mention the Bay to Breakers run, a San Francisco institution that began in 1912, throwing yet another local-ism onto a haphazard pile of ways through which Wiseau “places” his film.

The Room is, by some measures, up there with Vertigo (1958), The Rock (1996), and Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco (1996) as quintessential ‘San Francisco’ films, which is ironic for multiple reasons. Most obviously, outside of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, none of those films are regarded as AFI-level cases of cinematic genius. The Rock, for one, is a loud, stupid and incredibly fun Bay/Bruckheimer film that reinvented Alcatraz and gave us the greatest piece Elton John-related dialogue in cinema history. The Homeward Bound films were family-friendly crowd-pleasers that starred adorable, wisecracking pets. The Room, however, is its own beast. Despite being, by many measures, one of the worst (or at least surreally stupid) films ever made, it demonstrates how valuable poorly-made films can be in understanding representation of urban landscape.

Film and Urban Geography

Cities provide ample inspiration to artists of all media, and in turn become drawn, filmed, sang about, and ultimately interpreted based upon their art. This phenomenon has been well-documented among cultural geographers. In film, Chris Lukinbeal has published numerous pieces about the multi-faceted geographies of the film industry, both part and parcel of Los Angeles and how other landscapes are interpreted through cinema. Many geographers have expounded upon the relationship between music and place, and Lily Kong wrapped many early examples into her 1995 call for greater involvement of music in geography. Steve Hoelscher has dedicated much of his recent work to the Magnum photography archive and even examined the effect of photography on historical urban geopolitics. Creating a comprehensive catalog of literature here would be a herculean task.

Back to The Room. Like most who attempt to break down its threadbare plot, pointless characters, and insanely counter-intuitive production values, I struggle at explaining just how bad it is. Cult audiences equally celebrate its awfulness as the worst film ever made as they do flock at a chance to see it in a communal (often intoxicated) environment and engage in a culturally-circulated set of practices that go with the screening. Audience members scream along with silly lines of dialogue, shadow-cast questionably useful scenes with the main characters tossing footballs to one another, and even shower the screen with plastic spoons at various specific cues. Film scholars like Matt Foy have gone into great detail about these sub-cultural rituals, even in cases, succinctly (as possible) explaining what the movie is about:

In addition to Johnny, Lisa, and Mark, the key players include Denny (Philip Haldiman), a good-natured but awkward man-child who lives next to Johnny (Johnny pays his college tuition) and seems to lack basic social skills (early in the film, he joins Johnny and Lisa in bed pre-coitus to “watch them” but seems unaware of the sensitive nature of his request), and Claudette (Carolyn Minnott), Lisa’s mother who simultaneously praises Johnny while encouraging Lisa to exploit him financially because she cannot support herself. Other characters meander in and out without affecting the plot, mostly as foils to establish Johnny’s pristine character or Lisa’s manipulative heartlessness. The result is a film so earnest yet strange that it attracts audiences through morbid revulsion (Foy 2012, 5).

I’ve written previously (for a course on Global Soundtracks) about how The Room reinforces the importance of bad movies in the conversation on film music. Where great films with iconic and/or Oscar-winning scores have been teaching young filmmakers and cinema scholars the “do’s” of film music, bad films could be equally valuable in teaching the “don’ts.” This dynamic applies equally in understanding how films reflect and represent urban spaces, particularly in the United States, and even more particularly in San Francisco. Where Vertigo demonstrated how Hollywood films can work with, and flourish through, urban iconography, The Room provides a beacon of trying too hard to do so, and looking silly in the process.

Tommy Wiseau’s San Francisco

Though Los Angeles is well regarded as “the world’s most photographed city” (cf. Thom Anderson’s brilliant Los Angeles Plays Itself), San Francisco is definitely among the top runners-up in that category, as well as among the most mythologized and laid-bare in its iconography. The Golden Gate is probably North America’s most iconic and grandiose bridge outside of Brooklyn, Alcatraz is among her most storied and infamous small islands (and prisons), and the Painted Ladies row of houses has embedded itself into our national subconscious both through films featuring Robin Williams in drag and through sitcoms featuring Bob Saget working clean. Rice-a-Roni commercials carved such a hegemony in the 1980s and 1990s that cable car operators could not avoid mentioning it to over-zealous, jingle-singing tourists on their routes.

