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
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...
metro music: creativity, place and alienation in the career of Martha & the Muffins

metro music: creativity, place and alienation in the career of Martha & the Muffins

[Presented at the University of Toronto Department of Sociology on May 1, 2015. Thanks to Judith Taylor and John Hannigan for this opportunity.] It’s a pleasure to speak today on a new research project I’m working on. In anticipation of this talk, I had a couple of other topics I could have lectured on with...
scenes in the 10.0 era: a conversation with Pitchfork editor Mark Richardson

scenes in the 10.0 era: a conversation with Pitchfork editor Mark Richardson

On April 15, the Musical Urbanism seminar brought Mark Richardson, editor-in-chief at Pitchfork, to Vassar College for an informal conversation about independent music, online journalism, and the relevance of places and scenes in an era of digital music. With hardly any effort made to publicize the event, the lecture hall was packed with Vassar students....
looking for the new Brooklyn: creative migrations & musical landscapes in upstate New York

looking for the new Brooklyn: creative migrations & musical landscapes in upstate New York

For the Musical Urbanism seminar, Hua Hsu and I were pleased to invite Piotr Orlov to speak about his research on musical legacies and migrations in upstate New York. Here’s the video of our conversation (apologies for the way his mic drops in and out between 7:30-27:00). “Leonard Nevarez and Hua Hsu of Vassar College’s...
how I discovered Martha and the Muffins' "Metro Music"

how I discovered Martha and the Muffins’ “Metro Music”

In ninth grade, my musical interests shifted from hard rock heard on the radio to the new wave and punk I discovered from tape mixes and recommendations passed on by the new kids I was hanging with. I chalk this shift in listening habits up in some part to the attraction that the city held...
has the Hudson Valley become the "new Brooklyn" yet?

has the Hudson Valley become the “new Brooklyn” yet?

In the endlessly diverting media game of finding the next Brooklyn, the Hudson River Valley gets referenced a lot. I suppose there’s good reason, since it’s not so much that this region rivals the urban upgrading and cultural attention associated with the New York City borough some 100 miles to the south, but that the...
a video playlist of Pulp and other Sheffield music

a video playlist of Pulp and other Sheffield music

In preparation for the Musical Urbanism course readings on Sheffield, England, we’ve put together this playlist of music documentaries and promo videos to get you further acquainted with the city, its music scene, and our point of departure, the band Pulp.   PULP VIDEOS When reading Owen Hatherley’s book Uncommon: An Essay on Pulp, it...
I survived the grunge era: introduction to a screening of "Hype!"

I survived the grunge era: introduction to a screening of “Hype!”

Welcome to the first of a series of “lab sessions” this semester in conjunction with the Musical Urbanism seminar. Tonight we’re screening Hype!, a 1996 documentary that’s currently out of print. This means the version you’re watching was torrented by your professors. Although as we heard it’s also available on YouTube, I promised our students...
art worlds and music scenes

art worlds and music scenes

An interesting thing happens when you intersect two texts, Howard Becker’s essay on “Art Worlds and Collective Activity” (1982) and David Byrne’s essay on “How to Make a Scene” (2012), with each other. Somewhat anachronistically, the former enlists the latter into its thesis. To begin, Becker’s text is not especially directed toward the contemporary interest...
syllabus for 2015 Musical Urbanism seminar

syllabus for 2015 Musical Urbanism seminar

I’m excited to announce that I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar in Musical Urbanism at Vassar College again this semester, with my colleague Hua Hsu. This is a multidisciplinary course housed in the Urban Studies Program, taught by an urban sociologist (myself) and literature professor/critic (Hsu). We revised the syllabus significantly from the last time we...
favorite music of 2014

favorite music of 2014

Jane Weaver – The Silver Globe I’m rapidly reaching obsessive levels of play with this adventurous album. Space rock meets 60s British melancholia: if you puzzle over which element is retro and which is futuristic, then this is the record for you. Weaver’s voice is mysterious and spellbinding — just one more reason why she...

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