Monday, July 31, 2006

The Gang

Today's research trip to the Getty was foiled by poor scheduling (on their part), so instead I must stay home, work on tomorrow's lecture, and post a picture of the cats!

Going counterclockwise, from the left, we have Newton, Pablo, Dante, and Carlos. This picture is just to prove that they all play nicely, in case the SPCA comes knocking.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Georgina on My Mind

I'm not sure when it was that I realized I had done Los Angeles. Or that Los Angeles had done me. Or maybe it in't the city, maybe it's graduate school. Or maybe it's the endless trauma of living eight time zones, one continent, and one ocean away from my partner, for a very long time. In September, we will begin our fifth year of living apart. It has not been easy.

The great Heatwave of '06 hasn't helped matters. Nor has the fact that after two master's degrees, four years of coursework, countless seminar papers, and plenty of qualifying exams, I am finally advanced to candidacy. My acronymic status says it well: Ph.D. (ABD), Doctor of Philosophy (All But Dissertation). That is to say, suddenly I am in the position of supposing to be a full-fledged academic, minus one more (longish) seminar paper. When this year's job market swings into gear, I can technically start participating. Not that I really will, but if for some reason my dream job were to open up, I know that I should apply for it. It's definitely a good feeling, to know this, but it is also a little alien.

So Mary and I spend a lot of time talking about the future, rather than the present. In a year from now, she will be finishing vet school, and I will hopefully be on a fellowship that will relieve me from teaching in order to finish up the dissertation. So we will be living together once again, and will have the rare opportunity to choose where we want to live, at least for the year. We're thinking of setting up house in Philadelphia. I'd like to be near NYC for research purposes, and her family is in DC. We both have friends in Philly, and my sister lives there at the moment. And it is one of the last great cities that is relatively affordable--those student loans aren't going to pay themselves off. We're both city people, and would love a chance to live in some nice little apartment in an old building in a funky neighborhood. We both really want to get a dog--she wants a Rottweiler, I want a lady Bulldog who shall be named Georgina.

I have another year in Los Angeles, to enjoy the sunshine, and the company of my friends that have made these three years so enjoyable. I think I will enjoy this year more knowing it is my most likely my last here. I'll know that I should go out and do all those LA things I have yet to do, and that I should savor that which I have been doing. And I know that I'll definitely look back fondly at my time here.

But I think I've done Los Angeles.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Friday Night Cat Hoarding Blogging

The title of this post is an understatement. I write surrounded by no less than four felines. Carlos and Pablo, the subjects of many a previous rapturous cat blogging, are well known to my loyal readership. Add in to the mix two houseguests for the next week: my roommate's brother's tiny little kitten Dante, and my friend's gigantic pile-o-cat Newton. Which is not to say Newton is fat, he certainly isn't. He's just....huge! He's as big as the other three cats put together, and has the longest tail I have ever seen. He's a little shy, so he spends a lot of time underneath my bed.

Dante, on other hand, is true to his namesake: hell on wheels. He's very sweet, but a little bundle of energy. When eating a sandwich for dinner tonight, he climbed up and bit my hand so that I'd drop it, and then started to gobble it up. I squirted away with the trusty spray bottle, but he was so determined to eat my sandwich that the gush of water up his nose didn't deter him in the least. No, he kept on wolfing down my sandwich, so I kept spraying, until both it and he were soaked. Finally I dragged wet kitten away from wet roast beef. He gave a cute little kitten sneeze--water up the nose will do that--shook his little paw fastidiously, and went off to go attack the other cats or the sofa or something.

In the midst of this, my roommate is leaving for a few days. It's no trouble to take care of them by myself, but one person, living alone in an apartment with four cats? It starts to not look so good.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Welcome to the Jungle

My nifty diagram from Thursday's lecture, captured by my valiant TA's cell phone, tells you everything you need to know about 80's pop metal. You know when a cat is frightened, and it arches its back and bushes up its tail to appear as large as possible? Same idea with, say, Guns N' Roses.

In other musicological news, today's business is trying to finish up a review I am supposed to be writing, my very first academic publication. The item under consideration is a DVD featuring a new recording of a Very Important Piece of Music, with an accompanying documentary. Thus, an expensive trip to the local Tower Classical to buy every version of the piece available, for comparative purposes. Maybe I am a lost cause to nerd-dom, but honestly, I can think of few better ways to spend a Friday afternoon then listening to endless recordings of a great piece of music!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Smells Like Teen Spirit

In preparing for tomorrow's (ed: well, technically today's) lecture on 80's metal and 90's alternative, I realized that in my last lecture, I unwittingly passed an important milestone.

