Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Goodbye, Hello

I don't think anyone is really still reading this. But if you are, I invite you to join me over at my new blog.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mabelicious Mayhem

Okay, the wheels are in motion. My valiant web administrator--my father--is making it so I can host a blog on my own domain name. I still need a title, though, people. I've received many good suggestions, some of which are going to be used for other things, but I still haven't found the perfect name for my own personal blog. So keep them coming.

By way of update, here are some bullet points of what I have been up to since last I posted:
  • My partner and I found a beautiful apartment, on the ground floor of a bright pink Victorian duplex in West Philly. Our stuff is sitting in the living room while the landlord finishes fixing up the bathroom. We move in Saturday.
  • A lovely family reunion was had down in North Carolina, outside of Asheville.
  • We planned our wedding. We've been meaning to get married off and on for like the last seven years, and slightly more seriously the last year or so, but finally found a nice little Episcopal church in DC that is both queer-friendly and would marry an unbaptized heathen like me. So that's on now.
  • A brief but very pleasant trip up to the ancestral encampment in the Adirondacks. I really wish I could blog more about what it is like up there, but, as they say, that wouldn't do. Suffice to say, I socialized with the new president of the New York Stock Exchange (very pleasant man), and then also with one of the main funders behind the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth (deceptively pleasant as well).
  • My partner's grandmother passed away early Monday morning, suddenly but peacefully. She was a lovely woman. People always describe elderly women who have a bare pulse as "feisty," but she really was feisty in the best sense of the word. Her death was not unexpected, but of course that does not make it any less sad.
  • But most happily, Mary and I have a new family member. Her name is Mabel, and those are her ears flapping in the Adirondack breeze at the top. She's about one and a half years old, and the only identifiable breed the DNA testing at the shelter found was Daschund. Mind you, she's sixty pounds, and looks to be mainly a mixture of Doberman and a Black and Tan Coonhound. With the small, but unfortunate, exception of trying to eat my grandmother's dog for lunch once, she is incredibly sweet and affectionate. I would show you her face, but I shall leave it as a teaser--once I have my new blog all set up and going, you'll have to go there to see her adorable front!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Great Blog Naming Competition

When your parents start inquiring if you are alive, that is when it is time to update your blog. Mary and I are safely in Philadelphia. My sister is out of town, so we are staying in her apartment while we search for our own. Everything we own between the two of us is in a sixteen foot Penske truck, parked in the suburban driveway of friends. We have the truck until Friday, on the off chance that we will find a place into which we can move immediately; otherwise, it'll go into storage.

We've been moving for almost exactly a month now, first out of London, and then out of Los Angeles. This makes me cranky, because I am a bit of a slug, and enjoy having time to zone out in front of a television or the internets. Such time has not been forthcoming.

But more importantly, I am very out of touch with both my own blog and the blog world more generally. There has been an interesting dialogue over at Dial M for Musicology about the intersection of blogging and academic careers, sparked by a post by Drew over at amusicology. Bloggers of course worry about this stuff all the time, and I guess now that there is the small spark of a musicology blogging community, it is time for us to go through our ritual career worries.

I certainly have them myself. I started this blog two years ago, when I was spending the summer in England and wanted to let my friends and family know what I was up to. I originally signed my posts with my real name, but then adopted a very mild anonymity. Anyone who reads this and knows me in real life will instantly know it is me, and anyone who doesn't know me could figure out my name in about five seconds of googling. The one barrier I hoped to maintain was the Google barrier: I hoped that when someone googled my real name, this blog would not appear. I think that is mostly still true.

But I've decided it's time to start a new blog, and shut down good ol' Barnet Bound. There are two reasons. One is that I am no longer bound to Barnet. Mary graduated from vet school, and we are now living together in the US. There is no longer anything intercontinental about us.

But more importantly, I am going on the academic job market for the first time this fall. (Which reminds me: if you love the blog, you'll love the junior faculty member!) And not only has this blog been a little too personal for my own taste--it's probably not a great idea to advertise one's anxieties about teaching and dissertating when searching for a job--I also envy the more public forum for writing some others have. In other words, I'd like to attach my own name to my own writing. So, down with Barnet Bound, up with a new blog under my real name.

Which brings me to the Great Blog Naming Competition. I liked the alliteration and obtuseness of Barnet Bound, but that title was arrived at more or less accidentally. Now that I have a chance to choose a new title for my blog...what should it be? Anyone would provides the winning title will be treated to a free drink at the next musicological conference or family reunion, as the case may be.

Friday, August 03, 2007


When last we spoke, I was in London, cheerfully finishing Harry Potter. Since that time, I have moved Mary out of her London apartment, flown back to Los Angeles, gone to Disneyland, packed up my apartment (with the help of a dozen beautiful, beautiful friends), loaded all of my belongings on a truck, attached my little car to a dolly behind said truck, and driven to Flagstaff, Arizona. This is not our final destination; it was simply as far as we could make it yesterday, which wasn't very. Exhaustion does not begin to describe our state of being.

We aim to arrive in Philadelphia by Monday, whereupon we will camp out in my sister's apartment, and try to find one for ourselves. Then a week after that, it is off to a family reunion down in North Carolina.

My dissertation misses me. I miss it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Writing Through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

For for the first time. A mesostic of sounds from the chapter "Battle of Hogwarts," with apologies to John Cage.

too huge
screaming with blood
high, cold, and clear
yells and shouts

thin, piteous human
silence swallowed
surprisingly soft
smattering of applause

Interestingly, Rowland uses very few sounds in her writing. This makes it much more difficult to go through, as Cage did with Finnegan's Wake, and draw out sound-words and phonemes. The above mesostic was drawn from only 26 or so such sound descriptions I found in the chapter. Considering that most of the chapter is describing a battle, and Harry's escape from a gigantic fire-monster-thing, you would think there would be more sounds.

Incidentally, the book? Loved it. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Sopranos ending, but I equally loved Rowland's approach to ending a complicated, character-driven epic.

Friday, July 20, 2007

All Things Bright and British

Mary's graduation went swimmingly on Wednesday. It was not, unfortunately, in the London Guild Hall where it usually is, but rather in a somewhat dreary University of London student center. But there were lots of fun academic robes and maces, and everything was presided over by the Most Honorable 7th Marquess of Salisbury. Who, it later turned out, is a fairly annoying right-wing Tory in the House of Lords, but still, he's a Marquess, and we don't have those in the land of the free.

After the ceremony Mary's mother took us out for sushi, and then for dinner we drove with her father up to Essex for dinner and Morris dancing in a pub. We were met there by a crusty old English veterinarian Mary used to work for, and who was, I suspect, James Herriot incarnate.

And then, if things weren't English enough, there was a black tie graduation ball at Hatfield House. I was sort of expecting Hatfield House to be the local community center, but it turned out to be the home of aforementioned Marquess of Salisbury. And his home is a Tudor/Jacobean mansion, owned most notably by Henry the VIII. Queens Elizabeth and Mary grew up there, and supposedly Elizabeth was sitting underneath an oak tree in the courtyard when she found out that Mary had died, and she was now queen. The dinner and dancing were in the oldest part of the grounds, the original 15th century Great Hall. It felt a little odd to be doing the Macarena underneath the antlers of a deer shot by Henry VIII, but we Americans, we adapt.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Courtesy of Mary's father, I tonight ate the following:

1. Wild Mushroom and Bergamot Soup

2. Roast Saddle of Wiltshire Rabbit with Foie Gras and Summer Truffle Risotto ("Game may contain lead shot.")

3. Chocolate Pudding with Spearmint and Pistachio Ice Cream

This all at Rules, supposedly the oldest private restaurant in London.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Barnet Bound

Very occasionally, the title of this blog makes sense. In a few hours I am off to the airport. Eleven very cramped hours after that, I'll be in Barnet for two weeks. Incidentally, I missed the exact date, but this summer marks the two year anniversary of this humble blog. I began it initially when I was in England for the summer of 2005, so that I didn't have to write the same repetitive little travelogue email to all of my friends and family.

Apologies to the many, many people I owe things to at the moment. They are coming.

Will somebody please come kill my cats so that they will stop playing in my suitcase? Thanks.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Four Pondering Questions

Mary thanks everyone for their kind comments. It has been a whirlwind for her! I leave Tuesday for her graduation.