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It is through these cinematic representations of his adopted hometown that Tommy Wiseau weaves his overbearing establishing shots. Where most filmmakers implement one or two establishing landscape shots of the city setting, Wiseau inserts at least twenty. The first two minutes of the film become a veritable catalog of cliche’d imagery of the Bay Area. The viewer sees, interspersed with the opening credits, a wide shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, a bucolic fishing dock on the North Bay, another wide shot of Alcatraz Island, a shot that tilts up from the Bay to a San Francisco skyline silhouetted through fog, a (slightly) tighter shot of a cruise boat passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, a shot that slowly pans across the Palace of Fine Arts (the site of a dramatic scene in The Rock), a shot that tilts down Nob Hill, a shot that tilts down with the Painted Ladies houses in the background of Alamo Square Park, a shot of a cable car (with our hero on it… a true man of the people) passing in front of the Grace Cathedral, and ultimately, the often-recycled exterior shot of Johnny’s condo.

To the Western viewer, any one of those shots might be sufficient in establishing where the movie takes place, but Tommy Wiseau doesn’t know the meaning of cinematic restraint. (Seriously, he may literally not know the meaning of the term). He removes any doubt whatsoever of where we are, and despite having an ‘insider’ knowledge of San Francisco, he runs lovingly into the arms of cinematic cliche and reinforces the most mainstream, ‘outsider’ perspectives of that city’s icons.

Taken as a whole, these are examples of how filmmakers (both talented and less so) conflate the “real” with the “reel.” The “real” here is the fully extant city of San Francisco, which is a living, functioning, and constantly changing city that millions of people pass through each day. The “reel” in this case is a socially accepted and publicly ascribed cinematic landscape that completely disregard’s the city’s hinterland and even most of its forward-facing public sphere. In real life, Tommy Wiseau grew a minor clothing empire, accumulating enough independent wealth to purchase a building not far from the tourist Mecca of the Marina District and Pier 39. In reel life, Johnny (no apparent last name) makes good money working some nondescript job in a bank and lives in a nondescript condominium.

Wiseau’s script (the incongruity of which could probably formulate its own MFA thesis) often conflates the real and reel. For example, in another selection from the inane dialogue bullpen, Mark tells Johnny about a girl he knew who had been abused to the point of winding up “in a hospital on Guerrero Street.” Wiseau, for reasons only known to him, either used this line as a cute way to work Guerrero Street into the script, or he just could not think of any other street than the ones he had previously lived on. In the real San Francisco, there has never been a hospital anywhere on Guerrero Street, but because of Wiseau, there is one in reel San Francisco.

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HA HA HA, What a connection, Tyler!

As with this apocryphal hospital and the superfluous conversation about Bay to Breakers, Wiseau takes special care to “place” his film in San Francisco, going out of the way with incorporating verbal/contextual representations of the city as much as he does with tired visual representations. Where the common mantra implores artists to “show, not tell,” Wiseau has managed, with his city, to show AND tell in a manner that is as overbearing as much as lacking in self-awareness. Granted, his motivation to do so renders these indiscretions marginally understandable.

The “Roof” and a Distorted Skyline

As the story (specifically, Sestero’s believable version) goes, the duo met in an acting class in the late 1990’s. Wiseau decided that he wanted to break into Hollywood, so he wrote The Room and decided to shoot it himself when he (for some reason) couldn’t find a major studio to produce it. They did all the principal filming in Los Angeles between a sound stage that played their condo, one that played a basketball court, and a couple of exterior shots in an alley near the lot where their camp set up. A number of the movie’s most popular scenes (e.g. the “WHAT KIND OF MONEY?” scene involving Denny’s near-deadly run-in with completely incongruous Armenian-American gangster Chris-R; the aforementioned Guerrero Street conversation; a stoned Mark nearly throwing Peter to his death when confronted about his affair with Lisa) took place on the condo’s roof.