On Tuesday I played my class a snippet of Michael Jackson's "Beat It", just to point out that Jackson's complex fusion of many musical genres included heavy metal, in the form of a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen. Ladies and gentlemen, "Beat It" was the very first pop song I can remember. I don't believe I heard it when it first came out, as Thriller came out when I was only three. But at a very early age, probably about five, I distinctly remember hanging out with my best friend in his kitchen, and he had a cassette tape of "Beat It." We both thought it was pretty cool, and I memorized the words as best as I could. Even then, in my pre-musicological childhood, I could sense that illicit danger early Michael Jackson communicated so effectively and creepily.

As we now move further into music with which I have very deep personal connections from my youth--particularly Nirvana and Metallica--I admit I feel a little trepidation. Am I going to do this music justice? Am I going to be critical enough? Am I going to have any insights, or am I just going to sit up there and be Mr. Fanboy? I'm bringing in my guitar, mostly to demonstrate power chords and two-handed fret-tapping for the 80's metal, but I know I am not going to resist playing some Nirvana. After all, I learned how to play guitar by playing along with Nevermind for hours at a time, and I can still more or less play my way through the entire Nirvana catalogue, from Bleach to In Utero. (Unplugged too, which although clearly sub-par did introduce me to Bowie and Leadbelly.) I hope it works--I've found that some of my most effective lectures have been on music with which I very clearly did not identify, such as early hip-hop.

I considered including in my slide show a picture of me in full grunge regalia, with shoulder-length hair dyed black, but I think that might cause them to lose all respect for me.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I promised myself I wouldn't blog about the heat. Yes, it's been real hot in Los Angeles for the past week or so. Horribly hot. Humid, and swampy, and life- and cow-threateningly hot. Blackouts have been threatened, the power grid is melting. The end times might be near. If cows are dying, what next?

But every single LA-based blog has been complaining about the heat. Even visiting bloggers. So I promised myself I wouldn't blog about the heat, and stick to trenchant comments about teaching, and punk rock.

But you know, it's really, really hot.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dio Mio

Letter from David Tudor to M.C. Richards, November 1954
...John [Cage] does very well in Paris. One talks incessantly about the situation internationelle des arts an intellectual tour of what goes on in the world of art. How can one have conversation without movement of the wind? It's dirtying up the street with words. Sometimes I think I will retch if I hear another word about chance or control or "very interesting" or "very importante parce que" closing in quickly to make a judgment. And John is just as bad as the rest, everything to be rivant but this seems to function like masturbation. So that's really how I feel about it being "clear," and then claiming that this same clarity is "mysterious"--really, don't you say so, let's go somewhere else, where there's no need for clarity or just no-need-period. See you all in the funny papers. One might say "shit" but that's a European word these days. If I go any farther with this it might turn into a polemic--dio mio!...

I love archival research! Even though I am probably violating all sorts of copyright rules by posting this little extract.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Blank Generation

Those who know me know that I am rather passionate on the subject of Patti Smith. If memory serves, one of my first posts on this here blog thing was about seeing her in concert. (Incidentally, that same concert was recorded and released as part of the special reissue of Horses last year.) There are a lot of things that draw me towards Patti: her politics, her sex appeal, her voice, her moral authority, her guitarist. She means a lot to me also as a passion that Mary and I have shared together for many years. And as a historian, I appreciate the crucial role she played in the early stages of the NYC punk scene of the mid-seventies.

One of my favorite things about teaching is that when I am lecturing, everything I say automatically becomes true for all these undergrads. Yes, I wish they were thinking more critically, and yes, I wish that more learning here took place in smaller situations that encouraged discussion and said critical thinking, rather than me standing on a stage in front of sixty people. And I try hard not to teach music history as some sort of coherent, linear, bedtime story. We responsible teachers focus on problems of historiography, the question of "authenticity" in popular music, the ways in which music shapes our social identities.

But sometimes story-telling is necessary, and when it is, I love the fact that I get to be the one telling the story. I love telling everyone that no, neither the Sex Pistols nor the Ramones invented punk rock. It wasn't a group of obnoxious boys playing cynical three-chord rock loud and fast. It was, rather, a hallucinatory poet who invented punk rock, taking her fashion cues from nineteenth-century symbolist poets, her lyrics from the NYC spoken word scene, and the music--assisted by the indomitable Lenny Kaye--from the angry garage rock of the midwest. My students grew up thinking that punk rock is like Green Day, or--god forbid--Blink 182. The slightly more astute might know punk rock from its time in the wilderness, when it existed only in small regional underground scenes around the country. Nothing wrong with that music, but there is nothing better than playing for my students the actual music of CBGB's in 1975: Patti, Television, the Heartbreakers, Blondie, and yes, even the Ramones. I'm not sure they quite get how powerful this stuff is, how subversive it still sounds.

