Saturday, April 25, 2009


There will now be a short intermission, during which the following brief announcement is to be made:

"Dear Bloomington residents,
It's a bicycle race. Seriously, people. Bikes. We all had them when we were kids, except some of the more sheltered types and those with clumsy tendencies (Shelley). No need to get worked up about bicycles going around a massive circle. Now, if these bicycles were to be going up Mount Everest, or going through the irradiated wasteland surrounding Chernobyl (which surprisingly DID pass the spell check), then yes there would be cause for celebration.

Don't ruin such a beautiful day with your Woodstock '99-like tendencies to ruin everything for everyone else. First taste of summer we've had all year long. I for one shall be doing laundry and soaking in the sunshine before venturing out for the evening. Maybe take a ride in the old hot air balloon to survey the atmospheric conditions and drop pennies on cars.

Dictated, but not read,
The Management."

Eric and Maddie are supposed to come into town today. And I guess I need to be the one to call Gill when I want to hang out, even though I don't work and thus have a very open schedule? Oh, well. Once we all congregate it should be a fun evening.


Adventures In Academia, Part One

There's a lot of ground to cover with the conference alone, so let's just see how much I can pound out before I realize it's no longer late and instead early.

Part One: Summon The Augur

I don't hate plane rides, but we had an exceptionally rough landing into Houston from Indianapolis. From Houston to New Orleans was about a 45 minute flight, long enough for a beverage. Even though I don't travel much, I've been to a good number of airports:
+ Louisville
+ Orlando
+ St. Petersburg (Florida, not Russia - just so you all know, according to Firefox, Petersburg does not pass the spell-check. But Firefox itself does.)
+ Myrtle Beach
+ Indianapolis (both the old one and the new one)
+ Minneapolis/St. Paul
+ Los Angeles International
+ Pittsburgh
+ Buffalo, NY
+ Houston
+ New Orleans
+ Chicago
I can say - though it's been since I was in single digits that I flew in/out of Florida and went to the Myrtle Beach airport - that the New Orleans airport is probably one of the most surprisingly dumpiest ones I've seen. It looks like they last remodeled it...well, never, actually. Looks more like a hospital. I was a bit disappointed.

But I was not at all disappointed - AT ALL - with New Orleans itself. It was such a beautiful city. From the Interstate into the city I could see some of those typical New Orleans cemeteries with the above-ground vaults and elaborate graves. When - not if - I go back, visiting one of those graveyards will be of high priority. The hotel was great, too. The lobby had a very deliberate retro look to it, and the restaurant's fireplace made the entire lower level have the lovely scent of burning wood. (I'm serious - I love that smell. It reminds me of my grandparents' house.)

Dad was really good company, too. We both sort of balked at how exaggerated Bourbon Street was. As we walked on foot, rounding the corner from Canal to Bourbon, a panhandler - who was the worst liar in the world - hit us up for change. Since I never have cash in my wallet, all I had were coins. So I gave him a fistful, and then he asked me for more! Whatever...there must have been a cheap liquor mart nearby.

Speaking of cheap booze, say what you will about Mad Dog 20/20, one can enjoy 12 oz. of fruity, wine-based deliciousness for a mere $1.79 up here in Bloomington. (I'm writing this during Little 500 weekend.)

But Bourbon Street, which seemingly everyone in my age group recommended to me, was nuts. Shelley lives right across the street from two of IU's many fraternities, so to see a place practically niche-marketed towards these gorillas and their overpaid daddies wasn't the most comforting sight in the world. Since my nerves were a little rattled from the flight, at the bar where we had dinner (at midnight, because we're awesome like that) I ordered a Woodchuck Cider. Dad ordered the same, which I thought was neat. He liked it. I have Graham to thank for that.

Another thing strongly recommended to me was the Po' Boy sandwich. I have a natural aversion to nearly all fried foods - donuts being a rare exception to this rule - so eating a fried crawfish Po' Boy, I will admit I was not crazy about it. The bread was toasted, but it was also too thick. I don't know, I was a bit underwhelmed. But it was food - the last thing I'd eaten was a shitty airline snack pack.

The lady at the front desk told us that the hotel's wireless only worked in the lobby, so at around 2 AM on a sheer whim I asked Dad if he wanted to accompany me downstairs while I checked email. I had left Bloomington around 2:30 PM, and the emails from UMass and BGSU were from 3:15 and 3:30, respectively. The one day I'm away from computers for more than an hour - closer to thirteen - and I literally have back-to-back emails from graduate programs. It put a really good feeling over the entire rest of the weekend. I was thrilled. I still am, thinking about it over two and a half weeks later.

Part Two: D-Day, Or, How I Overcame Caffeine Poisoning And Learned To Love Public Speaking

My first order of business Thursday morning was to locate Tom Kitts. I saw he was participating in some sort of business meeting for the Popular Music panel, so I woke up early, got my name badge and all my official stuff and waited outside the room - funny enough, the same room where we would be presenting later. The meeting ended, and there he was. Just an inch or two shorter than me, skinny, maybe around my dad's age (early/mid 50's). It's so strange to meet someone you've only seen a picture of. Is that what it was like in a world before Facebook and the Internet, where you would meet someone with only a solitary picture as a reference?

Regardless, he introduced me to Nick Baxter-Moore from Brock University up in Canada, who was also on our panel. They were both really friendly. I had just emailed Tom a few days earlier about me worrying about grad school, and he encouraged me to talk to Nick about it. Thankfully, I had a nice update of "I literally found out just last night that I got into U. Mass Boston." They both congratulated me, Tom praised my Kinks essays to Nick. Now, I may have heard this wrong, but I could swear I heard him say, "He's got a blog, too. Really great. I'll send you the link." He may have been talking about someone else, but if not that's cool, too. If you guys do read it, don't be afraid to say hello.

Someone please tell me how to get a hit counter installed on this site - I wouldn't mind knowing how many people are actually that interested in me. Because as I always say I consider myself a fairly boring person.

I told Shelley that if this wasn't some auditory hallucination, or if Tom was talking about someone else, I should have been a little weirded out by this. Yet I wasn't. The night before I'd overheard two people chatting in the lobby, and one of them said "How do you already know so much about me?" And the other person responded, "Oh, I googled you!" Such is the nature of the 21st Century. And it's with that in mind that I realized with a few obvious exceptions (parents, grandparents, a few other self-righteous individuals) I'm really not ashamed of my content here. Yes, a lot of it is written in the heat or excitement of the moment, but I personally like that sort of honesty.

Besides meeting him - finally - and seeing what he looked like/sounded like in person, I was curious as to what I needed to wear. I had brought a suit, button-up, and a tie. When I told him this, he laughed and said what I had on was fine (Zappa t-shirt, jeans, and my black Chucks.) An academic conference this may have been, but this was a panel on rock and roll music.

Anyway, Tom had to go, but Nick and I waited together for an elevator. He asked me how long I'd been into The Kinks. Then I realized it has been just under 9 years. The fall of 2000 was a good time for me. That and spring of 2002 were the best times of my life until college. Maybe some rainy afternoon I'll wax nostalgic about those "good old days." I quipped to Nick that realizing how long it had been made me feel old. As a man with mainly salt in his salt-and-pepper colored hair, he joked back that I didn't really know what old was.

I was too nervous to really eat. Believe me, I tried. I didn't want to keep Dad bored by sitting around and reading and re-reading my essay*, so we went for a walk around the French Quarter, knowing now to avoid Bourbon Street. Which brings me to what I consider the most beautiful intersection in the world: Chartres and Saint Louis streets. Don't ask why, you know as well as I do that explaining beauty is like trying to say why you like your favorite band - it just is what it is. We ate at an open-air restaurant (that was something really cool about New Orleans, that all these places can open up the French doors and just have the outdoors waft in. I had some sort of grilled chicken, vowing fried food would not be a good choice.

Since I am a man who learns from his past mistakes, I opted for coffee. I figured it would calm my tense nerves, keep me relaxed, and help me maintain a slow, clear diction during my speech. [Lying.]

