Blogging at the intersection of urban studies and popular music

in exile: the rootless cosmopolitanism of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club

in exile: the rootless cosmopolitanism of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club

I’ve never quite understood why the Gun Club, one of the all-time great Los Angeles bands, had an estranged relationship with their city of origin. It seems to me no local critic or serious music fan can deny their impact on L.A.’s music legacy. One of the great cult bands...
putting the Hudson Valley on the musical map: Basilica Soundscape and O+ Festival

putting the Hudson Valley on the musical map: Basilica Soundscape and O+ Festival

Over the last month I’ve been writing for Sound It Out, a new music blog that covers adventurous new music from a snark-free, consumer-friendly point of view. “The music may be evil, but we’ll try not to be” is the motto. Most of my writings there are basic reviews and...
the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #50-41

the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #50-41

Today I take up a question of pop-culture history: which performers made the most unexpected left turns with their careers?  I farmed this question out awhile back to readers of this blog, and today I start filing the results based on my own subjective assessment.  Debate and criticisms are welcome...
Martha and the Muffins: a book project in musical urbanism

Martha and the Muffins: a book project in musical urbanism

This summer I begin in earnest a new research project on the Canadian new wave group Martha and the Muffins.  I’ve blogged about them extensively already, focusing on the mixed-gender approach and geographical sensibilities that inform their work.  The book I intend to write will incorporate these into a new...
sound in 70 cities: the European urbanism of Simple Minds

sound in 70 cities: the European urbanism of Simple Minds

Dream, dream, dream It’s the eighties’ youthful theme Loving the city A theme for great cities And loved ones And love – “Wonderful In Young Life” (1981)   Americans know them mostly as “that Breakfast Club band” from the 80s, but Scotland’s Simple Minds have carried on in one form...
musical suburbanism, pt. 1: Kidz Bop and the commodification of kids' listening

musical suburbanism, pt. 1: Kidz Bop and the commodification of kids’ listening

Last summer I took a family roadtrip and was driven slightly insane by the heavy rotation of Kidz Bop CDs on the car stereo.  In a rare moment of solitude carved out of a frenzied week, I sent out these missives via Twitter:   1. if one promise of musical...
studying the college music scene and beyond

studying the college music scene and beyond

Remember the bands that formed in college?  You heard them at dorm parties, frat parties, apartment parties, the campus bar, battle-of-the-bands competitions, and impromptu outdoor settings.  They practiced in dorm rooms, dorm basements, conservatory and theater rooms, backyard sheds, and laundry rooms, amusing/irritating neighbors and passers-by.  Many college rockers and...
Tito Larriva: the hombre secreto of L.A.'s culture industry

Tito Larriva: the hombre secreto of L.A.’s culture industry

As a central destination for musicians, actors, filmmakers and artists, Los Angeles has more than its share of unsung, forgotten or behind-the-scenes figures who have made a significant mark on the city in the course of their careers. In this category, one of my favorites is Tito Larriva, who readers...
living the urban crisis at the new wave rent party

living the urban crisis at the new wave rent party

I recently downloaded the reissued Human Switchboard album, Who’s Landing in my Hangar? Anthology 1977-1984, which set me off again obsessing about a subgenre of new wave that I’ve never really seen recognized.  I don’t even know how best to name this subgenre, although I’m convinced it has a musical coherence. ...
looking for the Hudson Valley hipster

looking for the Hudson Valley hipster

In the town where I live, there’s been a lot of chatter over a recent NY Times article which reports how Brooklynites (an apparent synonym for NYC’s mobile, creative types) are descending upon the Hudson Valley area some 75 miles north of the city to live, visit, consume, and generally do...
musical urbanism: statement of a scholarly project

musical urbanism: statement of a scholarly project

It’s promotion review time for me, and in writing a research statement for the three anonymous sociologists evaluating my work, I’ve had the occasion to compile and synthesize my thinking on musical urbanism into a single essay.  Think of this post as a users manual for understanding what I’ve been...
how Joy Division came to sound like Manchester

how Joy Division came to sound like Manchester

[Update: this blog post has been expanded and revised into an article for the Journal of Popular Music Studies.] I’m always puzzled when I hear how Elvis Presley or Mick Jagger “sounded black” when they first appeared on the radio.  Back in the 70s, when I was a kid listening...
just stay put: an alternative vision for arts-based urban revitalization

just stay put: an alternative vision for arts-based urban revitalization

Here are some thoughts about a different way to think about arts-based urban revitalization, written in the form of a suspiciously confident manifesto.  These ideas are completely pie-in-the-sky and fly in the face of the prevailing wisdom in this field, but I’m fine with that if it reveals some fallacies...
Latest entries
tuff Marian: sociological fiction and other people’s pictures