But I hope that just hearing the music expands their ears a little bit, and hopefully their brains a bit too. It's naive, I realize, to think that just hearing this music will change the students in some important way. That is hopelessly romantic, almost anti-intellectual. But even we pomo academics hope for such mystical accomplisments occasionally.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Democracy Exercised

My god, what an unpleasant two days of jury duty. I shouldn't complain too much--here it is Tuesday, and I am all done. Considering some other jurors were assigned to a thirty day civil trial, I should count myself lucky.

But it was definitely a big hassle. I showed up at a downtown LA courthouse at 7:30 am, ready for duty. Sat around for a bit, and it quickly became clear that there weren't many trials going on, which seemed like a good sign. A bunch of jurors were reassigned to a courthouse in Burbank, where there was a more pressing need for warm bodies, and I was thankful not to be one of them! But then, of course, at 11:00 am, when I had visions of being sent home at lunch time, the last twenty of us there were reassigned to a superior court in Inglewood.

What a pain! Luckily I had driven, I can't imagine what bus people did. So I show up in Inglewood at 1:30. Now, the downtown courthouse was nothing fancy, but it was well-appointed, and even though downtown LA is not exactly thriving, it nevertheless has plenty of restaurants and attractions. Inglewood, not so much. The courthouse was a parody of poor modernist urban planning: the classic featureless box looming imperialistically over the landscape, with a "plaza" in front that was not only barren and soul-less, but was elevated a story above street level. The picture to the right is the entrance to the plaza. Nothing like welcoming the public to this pinnacle of democracy!

Anyways, the trial. The first day was spent waiting around doing nothing. Luckily, part of my job is reading books for a living, and I was able to read an entire book I needed to get through for teaching next week--Jeff Chang's excellent history of hip-hop. Finally at 4:30pm, all 75 of us in the prospective juror pool were called into the court room, where the judge introduced herself, the prosecutor, and the defendants, and read the charges. It is hard to figure out exactly what happened simply from the list of charges, but involved robbery, intimidation, guns, and at least one person shot. Juicy stuff. But the real juicy part was that the defendants were representing themselves, which explained why everything had been taking so long.

One thing that amazed me was the initial juror screening. The judge asked if there was anyone who had a bias or prejudice against the defendants--two black men. Now, I wanted to get out of jury duty as much as the next, but at least a dozen jurors were willing to stand up in court and claim that they were racist to get out of the trial!

Actual jury selection didn't get started before quitting time, so we had to come back at 8:30 am the next morning. We were all dutifully there, but once again, the day dragged on with no progress or information. At 9:30 we were told we weren't needed until 11:00 am, and then at 11, we were told to come back at 1:30pm. Finally, we were called into the court room, and selection was about to start. First, though, the judge asked if any of us had discussed the trial with one another. A few people raised their hands. Then she asked if any of us had discussed with one another the issue of the defendants representing themselves. Nearly thirty people raised their hands at that moment. So the judge sighed, asked the rest of us to exit, and began interviewing the troublesome jurors one by one. She must have made it through about ten of them when she called us all back in, and informed us that the juror pool was irrevocably tainted, and she was going to start over with a new group.

Gotta say, I was thrilled! The trial was going to be held in the afternoons, so I actually could have taught and served at the same time. But two days of sitting around waiting and waiting, in a poorly-air-conditioned room, in the middle of a burnt-out section of Inglewood, was about all I could take. So, democracy served, of a sort, and back to normal life!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Civic Duty

Why am I awake at five o'clock in the morning? Because I have to report for jury duty, that's why. At 7:30 am, in downtown Los Angeles.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Farewell, Adele

A few months ago, Mary and I were lucky enough to see the Bloch-Bauer Klimts while they were on temporary display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The linked news story gives the details, but these are the famous Klimt paintings that were recently returned to the Austro-Jewish family who had originally commissioned them, only to see them stolen by first the Nazis and then the Austrian government. The family had ended up in Los Angeles, and so while sale of the paintings were arranged, they were on display for free at LACMA. The centerpiece of the collection, a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, was then purchased by a wealthy collector for a museum in NYC, where my mother and sister just went to go see it in its new home.