No. Not at all. I felt like 1966 Bob Dylan, the amphetamine-addled one who rocked back and forth nervously while talking at 90 miles an hour about nothing at all.

So we assembled in the conference room. I had decided to put on my green button-up and roll up the sleeves, while still rocking the jeans and the Chucks. One guy asked, "So who here is speaking on The Kinks?" I raised my hand, using all possible willpower to keep it from shaking. Turns out that was the big draw for him to attend our panel. Great, I thought. (More on him later.)

I was the first to go. Holy fucking shit. There I was, strung out on coffee (and lots of it), with a strong urge to urinate, vomit, and do that thing fried foods tend to make most people do, possibly all at the same time. I believe they call that a number 6.** I stood up, placed my essay* on the table, firmly placed my hands on the table, thinking to myself that I could not move a muscle, and went for it.

My words came out like I hadn't had 20 ounces of black coffee, like I didn't have the overwhelming urge to take a piss, and like I wasn't completely nervous speaking in front of 20 people. (So I did mock trial and speech team in high school, but that was four years ago - a lot of the time in front of people I knew.) It went great.

Nick's presentation was on the concert experience - fascinating material, and his research methods were good, too. Tom, the English professor with a Brooklyn accent, talked about the punk group Anti-Flag. It was really cool to hear him read the lyrics, "You've gotta die, gotta die, gotta die / For your government / Die for your country / That's shit." It's like when Glenn says the sort of four letter words that pepper this site liberally in a classroom setting. It's just really cool.

We were fielded questions by the audience. One of the first was on what the status was of a Kinks reunion. Tom and I both answered that question. I responded that I couldn't be too nuts about the thoughts of a reunion, since Ray seems just fine touring on his own, while the fact that they've had, as I said, "seventeen bassists and five thousand keyboardists," the issue of who would be on the album or live tour would mean some of the guys wouldn't be invited. Tom explained that Pete Quaife, the original bassist, is in no condition to tour, as he is on dialysis. (Funny enough, shortly after the conference, Pete made a statement that he has no interest whatsoever in a Kinks reunion and with all respect would like to have his privacy from the public.) And I didn't know this, but Dave still hasn't fully recovered from his stroke in 2004. I found that a little sad. Ray is very keen on getting the group back together, but at the same time, as Tom said, he has a knack for saying this around the time of another album or tour of his own. McCartney did that a lot, too, in the interim period between John and George's deaths.

And then came the hobnobbing, which I quickly realized was the other half of why these conferences exist.***

One of Tom's former students named Eric Abbey,^ now a professor up near Detroit, talked to me about The Kinks, which oddly enough quickly turned to Zappa, since I'm 95% sure I'll be studying Frank's music for my MA thesis. His drummer in his band used to play with former Zappa guitarist Ike Willis' FZ tribute band, the Ugly Radio Rebellion. The guy who asked who was talking on The Kinks was a guy from Pennsylvania named Maxim Furek. Turns out he used to be a music journalist. Tom told me a few days later that a filmmaker/musician/professor/author named Greg Herriges enjoyed my presentation, as well. I guess I was a hit.

Part Three: A Typical Thursday Night In New Orleans. You Know How It Goes...

I couldn't help but notice that during the post-panel hobnobbing, Dad disappeared. It was strange, since I really wanted him to be there and meet these people, too. Anyway, I asked both Nick and Tom what they thought, especially since they knew this was my first conference. They said it was great; when I asked Tom if I seemed nervous, he asked me, "You were nervous?" I guess I do still have some acting skills in me. We all shook hands and parted ways. Tom invited us to meet up with him, Eric, their ladies, and other people to go bowling. I gave him a definite maybe since I didn't know how our evening would turn out.