This “roof” was actually played by a ground-level scene set built in front of a poorly-lit outdoor green-screen that, as Sestero explained, rendered these scenes with an otherworldly, unsettling glow. The San Francisco skyline digitally placed behind the actors, manipulated liberally, may constitute one of the film’s greatest “crimes against geography.” Though these rooftop scenes purported to “place” the film among the San Francisco skyline, they only confuse the viewer trying to obtain some sense of the condo’s location (real or reel). If this were a real location, either the building would have had to rotate or the buildings would have had to flip locations around them. Perceiving the reel location, however, accounts for the appropriate suspension of disbelief.

“That’s Meeee”: Forays into the Real San Francisco

Once the principal filming in Los Angeles had wrapped, a skeleton crew including Wiseau and Sestero (who also line-produced the movie, because why not) went up to the Bay to shoot these scenes that would reinforce the viewers’ imagined geography of The Room. These included all of the establishing shots from the beginning of the film as well as those used for scene transitions, many of which were filmed at varying levels of legality. Three of these scenes included dialogue between Johnny and Mark, two of which are both deeply carved into the “best worst movie” canon.

One of these three only features cursory, dubbed dialogue of the two running together around Golden Gate park, ultimately tossing a football and tackling one another homo-erotically. The two others include one confusing scene (“anyway, how’s your sex life?”) filmed in a cafe and another filmed in a Flower shop. Before I discuss the Flower Shop scene, please take a 6-minute break to listen to this amazing excerpt of Greg Sestero reading his account of how the scene came to be, and then watch it here:

I’ve gone on record saying that one could probably write a whole peer-reviewed academic paper about everything that’s wrong with this scene (my favorite assessment being Roadtrippers’ dubbing it a “black hole of human interaction” on their page of The Room locations). That being said, the Flower Shop scene provides one of few moments throughout the movie where the reel and real converge.

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While the scene exists primarily to reinforce Wiseau’s narrative that Johnny is a perfect person (he is the florist’s favorite customer, after all), the location coheres both inside the shop and outside at the establishing shot on the corner of 16th and Dehon Street. While the Flower Shop scene may be one of the most terribly crafted scenes in one of the most terribly crafted narrative movies, it is the most geographically honest moment in The Room. The exterior shot was real, the interior of the shop was the real interior, the owners were the real proprietors, and that old pug on the counter (“Hi, doggie!”) was an authentic fixture of the shop as well. Only the skeleton crew’s makeup artist (seen looking at cards near the register) and Wiseau are pure fabrications of the reel.

Concluding Thoughts

Despite the film’s shocking $6 Million budget, The Room‘s stripped-down construction of place is a great tool for teaching these fundamental aspects of cinematic geography. Whereas other movies like Homeward Bound: Lost in San Francisco (much of which was filmed in Vancouver, a city known for playing everywhere but itself in Hollywood films) provide a cursory glance at the discrepancy between the reel and the real, Wiseau’s inept production hits you over the head with this contrast. The establishing iconic landscape shots, while themselves intended as a manifestation of Wiseau’s love of San Francisco, are so overdone, cult screening audiences often take to call-and-response screaming of “WHERE ARE WE? / SAN FRANCISCO!” and “GO! GO! GO!” as the camera slowly and clumsily pans across the Golden Gate Bridge.

None of this, of course, fazes Wiseau.  As Sestero wrote in his book’s introduction:

The magic of The Room derives from one thing: no one interprets the world the way Tommy Wiseau does. He is the key to The Room’s mystery as well as the engine of its success. Tommy had always predicted his film would become a classic, embraced worldwide – a notion that could not have seemed less likely. Yet he was right. The Room became every bit the blockbuster that Tommy had envisioned, though not, of course, in the way he envisioned… Tommy continues to believe that his is the greatest film of all time” (2013, xv).