I have been whirling around myself. I decided that the best way to get all of my tasks done before leaving town would be to go for a preemptive two-day vacation to San Francisco. Friday morning I took a Southwest shuttle up, Saturday I drove down. There were two occasions for this. The sad one is that a friend of mine's mother just died up there, and I was able to meet him for breakfast and a walk in a park. The happy reason was that my little sister, who is an opera singer, was performing in the city. My parents were driving down from Oregon, and since I don't see them or my sister enough, it seemed like a good time to go up. The concert was great, needless to say. And it made me horribly, horribly homesick for the Bay Area. I grew up in the east bay, but am rarely able to visit. Especially now that my parents have moved away, I have few ties, and this makes me sad. I love Los Angeles, and many other places, but there is no other place in which I feel happier than the Bay Area. Especially since I was introduced to the La Farine morning bun, which had somehow eluded my childhood.

Anyways, a friend and I drove down yesterday, which was surprisingly pleasant--Interstate 5 is a miserable drive, but good conversation made it fly by. And although I am exhausted by the traveling, I am nevertheless motivated to answer Tenured Radical's tag for the "Eight Things I wonder about" meme, started over here. I'm not a big meme person, but the whiny formlessness of this one appeals to me in my current state of mind. Except I'm tired, so my version is going to be four things I am pondering.

Four Things I Am Pondering

1. When I was at the beach for the Fourth of July, celebrating our victorious march on terrorism at home and abroad, I noticed an increase in the number of tummy tattoos. Men with big gothic script letters arching across, or women with little chains of thorns or whatever around their bellybutton. My question: are they (a) supremely overconfident in their ability to stay in shape the rest of their lives, or (b) stupid?

2. Will I survive this summer? Seriously. It's not looking good.

3. Los Angeles: there are not many people who love this city. But there are some. I think I am one. But some of those who love this city defend it in terms that suggest that those who do not like Los Angeles are lacking in critical faculty. As in, if you don't like Los Angeles, it is because of romantic attachment to old-fashioned ideals. Los Angeles complicates binaries, the reasoning goes, and forces you to confront prejudices you didn't know you had. For instance, one might argue, Los Angeles is actually not about superficiality. In fact, quite the opposite. In east coast cities, you know you are in a fancy neighborhood if there are brick sidewalks and nice old houses. In Los Angeles, outward appearances will give you no guide to what is inside. This fancy restaurant down the street from me looks like a double-wide trailer home. Isn't that how things should be? Hmmm.

4. Why is it so impossible for me to get work done at home? These days, I only work at coffeeshops. Objectively, this is odd, as at home I have a very comfortable chair, a desk, plentiful food and beverage, and internet. At coffeeshops, I have a rickety table, expensive food, sometimes no internet, and lots of distraction. Will this all change someday, when I am living in a situation that allows my bed and desk to be in different rooms? What about if I have a campus office, will I be able to work there? Would air conditioning help? Is solitude the problem, do I need to have bustle around me? Is it the fueling fire of a professionally-made cappuccino?

Since I am only pondering four things, I am only going to tag four others: Sushi Pajamas, Miscellaneous Mayhem, Violet Vixen, Jewel Dakini? Have at it! Ponder away!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Lock up your horses

Many little girls want to be veterinarians. Some boys too, but many, many little girls. Some of those girls go on to college. A few of them stay on the pre-vet track, even while rowing varsity for crew all four years. Fewer do well enough that they get into veterinary school. Fewer still make it through four years of vet school. Even fewer go to a vet school in Europe that requires an extra year of training, and which despite being eight time zones away from her boyfriend is one of the best places in the world to study furry things.

But last week my partner took her very final exams, having already passed the American boards. A week's worth of testing, plus scores averaged in from previous practical exams, a research paper, rotation evaluations, and so on.

And this morning, she found out she passed! I can now present to you, at the tender age of 26, Dr. Mary, DVM MRCVS.

You can't tell, but this is the picture of the official parking spot for the veterinarian at the Royal Mews.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Swimming Safely

Like lots of Los Angeles apartment buildings, mine has a pool. Unlike many pools in LA, ours is not doing so well. It always looks a little cloudy, but this summer the residents of my building have been cheerfully gamboling about in it. This is unusual; back when my building was largely senior citizens, nobody ever went in. But in the last year, more and more young people have moved in, and for a few weeks this summer the pool was becoming quite a party spot. Many of the new residents are twenty-something power lesbians, and they all seem to like the pool. They'd frolic around drinking cheap beer all night long.

But then, like the careers of elected officials in my fair city, things went downhill. The water started to get cloudier and cloudier. It started to turn a peculiar green. There seemed to be an interesting amount of hair floating about, and then a few cigarette butts. As if to confirm the obvious, an official-looking sign suddenly went up: "Pool Closed by Order of the Department of Health and Safety." And now it is supposed to hit triple-digit temperatures, and we have no pool.

In other news, I want to recommend two great blog posts:
  • Tenured Radical, with whom my partner used to row but from whom I stupidly never took any classes, has a great post about the Sherley tenure case at MIT. That post, and a related one from February, make beautiful arguments about the reality of evaulative processes in academia for people of color, women, and queers. Especially people of color. She says all the things I wish I could think to say when people grouse about how hard it is for white people to get academic jobs. And I say that as a white guy who is scared stiff about getting a job next year.

  • The indomitable Susie Bright is always wonderful. She had a great post awhile back about the annoying tag "NSFW", or, "Not Safe for Work." Today she has a neat post about safety in general. The notion of "safety" is so fascinating. It was something that came up for me in college a lot; if this blog weren't mildly anonymous, I would link to an editorial I once wrote that made very similar points.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Rodents I Have Loved

Three words for you:

Ratatouille is awesome.

Admittedly, I love rodents. I had two rats as a kid. I can't remember the first one's name, as I was in second grade or so. As I recall, he was a classroom pet who needed a home for Christmas, and ended up living with me permanently. My second rat, much loved, was named Bubba. I think he might have also been an adopted classroom rat. Bubba was wonderful, and lived a very long happy life. When he developed a tumor, we took to the vet to be put to sleep, and I bawled my little eyes out even though I was really too old for that sort of thing. I put him in a box to take to the vet, and gave him a slice of chocolate cake since I figured it didn't matter anymore. The vet very kindly took him to a back room to the deed, and wow, was I ever sad.

We also had many mice in our house--mine was named Perot, on account of his large ears. Unfortunately, one morning I awoke to find that one of his ears was missing. Not sure where it went. The vet presumed that he just scratched or gnawed it off or something. Not much to be done except daub neosporin on the stump daily, he said, which I did faithfully. He also lived a long and happy life, despite being occasionally tormented by the cat, who would sit on top of his cage staring down at the poor little guy, and would occasionally manage to fish him out and bat him around. Never did serious harm, so we figured it was all in good fun. Keeps the reflexes sharp.

We also had a rabbit, but he was rather mean. He was a hand-me-down from a neighbor who moved away, who had themselves inherited him from another neighbor. We tried hard to love Friskie, but he repaid our love with rabbit squeals and biting. I tell you though, he lived a very long time for a rabbit. He even made it through an evacuation--when the Oakland Hills Fire came close to us in 1991, we had to bundle all the pets in the car to flee. (Except the goldfish. My mother convinced me they would be fine in their water.) The dog roamed free in the minivan, the cat had his carrier, and the mouse was oblivious to the world in his little box, but the poor rabbit had to be stuffed into whatever we had available, which ended up being Bubba's old rat cage. He fit, but he was not a happy rabbit.

Incidentally, is Mitt Romney not supremely creepy? Who straps their dog on top of a car?

Anyways, the movie Ratatouille is wonderful. I can vouch that the animators really did a wonderful job in capturing the rodent spirit. They got their cute little hands just right, and the sound guys did an excellent job of recreating the sound of scampering rat. It made me want to have another pet rat.

Not to mention the food. Man. I've never been so hungry from watching an animated movie about rats.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

LAs I will miss

It's still hot, and I know it will be like this all summer long. Going outside becomes an ordeal, just like winter in a snow climate--you've got to slather on sunblock an all exposed surfaces. You've got to put your contacts in so you can wear sunglasses. You've got to make sure you're taking your own car, which has air conditioning, and not the friend's car that has vinyl seats and no AC. Movie theaters are good. The beach is good. Apartments are bad.

But I'm not going to complain about the heat anymore. Today is July 1, so I have exactly one more month in Los Angeles. After reading the horror stories about UHaul, I have reserved a Penske truck for August 1 to schlep my stuff to an as-of-yet-undetermined location on the other side of the country. And I'm going to miss this godforsaken city! So, I want to blog about things I will miss about LA. Consider this a first installment.

Largo is a small club in my neighborhood. It's mostly sit-down tables, with a small bar area, and a small stage with an excellent sound system. The owner is this annoying Irish guy who just had a baby. The bartender is a lovely woman who is a photographer in her real life. Generations of musicologists have trekked to Largo to hear music. I have spent hours and hours sitting at the bar with friends, sipping my Harp and enjoying the strict no-cellphone-policy quiet. The deal with Largo is that you can reserve a table for dinner, but it sells out way in advance usually. But if you get there early, you can wait in line outside, and the first dozen people or so get seats at the bar. So if it is a popular performer, like Jon Brion's regular Friday night residency, you get there at like 7 pm, and hunker down on the sidewalk for several hours, then spend another hour or so drinking at the bar while people eat there dinner. Finally, Jon or whoever will come on at like 10 pm, and play until midnight.

The hours of waiting get old after awhile, and the quality of the music can be uneven. It's actually been almost a year and a half since I've last been. But last Thursday I went with friends to see the alternative bluegrass group Nickelcreek. They are a pair of siblings, the Watkins family, about my age I guess, who are always playing at Largo. I gather they are actually kind of big now, but I always think of them as the slightly dorky but adorable kids who get dragged up on stage by Jon Brion all the time.

But anyways, this show was just lovely, and reminds me how much I love Largo sometimes. Beautiful tunes, impeccably played. People wandered on stage constantly to play a song or two. One of those people was Fiona Apple, who seems to live permanently at Largo--Mary has run into her in the women's restroom more than once. She looked, as she always does, both beautiful and traumatized, and sang through a handful of lovely bluegrass and original tunes with the group. Then it was the opening act's birthday, so cupcakes were passed around and everyone sang.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I apologize

But it's too damn hot to blog.

Here is how my life may be summarized:

1. Mary finished her final exams for vet school. She finds out next week if she passed or not.
2. I have a lot to get done before I leave for her graduation. And not enough time to do it in. Perhaps seeing lots of movies and drinking too much will help me accomplish my goals.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saturday Night with a Robot

Against the responsible advice of my mother, girlfriend, and several in the blogosphere, I bought Delicious Library and have been having a cheerful time scanning in my books. It goes very quickly, I promise I couldn't have written a dissertation chapter in the time it will take to do them all! In the last forty minutes I just scanned three shelves, or 129 books. I estimate I have about 1100 more to go. It's kind of fun to go through all of my books one by one, remembering all the courses I bought textbooks for and the fun used bookstores in which I found gems.

The best part is that when the software recognizes your book, a robotic women's voice reads the title. That's fine when it's something like "Leo Tolstoy, war-and-peace," but my queer theory books almost killed her: "Judith Butler, excitable-Speech-a-politics-of-the-performative...Judith Butler, gender-trouble-feminism-and-the-subersion-of-identity...Judith Butler, bodies-that-matter-on-the-discursive-limits-of-sex."

Then, however, I got to my philosophy shelf. Plato, fine, Derrida, fine, Berkeley, fine. But Descartes?

"Rene Descartes, Meditations-on-First-Philosophy-In-Which-the-Existence-of-God-and-the-Distinction-of-the-Soul-from-the-Body-Are-Demonstrated."

It's a wild Saturday night here in Los Angeles.

Public Lives

I am very fond of my undergraduate institution, Wesleyan University. It's a great school, with an amazing intellectual culture that produces more than its fair share of interesting academics, activists, and artists. The incoming president, Michael Roth, is a fairly young alumnus who is an academic himself, the former president of an art school, and seems like a cool guy. (Unlike the previous president, who was an anti-intellectual jerk who made no secret of his general dislike for the student body.) I'm excited about the school's future, and will be a happy (small) donor some day when I have more money.

However, I just noticed something. We got this press release that Robert and Elena Allbritton, young but apparently wealthy alumni, gave $5 million to the school to create a "Center for the Study of Public Life."
The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life is a response to significant changes across the social sciences, which include the creation of new interdisciplinary ventures, the use of multiple methodologies in research, and the rethinking of the idea of the public in a variety of intellectual and social movements. The Allbritton Center will build on evolving relationships between scholarly research and both the political process and the greater public. It will host courses taught by people who have had distinguished careers in public service, including law, business, government, the non-profit sector, and media. It also will house a Quantitative Analysis Center to educate students in the analysis and interpretation of large bodies of data

Sounded laudable enough to me. The press release goes on to point out that Robert Allbritton founded Politico, a political web site with a Republican slant I find generally annoying, but whatever, it's all good. We left wing types are open-minded about who we associate with.

But do you know what else Robert Allbritton has done in his short career? Well, he was President and CEO of Riggs Bank, a local financial institution in Washington, DC, owned by the Allbritton family. And why does the Allbritton name sound vaguely familiar? Well, in March he resigned as president in disgrace. Why? Let's ask the Washington Post!
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which has closely monitored Riggs since early last year and must approve any senior executive appointments, was informed of Allbritton's replacements, the company said. Riggs was fined a record $25 million by the OCC last spring for failing to comply with anti-money-laundering laws, and in January the bank pleaded guilty and paid a $16 million fine for failing to prevent possible money laundering by former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and officials of the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea.

That's right. It's turn out that the Allbritton family is widely believed to have personally assisted Certified Evil Dictator Augusto Pinochet in hiding his assets from the various courts that are trying to seize them. Want more? Read another Post article. Robert's father Joe seems to have been the major culprit--although some random low-level employees took the legal fall--but it's hard to believe my illustrious brother in Wesleyan alumdom was not part of some very bad things.

And this guy wants to start a "Center for the Study of Public Life"? Well, I suppose it is true that Pinochet did pioneer a certain "rethinking of the idea of the public in a variety of intellectual and social movements," in that, you know, he had most of his public secretly executed.

I guess whatever, Wesleyan can use the Allbritton money. But I respectfully suggest that it might make a fitting tribute to the institutions of democracy if it were renamed the Salvador Allende Memorial Center for the Study of Public Life. After all, 2008 marks the centennial of Allende's birth, and if Robert Allbritton is really looking for a way to assuage some guilt with his gift, he might as well go all the way.

Friday, June 22, 2007

How To Be a Grad Student

Summer "vacation" is seemingly awfully busy. Yuck. But I wanted to leave everyone with a quick link to a compendium of blog posts about graduate student life put together by Horace over at To Delight and Instruct. Check it out!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Okay, fine.

I might be an Obama supporter, I might dislike the Clinton family individually and as a unit, but...I have to admit, the new Hillary campaign video is brilliant.

That said, her official campaign song is a sappy French-Canadian ballad? Clearly somebody did not, as all campaigns should, hire an in-house musicologist.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How To Do Things With Teaching

My favorite teacher as an undergraduate was a professor who had been denied tenure at the beginning of his career. There were a lot of reasons for it--institutional homophobia for one--but he was also very upfront with that he hadn't published very much early on. He hadn't, he once told me, because it took him almost ten years of teaching before he learned "how to teach." It worked out fine for him; he had been denied tenure in the history department, and unusually, the more liberal English department offered him a position. Twenty-five years later, he's a world-famous scholar and one of the most popular teachers at the university.

I've always been struck by his comment though, especially as I've become an academic myself and experienced what he was talking about. I finished grading the final papers for the class I have been a teaching assistant for. There's some paperwork left to, but basically, this was hopefully my last day ever as a TA. I'm not going to miss it. Once you've had the taste of leading your own class, with your own syllabus, your own standards, your own personality, it's hard to go back to the status of minion. I have enjoyed TAing this year more than most; I've had the same thirty students, all majors finishing up the history sequence, all year now, and it has been wonderful to actually get to know some undergraduates in the bureaucratic morass that is my university. I get to lead my own discussion section once a week, and do occasional guest lectures, and that has been very fulfilling.

But best of all, I do feel like this year I finally figured out how to teach. I've always felt like a bit of a fraud as a teacher. Not in terms of subject matter, but in terms of pedagogical authority in the classroom. I have often felt that I rely too much upon my own subject position: essentially, I am a tall white guy, and therefore my students automatically listen to me more than they do to others. I've seen the proof of this year after year. My very first experience teaching in a college-level situation was when I was a TA as an undergraduate, for a bunch of frosh taking a Mozart course. My co-TA and I lead Friday listening sessions; she was a short white woman, and I was, well, me. 6'2" and WASPy as all hell. And I most definitely do not have an aggressive personality, or even a very loud voice, and as a junior in college I sure didn't know what I was talking about. Nevertheless, the students were visibly more respectful of me than my counterpart.