Dad was down at the end of the hall when I left the conference room. He said it sounded good and that each speaker was interesting. I told him that the first order of business, since the overwhelming urge to vomit had long since subsided, was for me to eat. So I changed back into my Zappa shirt up in the room, but then I remembered there was someone speaking on the "Paul Is Dead" hoax. The other presenter on the panel talked about the plays of Tom Stoppard, specifically the fan-fiction like nature of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Rock 'N' Roll, which funny enough features as plot elements The Plastic People Of The Universe, Syd Barrett, The Rolling Stones, and a character designed to be Václav Havel; the play itself takes place between the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution in 1989 in Czechoslovakia. So how about that? I talk on The Kinks, then go listen to a talk on The Beatles, and at the same panel another guy talks about a play centered on a country I have studied quite thoroughly.

How's that for conceptual continuity?

Just across the street from where we had lunch at Chartres and Saint Louis, we ate at what I learned afterward was a site of great historical significance - the Napoleon House. I had a savory Greek panini. Dad's red beans and rice looked delicious - I'd have a plate of my own the next night. The restaurant specialized in Italian desserts. I had cassata (spumoni ice cream with jam and cake inside) and Dad had bread pudding, with a strong - but damn good - rum sauce. We also noticed the coffee had an extra something in it. Dad told me it was chicory. Best coffee I've ever had in my life.

The Napoleon House was my favorite place to eat. Not that the rest of my story is downhill from here, far from it in fact. I'm recommending it to each of you if you're ever in New Orleans. Chartres and Saint Louis Streets, can't miss it. They also had a full bar menu. We wandered through the French Quarter to Frenchman Street, which is far enough away from the touristy areas that it was actually quiet.

That is, until we heard a drummer off in the distance. You hear the drums first, and as you get closer, the bass and then the guitars and lastly the vocals are audible. Dad and I paid five bucks a piece to see two bands. And they were great! I didn't get the name of the first band, but they were followed by a group called Pumpkin. They were fantastic - sort of a cross of punk and Devo. Really good music, with some great accompanying movies projected on a screen behind them to boot!

It made for some great father-son bonding time. Dad went to bed, but I ventured to the lobby, where I saw Tom and Eric et al. outside the building. They'd just gotten back, so I walked outside to say hello and tell them how our night went. Eric, his girlfriend (maybe wife or fiance? I can't remember...) and I talked after Tom and his girlfriend called it a night. I really, really wanted a cigarette, and lo and behold I smelled someone enjoying a clove nearby. Two people were, so I asked if I could bum. They obliged, and I got to enjoy my favorite type of smoke while making acquaintance with yet another Eric^.

On this note, I bid you farewell for now. It's now 6:35 and birdies are chirping - my cue to go to bed. Speaking of conceptual continuity, its originator will be discussed in the next part, along with extracts of a fascinating conversation I had with a gay Buddhist from San Francisco, and more.


*My essay can be found here in .pdf format.

** The breakdown is as follows:
1. Urination
2. Defecation
3. Vomiting
4. 1 & 2 together
5. 2 & 3 together
6. 1, 2, & 3
7. Nosebleeds
8. Popping a pimple
9. Menstruation
10. Ejaculation
11. Drooling
12. Sweating

Feel free to contribute to this list as desired.

*** The other half is self-promotion, generating/maintaining visibility in academia.

^ As you all know, between my brother, father, brother's father-in-law, two former bandmates, the President of Young Democratic Socialists, a church camp counselor, a friend from the Zappa class, and two of my brother's friends, I can easily say I have no shortage of guys named Eric in my life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Best News I've Heard In A While

Freddie Mac CFO commits suicide.
Well, I shouldn't be so damned cynical. The man had a family.

But at the same time I'm sure they're getting compensated well for their loss.

I'll be back at some point to expound on the conference, grad school, and other sundry topics. Some things have changed for the better, others...not so much.

And on top of all this, I'm sick with a chest cold. Damn weather - it's 75 this weekend, but drops down to the 40's and rains Monday and Tuesday? Go on, Indiana. Keep taking away any sense of nostalgia or loss I might have when I leave you in late August/early September.

Oh, yes, not just sick with a chest cold, but sick with a chest cold and a rough draft due in three hours, a rough cut of a video documentary due tomorrow, with the final versions of both due next week.

