Tag Archives: Music

#UHA2018

In Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 film “24 Hour Party People,” then-television journalist and future Factory Records founder Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) ventures out into the cool Manchester, England night one evening to take in a rock show. What he sees changes his life and those of millions of others forever.

“In the fall of 1976, the Sex Pistols play Manchester for the very first time,” he tells the camera. “There are only 42 people in the audience but every one of them is feeding on a power, an energy, a madness. Inspired, they will go out and perform wondrous deeds.” Wilson’s record label would help to define the “Manchester Scene” (think the Stone Roses and Charlatans UK, for non-Factory artists) which dominated alternative music from the mid-1990s until the early aughts. In attendence? Members of the Buzzcocks, Joy Division (later New Order), and Martin Hannett, “the only true genius in this story,” as Wilson opines. Hannett was the producer responsible for several of the landmark albums of the period. Sure the Pistols never sold that many albums and less than fifty people caught the show, but much like the Velvet Underground and the Ramones who sold few albums overall, everyone who bought one started a band. Punk sought, wittingly or unwittingly, to topple hierarchies.

Far be it for The Metropole to assert that #UHA2018 created a new cultural touchstone like punk or post-punk, but anyone who attended this year’s Urban History Association Conference, “Cities at a Crossroads,” in Columbia, S.C. came away prepared to spit historical hot fire to power.  Encapsulated by the exemplary round table honoring Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto and the concluding plenary session commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, the conference ended with a passionate, compelling statement of purpose inspired by keynote speaker Dr. June Manning Thomas: historians will engage in the battle against structural inequality, be it based on race, class, gender or sexual orientation.

It seems appropriate on two counts to tell the story of the conference through the people who attended it and with a technology that, much like punk, has contributed to the transformation and reordering of culture: Twitter. So with that in mind The Metropole brings you scenes from UHA2018 derived from the hashtag: #UHA2018.

Anticipation

“The bells go off
The buzzer coughs
The traffic starts to buzz
The clothes are stiff
The fabrics itch
The fit’s a little rough”

— “Price Tag” Sleater Kinney

On the song “Price Tag” from its 2015 album “No Cities to Love,” the band Sleater-Kinney (part of the second wave of the riot girl movement and a descendant of the Sex Pistols) sings about the crushing monotony of a job based on the grinding nature of the American economy. “We love our bargains, we love the prices so low. With the good jobs gone. It’s gonna be raw.” On the title track, they joke acidly that “[t]here are no cities to love, It’s not the cities it’s the weather we love.”  #UHA2018 rejected one of these premises (“no cities to love” obviously), endorsed another (neoliberalism has not been kind to cities), while enjoying yet another: the fine Columbia weather. All these factors contributed to a palpable, enthusiastic anticipation.

The opening reception held at the University of South Carolina President’s House enjoyed great weather.

An intrepid half-dozen folks braved a chilly Friday morning and rose early for 3.25 mile run led by Historic Columbia’s John Sherrer, who managed to detail numerous aspects of the city’s history while maintaining a brisk running pace.

Conference panels kicked off at 8 am on Friday, and participants never looked back.

Not that everything goes smoothly–after all, the struggles of academic conferences are real. Murphy’s law, one might suggest. Predictably, Murphy’s Law is not only a concept but also a NYC hardcore punk band.

There were Foulcaldian debates, or, perhaps more accurately, debates about using Foucault.

In regard to local history, the UHA and Historic Columbia offered numerous tours.

Breakfast and other necessary sustenance

To be honest, beyond straight-edge artists like Minor Threat and their successor Fugazi, a lot of punk bands drank excessively and/or used copious amount of hunger-suppressing drugs. Culinary delight did not really factor into the scene.

Indeed, continental breakfast was provided. Some however, such as Amanda Seligman, preferred protein.

Then again, one can have too much of a good thing.

Still, protein focused tweets aside, even with some free grub conference goers built up healthy appetites whether paneling, touring, or making the rounds–though they might not have satiated said hunger with the most nutritious options.