Similarly, this relationship between this great terrible movie and San Francisco only reinforces my enjoyment of The Room. Throughout my last two years living in Washington, DC, my friends and I would attend monthly midnight screenings at E Street Cinema, often dragging unsuspecting friends into the fold. The first time I went to see it, I invited a friend who had just been through a rough time in her life. Within months, she was organizing outings to the screening, even celebrating her following birthday at a screening. In July 2010, Wiseau and Sestero visited a screening there. Two of my friends, both wondering what the hell was going on, wound up sitting next to each other. They exchanged numbers, and six years later, are newly married. It does take a certain kind of appreciation of the surreal and the absurd to enjoy this movie, and the people I grew to enjoy it alongside became some of my best friends from my life in DC. Now, as I begin a career teaching cultural geography, I’ve found surprisingly relevant ways through which this great horrible movie has informed my research. Though Stefan Popescu (2013) may be correct that “the best worst movie” craze may not be sustainable, but as a singularly charming flagship of that movement to the media scholar, The Room is Tommy Wiseau’s demented gift that keeps on giving.

 

Cheaper Cities Need the AAG Needs Cheaper Cities

For my non-AAG-attending readers here (and for any AAG folks who may have missed it), my colleague in the Cultural Geography Specialty Group, Emily Fekete, circulated a petition on Change.org in which her colleague Andy Shears articulated a tension that has existed among AAG members for some time. In simple terms, the conference has become way too expensive for many of its members. Here is the original petition.

I would like to continue this conversation, and make a few suggestions with my own reasoning for future conferences after Boston (2017). Regarding 2018, I initially heard Washington, DC (which made sense given AAG’s headquarters and the organizations propensity to “max out” its attendance when/where possible), but I’ve since discovered it’s going to be in New Orleans (a move in the right direction, which I’ll address later). That being said, here is my personal perspective on the issue. Feel free to use this as a case study in your own spiels about this subject.

San Francisco inspired such outbursts because it encapsulated everything that has been problematic with the AAG’s location and scheduling choices for the annual meeting for some time. While I understand that a large-scale conference during the heavy spring tourist season must require some maneuvering, putting thousands of graduate students in an exorbitantly expensive city for 4-5 days prior to when many graduate students get paid their monthly stipends is stressful. The AAG Annual Meeting is, for lack of a better term, a geographic mega-event that brings anywhere from 6,000 – 10,000 professionals, students, and their loved ones together for a week of networking and over-committing themselves. While tenured professors and professional veterans in fields like GIS and Urban Planning attend the meeting religiously, it seems like the AAG is overlooking its indispensability to graduate students like me. Getting to present your research to people from all over the world in your area of interest (as well as branching out and attending sessions outside your specific field) is paramount to beginning a career in Geography.

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A bridge to the Davis Islands in Tampa, the morning after the 2014 conference ended.

From what I understand, the AAG considered the 2014 conference in Tampa a failure because only approximately 6,000 people attended…a measly 6,000 that allowed our sessions to end at reasonable times each evening in a fun and (relatively) accessible city that kept hotel prices affordable. As much as I love Chicago and San Francisco, Tampa was my favorite AAG meeting so far. Tampa’s relatively small (albeit growing) size made it easier to focus on the conference and partition my leisure activities. The Tampa convention center’s location (unlike that of Chicago or San Francisco) kept the AAG folks safe from the crush of morning commuters yet still adjacent to the nightlife (aided, I’ll admit, by the Tampa Bay Lightning home games scheduled that week at the St. Pete Times Forum). I understand that a lot of international geographers chose Tampa as “that one year” to skip, but a lot of geographers need to take occasional years off regardless. I knew a handful who chose to skip going to San Francisco this year, even. It wasn’t because of a misconception that people need a city with “caché” to entice them to bring their families on holiday and generate revenue. Tampa may not be the “sexiest” international city to geographers outside the US (though my TB friends would probably take exception to that), but here’s a crazy notion: we are geographers. Many of us wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t enjoy digging up the gems that every city (yes, every city) has to offer. I could name at least 15 geographers off the top of my head who teach and work in tiny towns whose nightlife consists of the equivalent of less than one block of Ybor City.  Even coming out of Knoxville (which does have decent nightlife), I had a great time taking advantage of what Tampa had to offer, and so did many of my friends/colleagues. We also got to play Simpsons pinball and see The Dead Milkmen play, which were both awesome, but that’s neither here nor there.