tuff Marian: sociological fiction and other people’s pictures

One of my most exciting and challenging writing assignments is now available. I was asked to write 150-200 words of text to accompany a photo featured in Other People’s Pictures: Snapshots from the Peter J. Cohen Gift, an exhibit that just opened at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College. Here’s the picture...
concert stories: an #aprilconcertchallenge collection

concert stories: an #aprilconcertchallenge collection

Last week, a Facebook meme made the rounds asking users to list “10 Concerts I’ve Been To, One is a Lie.” While I’m game for almost any music list meme, I didn’t participate because I got sucked into into a smaller one on Instagram created by an old punk rocker @bookishlife: the #aprilconcertchallenge. I think...
The World Is A Ball and four Martha & the Muffins albums

The World Is A Ball and four Martha & the Muffins albums

Today I published a review essay of the reissue of Martha and the Muffins’ sixth album, The World Is A Ball, on the music blog Sound It Out. If you landed here from that blog looking for my list of the four superior albums by the band, they are their debut release and the three...
how to teach Musical Urbanism in three lectures

how to teach Musical Urbanism in three lectures

Thought I would share this for teachers and academics: a guest lecture section that I just gave in an undergraduate Introduction to Urban Studies course taught by Lisa Brawley at Vassar College. Readers are welcome to incorporate or adapt this material into their own teachings.   Day 1: Theorizing the post-industrial city Readings: Richard Lloyd...
favorite music of 2016

favorite music of 2016

2016: the year everyone died David Bowie released Blackstar on a Friday in January (his birthday), and by Sunday he was gone. Creating his most adventurous music in decades, the starman delivered a eulogy for himself and a lament for the condition of justice in the world. Still, I’d trade in this album of the...
David Mancuso at Dub Spot Records

David Mancuso at Dub Spot Records

In this year of awful news, I wonder if we’re currently experiencing what evangelical Christians call the rapture. Only now the evangelicals remain on earth, while great people whose contributions made the world a better place are passing away almost daily. Just reviewing the music world memoriam since January: David Bowie, Lemmy, Glenn Frey, Blowfly...
nu-metal, affective masculinities and suburban identities: guest blog by Niccolo Dante Porcello

nu-metal, affective masculinities and suburban identities: guest blog by Niccolo Dante Porcello

[Here’s the second 2016 senior thesis in musical urbanism I’m pleased to share on this blog. Too young to experience nu-metal when it first came out, Niccolo Porcello produced this provocative hot-take on the 1990s subgenre and its roots in heavy metal and hip hop subculture. His other senior thesis adviser and I gave this...
the commodification of Appalachian music: guest blog by Julia Simcoe

the commodification of Appalachian music: guest blog by Julia Simcoe

[This past year, I had the delight to supervise two Vassar College senior theses that, through no effort of mine, were inspiring and insightful examples of research in musical urbanism. With these students’ permission, I’m going to share their theses on this blog. The first comes from Sociology major Julia Simcoe (‘16), whose work reflects...
new publications

new publications

I’ve had a couple of articles published in the past month. First, and most relevant to my musical urbanism project, an article about the proto-EU visions traced in the career of Simple Minds, “Sound in 70 Cities: The European Urbanism of Simple Minds,” has been published in a new edited volume: Unsichtbare Landschaften/Invisible Landscapes: Popular...
a few words about Glenn Frey

a few words about Glenn Frey

They say the deaths of significant cultural figures come in threes. It seems you don’t get to choose those three, because here we are: Lemmy Kilmeister. David Bowie. And now, Glenn Frey. Growing up a music snob, certain groups you naturally come to disdain and mock. The Eagles and Glenn Frey in particular filled that...
favorite music of 2015

favorite music of 2015

Shilpa Ray – Last Year’s Savage This year there was hardly a more fearless, unique voice in rock music — where my listening preferences once again tended toward — than Shilpa Ray. Her style is quintessentially rooted in a bygone era of born-to-lose rock (cf. “Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp”), but Last Year’s Savage finally...
sustainability and quality of life in the Hudson Valley

sustainability and quality of life in the Hudson Valley

[I was asked to give a ten-minute “mini-keynote” talk to a meeting of academics, nonprofit and public agency execs, and civically minded business leaders at Marist College for its 2015 Sustainability Day event, at the invitation of Peter Bienstock (Hudson River Valley Institute) and Ann Davis (Economics). My subject: the Hudson Valley’s quality of life, its...

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