Didn't I just leave this party of projects and deadlines? Jesus.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quick Update

I got into the University of Massachusetts Boston for American Studies!

Same day as I traverse down to New Orleans for the PCA conference - and the same day I found out that I didn't get into Bowling Green State University.

This is what we call cinematic timing.

Now that the wait is over, let's go make this conference a great one.


Friday, April 3, 2009

My Story So Far...Or, DONE!

Hi kids. Good to see Forrest is back and commenting. I guess word spreads fast that I'm actually using this thing again, and regularly.
Gill and I had lunch today. He was free, so I got him to come to Z202 with me. Our discussion veered towards Zappa, but didn't quite get there.

Still, I told him over lunch that we would most likely get to Frank - Gill's been getting into music in a big way lately - which he thought was awesome. Lord knows he's heard me ranting and raving about him like I was his son or something. [Deliberate reference to my father's passing resemblance to FZ.]

So we got sidetracked, as can sometimes happen in the class. Regardless, Glenn showed this neat little clip. Even though we didn't directly discuss Zappa, I put myself in Gill's shoes and could see the "so THIS is where he gets it from!" in his eyes.

It's Frank Zappa on The Monkees, fooling around with my favorite Monkee, Mr. Michael Nesmith. Zappa once said they were "the most honest band in LA."

(One more thing, and then the clip, I promise!) All I can personally say about this is that you really wouldn't see something like this on television.

The song playing while they play the car is "Mother People" from We're Only In It For The Money. You will read this again sooner than you think, but it's my favorite Zappa album.

So, the essays have been revised. Andy has signed the sponsor approval form. We filled out forms giving our availability for the big committee almost feels like the night before Christmas. Or like a store the night before a big inventory shipment is to be put out for Halloween. Everything is all wrapped up and ready.

To commemorate this occasion, I present to you my retrospective statement, the final piece I worked on before completing my project.

It's all done. I can't lie that I'm nervous facing the committee. I don't know why. I don't have to know why. But it's all right, as you know I've been spending the last 22 years looking for something to senselessly lose sleep over.

[Ok, two things:
1. Thank you, Mom, for this seemingly chronic self-doubt and habitual second-guessing. You raised me well.
And 2. Sarcasm deluxe with cheese.]

Still - STILL - nothing! With a rough skeleton of a fallback plan ready, at this point I'm just wanting to know, whatever their decision is. Yes, of course I want to get in to grad school, dammit! I wouldn't have applied if I didn't. But this is almost unnecessary anguish.

I've noticed it's affecting me just a tad, here and there.

[Again - sarcasm, this time with a raspberry vinaigrette atop a bed of sprouts, Romaine lettuce, and topped with feta cheese.]

Read it.

"My primary objective in studying Rock and Roll History through the Individualized Major Program (IMP) was to refocus my academic interests. My first major is Communication and Culture (CMCL), concentrating on film studies. I’m well aware that a student can enter a master’s program completely unrelated to their bachelor’s degree, but I also know that graduate programs have become increasingly competitive. As time passed, I became less enamored with film studies, seeing it as something I could enjoy in my own time and on my own terms.

This didn’t keep me from applying to the CMCL graduate program for the fall of 2008. My newly reignited interest in rock music (due to Professor Andy Hollinden’s class on Frank Zappa and Professor Glenn Gass’ course on The Beatles) resulted in me proposing a study on rock cinema in my statement of purpose. I did not get into the program, which I do not at all regret. I had arranged a Plan B of sorts with Professor Hollinden regarding my pursuit of Rock History through the IMP. I wanted to study the origins and emergence of rock music, its social impact, and to engage in the analysis of specific artists and their works. Thanks to the classes Andy and I chose for my major, each of these goals have been met, and in no small capacity.