So as I was saying, I feel like my first couple years teaching as a graduate student, I kind of coasted on my subject position. I didn't have to worry about what I wore, I didn't have to be concerned that I would be viewed as "bitchy" if I asserted myself. I could talk about race without the white kids tuning out. I did have to work on learning how to project my voice better. (Aside: at one of the first academic papers I ever gave, a very famous scholar who chaired my panel took me aside and told me, nicely, that I would never make it in academia if I didn't learn to speak louder. That was some very effective advice!) But that's no big deal. Yes, I occupy a slightly minoritarian subject position when it comes to sexual orientation, but honestly, that can carry its own sort of privilege in academia, especially if your everyday performance reads, as I think mine does, as mostly straight.

This is all to say that because I try to be fairly self-reflexive, it was hard for me to take much pleasure in my teaching abilities. But I do think I made some progress this year in figuring out how to use the reality of my own self for more effective teaching:
  • Rather than fight it, I have in some ways become more formal. When I taught my own class I almost always wore a jacket. (This might seem obvious to readers from elsewhere, but in Southern California seeing professors at all dressed up is very uncommon.) When I am actually gainfully employed as a professor, I can really see myself being the sort who wears a tie every day. I also rather enjoy lecturing my students in a rather haranguing fashion. Oddly, they seem to enjoy it too. Part of it is no doubt because my formality is paired with the fact that I am a big softie when it comes to grades and late papers, but I think it is more than that. Although I really appreciate pedagogical approaches that try to break down authority in the classroom, I don't think progressive teaching has to necessarily go that route. As any member in good standing of the queer community knows, authoritarianism doesn't have to be a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with a little dominance and submission, as long as everyone knows the safe word.

  • Which also means treating students with a degree of formality and respect. My favorite undergrad professor who I talked about above, ran a very tight ship. He didn't allow any questions at all while he was lecturing, but saved twenty minutes at the end of class for questions. Students addressed him as Professor X, but in return he addressed them as Mr. and Ms. Y.

  • I talked about myself a lot. This does two good things. One is that the students find it amusing. But it also introduces self-reflection. This is a good thing for college students. One of my typical sermons is about privilege. I have a lot of privilege, I tell them, and I list everything about me that makes me privileged. But the upshot is, everyone who is in a college classroom also has privilege. Privilege is not an on/off situation, it's a continuum. Everyone has at least some, and you've got to know how to deal with it.

  • More than anything, I've tried so hard to listen to my students. I always hate it when students, or even audience members at a conference or participants in a seminar, ask a speaker a question, and the speaker is so wrapped up in his or her own thoughts they don't actually listen to what the questioners are saying. Listening to what someone is saying isn't always easy, and it means thinking on your feet and often spouting stupid things in response, but I think listening is the single most important tool for getting students to stay engaged.

Obviously much of this won't work for everyone. And I hope I can keep self-reflective about my own teaching, just like everyone should. But I think I am finally at a point where I've learned how to teach. Watch out, world!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Time This Blog Saved My Career

The listserv of the American Musicological Society is currently embroiled in an extremely frustrating discussion of the "disco sucks" movement. Obviously this listserv is not the place one goes for intellectual stimulation--a usual discussion thread will be something like, "Hey, let's list every piece of music we can think of that is about trains!"--but you know, I wish it didn't want to make me tear my eyeballs out. I can deal with boredom, but this...

Anyways, my friends and I joke that one's cultural capital in musicology is inversely proportional to the number of emails one sends to the AMS-l. But because I need to vent steam, this is what I would email in were I more careless. It is apropos of several emails from various scholars assuming that we all agree disco music is shallow and dishonest. My response is the boiler plate response anyone who has remotely studied popular music would give.
I myself was not born until after the famous Disco Demolition night in Chicago, so disco is purely a historical phenomenon for me, as it is for the undergraduates I teach--their knowledge, and mine before graduate school, largely comes from doing the "YMCA" at middle school dances.

So given that most of us historians of a sort, it seems important to emphasize that it might not be so productive to reproduce a historical debate as if we are now unaware of its ramifications. If the music was shallow, then the implicit argument is that those who found meaning in it were themselves shallow. Rejecting an entire genre of music wholesale is also to be rejecting those people who listened to it. Perhaps not everyone in the 1970s was aware of disco's original fan base in urban communities of gay black men, but presumably everyone on this list is now aware of this.

See, blogs make everything seem much more civilized. If I sent this to the list, people would think I am accusing them of homophobia (and they would be right), flames would ensue, my enemies would end up on a search committee someday, bad bad bad. Here, I can post this, maybe a few people will respond, and it's all good.

Incidentally, many congratulations to my two friends who received their doctoral hoods today! May we all live to see such a day for ourselves.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Total Book Organization

So, my fellow academics and other people who regularly move large quantities of books: do we think that it would a valuable use of my time to catalog all my books with a program like this, and then further keep track of which book goes into which box when I move this summer?

Pluses: keeping the right books with me is the bane of my existence. I'm not a good note-taker, I tend to either remember something or have to look it up on the spot. So, when I'm immersed in writing, I like to have the appropriate books with me. If I'm going to get writing done during this hectic summer*, total book organization will be necessary.

Also, I like gadgets. Being able to use a web cam as a bar code scanner? Awesome.

Minuses: I could probably write a dissertation chapter in the time it would take me to catalog my books, thus freeing me from the need to write this summer. Plus, I would be embarrassed to tell people how nerdy I am.

In other news, many thanks to the illustrious Professor Ford at Dial M for thinking I'm a thinking blogger. Cheers! If it's a four-way tie, though, do I get to nominate five thinking bloggers myself, or just one and a quarter?

Speaking of musicology blogs, I have to warn you: rumor is, there might be yet another musicology group blog starting up by this fall. Can the blogosphere handle three such unnatural beasts?

Incidentally, for all of you bloggers lounging around sipping your coffee and contemplating a day of writing and snood, I just today gave a final exam. I will not miss the quarter system.

*This summer I am spending a chunk of July watching the ol' ball in chain graduate in England, and then coming back to LA to pack up my apartment to move before August 1. The best part is, I don't know where I'm moving to yet. Haha, fun!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Weird and Distasteful Things in a Forest

'Tis the season of dilated pupils in West Hollywood.

The gig went well enough yesterday. It was fun to play on an actual stage, with real sound system and a living, breathing sound man fiddling with knobs. The crowd was enthusiastic, and if the nearby karaoke tent drowned out the last chord of "Father Figure," well, that's all in the spirit of things.

As for LA Pride overall, I hate myself when I say things like this, doesn't quite compare to SF Pride. It's not that one is more or less commercial than the other, or that there is any real substantial difference between the rainbow tchotchke stands and Budweiser booths in LA or SF. The biggest difference is raw numbers: LA Pride gets about 300,000 people. In San Francisco, attendance has topped out above one million people. That means that population of SF actually more than doubles for one day. You really feel the numbers in every aspect of the parade and festival. A few dozen dozen dykes on bikes roaring down Santa Monica Blvd? Amusing. Hundreds of dykes on bikes hurtling down Market Street? Awe-inspiring.

Still, pride parades are what they are, and are usually fun. I've been to prides in NYC (very hot and crowded), Hartford (low-key and cute), DC (low-key and boring) and of course San Francisco. When I was in high school, in about 1997 or so, I was actually a safety monitor for SF Pride, meaning that I got a t-shirt and my own 20 feet of the parade route to keep safe. My main memory is that I was wearing incredibly dorky shorts with my orange safety shirt. But I think my twenty feet's worth of crowd enjoyed having a 17-year old teenage boy looking after them. My parents and sister marched with PFLAG that year, and when they came to my section and broke away to give me a hug, the crowd went wild.

Speaking of men doing things, those of you who know me or my family will find this article extraordinarily amusing.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Smell of Paparazzi in the Morning

Both yesterday and today, I was woken up at 7:00 am by the sound of helicopters. Not helicopter singular; any Los Angeleno worth his or her salt is used to the drone of a police helicopter prowling around the skies. This was the heavy thunderous sound of multiple helicopters, some sort of weird consumer culture version of Apocalypse Now.

Yesterday I didn't know what it was, but as I walked to the bus this morning, I looked up and saw that there five helicopters circling around my neighborhood. Or rather, not quite my block, but a few blocks up the hill from me, above Sunset Blvd. That's where West Hollywood's orderly rows of apartment buildings turn into the grotesque disorder of Disneyfied modernism that is the Hollywood Hills.

"What important celebrity event has happened in the past few days?" I asked myself. Ah yes, Paris Hilton's release from jail! Paris short-lived house arrest took place just a few blocks north of me, and apparently the world's paparazzi was staking out her new "jail" even from above.

