Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pop Conference Revisited, Part 1: Putting It All Together

Marking the 2008 Pop Conference this week, Field's Edge is publishing for the first time a written version of the multimedia presentation I delivered at last year's conference, "Greatest Hints: How Michael Stanley Almost Made Cleveland Famous". Here on Random Thoughts Escaping is the first of two related entries. First up is some background of what went in to putting the paper together. Later this week I'll share some of my thoughts on the conference itself.

In April 2007, I attended Experience Music Project's annual symposium designed to bring together academics, writers, performers, and other music lovers into a common conversation at the Pop Conference in Seattle, Washington.

The journey there, however, started for me in late November 2006 when my friend
Daphne Carr suggested I get an abstract together and submit it to the selection committee. The theme of last year's Pop Conference was music and how it relates to time and place, and I settled on an exploration of the role the civic image of an artist's hometown plays in their attempt at national stardom, focusing on late '70s and early '80s Cleveland and the Michael Stanley Band. Once I received word the following January that my proposal had been accepted, I took a hiatus from my writing and editorial work at PopMatters, and set about researching and putting the project together over the next few months.

I attempted to set up interviews with anyone even tangentially involved in Cleveland radio and music, and Michael Stanley's career. I ended up having email conversations with original MTV VJ Mark Goodman and WMMS disc jockeys Kid Leo and Jeff Kinzbach about what was going on at the time from their perspectives. I sat down with folks like David Spero, who was Michael's first manager, and Hank LoConti, owner of the legendary
Agora where Stage Pass was recorded. I tracked down Don Grierson, who signed MSB to EMI, through one of Janet Macoska's great photographs in Mike Olszewski's fantastic book, Radio Daze: Stories from the Front in Cleveland's FM Air Wars. (A must-read!) The generosity, honesty, and frankness of these people regarding Michael's career and the state of Cleveland's music scene were invaluable to the project.

I also spoke to the musicians themselves who were on the ground as the era unfolded. Band members Bob Pelander and Tommy Dobeck were liberal in the information they were willing to share, and I talked to
Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band, who played sax on MSB's Heartland album. And I met with Michael, having numerous discussions about his career, his musical drive, the business side of music, the people of Northeast Ohio, and life in general, I suppose. These were the people who really were able to provide a framework in which I would ultimately craft the paper.

After wrapping up interviews by mid-February, I went about transcribing the hours of interviews and the even more difficult task of taking that original idea in the
abstract and fleshing it out into a coherent 20-minute presentation.

The Pop Conference is held at the
Experience Music Project facility, so stepping out from behind the bounds of a simple podium is encouraged. Multimedia audio and visual presentations are encouraged, because even rock 'n roll can get a little dry when caste in the dull veneer of academia. I ended up narrating a DVD that incorporated the sound bytes of my conversations with Michael directly into the presentation, and used (with her gracious permission) some of Janet's stunning photography of the era to enhance it all. The end result conveyed my original ideas blended in a visual medium almost exactly how I'd envisioned them.

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