Music has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember and beyond. There is home movie footage of me on my third birthday singing “Yellow Submarine” into my new tape player. As I grew up, so did my appreciation of the music; I constantly had my nose in a book about John Lennon, The Who, or The Rolling Stones, among others. In spite of my firm knowledge on the subject, I still had a lot to learn, especially with regard to the early history of rock. Aside from discovering new favorites in Z385 (History of the Blues) and Z201 (Roots of Rock), I heard the music that inspired the musicians I grew up hearing, tracing the musical lineage to the 1920’s and earlier. A shock (though hardly a surprise) was learning about the treatment of African-Americans by the recording industry. There were countless bluesmen we learned about who made fantastic and important recordings in the 1920’s, only to be found thirty years later living in squalor and working as sharecroppers.

My final project is a series of analytical essays on my favorite band, The Kinks and their (almost) sole songwriter, Ray Davies. As part of the British Invasion of the mid-1960’s, their first breakthrough was with “You Really Got Me,” with its distinctive guitar riff and heavily distorted tone, played by Ray’s younger brother Dave. Their career is marred by a combination of poor management in the 1960’s and Ray’s desire (for better or for worse) to pursue his own artistic goals and desires. A series of disputes, which no one in the band’s inner circle seem to agree upon, led to the American Federation of Musicians banning them from touring the United States from 1965 to 1969. In a twist of irony, this period, in which their records were largely unavailable in this country, yielded what both critics and fans now consider their greatest period. Ray’s role as the band’s leader went to its greatest extreme in the mid 1970’s after returning to America with the smash hit single “Lola” in 1970, as the band released a string of concept albums on such themes as urban development, life as a musician, and school. It may sound silly, but it’s the era of The Kinks that I treasure the most.

My initial pitch for the project was an album-by-album review of their career. This posed a few problems, as they have nearly thirty albums to their name; additionally, in their early years (like any band in the pre-Sgt. Pepper world) they were primarily a singles band, with some of their most important early work not appearing on LP. As with any other artist with a lengthy discography, there are bound to be a few duds as well, meaning I’d have to write about their lesser releases in combination with their classic albums. Around September of 2008, I decided to pare it down, reshaping it into essays covering select themes in Ray Davies’ songwriting as well as essays on two different albums.

The course of my research can best be described as a labor of love. There are so many themes to be extracted and discussed from The Kinks’ work that I had a difficult time narrowing it down to the two I chose (the role of class in the 1966 single “Dead End Street” and three songs focusing on America rather than their homeland), but at the same time I was immersing myself even deeper into the words of my favorite lyricist and the music of my favorite band. I found myself learning lots of fascinating little details from the first day I began assembling notes for the essays right on up to my final essay. Many of these little facts were too minute for inclusion in my writings, though one in particular stands out. As a Frank Zappa fan, I was pleased to read in Dave Davies’ autobiography Kink that he always admired Zappa, specifically We’re Only In It For The Money, which by sheer coincidence is also my own favorite.

Of all my primary resources, I found Tom Kitts’ biography on Ray Davies, Not Like Everybody Else, to be the most thorough and best-written. Kitts is a professor of English at St. John’s University in New York, making his approach a more academic one. The great problem I found with Neville Marten and Jeff Hudson’s The Kinks was that their writing style was journalistic, lacking any citation of resources and avoiding any in-depth criticism or analysis. Doug Hinman’s exhaustively researched All Day And All Of The Night traced the day-by-day activities of the band, helping me peg down release dates and significant events in the band’s history. Ray and Dave have both written autobiographies, X-Ray and Kink, respectively. In true fashion, Ray’s is unconventional in that he tells the story of a young journalist interviewing a significantly older version of himself, recounting the band’s history. Dave’s is straightforward, though many of his stories need to be taken with a grain of salt. In spite of that, his book is very honest and revealing.

On a whim last spring, I emailed Professor Kitts to tell him about my project. He took a very keen interest in my work, and along with Hollinden and Gass he has read each of my essays, offering very in-depth comments and suggestions, the kind one could only get from someone who has written on the same subject. It was after reading my initial essay (on their 1970 album Lola Versus Powerman And The Money-Go-Round) that he invited me to speak at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association joint conference in New Orleans from April 8th through the 12th, falling right between the submission of my project and my review before the committee. My topic is “Ray Davies’ Vision of America,” one of four presentations in the popular music category. I can’t think of a better way for my project to come to a close, though I have every intention of returning to this subject at some point in the future.