As I eagerly await my reimbursement from my school for my registration fee ($155, fair for the professional Geography conference but still a hole in the wallet when you’re a grad student in 2016) and my hotel share (worth it for the proximity but still exorbitant even split among three other roommates), I’d like to put forth a few city suggestions for future AAG meetings and my reasoning for each. Shears’ petition already mentions a good handful, some of which I would enthusiastically support and others, while I’m skeptical about, I would still gladly attend:

Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Tampa and Winnipeg.

Such a great list! I’ve yet to go to an embarrassingly high percentage of those places. Taking numerous factors (city profile and sustainability, etc.) into consideration, here are a couple that I’d like to add.

1. DETROIT

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Fewer phrases bring more excitement and hope to my brain than “AAG Detroit.” This is not just because I’ve (1) never been there and (2) I may be crazy, but fewer cities in North America scream “convention” more than the Motor City. While it has been the butt of urban blight jokes for decades, it has everything: pop music history for the cultural geographers, the epicenter of the urban gardening movement, the historic epicenter of the American automotive industry for the economic and vroom-vroom (aka pure enthusiast) types, and it’s right across the line from Windsor, Ontario for the passport-holding types (which should be everybody). AAG was last held in Detroit in 1985, and 2,377 people attended, 43.7% of membership at the time. That percentage may seem paltry by today’s standards, but keep in mind that DC drew 2,707 people (47.4% of that year’s membership) the year prior, and in 1989 Baltimore would draw 3,115 (49.2%). Both DC and Baltimore were well into the “crack era” by the mid-to-late-1980’s, putting Detroit’s well-documented decline at the time into perspective. Whether the cities are “safe” in the public imaginary should be of little concern, particularly for those staying at the conference hotels. Considering how our conference this year was held in San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin (where I spent all week with prostitutes and hustlers following me, both a part of city life but probably not what those attendees with their families in tow had in mind), perceptions of safety are highly overrated. Even downtown Los Angeles in 2013 (notably, a dip of over 1,300 registrants from New York in 2012) was beset with icons of urban blight that (given testimonies from Mike Davis and Edward Soja) were inevitable. Not to dwell on the negative aspects of any major urban area, Detroit would be amazing.
Suggested (only sort of joking) Guest Speaker: Andrew W.K.


 

2. COLUMBUS

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My love of this city has been pretty well-documented (if not so much on this site…I honestly can’t remember). AAG has held their meeting here three times, the last of which was in 1965. 1,250 people  (1/3 of AAG’s Membership at the time) attended fifty years ago and saw a sleepy Columbus that would, about four decades later, blow up into what can barely be contained as the Midwest’s best secret. While The Ohio State University dominates the city’s core, the downtown area, the State capital, and other industries have expanded the city’s population and role in America’s core. It would be great for the AAG to set up in the city’s convention center and capture this zeitgeist. Not only would attendees be across the bridge (that brilliantly conceals a freeway, for the urban design types) from the Short North dining/going-out district, but they’re also walking distance from North Market, the Ohio Theater, and the Arena District (in case the Blue Jackets have a home-game-heavy week like the Bolts did in ’14). Columbus has crept into the top 15 largest U.S. cities (almost tied with San Francisco proper, believe it or not), so there is little question whether Columbus could handle a convention of AAG’s size. Also, we can eat all of Mikey’s Late-Night Pizza, Dirty Frank’s delicious (veggie and non) hot dogs, and Jeni’s insanely good ice cream.
Suggested (semi-joking) guest speaker: Urban Meyer.


 

3. NEW ORLEANS

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New Orleans is a fantasti…. oh, yeah, nevermind! Rather than spell out all the reasons why bringing the meeting to NOLA in 2018 is terrific idea (AAG are way ahead of me), I’ll just reiterate here what I’ve said to countless people over the past 18 years since I first visited: it’s the coolest city in North America.
Suggested Guest Speaker (not at all joking): Marc Morial

AAG 2016 in San Francisco this Week

The AAG meeting really snuck up on me this year. I don’t remember if I said the same thing last year (probably not), but it’s hard to believe it’s here already. I still have a couple of changes to make on my presentation before I meet up with Joseph Palis and everybody on my panel on Wednesday afternoon.