Remembering Arnold Hirsch and the Orangeburg Massacre of 1968

With stomachs full and hunger satiated, historians could return to the work at hand, perhaps exemplified by the late-afternoon round table on Arnold Hirsch and his classic work Making the Second Ghetto. “So understand me when I say, there’s no love for this USA,” Bad Brains lead singer H.R. howled in 1982, “this world is doomed with its own segregation, just a Nazi test.” The penultimate verse of the band’s song “The Big Takeover” serves as a useful framing device for a round table that tackled the thorny issues laid bare by Hirsch, those things he missed, and the influence that the work had on them along with its relevance to present-day white nationalism and racism. Princeton Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor put together a panel equivalent to the Clash, the Stooges, and Bad Brains combined: Simon Balto, N.B. Connolly, Lilia Fernandez, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Rhonda Williams. Discussion of Hirsch’s work unfolded in typical #UHA2018 fashion: informed, impassioned, and, for many, inspiring. In his closing remarks, moderator Tom Sugrue described the panel and field as “on fire.”

The plenary session that followed, commemorating the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre and featuring Patricia A. Sullivan, June Manning Thomas, Heather Ann Thompson, and Henrie Monteith Treadwell, proved no less inspiring.

This sort of work demands a support system: colleagues, family, and of course friends.  Friendship, both collegial and personal, we hope is a hallmark of the conference. After all, it was perhaps the only institution outside of Rastafarianism that Bad Brains embraced: “We, we got ourselves, gonna sing, gonna love it, gonna work it out to any length. We, we got ourselves, we gonna make it anyway.”

In a quirk of timing, the end of #UHA2018 coincided with Columbia’s Pride Parade.

Just to close the whole punk circle that opened our summary, when those 42 people walked out of that Sex Pistols show in Manchester, they wobbled out drunk on the promise of D.I.Y. agency–hierarchies toppled at least for a little while. The echos of their contribution to reforming music still inform the present day. In the same way, we hope UHA members barrelled home, fires burning in their wake, the knees of hegemonies knocking, new histories forming, new realities dawning. Or at the very least, a renewed attention to discovering, conveying and broadcasting urban history to each other, students, and the public.

Featured photo at top provided by Aaron Shkuda taken October 19, 2018.

Lady Bird: Discussing Teen Angst, Class, and Early Aughts Sacramento

Like many collaborative digital projects, The Metropole is entirely assembled via remote correspondence; as co-editors, Ryan and I send daily emails between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. In between editing submissions, we brainstorm future blog posts and trade banter about music, books, and movies. Ryan approaches pop culture with a typically Gen X cynicism, while I own my sunny millennial optimism. So in March, when Ryan suggested we review Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird as part of our Metropolis of the Month coverage of Sacramento, I was curious about how each of us would respond to the film. You might be surprised to find which one of us was the bigger fan.

Without further ado, our conversation about the film:  

AO: So, Ryan, I thought I would kick off this conversation about Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird by asking you what you enjoyed about the film.

RR: Good question. Well first of all I am, even in my middle age, always a sucker for “coming of age” stories, particularly those with difficult protagonists. In some ways, Lady Bird McPherson (Saoirse Ronin) aka Christine McPherson is somewhat reminiscent of another problematic, angsty, coming of age teen character, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) from The Edge of Seventeen. Both fail to really appreciate the problems of others around them, take their respective best friends for granted, and drive their parent(s) crazy. Critically, both characters are also very compelling. So I’m glad that there seems to be a burgeoning effort to document the travails and challenges of adolescence for young women. Whether such efforts fall into the same traps as those focusing on young male protagonists such as Richard Linklater’s highly overrated and tragically boring (just one man’s opinion, don’t @ me) Boyhood, remains to be seen. Equally important, Lady Bird, to a much greater extent than The Edge of Seventeen, gives voice to the parents in the film. What can be said about Laurie Metcalf’s performance as mother Maureen McPherson that hasn’t been discussed already? Traci Letts, as Lady Bird’s father, is great also; a newly unemployed dad with the soft touch toward his daughter that complements Metcalf’s harsher (but sometimes justified) parenting style.

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Three other things to note. I like the inclusion of Lady Bird’s brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), who may or may not have witnessed someone being stabbed in front of Sacramento City High School, and his girlfriend Shelly Yuhan (Marielle Scott). While I always enjoy movies depicting sibling relationships, both Shelly and Miguel enable the viewers to better understand Metcalf’s character, who Lady Bird believes doesn’t like her and at times feels overbearing. The truth is much more complex as both Shelly and Miguel convey to Lady Bird throughout the movie.

Second, I love both problematic boyfriends. Lucas Hedges, who plays the (obviously) closeted lead actor of the theater group Lady Bird joins, deviates from the role he played in Manchester by the Sea and provides a counterbalance to Lady Bird’s own self absorption. In contrast, Timothée Chalamet, the idiotic second boyfriend, loves to be seen smoking while reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, makes strange statements about state surveillance that sound smart at first but soon reveal a deep reservoir of stupidity, and delivers terrific pseudo-intellectual musings such as when, after Lady Bird loses her virginity to him and is upset that it wasn’t his first time, he says, “you’re going to have so much unspecial sex” in life. Oh, and he also tries to avoid capitalism by living by “bartering alone.”

Finally, as someone who attended 12 years of parochial Catholic school, I pine for uniforms and the regimentation of a religious education.

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Greta Gerwig as the titular character in Frances Ha from 2012

One does wonder if Lady Bird isn’t really a younger Frances Ha, Gerwig’s previous directorial effort, though one she co-directed with her partner Noah Baumbach.  Baumbach tends to cover similar territory, meaning the troubled nature of the nuclear family, but his films focus more on elite or academic East Coast families that struggle with deep fissures of dysfunction (The Squid and the Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories) whereas there is much more warmth in Gerwig’s film, and for that I am deeply thankful.

You know at this moment a lot of people are hailing Roseanne Barr’s return to prominence with the new season of Roseanne–notably since, as in its first iteration, it focuses on the lives of working class/lower middle class families. In Lady Bird, I think Gerwig offers a real window into a similar demographic but one we rarely hear from, the West Coast working class. Often movies, like Nebraska, emphasize the difficulties of Midwestern or Rust Belt towns and their inhabitants, but Sacramento, “the midwest of California” as Lady Bird puts it, provides a different take on this well worn topic. Plus, Laurie Metcalf stars in both, a neat little “no degrees of separation.”

All that said, I feel like you didn’t enjoy this film as much as I did. So what bugged you about Lady Bird?

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Sacramento River view from across the water from Sacramento, California’s capital city, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2012, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

AO: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why Lady Bird did not resonate with me, though I do think it’s a fine film. I think it has to do with being stuck between Lady Bird and her mother. I’m past adolescence, but not yet distant enough to romanticize it. I still remember my own embarrassing decisions too vividly to comfortably watch Lady Bird make her own impulsive, selfish choices. And I’m not yet a parent who can nod along in sympathy with the McPherson’s frustration.

That said, I thought the performances were brilliant. Saoirse Ronin was magnetic, Laurie Metcalf was fierce, and the movie sparkles (with warmth, as you said Ryan) when the two of them are together on screen acting opposite one another. How many times have I been in a store with my own mother, bickering, when the perfect dress stopped us in our tracks? That moment felt so real and relatable to me.

You make a great point about the particular geography and demographic that this movie portrays. I think the use of the big blue house–which Lady Bird and her best friend admire while walking home each day, and then turns out to belong to the grandmother of Lady Bird’s first boyfriend–worked so effectively to communicate how social distance and spatial difference in Sacramento do not share a proportional correlation. The big blue house was not terribly far away from the McPherson’s, though the difference in wealth was palpable; and yet, although Lady Bird lives “on the other side of the tracks” she shares her whiteness, education, and middle class values with the family of her boyfriend. I could have dispensed with the entire subplot about courting the new boyfriend (though I agree the pseudo-intellectualism was funny) and the new rich friends that come along with him. The big blue house did enough to make Gerwig’s point about class.

So that’s what I liked and felt like Gerwig really got right–and also what I think was weak about the movie. Some women make it through high school without selling out their best friend for a boy. It’s a tired plot line.