Hearing about Paris's screaming and crying in the courtroom gives me a twinge of sympathy, but I think I have to stay pretty resolutely in favor of jail for her. A friend of mine once got a DUI, had a second offense, and had to spend 30 days in jail. It wasn't fun, I'm sure he was having daily nervous breakdowns and not sleeping, and I'm sure I would too, but you know...he survived. And he wasn't in a special celebrity section of a woman's jail.

Photo: Paris at LA Pride in I think 2005, with Tinkerbell and her mother. She was, I believe, the celebrity grand marshal. She was surrounded by really intense police security that pushed everyone back rather roughly. More than a few boos from my section of the crowd.

Monday, June 04, 2007


What should you do this weekend?

Well, if you are in Los Angeles, you know that this weekend is Pride. And on Sunday, there is the big festival after the parade. And at that festival, there is a small stage known as the "Empowerment Zone," where they sequester the people of color and trans performers. And on that stage, from 2:00-4:00 pm, will be a set organized by the good people at Transcend. And in that set, probably towards the end, a certain blogger, though neither trans nor a person of color himself, might be playing backup guitar in the best transgender black Elvis cover band you'll ever see.

Unfortunately, to pay for all the white and non-trans performers on the main stage, tickets to the festival cost $15 if you buy before Saturday, $20 at the door. I'm sure it goes to a good cause. Or maybe it goes to a secret fund to evict impoverished seniors from West Hollywood, I dunno.

On the other side of the country, if you are in Philadelphia (which, according to my sitemeter widget, some of you are!) this Friday, you should go hear my friend Joel do a reading (with some other writers) at the Chapterhouse Cafe. See his blog for more details. There will probably be less Elvis involved, but they can't help it, they're born that way.

And if you are in neither of those places, you're flat out of luck.

Update: According to my mother, that last statement is not strictly true, at least in Ashland, OR. There is some pretty rockin' Shakespeare happening in Ashland this weekend.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


In lieu of an actual post, I direct you to Dr. Crazy's recent thoughtful post about the process of becoming an "academic" in the psychological sense. I always enjoy Crazy's writing on the ethics of advising undergraduates to continue on to graduate school, the essential question being, "given how unfulfilling and ultimately unsuccessful academia will be for the majority of those who choose this route, why do we encourage our students to go on to graduate school?" Entering graduate school because you want to be like your tenured advisor at a fancy pants school, who seems to spend all of his or her time thinking great thoughts and enjoying long summer vacations, is a recipe for disaster.

I have a number of students, graduating seniors, who plan to apply to doctoral programs in musicology next fall, so I've been thinking about this a lot. I think I know these particular students well enough to tell myself that they are indeed suited for academia, and will do well both intellectually and emotionally. But with any of my students who ask me about graduate school, I try hard to be both encouraging ("Yay, you like musicology and are really smart!") and realistic ("Just so you know, all of your TAs have been living below the poverty line for the last five years"). Not that I kid myself that the advice I hand out is that important. Honestly, I didn't listen too closely to my professors about such things when I was an undergraduate, and I know perfectly well that they probably aren't either.

For me, there is also another aspect of this ethical question too. I, for one, believe that musicology would be a much better discipline if its members came from more diverse backgrounds. Therefore, when I have a student who is a student of color, or the first in their family to attend college, or is even from some interesting musical subculture, there is a part of my brain that thinks, "I should encourage this person to enter academia, so that academia will be better." And then, the other part of my brain responds, "Okay, so academia will be better off for having this kid, but will this kid be better off for being an academic?" Obviously I can't really answer this second question for another person, but I think it is an important internal dialogue to have with yourself.

Hmm, so much for "in lieu of an actual post." Back to work, Barnet Bound!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tuesday Cat Blogging

My gosh! I forgot a very important anniversary this week!

Exactly one year ago, Violet Vixen and I took home Pablo and Carlos, two sweet little kitties. Well, one sweet little kittie (Pablo) and one rambunctious-but-cute monster (Carlos). At one point this blog threatened to degenerate into the worst stereotype of self-indulgent cat blogging, and therefore I tried to restrain my impulse to post daily pictures, but I think on the anniversary of their homecoming we can visit them again.

Pablo, as you can see, has turned into a very wise old man.

Carlos, well...not so wise, although that is a very smart book he is resting his empty little head on.

These pictures are courtesy of my cell phone, so they are not the greatest. But I think they do a good job of cheering up a dull Tuesday. All of the academic bloggers I read have turned in their grades and are off gallivanting on summer vacations. We here on the quarter system still have a month to go.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Terrible Life Choice?

Starting in 1919 with True Stories, there has been a small but popular genre of what are called "confession" magazines. Aimed largely at working class white women, they were centered around short stories designed to show you how far people could fall. Lots of stories about infidelity, abortion, incest, drug use, and a surprisingly large number of babies dying in horrific fashion. There would also be articles about fashion, makeup tips, the odd celebrity profile, that sort of thing.

Well in 1950, the publisher of Ebony thought that there might be a market for a confession magazine aimed at African Americans. So for a short-lived period in the early fifties, we have an amazing historical document called Tan Confessions. I came across a reference to it somewhere, and since it is in my period, and I'm currently writing about the so-called "black bourgeoise," I got a microfilm copy via ILL.

Well let me tell you, gold mine! Anybody who is working on music in the fifties has got to check it out. Nearly every issue is divided between these horrific confession stories and interviews with famous black musicians aimed at women. A regular feature is "How I Proposed," with the wives of famous musicians telling the stories of their engagements. Then there are occasional articles written by musicians themselves. There is a hilarious one by Louis Jordan called "What's Wrong With Women?" and another one by Dizzy Gillespie talking about how he doesn't do anything without talking to his wife first. And best of all, for my purposes, there is a lengthy piece penned by none other than Sonny Til, analyzing, in very intelligent and observant ways, why exactly women go crazy over him.


In other news, while taking a break from the microfilm I accidentally walked in on two people having sex in a bathroom in the library. I feel bad for having disturbed them, but they rushed out before I could apologize. Hey, it was a Sunday, nobody was in the library, and it was a very obscure bathroom buried away in the stacks. Go ahead and have anonymous sex with strangers, more power to you.

This is what I was thinking, but then I realized that the only people having a good time in the depths of the library on a beautiful Sunday afternoon were these two gentlemen and myself. What life have I signed up for?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Researching American Music

Over at Dial M for Musicology, the ever-thoughtful Phil Ford has a post that really threw me for a loop. There's a lot to engage with there; I admit that my immediate reaction was a little defensive, as in some ways he totally has my number. One of the fundamental approaches of my dissertation is looking at a lot of different sites of cultural production in one historical period, and drawing as many parallels as possible. I have some quibbles with his critique of that approach--I don't think there is something inherently wrong with a speculative approach to history, as sticking to just bare bones facts is exactly how certain historical narratives get reified. It's that old archive/repertoire distinction in performance studies: if you just stick to the written record, you're going to miss out on layer after layer of historical knowledge that is often dissenting from and resistant to normative historical narratives. Looking for connections between disparate events is one possible way to attack history from a different angle.

But overall, I definitely share his concern, and one of the main points of my own project is problematizing that annoying Ozzie and Harriet mythology of the fifties. Reflecting further, I think (hope!) what saves my own work from that trap is that I spend an almost excessive amount of time historicizing. I try to do my homework, in other words, and not just make lazy parallelisms. I spend time getting to know my historical subjects, in primary and archival sources. I try to let the music tell me what's going on, rather than assuming my 2007 self knows.

However, there is a structural problem in musicology that stands in the way of doing the kind of work I want to do. This leads me to the real substance of this post, which I'm afraid is going to be somewhat whiny, and most definitely connected to, shall we say, certain material realities of my own life as I await word on funding for next year!

What is with the lack of funding for research in American music? I know of only one source of funding that specifically targets American music, an award given by the Music Library Association. It's all of $2100, which of course would be an honor and a privilege to receive, but only goes so far. And is limited to one or two graduate students a year. And as far as I know, that's it.

So that's the problem: there is precious little money out there to encourage archival work in American music. If you are doing European music, well, sometimes it seems like people are tripping over themselves to give you money. The AMS has no less than three travel grants for research outside of the United States, the Bartlet, the Wolf, and the Powers grants. At my own University, there is a travel grant for research in Europe that my colleagues regularly get, plus a grant within my department for travel which is limited to music before 1950. Plus, there are a number of interdisciplinary centers at my school which give quite a bit a support to musicologists, but are limited in spirit if not name to non-American research: centers for medieval and renaissance studies, for 17th- and 18th-century studies, and so on. And then of course there are the various federal programs like the Fulbright, Fulbright-Hays, the FLAS, and so on. There are no equivalents for these Eurocentric programs, in the AMS, at my university, or in my department.

