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.

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.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Not My) Fault

Although I've seen many of the movies based on Stephen King's work (Stand By Me, The Shining, and The Shawshank Redemption being three of the best), I'm not a fan of his novels. Nor am I a fan of Entertainment Weekly, but my wife subscribes. If I see the magazine lying around the house, I will often flip to just inside the back cover to read King's column -- "The Pop of King". King's sharp eye and clever insight as a cultural observer are on full display in past treatises on J.K. Rowling and Amazon's Kindle. In this week's column, he sets his sights on the phenomenon of "politicians as surrogate parents" that dates back to Tipper Gore and the PMRC to my child-of-the-'80s eye, and certainly beyond. As expected, King's take is chock-full of common sense.