Although glad to see them in a museum open for public viewing, it saddens me to see these paintings leave Los Angeles. LACMA and other area museums attempted to put together a bid for them, but LACMA is not a wealthy institution, and it never came together. It is too bad, because having the painting here would have been a tangible link to one of the most important stories of Los Angeles: the emmigration of many important European artists to the area in the 1930s and 1940s: Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Thomas Mann, Rudolf Schindler, Aldous Huxley...many others I can't think of at the moment. The Bloch-Bauers, like so many other Jewish families, ended up in Los Angles having fled Hitler. Ironically, their lawyer in the lawsuit to regain the paintings was a grandson of Schoenberg.

It's not that this period is not famous, or that it isn't given proper importance in histories and whatnot. It's just that, like so much of Los Angeles history, it seems like this rather amazing period went by without leaving any kind of tangible trace on the city. The most obvious trace left behind is a number of modernist structures, like the Schindler house and the Case Study houses. And UCLA and USC each have buildings named after Schoenberg, who grumpily taught intro music theory at both institutions. And there are quite a few well-known novels by these artists, complaining of their time in Los Angeles with themes that can be summarized as, "oy, the constant sunshine!" Down the street from me is an IHOP which some friends and I believe was one of Stravinsky's favorite haunts later in his life--we know that he spent a lot of time at an IHOP, and since this IHOP is near to where his house was, and has been in that location for many decades, it seems like a good possibility. I love thinking of Stravinsky sitting there, eating his waffles or whatever, and dreaming up The Rake's Progress. Update: This IHOP was built after Igor left Los Angeles. I'm going to ignore that fact. So there.

But I wish there was more. In so many cities, you have layers of history that you can feel as you walk the streets, or talk to people. You just don't have that feeling here. I know that this isn't how Los Angeles works, and that as the great postmodern city, I need to appreciate it on postmodern terms. But as I watch buildings go up and down, and people move in and out, I can't help wishing that more people and things would leave something behind.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Kiss Lieberman Goodbye

Today's New York Times has an article about the bruising primary fight around Senator Lieberman. It is a very frustrating piece, typical of the Times. Poor Lieberman, he's trying to be all collegial and nice and non-partisan, and those flame-breathing anti-war Democrats are out to get him. The unspoken politics of the Times is that having political beliefs, either left or right, is wrong. The only correct way to do politics is in the "middle", where there are no ideologies or beliefs involved. Please! Nothing frustrates me more than moderates who claim to have no ideology. Of course they have an ideology. I don't know anyone more ideological than Joseph Lieberman. I find it profoundly insulting that people such as myself who are not afraid to speak their political beliefs out loud get labeled extremist, and those who keep them secret--or "moderate", as they say--are given some sort of moral legitimacy.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the status quo newspaper supports the status quo.

One of the more frustrating things about this article is the claim that this is simply a knee-jerk reaction by anti-war Democrats. The fight against Joseph Lieberman goes back a long way. When I was living in Connecticut, I was often pretty heavily involved in state Democratic Party politics, from driving Susan Bysiewicz to a fundraising cocktail party in her first run for statewide office, to participating in a secretly-organized slander of now-former Congressman Sam Gejdensen's Republican opponent--after that little adventure, I was literally advised that I should stay inside for a few days and not answer the phone, lest the media find me. Not one of my prouder moments.

Anyways, this is just to say that I've known people in the Connecticut Democratic Party for quite awhile. And I can tell you, even way back in 1998, when the Iraq War was still just a twinkle in the Bush family eyes, the grassroots of the state party hated--hated--Joseph Lieberman. And it wasn't a matter of ideology, or even any specific political platform. It was that he was considered a Machiavellian, power hungry jerk who was personally unpleasant to everyone in the party, and had made his career by running against fellow Democrats. Lieberman got his start doing just what Lamont is doing now--by attacking the Democratic Party from the inside. And now finally it's caught up to him.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I Can't Get No

Man, this edumacating thing takes it out of me. I'm quickly settling into a routine with my lectures: first two hours are fine, but as I enter the home stretch of the third hour, I start to give out. My throat begins to ache, my legs feel like they are glued to the floor, and I forgo class discussion and painstaking analysis for stuttering quickie points on, say, how Keith Richard's guitar lick from "Satisfaction" isn't actually a blues riff, but an attempt to imitate the horn section of a Motown number. Write that down, kids.

Still, all and all, I'm pretty pleased. We're getting through the material, people occasionally laugh at my jokes. And I think this experience is really just about learning techniques for endurance: the importance of having water to drink, the importance of standing up straight and wearing comfortable shoes, the importance of good air conditioning.