Anyway, here’s where you’ll be able to find me this week:

Tuesday (tonight!)

Geo Slam II
(Geographic storytelling and performance jam sessions of sorts)
Time: Tuesday, March 29, 2015, 4:40 PM – 6:20 PM
Place: 4:40 PM – 6:20 PM in Imperial B, Hilton Hotel, Ballroom Level

I’ve already written a good deal about Geo Slam here, and can’t wait to see how year 2 goes/grows. Make sure to add us on Facebook here.


 

Wednesday (tomorrow night!)

Paper Session:
2628 Geographies of Media IX: Musicscapes and Spaces of Music (1)
5:20 PM – 7:00 PM in Union Square 1, Hilton Hotel, 4th Floor

Here is the session breakdown, according to the AAG schedule. Some great scholars here! Thanks to the Communication Geography Specialty Group for putting their name on it, as well as Aether. My paper is at 6 but make sure to come at 5:20 for Caitlin Grann; we presented together at AAG 2013 and it’ll be great to catch up with her.

Organizer(s):
Joseph Palis – University of the Philippines-Diliman
Laura Sharp – University of Arizona

Chair(s):
Joseph Palis – University of the Philippines-Diliman

Abstract(s):

5:20 PM   Author(s): *Caitlin Grann – University of New Mexico

 Abstract Title: Ghost Bikes: A Trialectical Journey into the Place of Music within Grassroots Memorials

5:40 PM   Author(s): *John Byron Strait, Professor of Geography – Sam Houston State University

Abstract Title: The Impact of Aloha on the Birthplace of the Blues: The Hawaiian Roots of the Slide Guitar

6:00 PM   Author(s): *Tyler Sonnichsen – University of Tennessee

  Abstract Title: Finding the Washington, DC Landscape in French Punk

6:20 PM   Author(s): *Douglas L. Allen – Florida State University

 Abstract Title: “We are a New Race”: Booker T. Washington’s Use of Music in the Placing of a New Negro Image

6:40 PM   Discussant: Ola Johansson – University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

 

Session Description: These sessions examine the geographical implications – social, political, cultural, and economic – that are often contained within the spaces and places of different forms of media. Geographies of media extend beyond their original form and text to include the broader industrial and political complex in which culture is an economic commodity set within the broader frame of a global and postmodern era.  Geographies of media link between these realms and our daily lived experiences, from our cities to streets, from the living rooms to imaginations. These contexts invite inquiries into the production, distribution, exhibition, and consumption of all types of media. Geographies of media sessions are brought to you by Aether: The Journal of Media Geography (www.aetherjournal.org).


Otherwise, follow me on twitter at @sonicgeography and I’ll try my best to keep it updated with any big changes. But per usual, it’s impossible to predict what I’ll get pulled into here. It’s been a while, San Francisco, and you look wonderful.

Open Invite to AAG GeoSlam! 2016 in San Francisco

In Chicago last year, I had the opportunity to present (‘perform’ may be a more operative term) at the inaugural AAG GeoSlam! event. GeoSlam is the brilliant brainchild of Pam Sertzen and Jessie Speer, colleagues working on their PhDs at Syracuse University (by the way, Go Cuse! I’d try to keep my alma mater allegiance suppressed at times, but this is my website. Moving on…) Pam and Jessie wanted to give geographers, many of whom have artistic pursuits either concurrent or outside of their academic pursuits, an opportunity to let those flags fly for a session at the annual AAG Meeting.

