Friday, April 11, 2008

Pop Conference Revisited, Part 2: Academia Goes Pop

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 is the second of two related entries. Earlier this week I talked about how I ended up involved in the conference and how the presentation was put together. Now here are some of my impressions of what I experienced while in Seattle.

The conference itself was a lot of fun. I met some very cool people and had some great experiences. When a group of us went out to dinner after the opening night hoopla, Daphne and I ended up at a table with keynote speaker Jonathan Lethem and Rhapsody programming honcho Tim Quirk in a particularly animated discussion about the music industry and the '80s scene. At the cocktail reception on the last night of the conference, I met Douglas Wolk who pulled out a copy of his then-yet-to-be-published Reading Comics to share with me.

In between, there were fascinating moments in many of the panels, including Joshua Clover basically filtering Scorpions' "Wind of Change" and Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now" through the historical significance of Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. His subtle sense of humor really played well in his presentation.

Tim's paper looked at the play statistics he had access to via Rhapsody. Because of the very nature of the service, hip-hop and R&B were woefully underrepresented. Tim knew this going in, prefaced his paper with it, and restated it throughout the heated Q&A, but it was to no avail. The race card was continually brought up and bandied about -- primarily by Clover and Sasha Frere-Jones. Daphne Brooks (who is African American and who was on the same panel with Tim and
Robert Christgau) remained ever classy, while Xgau sat with an alternatingly confused and amused look on his face as the audience got more and more hostile. It was one of the most entertaining Q&As of the conference.

Michaelangelo Matos' paper taking a look "Behind the Bob Marley Poster on the Dorm Room Wall" was infused with his signature humor, and Daphne's in-depth look at Hot Topic as the enabler of suburban emo teens was interesting and entertaining. On the same "Iconography" panel as Matos and Daphne was "fashion anthropologist" and
author Erica Easley's look at the history and future of rock t-shirts. Great stuff all around!

The panel I took part in, "My Hometown", had some good moments as well.
Andy Beta's take on "Is Anybody Going to San Antone?", and Charlie Bertsch's take on the Tucson indie scene were fantastic. My own presentation prompted a dialog with Holly George-Warren around the outlying factors that influenced Michael Stanley's inability to make it big on a national stage, which was very cool.

In all, the Pop Conference was a good experience -- both
the work that went into creating my paper and the conference itself. This year's theme of "Shake, Rattle: Music, Conflict, and Change" struck me as more of a stunt than anything else because many of the people who attend the conference love to stir the pot with the race card. Regardless of that, I do recommend attending the conference if you are able. There is some great dialog that should and does take place there that really get to the heart of music, the art of music writing, and the business of the industries.

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