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Racks Boutique in Sacramento, the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2012, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

RR: Yeah, it’s not the most original take, though I wonder how much of that is about gender and how much is about the stereotypical structure of a teen coming of age story, even off-the-beaten-path adolescent experiences. The whole “journey” of self discovery often hinges on a protagonist approaching some unrequited love while ignoring the best friend standing next to them (which sometimes turns out to the be the love interest as well, the whole “not knowing what you have in your own backyard” deal). I guess what I’m saying is that dudes sell out best friends in movies for girls all the time–Rushmore and Better Off Dead are two examples that pop into my head. So in a very limited way, it felt like progress that quirky, difficult Lady Bird could be out there getting some without guilt or any terror, besides making a few mistakes in regard to her object of attraction and longstanding friendships. I could go on about heteronormativity, hence the next Rubicon to cross in the infrastructure of the “coming of age” film. I suppose last year’s Call Me By Your Name does this to some extent.

I agree the movie, as a colleague of mine put it, “treats Sacramento like a another character” even down to cliches like being from the “wrong side of the tracks” which both Lady Bird and Danny play for awkward laughs in very different moments. The town really does have a sort of West Coast Midwestern feel–warmer colors and light than you find typically in the Middle West, but with a very matter of fact approach to life. The Joan Didion epigraph that opens the movie is pretty telling in this regard: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent Christmas in Sacramento.”

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Rosie the Riveter mural on an abandoned building in Sacramento, California, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Can I also applaud Gerwig for some pop culture bravery? I mean she rehabilitates Dave Matthews in a serious way in this film. In fact, the Matthew’s song in question, “Crash” (a tune that launched a thousand prom dances and wistful scenes of adolescents staring blankly out into their “future”) plays a critical role in Lady Bird’s maturation. The only thing braver would have been to do the same for Hootie and the Blowfish. Can Sacramento be the Dave Matthews “Crash” of American cities?

AO: I’m not sure Sacramento was ever cool enough to fall as far as the Dave Matthews Band did. I did recently find and listen to my copy of that album and, after years of dismissing and scoffing at DMB, I confess that I fell back in love with quite a few of the songs on it. So anything is possible!

 

Featured image (image at top): The 2012 California State Fair held in Sacramento, California, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2012, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Member of the Week: Claudio Daflon

20150531_104913Claudio Daflon

@claudiodaflon

Doctoral Candidate in History

University of Connecticut 

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My dissertation is about the expansion of the national university system towards the metropolitan municipalities of the Gran Buenos Aires. It questions how this process relates to the urbanization and transformation processes experienced in the conurbano bonaerense in the last three decades. I depart from the idea that only politicians and state educational policies have been influential in this expansion; multiple, contradictory voices participated in historical developments that institutional agents certainly did not always expect. Apart from the dissertation, I’m also working with some colleagues on a project about samba music and citizenship in Rio de Janeiro.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I’m currently a teaching assistant at UConn. I have taught courses as different as Contemporary European History, Western Civilization, and the recent history of the United States. The experience of teaching different courses is enriching. I have been fortunate to have the liberty to relate some of my discussions to topics connected to my specific research.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I strongly recommend one of my latest readings: Matthew Karush’s new book Musicians in Transit: Argentina and the Globalization of Popular Music. It narrates the transnational careers of some Argentinian artists, exploring themes such as popular culture, race, global cultural industry, and how they relate to Argentine national identity. I’m excited to start reading historian Jason Chang’s recent monograph Chino: Anti-Chinese Racism in Mexico, 1880-1940, which investigates how racial discrimination against Chinese Mexicans played an important role in the revolutionary Mexican state nation-building process.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

In my experience, reading the most recent ‘classics’ of the field (whatever time and national scopes they cover) is a key step to developing the necessary skills to frame relevant questions for our own work.

What Brazilian city are tourists mistakenly leaving off their itinerary, and why do you recommend they visit it?

I’m very curious about Recife, the capital of the northeastern Pernambuco state. The city holds a long history of cultural encounters (that includes the occupation by the Dutch and the slave traffic that fed the sugar cane industry) and complex urban developments. I’m especially attracted by its effervescent popular culture, which combines many traditional folk expressions to very cosmopolitan influences. Recife is now a powerhouse in cinema, theater, and music; its nightlife is described as very vibrant, and its carnival as one of the best in Brazil. Sometimes overshadowed by the paradisiac beaches of the Brazilian Northeast, Recife is definitely a city that visitors should add to their travel plans.