Travel outside of the United States is more of expensive of course. It is easier for me to self-fund my research, as I did this last fall when I put a trip to Chicago on my credit card. I had been desperately needing to visit the John Cage papers at Northwestern for years, had never been able to get any funding to do so, and finally just had to suck it up so that I could get my chapter written. But you know, it's not actually that much cheaper. The expense of spending a month looking at archives in, say, New York City is not that different than the expense of a month in Paris. In addition, fellowships are not just about funding; as my friend Sushi PJs pointed out, they also lend your project crucial legitimation.

But most importantly, what kind of message does this send about doing work on American music? It is a loud and clear message from the world of musicology that archival work on American music, and I would argue by extension historical work, is not important or necessary.

And that, my friends, sucks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's Too Soon to Know

Write write write. That's what it is all about right now. If I'm going to stick to my (mostly) self-imposed writing schedule, I should have a solid draft of my doo-wop chapter done by the end of this quarter. It is now Week 7, of our ten week quarter, so this would be crunch time. Of course, that is not the only thing I have to write: I'm writing two entries for an encyclopedia that are due in two weeks, plus the introduction to a special section of our graduate student journal. Phew. Luckily, the encyclopedia entries are both topics that are part of my chapter, so there is a certain synergy.

But, anyways, here is some information:

Have you ever wondered where in Baltimore the amazing HBO show The Wire is filmed? There is a great article from the Baltimore City Paper that gives a little tour of some of the locations. Ironically, most of the locations are on the East Side. On the show, most of the focus is on West Baltimore, the black neighborhood traditionally demarcated by Fremont Avenue. But apparently there are less trees on the East Side, which makes season continuity much easier. But you get the idea what it is like in these neighborhoods. The location scout had no problem finding block after block of burnt out row houses, completely empty and desolate.

One of the ongoing themes of The Wire is that we are watching the final chapter of a black community in long decline. But also that before desegregation, urban renewal, and the crack epidemic, these neighborhoods were home to a community that was definitely poor, but had a vibrant life.

In fact, West Baltimore is a crucial location for my dissertation chapter, which is looking at R&B vocal groups of the late forties and early fifties. West Baltimore was home to the greatest of these groups, the Orioles. Would you like to see the street corner upon which the Orioles, still in high school and calling themselves the Vibranaires, used to meet to sing? Show us, Google Maps!

I don't know the city of Baltimore very well, and I can't tell you what this corner looks like from the ground. (Hopefully I will be able to visit this fall!) But one suspects that it is probably not very pleasant right now. Do you remember that scene from Season 3 of The Wire, when the special unit is trying to follow the drug kingpin Avon Barksdale in his car? Remember all those street names the police were radioing to each other in an attempt to find him? That's all right around this spot. In fact, here is another map, courtesy of the Baltimore PD.

This shows crimes within a half mile radius of the street corner. Blue squares are burglaries, red circles are stolen cars, red stars are larceny from a vehicles, green triangles are aggravated assault, and black dots are robberies. Oh, and red crosses are murders. And, you should know that this map is just showing crimes from a two-week period, from April 21 to May 5 of this year.

Does she love me? It's too soon to know.
Can I believe her, when she tells me so?
Is she fooling? Is it all a game?
Am I the fire or just another flame?
A one-sided love would break my heart.
She may be just acting and playing a part.

-The Orioles, "It's Too Soon to Know" (1948)

The image of the golden age of West Baltimore that The Wire and doo-wop fans valorize is probably mostly mythology. It was always a poor neighborhood, and the relative prosperity after World War II was just an illusory moment driven by a temporary rise in manufacturing. I'm sure music is being made here, though, and it is probably good music. But you can start understand the nostalgia. It is hard to imagine the Orioles coming out of today's West Baltimore.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Deep Thought for the Day

Many questions were troubling the explorer, but at the sight of the prisoner he asked only: "Does he know his sentence?" "No," said the officer, eager to go on with his exposition, but the explorer interrupted him: "He doesn't know the sentence that has been passed on him?" "No," said the officer again, pausing a moment as if to let the explorer elaborate his question, and then said: "There would be no point in telling him. He'll learn it on his body."
          -Franz Kafka, The Penal Colony

Speaking of things that are a pain in the neck (ha...) why does NBC insist on showing The Office at 8:40, thereby making me choose between it and Grey's Anatomy at 9:00?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I Fell Into a Burning...

High of 92 today, for the second day in a row. Driving home from school, I noticed a giant plume of grey smoke coming from the hills, behind the observatory. Grey smoke is good, it means that it is just a brush fire. When the smoke from a forest fire turns black, you know that homes are starting to burn. I remember seeing that happen, during the Oakland fire of 1991. That Sunday morning, when I was eleven, the smoke coming from the north was grey, but by mid-afternoon it had turned a thick, oily black, as asphalt, shingles, and gasoline went up in flames.

It reminds me of my first fall in Los Angeles, three and a half years ago. I had purposefully found an apartment on the #2 MTA bus line, which went straight to the music building at school. By October, I had grown accustomed to the bus, even my morning waits for a late bus in the brutal sunshine. But one day, the buses suddenly stopped coming. The mechanics had gone on strike, and the drivers struck in sympathy. I luckily heard the night before, but the next day there were crowds of people at the stops, waiting futilely for their buses. Even today, I still breath a small sigh of relief when I see a bus go by, even if it is in the wrong direction. At least the buses are running.

Then, at about the same time, the workers at most of the area grocery stores also went on strike. Ralphs and Vons stayed open with scabs, but as a loyal member of UAW Local 2865, I wasn't about to cross a picket line. But I was, meanwhile, out of both a means of transportation and food. Then, at the end of a long dry summer, the city slowly started to catch on fire. There was a fire in Pasadena, a fire in Malibu, a fire in the valley, another one to the south. We joked that soon we wouldn't be able to leave the city except by plane or boat. Over Thanksgiving, I did just that, flying off to London to visit Mary. As the plane took off from LAX, I could see the smoke rising from all directions. Los Angeles was hemmed in by a literal ring of fire.

It gets so hot in this city. My apartment is on the top floor of my building, with large view-less windows and nonexistent insulation. We have an ancient air-conditioner cut into one wall. If you turn it on full blast, you get a little puddle of cool air that lets you watch TV in some temporary comfort, but doesn't even get close to the bedrooms. My friends and I invest in fans, swamp coolers, and library expeditions, but there really isn't anything you can do about it. Last summer, when it was sweltering, Pablo would see me panting unhappily on the couch and would come over and drape his warm fuzzy belly on my neck. I considered drowning him in the pool, but I also understood his furry little desire: when it gets that hot, sometimes all you want to do is get hotter, and hope that your ability to feel heat will just burn out.

Every city has its own heat metaphors. For New York, summer heat brings up violence, the Bronx in 1978 1977. In Washington, it's that city's former status as a swamp, and the intimation that the slimy politicos that dwell within enjoy such habitats. In the South, you hear endless clichés about laidback attitudes moving slowly in the heat. In Texas, you have George Bush subjecting visitors to the furnace of his ranch, as if that kind of heat will separate the man from the boys.

In Los Angeles, the heat is like our tar pits. It sucks you in, swirls you about, and spits you out a few thousand years later as a fossil. Everyone desperately wants to escape Los Angeles in the heat, but unlike New York or DC, there's nowhere really to go. San Diego? Palm Springs? Las Vegas? Each worse than the last. Your best bet is to drive north, but you have to go a long ways to escape this heat. Instead, those of us trapped in this urban ooze do our best to keep afloat.

But it doesn't look good.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Much Better

Political crankiness over, and I feel happy and fulfilled:

1. Pleasant social-ness to celebrate friend finishing scary qualifying exams. Expensive tequila consumed, gossip circulated.

2. Productive grading at the local coffeeshop, where the good barista made my cappuccino just the way I like it, and charged me a dollar under the price because she likes me.

3. Lovely conversational stroll through a park in the Hollywood hills with friend. Followed by an excellent triple-chocolate milkshake at Milk.

4. Gig lined up. Going to be doing our 15 minute transgender Elvis whizbang at the LA Pride festival.

5. Self-congratulation for amazing avoidance of active verbs in this list.

Friday, May 04, 2007

This Country, I Tell You What

Sorry, no poetry this Friday. I'm too cranky.