Since one of my minors is in Slavic Languages and Literatures, my IMP committee suggested (if I had the time) to do an independent study on rock music’s relationship with the underground counterculture in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. It may sound a bit esoteric, but the idea interested me. I found myself short on time last fall to pursue it, unfortunately. However, I am currently in a course on Hungarian culture through Central Eurasian Studies. My professor, Lynn Hooker, encouraged me to do a similar paper on this topic, though centered around Hungary rather than Czechoslovakia. She has recommended two books detailing the history of the suppression of popular music behind the Iron Curtain: Rock Around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, 1954-1988 by Timothy Ryback and Up from the Underground: The Culture of Rock Music in Postsocialist Hungary by Anna Szmere. Additionally, in Z120 (Music in Multimedia), my final project is a brief video documentary on The Kinks, using both found footage and interviews to be filmed by me. Both of these projects are due at the semester’s end and are still in their formative stages at the time of this writing; I can gladly provide more information at the time of my committee review.

I can easily say Z402 (the Music of Frank Zappa) was my favorite class. This was the class that prompted me to rethink my academic interests. Having been a Zappa fan since the age of thirteen, it was both a joy and a revelation to be able to discuss and dissect Zappa’s music in an academic setting. In spite of my preexisting knowledge of the music, I still found myself learning lots of facts about the man and his music. My favorite nonmajor courses (it’s a tie) were both in the Slavic Studies Department. The first was Central European Cinema, which I had with Georgian Professor Dodona Kiziria. It opened my eyes to world cinema, while my second choice, Professor Bronislava Volkova’s course on Czechoslovakian Film and Literature in the Postwar Period took it one step further. The movies are beautifully made, and in the case of Czech cinema they are often laced with black humor. The readings required for both of these classes have become among my favorite books, as well.

When asked why I’m choosing to study Rock History, I tell them it’s all a matter of cultural significance. Though at first glance it may seem frivolous, I explain to whoever asks that I analyze the lyrics in the same way as poetry. Not all artists are subject to as thorough of an analysis as The Kinks or Dylan or Neil Young would be, for example. The lyrics are reflective of both the songwriter and the times; analyzing any artifact of popular culture is a method of studying the way of life in a particular era. In Professor Michael McGerr’s class From Ragtime To Rap, the history of (mostly) American popular music was used as a way of looking at American society from the Victorian era to the present day. The music was then connected with such topics as gender roles, race relations, and the politics of the times. Since I am not a “properly” trained musician, I limit my discussion of the music to how it frames the lyrics and enhances the mood of the song. I also do my best to describe and comment on the music in a way non-musicians can understand. I have read musicological pieces on Zappa and The Beatles, and frankly I found them to be a little dull and not at all captivating.

My decision to study The Kinks solely hinged on my belief that Ray Davies deserves praise for his talent as a lyricist, on a par with John Lennon and Bob Dylan. He could step back and criticize the conservative elements of British society in one song, only to turn around and point a derisive finger towards the hip counterculture of Swinging London. Many of his songs tell stories, putting the listener into another person’s mind and observing their world. His sense of almost cinematic detail is stunning, with his penchant for storytelling giving him a truly unique style.

In regards to my plans post-graduation, I am currently waiting to hear back from the University of Massachusetts Boston, Brooklyn College, Bowling Green State University, and Case Western Reserve. For each respective school, I have applied to American Studies, Musicology, Popular Culture Studies, and Music History programs. With the present situation in the American economy, I’ve become well-aware that many graduate programs are feeling the squeeze, prompting me (in a situation not unfamiliar to me) to form a fallback plan in the event I am not admitted to any of the above institutions. If graduate school is not in the cards this time around, I will reapply to the same programs. In the meantime, I’m making plans to relocate to Austin, Texas, a city that boasts a thriving economy, music scene, and arts culture. I’ll resume work on my Kinks essays and seek to get them published upon completion. Wherever life takes me, I know I’ll be happy."