Despite the mid-day time slot, non-ideal fluorescent lighting, and lack of audio in the room last year, the inaugural event was a complete blast. I read my comical/wistful essay about Radon and Gainesville, my buddy Chris Petrucelli read some of his poetry, and several others shared short stories about the passions that guided their research. I eagerly offered my help in organizing the 2016 event in San Francisco, and as we prepare to bring GeoSlam II: The Slammening (okay, that title isn’t real, but again… my site) to AAG, here is this year’s call for participants. It’s like the sign-up sheet at an open mic, except it’s actually going to be something you’d want to share with your friends and loved ones. Make sure to Add the brand-new GeoSlam page on Facebook, too, and if you’re at AAG, come and check out the event!

Tune in tomorrow for an overdue retrospective on the SEMSEC Meeting I recently attended in Trinidad, as well as later this week for a preview of my appearances at the AAG meeting (outside of the free food-and-drink parties).

Cheers, Ty


 

Dear colleagues,

We would like to invite you to attend the second annual Geo Slam at this year’s AAG conference. In homage to San Francisco’s tradition of beat poetry, and in an effort to bridge the gap between creative and academic endeavors, the Geo Slam is a non-competitive opportunity for geographers to showcase their sensory, poetic, character-driven, and metaphoric writing. Anyone can participate and will be given 5-8 minutes to share their literary pieces.

This year, the slam is the final part of a four-part session. The first three sessions on geography and literature explore the methodological and theoretical implications of reading literary sources in geography. As a follow up to this discussion, the slam will be an opportunity for geographers to share their own literary work. The theme of this year’s slam is literature as method. Through these pieces, we want to explore the ways in which creative writing inspires new geographic ways of knowing, understanding, and interpreting the world.

Sign up to participate here: http://goo.gl/forms/upjY4ySD9d

Time:         Tuesday, March 29, 2015, 4:40 PM – 6:20 PM
Place:         Hilton Hotel, Imperial B, Ballroom Level

Co-sponsored by: Development Geographies Specialty Group, Cultural Geography Specialty Group, Graduate Student Affinity Group, and the AAG Subconference

In solidarity,
GeoSlam 2016 Organizers

#aagGeoSlam #GeoSlam2016

Conferences this Spring: GeoSym2016 (2/5-6), SEMSEC (3/4-6), and AAG (3/27-4/2)

An update to let you all know where and when you can find me and my research this Spring Semester.

GeoSym_flyer11x17.jpgGEOSYM 2016
The University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN
February 5 – 6, 2016

This is not only a chance to see me present some of my research on France, but also visit my first conference as an event coordinator. My good friend and colleague Savannah Collins and I are currently in the home stretch of pulling the final schedule together for the papers, panels, and workshops. It’s been a challenging and already rewarding process, and we’re excited to welcome over 50 scholars, including our keynote Dr. Dydia DeLyser, to the symposium. I had wanted Dr. DeLyser to feature at this event ever since I became the chair of the 2016 event over two years ago now. Her talks on the geographic history of neon light restoration at AAG 2013 and 2014 were as entertaining as they were fascinating. For this conference, she will be presenting on the Geographies of Materiality, focusing on the restoration of three Indian Motocycles [sic]. Our schedule and other details are posted at our Facebook event here, and will shortly be added to the official page on our department’s site here.


 

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SEMSEC
Society for Ethnomusicology, Southeast and Caribbean Annual Meeting
Southern Academy of the Performing Arts
San Fernando, Trinidad
March 4-6, 2016

This sounds horrible, I know. Not that I post a whole lot anyway, but I’ll try to minimize the amount of beach photos on social media so you don’t all get jealous and start plotting my demise. No matter where the conference is held, I’m glad to be able to make my return to SEMSEC with my French DC/punk research in between eating my weight in doubles and sneaking in some scuba diving. Also, if anyone knows where to find the good dusty Calypso records, I’m all about that, too.


 

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AAG
Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting
San Francisco, CA
March 27 – April 2, 2016

I’m excited to see a lot of the usual suspects this time around, even some of the less-than-usual suspects, making the trek across the globe to one of the our coolest and most expensive cities. I’ll be presenting my paper at 6pm on Wednesday, April 30th. I’ll also be performing in the Second Annual GeoSlam! Event. More info on all this as it draws closer.

I’ve got some planning and budgeting to do.