This past Tuesday there was a big march in Los Angeles to push for immigration reform, one of a number of marches around the country. The day was entirely peaceful and positive, as all of these immigration marches have been. And then, at the end of the day, there was an altercation between some cops and protesters at MacArthur Park. Supposedly, a rock or two might have been thrown, although possibly it was just some plastic water bottles. The police responded by charging the crowd, firing rubber bullets indiscriminately at a mass of people that included families, ice cream vendors, and the usual homeless people that live in the park. Parents dived on top of their toddlers to keep them from being killed by the rubber bullets.

Now, you might not know this, but this stuff happens all the time at protests. And it is usually pretty well-documented. I wasn't at this particular protest, but a bunch of friends of mine were at one of the big anti-IMF protests in Washington, DC back in 2000. The Wesleyan contingent was part of a larger group that was blocking traffic at an intersection, with their arms chained to each other. The student newspaper I worked on, Hermes, published the accounts of these protesters, and here is the story of one friend of mine:
The police bus pulled up around noon. We'd scarcely seen a squad car all morning, and we were off our guard. Everyone in the lockdown circle stood up to see what was going on, which was the worst thing we possibly could have done. The police came off the bus running, and formed a riot line a few feet from our circle. None of them were wearing badges. They didn't even order us to clear the area--one shouted "Let's do this," and they charged us, nightsticks first. In the training sessions, they told us that you're supposed to sit down when the police charge you--that way they can't push people around, knock them over, and start a stampede. Our lock-circle was standing, staring stupidly at the riot visors and shouting for support when they hit us. People's arms started twisting inside the lock-boxes, and they started screaming. A couple unhooked. A soft line formed around us and starting shouting for us to sit down. I sat. The riot officer in front of me looked over at someone who'd just pulled out of his lockbox, looked at me, and drove his nightstick into my face.

I don't know quite what happened next. I was bleeding, screaming, trying to get my arms out of the boxes and figure out where my glasses had landed. There were so many cameras snapping it sounded like machine-gun rounds. When I unhooked my right hand, I saw Sasha, reeling and bleeding, pulling her hand out from the other side. The police backed off--I don't know why--and a second later I was behind the lines, two medics were taking care of me, and a legal observer was interrogating me in the most apologetic tone imaginable.

In the emergency room, they put seven stitches in my face and told me my nose was broken. Sasha had a broken nose and was missing a third of one of her front teeth. And in the hospital waiting room, we watched the network news shows laud the DC police for their restraint.

This stuff really does happen all the time. As Tuesday's march showed, it is rarely related to actual threats from protesters; the LA Times is estimating that there probably about a dozen anarchist-types in MacArthur Park, out of the hundreds of protesters. In the DC case quoted above, the protestors were literally chained to the ground, and were in no position to be a threat to anyone!

Luckily here in LA, MacArthur Park was also home to an area where the press was stationed, underneath a clearly-marked tent and next to their news vans. We're not talking a couple of hippies with video cameras, we're talking the normal national and local news. The police nevertheless pushed through the press, at once point kicking an NBC cameraman while he was on the ground. The national news anchor for Telemundo was roughed up. A woman producer was punched. And so, for once, there is actually some awareness of what happens. Here's a YouTube clip of Brian Williams telling the story:

Know what bothers me? This stuff always goes on at marches, and the media knows it. It's only when their own people get beat up that they get outraged. Know what also bothers me? The so-called progressives in the blogosphere have largely ignored the story--both the marches, and the police violence. Am I missing something or was there not a single post on DailyKos about this? They are so busy worrying about electing Democrats, they could care less that the down are literally being trod upon.

And in other news, today, the president of the American Musicological Society--probably one of the most apolitical, if not downright conservative, scholarly groups out there--emailed all the members to give us an update on Nalini Ghuman. Ghuman is an assistant professor of music at Mills College. (For my non-academic readers, that means she is a full-time faculty member on the tenure track.) She is a British citizen, with degrees from Oxford (BA, MA) Kings College (MA), and UC Berkeley (PhD). Having a job in this country, she has a work visa good through 2008. She went to England this summer for a month to do some research. When she flew back home, to begin her fourth year of teaching, she was detained for eight hours at SFO. Her visa was then revoked, and she was sent back to England.

No explanation.

Eight months later, the government still won't let her come back into the country, as the INS has not yet granted her a security clearance. Again, no explanation. She has apparently heard a rumor that it is a case of mistaken identity, but no official word. While stories like this are sadly a dime a dozen, this really hits home. I don't know Prof. Ghuman, but I do know how difficult it is to be a student in a foreign country, and also how hard it is to get a tenure track job. And to think that it could all be taken away from her because her name is probably similar to the name of someone who once visited the Middle East or something.

Outrageous, and depressing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Some Debts You'll Never Pay

As we speak, Patti Smith is playing a show at the Roxy, promoting the new album and kicking off the tour. The Roxy, mind you, is a small club, holding maybe 200 people? And it is walking distance from my apartment. Where am I? At home, because I couldn't get tickets to see one of my favorite performers playing an intimate show at a club in my neighborhood singing new music that would probably rock my world.

To console myself, I bought Arcade Fire's new album, Neon Bible. It is beautiful. I don't care if they went to Exeter. (We're an Andover family, 'round these WASP-y parts.) I'm listening to "Intervention," and it is bringing a lump to my throat. There is a pipe organ (a real one, the organ at St. Jean Baptiste in Montreal), a snare drum lifted from 80's arena rock, a xylophone, strings, who knows what else. There is a simple strophic melody over a repeating vi-IV-I, lots of natural reverb. There are goddamn trumpet fanfares that make you want to pump your fist.

The singer sounds like Bruce Springsteen crossed with Billy Graham. You can't quite make out every word of the lyrics, but you can just tell they are deliciously depressing.
Working for the church
While your life falls apart.
Singing halleluiah with the fear in your heart.
Every spark of friendship and love
Will die without a home.
Hear the solider groan, "We'll go at it alone"
Hear the solider groan, "We'll go at it alone"
But because you can only make out the occasional word, that shouted "We'll got at it alone" starts to feel triumphant, and the music keeps crescendoing, and, and, you're torn between abjection and uplift, Good stuff. Ineffable, even.

Oops, I almost forgot. Most pop music has a limited emotional range. Nevermind.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Haunts of Men

Speaking of Thoreau...
In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest. Formerly I had come to this pond adventurously, from time to time, in dark summer nights, with a companion, and, making a fire close to the water's edge, which we thought attracted the fishes, we caught pouts with a bunch of worms strung on a thread, and when we had done, far in the night, threw the burning brands high into the air like skyrockets, which, coming down into the pond, were quenched with a loud hissing, and we were suddenly groping in total darkness. Through this, whistling a tune, we took our way to the haunts of men again.

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods

Friday, April 27, 2007

Poetry Friday: Cage's Mesostics

I'm taking a brief respite from the world of doo-wop today, for a quick plunge back in the world of John Cage. Our department has a competition--with a fairly substantial cash prize--for best dissertation chapter, so I'm doing a little editing and cleaning of my Cage chapter. Part of the editing resulted from finally reading Carolyn Brown's memoirs. Brown was an early member of the Cunningham troupe, and also the first wife of Earle Brown. She spent her whole life hanging around with Cage, and was present at the premiere of 4'33", which is of course the subject of my chapter. I was hoping there would be some juicy detail, but unfortunately the book is very thin on these early years. With a few exceptions, I suspect that she refreshed her memory by looking at the same old secondary sources all of us know. Oh well! I imagine, though, that the book would be extraordinarily useful for those looking at later Cage and Cunningham stuff.

Anyways, it's Poetry Friday, and I realized I've never posted anything by Cage. From the seventies on, Cage almost exclusively wrote in a poetic form he invented called "mesostics." Basically, you take a word, and arrange it vertically. Then you find other words to go across each letter, the main rule being that you can't repeat the vertical letters. So if you chose the word "vertigo" because of the "t", you can't have another "t" until after the next vertical letter.

Cage did these mesostics in many different ways. Sometimes he chose letters and phonemes at random, and then also used chance procedures to randomly change the size and typeface of the letters, as in 62 Mesostics Re: Merce Cunningham. (See an example here. I have a different one of these mesostics tattooed on my back, largely to intimidate other Cage scholars at conferences.) Other times, he more or less wrote in readable prose, but still arranged in the mesostic system.