I'm proud of that ending. Not conventional, but sort of my way of flipping the bird to this tanking economy. It won't get me down. So long as I'm happy with what I'm doing, whatever and wherever that may be (though the latter is certainly key in shaping my happiness), life will be good.

There's other stuff going on. Madness with the future in-laws. Doesn't quite have me rethinking the whole thing, but it's certainly like having a really deep splinter stuck in your skin. Don't quite know what to do with it.

In some ways, I hate the fact that I won't have a father-in-law who can sit down and talk with me about Neil Young or someone like that. Her mother won't tell me about how she grew up with the biggest crush on Keith Partridge or Ricky Nelson. Nope.

If I travel for her brother's wedding - yes, a date has been set - we're going to Dallas first, then we get to ride in a car with her parents for five hours between Dallas and San Antonio.

Oh, and they don't listen to music in the car.

Ok, so maybe I'm rethinking some things. Especially since the debate of "Where's the money going to come from?" rages on. I don't quite have the courage to tell my parents that I'd like for them to fund this excursion. Her parents won't. In spite of their, um, well-to-do-ness, they aren't one for charity. And if Shelley pays my way, they apparently can't know this?

She doesn't want to be there alone. And I don't blame her. Her brother met his future wife in October, had the engagement plans ready by December, proposed in March, and will be marrying her in June. They've also seen each other less than ten times. This is all somehow fine with Shelley's parents and family, and yet there will be aneurysms aplenty with her own betrothal. Even though we've dated for nearly all of our college career, the engagement came after three years...oh, yeah, and we fucking postponed our original planned date to, um, please certain parties.

This is too depressing to discuss. I can't even remedy these feelings with my usual sarcasm and cynicism.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Midnight Snack Recipes

If you're ever feeling a bit hungry in the middle of the night and need a quick fix, try these on for size. In spite of the similarities of ingredients, the tastes were remarkably different.

Sweet And Spicy Garlic Toast
Spread sweet and spicy mustard over a slice of bread (rye, wheat, white, pumpernickel - your choice)
Sprinkle as much garlic powder as you like - I recommend the California blend
Cover the mustard/garlic with shredded cheese (I used cheddar, but again - your call. If you want to use Monterey Jack, go right ahead.)
Put in toaster over until cheese is melted, or the underside of the toast appears browned.

I made it on a complete whim. One food that has always eluded me - as much as I'd like to try it - has been Welsh Rarebit (or Rabbit - both spellings work), which is apparently a cheese/beer/mustard/paprika concoction drizzled over toast. It sounds really good. I can only envision what it tastes like. Another one I'm interested in is Scotch Woodcock (again with the deceptive name), which is lightly scrambled egg & cheese with anchovy (or anchovy paste) on toast.

My only issue with the first recipe here is that a little bit of sweet and spicy mustard goes a long way. Spread just enough that you can still see the bread's pores. Trust me.

This next one I made with a bit more of a purpose.

Brown Mustard Garlic Toast
Spread spicy brown mustard over a piece of bread.
Sprinkle garlic powder and black pepper to your desire.
Top with shredded cheese (in my case, cheddar) and a dash of Parmesan.
Put in toaster oven, melting cheese and making the toast golden brown.

Try it out. Let me know what you think. I'm sort of experimenting with maximizing flavor while minimizing costs. Bread is cheap. Mustard is cheap. Shredded cheese is cheap.

Other items I find myself buying due to their price:
+ Potatoes
+ Sweet potatoes
+ Baked beans
+ Low-end cereal, usually store brand
+ (Rarely) Hot dogs
+ Wheat bread
+ Soy milk
+ Granny Smith apples
+ Pickles
+ Ramen noodles (Beef, Chicken, and Oriental)

M@, Forrest, you've been to college. Any cheap-ass recipes you recommend? I've heard baked bean sandwiches are popular at colleges in the UK, much like Ramen noodles here.