Tomorrow I take a break from teaching for some honest to goodness dissertation research. The Getty Research Institute, located in a building on the grounds of the Getty Museum, has a wonderful library that holds the papers of several figures important to me: M.C. Richards, Allan Kaprow, Dick Higgins, and especially David Tudor. I've worked some with the Tudor papers already, especially his scores, but now I'm going to dive into his correspondence, and that of Richards. This is no substitute for getting to the Cage papers in Chicago, but it is a good start, and as far as I can tell, I don't think many Cage scholars have looked through the Richards papers. I have an all-day appointment tomorrow, so we'll see what I dig up!

Monday, July 10, 2006

La tragèdie bleue

Oy...what a tragedy today. Turned off by Italy's doping scandals, constant diving for fouls, and general cockiness (and also following my rule for the World Cup that when in doubt, root for the country that didn't send troops to Iraq), I was rooting for les bleus. And things were going great. France was in control, and it seemed like the constant attacks would have to pay off sooner or later.

And then...Zidane goes and ruins it all. Totally crushed me. France played the better game, but after that head-butt, Italy deserved to win. And I'm glad they did.

Pablo, I suspect, was rooting for the Italians from the beginning.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Thursday Cat Blogging

In celebration of another three-hour lecture successfully completed, I present to you a current picture of Pablo, the Cutest Kitten in the World. He's doing his usual impression of a B----- t------ here.

P.S. How do you know you've really advanced to doctoral candidacy? When a $65 "Doctoral Candidate" fee shows up on your student account, that's how.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Theory, Music

Critic, scholar, and composer Kyle Gann has a wonderful post on his blog about teaching and learnin music theory. Much of it it really rings true for me, and not just the quip that Schenkerian analysis belongs in the religion department. It's a long post, but worth the read!

London Photos

I've flickr'd a selection of photos from my last trip to London. You'll find pictures of St. Albans, Windsor Castle, Cambridge, and random assorted Barnet-ness.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Dusty in Memphis

Friday was payday, so, as is my usual custom, I walked down to the Tower Records on the Sunset Strip to pick myself up a treat. Last month was Peggy Lee's Black Coffee, this month's, following in the icy blonde theme, was Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis.

I discovered Dusty for the first time when I was TAing a course on gay and lesbian popular music. I had heard her music before, of course, but just as part of that strange ahistorical soup of music that gets played on oldies stations. Her music is so stylistically diverse, I certainly never thought that "I Only Want to Be With You" and "Son of a Preacher Man" were by the same person. And I certainly never would have that this music was by an English lesbian of Irish descent!

Side note: A friend of mine likes to joke that Dusty's "Wishin' and Hopin'" is her revenge on heterosexuality. Just consider the lyrics:

Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'
Plannin' and dreaming each night of his charms
That won't get you into his arms

So if you're lookin' to find love you can share
All you gotta do is
Hold him and kiss him and love him
And show him that you care

Show him that you care just for him
And do the things he likes to do
Wear your hair just for him, 'cause
You won't get him
Thinkin' and a-prayin'
Wishin' and a-hopin'

Just wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'
Plannin' and dreamin' his kiss is the start
That won't get you into his heart

So if you're thinkin' heartbreak
True love is
All you gotta do is
Hold him and kiss him and squeeze him and love him
Yeah, just do it and after you do, you will be his

This is Dusty's advice to some poor little straight girl? If you like a guy, don't just hope he likes you. Instead, have sex with him--oh, I'm sorry, "hold him and kiss him and squeeze him"--do everything he tells you to, and then maybe he will like you. Nice advice, Dusty.

Anyways, Dusty in Memphis. What a great album. She recorded it in 1969, at a time when her career was sort of in the doldrums. So she made a deal to go record an album with Atlantic Records at their "soul" studio in Memphis, using many of the same studio musicians who had played on Aretha Franklin's breakthrough debut album. Although like Aretha, she recorded her actual vocals back at a fancier studio in New York City. "Son of a Preacher Man" is obviously the stand-out track on this album, but the entire thing really holds together well. Dusty idolized Aretha's singing style, but really, she does things her own way. What I find most attractive is her sense of restraint. Unlike every single wanna-be soul singer on American Idol, she knows that the key to singing soul--especially if it is not the idiom one has grown up with--is not to simply go for vocal pyrotechnics. If you go back and listen to "Son of a Preacher Man" now, you'll hear that it is actually remarkably restrained. She always seems to be holding back something, never quite giving all of herself up to the music. It's a lovely sound, with a hint of menace to it.

So, musicological advice of the week, go buy and listen to this album. Rhino has a great reissue that has a bunch of unreleased tracks from the period.