Why did he do this? In Empty Words, Cage writes that he was inspired by a remark of Norman O. Brown, who pointed out that the word "syntax" is military in origin. And also by a comment of Thoreau, who once wrote that when he heard a sentence, he heard the marching of feet. It was also in this period that Cage did some of his most overtly political music. Cage's politics were always a bit fuzzy, and often annoying, but some of the work of this period is remarkably effective. In the Lecture on the Weather, for instance, is a piece for twelve men, ideally twelve Americans who became Canadian citizens to escape the draft. The men read aloud selections of writings by Thoreau, while recordings (by Maryanne Amacher) of weather sounds blast in the background, and a film (by Luis Frangella) projects photographs of Thoreau's handwriting in negative so that it appears like flashes of lightening. It is a grim, and aggressive, work. It's a little later than Crumb's Black Angels, or middle-period Curtis Mayfield ("(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below We're All Going to Go"), but shares obvious sympathies. Grim times.

At any rate, here's a slightly more cheerful piece, the beginning of "Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegan's Wake. Cage loved Joyce, and decided to improve upon Finnegan's Wake by destroying its syntax even more. The words are chosen from the book, with an emphasis on Joyce's made-up words, and the vertical spine is simply "James Joyce." If you read it aloud, it's quite lovely in its own way.

wroth with twone nathandJoe

sOlid man
that the humptYhillhead of humself
is at the knoCk out
in thE park

A bunch of my friends are taking or about to take their qualifying exams. Good luck out there! Illegitimi non carborundum.

Monday, April 23, 2007


For a brief, shining, happy, tiny little moment tonight, I had a moment of clarity where I could remember the names, origins, and stylistic distinctions of all the groups in my doo-wop chapter. It lasted about five minutes, but it was wonderful.

I swear, I should make some flash cards or something.

(The Mills Brothers)
(The Inks Spots)
The Ravens (Baltimore)
The Orioles (Baltimore)
The Clovers (Baltimore)
The Dominoes (NYC)
The Cadillacs (NYC)
The Five Keys (NYC)
The Four Fellows (NYC)
The Moonglows (Kentucky-Cleveland)

Argh! My brain just exploded.
  • Incidentally, Gayle Wald's new biography of Sister Rosetta Tharpe is really great. Go buy it.
  • The Wikipedia entry on Sonny Til is really pathetic, but I don't have the energy to write a decent one.
  • You know what's a really weird song? The Orioles "Deacon Jones."
  • Despite a really bad talk I once saw on it, I can listen to the Drifters sing "This Magic Moment" over and over again.
  • I wonder if my committee would let me write my dissertation in bullet points.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Media I Shall Consume

1. The new Björk album, Volta. I've been greatly enjoying the first single, "Earth Intruders." Although I liked Medulla and Vespertine, as well as the stuff she did for Drawing Restraint 9, I've been getting a little tired of this introspective phase of her career. My favorite album remains Post, which had a very vibrant, communal spirit to it--mostly, I imagine, because she brought in a wide range of different producers, rather than using just one (Debut) or doing it all herself (most of her stuff since.) Volta apparently has a bunch of different collaborators, including Timbaland. I think that is fabulous, and I'm really excited to hear it. You know, right, that Björk is my favorite music of all time? She's the only popular musician whose albums I buy as soon as they come out, whose shows I go to see whenever I can, and whose career I follow with a fine-tooth comb. Being a musicologist, it is just too exhausting to keep up with contemporary music to the extent that I did at age 15; Björk is the only artist for whom I allow myself complete fandom.

2. Hot Fuzz. Okay, I have already consumed this media. Mary and I saw it in England a few weeks ago. But now that it is out in the US, I want to consume it again, and I want to drag my friends with me. Picture Bad Boys or Die Hard, except set in a picturesque rural English village. (Somerset County, to be exact, so kind of near the Cotswolds.) It is created by the same team that brought you Shaun of the Dead, and although less formally coherent than that masterpiece, it is nevertheless hilarious and pitch-perfect in its analysis of middlebrow English culture. Brilliant. Brilliant!

3. The Sopranos. Well, I am slightly ambivalent about this. I love the show, of course. But for the past two weeks, I have been catching up on the first two seasons of The Wire, another great show. And although The Wire can be rather didactic at times, I love its precise and clean directing, the elegance of its writing, the overall tightness of the production. Going from that world to the world of The Sopranos, well...these new episodes are so weighty, you know? The heavy portent David Chase puts into every single element of The Sopranos is beginning to grate on me a little bit. Obviously, I am going to keep watching, and I still think the show is probably the greatest every produced on American television, but one more good season of The Wire and that might not be so true anymore.

Oh, and I need desperately to get a haircut. I think I need to go a little shorter, to keep pace with my receding hairline. But that's neither here nor there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ode to a Fountain

How I know I am a red-blooded American:

Nothing makes me happier than the fountain shows at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Nothing. Is that so wrong? I mean, honest, they practically bring a tear to my eye. I watched three separate performances this weekend, just couldn't get enough. The first was in the afternoon, some Sinatra tune I didn't recognize. Then, after dinner, Mary and I each bought a 60-ounce strawberry frozen margarita in a souvenir plastic Eiffel Tower container from the stand in front of Paris, and watched over to catch a fountain show done to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On." Good enough, but luckily, we waited another 15 minutes for the next show. Wait for it...

"Time to Say Goodbye" by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli.

I swear to god, there is nothing better than strawberry margarita, dancing fountains, and Italy's blindest best. If late capitalism can bring us the Bellagio fountains, then sign me up for late capitalism.

And I am not alone. My friend Kelsey pointed me towards this amazing article in the Guardian on the guilty pleasures of famous academics. Homi Bhaba loves Project Runway. Anthony Giddens loves pro wrestling. Stanley Fish loves country music. Slavoj Zizek likes violent computer games. And although I won't name names, I have had conversations about the Bellagio fountains with many other academics. And many of these other academics admit to secretly loving the fountains, even to being quite moved by them.

I wonder why. A lot of pleasure comes from the simple conjunction of music with moving image. "Mickey mousing," as film music types call it, especially in a live situation, is always a good time. It's similar to a fireworks show, with escalating climaxes in music and image.

Also, there is the medium. How often do you get to see water dancing around? And man, those jets shoot high up into the air! But more than that, I think one of the greatest thrills is the resemblence of water to human bodies. It's most evident when the center circle of fountains does this move that looks like dancers leaning backwards. (This picture kind of shows it.) And obviously the choreography of the fountains is based largely on basic ballet choreography, with lots of synchronization. Like ballet, the synchronization is both mechanical and imperfect; the coordination is impressive, but the use of water means that it is not entirely controlled. Drops and mist fly around in the wind, and the changing light plays off the lake differently every time. It's not like watching a screensaver. At the same time, the fountains obviously are more than human. They are mechanical, and they exceed human limits. One of the common fountain moves is for the fountains to jet off in a line across the thousand foot installation, culminating in an explosion of the tall center jets. You see that kind of move in human dancing all the time--think the Rockettes kicking their legs--but it's something else to see it happen on such a gigantic scale.

You can see some videos here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ramblin' On My Mind

Richard Lacayo proposes that now that Sol LeWitt has passed away, his large-scale drawings--usually created in galleries by assistants following his written instructions--should be treated like musical scores, which is to say available for "performances" and new interpretations by anyone who wishes to give it a go, rather than highly controlled by the estate. (Via M.A.N). Interesting! What do you think, learned reader?

In other news, we are off to Vegas tomorrow, just for one night, to celebrate yesterday's board exams. I love Las Vegas, I really do. My high school orchestra went there twice, and when I was moving out to LA four years ago, we won $150 at the slots.

We are also celebrating the fact that it is my 27th birthday tomorrow.

Famous musicians who died when they were 27?

Kurt Cobain
Jimi Hendrix
Jim Morrison
Brian Jones
Janis Joplin
Robert Johnson

Maybe I didn't pick the best year of my life to attempt to move across the country, get married, and go on the job market. These activities already have a fairly high mortality rate as it is.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Poetry Friday: Yeats

It has been a long week, but a good one. Today Mary took her American board exams. They went well enough, but she won't know if she passed for another month or so. For those of you keeping track, these are the same exams all veterinarians must take to practice in the United States. Some individual states also have addition boards, but not Pennsylvania, where we hope to move this fall. If she was going to an American veterinary school, the boards would count as her final exam, and she would basically be done now. However, she still has to go back to the UK next week and finish up her courses there, and then sit through more exams to receive her degree. That's the downside, but the upside is that when she finishes all this, she will have both a "DVM" and a "MCRVS" (Master of the College of Royal Veterinary Surgeons") after her name, which is pretty cool.

The other good thing about this week is of a subject I shan't blog about. But suffice it to say, I'm in a good mood. So with that, I leave you with the poem of the week! A little Yeats for April, by special request.

William Butler Yeats, "Cloths of Heaven" (1899)

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.