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.


No comments: