Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I write this with some trepidation, because I'm sure I will eat my words in a decade or so. But nevertheless, I have to say: I HATE being on fellowship.

It seemed like such a good idea. A whole year to finish up my dissertation and go on the market for the first time. A chance, after teaching for the previous three years, to focus just on research, to immerse myself in archives and interviews and music and all that juicy stuff.

But you know what? I miss teaching! Part of it is simple time management. I always work better when I am overworked; my theory is that I will accomplish about 85% of my goals, so if I commit myself to doing too much, then if I do the math right I end up back at accomplishing 100% (or so) of what I actually need to be doing. This approach served me well in college and in grad school. Now, the days stretch before me with nothing but writing.

In addition, though, I miss the act of teaching. There has been a meme going around, started by Dr, Crazy, that asks academics why they teach their subjects. Historians, english professors, and scientists have all chimed in, providing a refreshing counterpoint to the usual Rate Your Students-style complaining. And you know, reading these posts, I am jealous. Doing research really just isn't the same without teaching. It's not that teaching necessarily helps with research, since it is rare for people at my stage in their careers to be doing much teaching on topics of their own choice. But there is a palpable synergy between figuring out new things, and newly explaining old things to people. I always used to get my best writing done on my days off from teaching, because being around students would give me the emotional energy to get excited about research. These days, as I write alone in my apartment with only a reproachful dog to keep me company...well, I look forward to teaching again in the fall!

To cheer me up, here is an amusing video (via MAN) about what happens when you have to dispose of a Richard Serra sculpture.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another Blog

Bob Kosovsky, the curator for rare books in the music division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, has a newish blog, and it is fascinating! Especially for those of us into book porn and historical trivia. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

'Tis But a Dainty Flower

If you think it was unusual to see Hillary Clinton cry...

I realized there is not nearly enough footage of McCarthy on YouTube, so I took the liberty of uploading a famous scene from the March 9 See It Now broadcast. At a banquet in Milwaukee, former Congressman Frank Keefe recites a love poem to Joe, who wells up with tears and is unable to speak. It's actually one of the more controversial moments in the broadcast; McCarthy's defenders rightfully point out that Murrow used a jump cut (between "this is the answer" and the poem) to make the speech fit the narrative, as if Keefe's response to attacks on McCarthy was to recite love poetry. And, of course, it's a classic example of how the Murrow broadcast traded in innuendo to imply that there was something unseemly about McCarthy. He doesn't come out and call Joe a queer, but...well, the clip doesn't have a whole lot to do with the rest of the broadcast.

Still, it's a pretty weird moment. One question for the internets: anyone know what poem Keefe is reciting? I hope I am not embarrassing myself by not knowing what might be some famous verse, but Google was no help to me.

P.S. Don't tell Ann Coulter.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thoughts of the Day

  • Student loans are very complicated. And I not cheered by the fact that I remember when one of my graduate school professors finally paid off the last of his student loans. He was, at the time, in his forties. And he had not paid for a veterinary education.

  • Why did the musicology gods think it was a good thing to have the AMS 50, AMS conference abstracts, and the SAM Mark Tucker prize submissions all due on the same day? Thank goodness I'm not a person of color, because the Howard Mayer Brown Fellowship was due on that day as well. Also, the privilege.

  • It's snowing here in Philadelphia, and I'm celebrating by making goulash. It's a chance to use the paprika given to us by my uncle-in-law, who bought it in a market in Bulgaria, and also to use our new dutch oven. However, I did not realize how long it would take to mince three onions.

  • I was idly watching Best in Show the other day. It is my second favorite Christopher Guest movie, behind Waiting for Guffman. A Mighty Wind was too glib, and For Your Consideration wasn't funny, it was seriously depressing. But re-watching Best in Show this time, now that I am a dog owner, became slightly depressing. Because although I am not involved in the world of pure breeds and dog shows, I highly identified with some of the characters. That scene where Parker Posey and her husband almost don't go to a party because they think their dog looks depressed? Been there. And when Parker Posey goes screaming around the hotel because she can't find her dog's stuffed toy named "Busy Bee"? Well, let's just say that Mabel has a certain stuffed Frankenstein monster--"Frankie"--and we do not travel without Frankie. Also, we have no less than three framed pictures of Mabel displayed prominently in our apartment. Who in their right mind would hire me?

    I have no idea who this man is.
  • Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Great Blogs

    There is a way in which the blog world can be a little insular. I read the same blogs every day, and I notice, from blogrolls and comments, that the bloggers I read also read those same blogs. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but I suspect I am missing some fabulous blogs out there. Here are a few that don't often show up on musicological blogrolls.

    What great blogs do you read?

  • Feminist Specator. Jill Dolan is a theater studies person at UT Austin. If you don't know her academic work, it is absolutely brilliant; my old roommate introduced me to her book Utopia in Performance, which should be required reading for anyone who, well, cares about something in life. Dolan's blog is mostly her own lengthy reviews of films and plays. It's not updated that frequently, but it is super smart.

  • Tenured Radical. I plug TR a lot on this blog, and I do so again now. Read it.

  • Pretty Dumb Things. An anonymous sex blog written by a (now former) Ph.D. candidate in 18th century literature in New York City. Uniformly thoughtful, engaging, sex positive, and one of the best-written blogs out there in any genre.

  • Oh! Industry It's like Defamer, if Defamer was written by hip queer intellectuals. (Hat tip!)
  • Monday, January 14, 2008

    Tales from the Archives

    The new John Cage biography by David Nicholls has been out a few months now. I won't be reviewing it here. I will, however, register one particular disappointment. I bought and devoured this book hoping that Nicholls would finally provide the answer to one of the most vexing questions we face in Cage scholarship. And alas, he did not. John Cage: did he or did he not like flannel pajamas?

    ...I bought flannel pajamas (1st time in my life) and tried to convince Bunny to get some. He said he hated p.j's and wouldn't hear of it. He stamped his feet and became very militant. You know how he is--last night I wore mine and he thought they were so cute he said he must get some to match. I should know by now, but I never learn.

    -Letter from Xenia Cage to a friend, 1941

    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    Come On a-My Houses

    "Come On a-My House" was Rosemary Clooney's first big hit, in 1951. It was originally written in 1939 by William Saroyan (the same year he refused a Pulitzer for The Time of Your Life because he didn't want to be a sell-out) and Ross Bagdasarian, who later created Alvin and the Chipmunks. Aspiring to a more high-minded career then novelty numbers in faux Italian accents, Rosemary famously hated the song. Later she warmed up to it--after all, it did launch her career. As I side note, I have to say that of all the people I discuss in my dissertation, Rosemary Clooney is the person I would most like to have been friends with.

    Since 1951, the song has been recorded all over the place. Here are some of my favorites; click the link below to see them. I'm sure scholarship was possible before YouTube, but it must have been a whole lot less fun.

    Madonna lipsynching the 1961 Della Reese version (from her album Della Della Cha Cha Cha) in the box office flop Swept Away

    Some Australian named Kylee Thompson doing a burlesque to a version sung by Julie London.

    A young German teenager lip-synching the Della Reese under the name "BarbietheBitch."

    Japanese pop singer Ayaka Hirahara in a live version. Stay for the vocal break at the end!

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    Public Musicology

    In line with yesterday's post, here's another example of musicologists doing their thing in public! I kind of like the idea of turning the usual EMP crowd into a traveling circus. I won't be in town myself, but I hope the Angelenos among my readership will think about it. Somebody needs to keep them honest.

    A Special Evening at Redcat:
    Listen Again
    Music You Should Change Your Mind About Right Now

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    All pop music, past and present, is fair game on this night of live, rapid-fire music criticism as the members of a distinguished panel of writers, musicians and scholars have five minutes each to persuade the audience to reconsider a series of pop tracks -- and find in them hitherto undiscovered pleasures. This high-spirited confab celebrates the publication of Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music, a Duke University Press collection of writings drawn from the Experience Music Project Pop Conference. Panelists include Christine Bacareza Balance (UC Riverside), Alice Echols (USC), Robert Fink (UCLA), Oscar Garza (Ciudadmagazine), Judith Halberstam (USC), Ernest Hardy (LA Weekly), Rod Hernandez (Cal State-Dominguez Hills),Josh Kun (USC), Anthony Miller (Los Angeles CityBeat), Neal Pollack (, Ann Powers (Los Angeles Times), Ned Raggett (ILM-ILX website), Randall Roberts (LA Weekly), Janet Sarbanes (Cal Arts), RJ Smith (Los Angelesmagazine), Karen Tongson (USC),Elijah Wald(UCLA), Oliver Wang (Cal State-Long Beach, Soulsides blog), Eric Weisbard (editor, Listen Again). Tuesday, January 22, 2008, 8:30 pm.$8 (students $4, CalArts & USC free)


    In other news, I am typing this from the hammock on my back porch, where I am lying in short sleeves and bare feet enjoying the 70 degrees. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and the only sound is Mabel worriedly humming along with passing ambulances. Weird weather. Weird dog.

    Monday, January 7, 2008

    Ike? Bob...

    Via Dial M, a fabulous article in the Chicago Tribune in which an intrepid reporter asked two musicologists to analyze the songs played by the various presidential candidates at their rallies. The musicologists in question are Phil Ford himself, and this other hack who may or may not be my dissertation adviser.

    Phil (not me, the one with immense blog readership and a job) asks for the musicological blogosphere's reaction. See his post for the full list. I have to agree with their takes on the situation, adding only that I find Romney's list to be especially interesting:
    A Little Less Conversation (Elvis remix)
    Aint No Stoppin' Us Now (McFadden & Whitehead)
    Head over Heels (The Go-Go's)
    Love that Dirty Water (The Standells)
    Beautiful Day (U2)
    I'm Free (The Rolling Stones/Fatboy Slim)
    Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours (Stevie Wonder)
    Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
    Vertigo (U2)
    You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (BTO)
    Dancing in the Street (Martha and the Vandellas)
    Pride (In the Name of Love (U2)
    Such Great Heights (Postal Service)
    Only in America (Brooks & Dunn)
    Don't Stop Believin' (Journey)
    I've Been Everywhere (Fred Mollin)
    Life is a Highway (Rascall Flats)
    Down On the Corner (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
    Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys)

    Phil notes that you ideologically you could easily switch Mitt and Hillary's lists, which is very interesting. But man, Mitt's list is really something. Have you ever seen such a random hodgepodge of songs? I mean, there is absolutely no coherence! There are soul songs, country songs, pop songs, boring dance's breathtaking how little sense it makes. And while I'm not surprised that Mitt would have a different song for every rally, just as he's had a different policy position for every campaign, I am surprised that so little thought was put into the choices. The BTO number was totally used by Al Gore in 2000, "Dancing in the Streets" is commonly interpreted by many in the context of sixties race riots, and if there is any song that has come to be viewed in the last year as the ultimate signifier of nothingness, thanks to The Sopranos, it would be "Don't Stop Believin'." And don't even get me started on "Good Vibrations"...ick!

    ANYWAYS, I've got a lot of dissertation to write, so I'll stop with Mitt. But thinking about all of this has actually given me some good ideas for a paper I'm giving at SAM next month, which compares television appearances by Rosemary Clooney and Joseph McCarthy. There is a great article by Andrea Friedman on the use of gossip and innuendo by McCarthy's enemies, as best exemplified by the famous Murrow broadcast that coyly cast asperisions on the relationship between McCarthy and Cohn. The point is that it wasn't just conservatives who used the lavender menace to their advantage, liberals gleefully did as well. This discussion of campaign songs reminded me that Adlai Stevenson broadcast a rather creepy commercial in the 1952 election that portrayed Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft as lovers. (Ike, you may or may not be happy to know, is most definitely the top.)

    The video unfortunately is not on YouTube, so I can't easily embed it, but you can watch it courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image. I'm not quite sure what to make of the background music, which I think is Chopin. I don't think it's an Ivesian take on Chopin in skirts, but rather is just there to sound kind of generically sentimental. The commercial ends with a short song that isn't too interesting. Other commercials from this campaign more directly interact with popular music of the period--there are several such commercials sung by a singer I don't recognize (any help?) such as "I Love the Guv." This one, though...well, see it for yourself.

    Go Watch! You'll be presented with a bunch of ads on the right; choose the one on the Democrat side, the fourth one down with the two hearts.
    FIRST MAN: Ike.

    SECOND MAN: Bob.

    FIRST MAN: Ike.

    SECOND MAN: Bob.

    SECOND MAN: I'm so glad we're friends again, Bob.

    FIRST MAN: Yes, Ike, we agree on everything.

    SECOND MAN: Let's never separate again, Bob.

    FIRST MAN: Never again, Ike.

    SECOND MAN: Bob.

    FIRST MAN: Ike.

    SECOND MAN: Bob.

    FIRST MAN: Ike.

    ANNOUNCER: Will Ike and Bob really live happily ever after? Is the White House big enough for both of them? Stay tuned for a musical interlude.

    (Piano music)

    MAN SINGING: Rueben, Rueben, I've been thinkin',
    Bob and Ike now think alike—
    With the Gen'ral in the White House,
    Who'd give the orders, Bob or Ike?
    Let's vote for Adlai--and John!

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    Status Update; or, Make Love Not Babies

    It's not typically considered appropriate to talk about what one does on their wedding night, especially in a public forum such as this. But I will tell you one very important thing I did on my wedding night: I walked over to my computer, with its $10 a night internet, and changed my "Relationship Status" on Facebook to "married." Of course, when you do that, the other person has to confirm it. Mary was not so enthused about Facebook at this moment, so I took the liberty of logging into her account and confirming it for myself. And thus, our marriage was official.

    I'm not being ironic when I say that updating my relationship status on Facebook was very important to me. That is what marriage is, after all, a status update in the (now online) public sphere. It is not about the relationship; Mary and I have been together for almost eight years. We live together, have a dog together, have a joint checking account together. Suddenly being "married" has no immediate effect on our lives whatsoever, except now we have enough china and crystal to have a formal dinner for ten. Oh, and come April, we can file joint taxes.

    China, taxes, and Facebook. Marriage is the ultimate expression of bourgeoisity, a chance to turn love into money. As the ever-trenchant Tenured Radical puts it, marriage is "a method by which the state has limited the distribution of civil rights and economic privileges over time to those citizens who agree explicitly or implicitly to derive some, or all, of the economic support necessary to sustain life from a nuclear family structure." TR's critique--which, as she says, comes from a long line of such critiques in queer theory--is particularly germane for me since it would have been quite easy for me to have been in the unmarriable position of the gay bourgeois. I swing both ways, as they say, and the reason I'm now able to enjoy the tax breaks is because my inner pendulum ended up with a woman. My sister, who was my best man, took me out to a gay dance club for my bachelor party, and it was there that I saw a t-shirt saying "Make Love Not Babies." The slogan was new to me, at least, and I realized it was one of the wisest things I had heard in a while.

    That's why for me, the highlight of the wedding for me ended up being, ironically, the wedding itself. Don't get me wrong. We threw a pretty rocking party afterwards, if I say so myself, with good food, an open bar, and a carefully hand-selected playlist for dancing. We indulged our taste for unaffordable living in High WASP style, with a bridal shower at the Tabard Inn, a rehearsal dinner at the City Tavern, and the reception at the Arts Club. (All largely paid for by others.)

    That was all great fun. And yet, the moment that had the most "meaning" for me was the ceremony, which took place in a little Episcopal church in Georgetown. The ceremony was from the Book of Common Prayer, basically unedited, with all those gems like "What God has put together let no man put asunder." The minister and the two of us actually talked about capitalism in regards to this particular line. Change and progress was of course necessary, he'd told us, but change sometimes takes place at a cost, and there was nothing wrong with desiring stability as long as it was of the good kind. He told the story of some little village on the Nile that had maintained fairly consistent cultural practices since Pharoic times, and was now going to be bulldozed to provide more space for crowded Cairo. I reminded him that this was a fundamental analysis of Marx, who had noticed that for all of capitalism's triumphs, it had yet to find a way to deal with the psychological unease caused by constant change. As Marx famously wrote, under capitalism "all that is solid melts into air."

    We've been living in air for a long time now, and I know that uttering ritual Episcopal words is only a temporary comfort against that fact. And having a priest bless our relationship, a priest whose authority comes from an unbroken laying-on-of-hands dating back to St. Peter himself, is actually no match for the work Mary and I have done in the past eight years, five of which we spent living on different continents from each other. It's that work we hope will make our relationship last as long as we do, not the Book of Common Prayer. There were certainly some prayers I could have done without, and since I am not even baptized, an actual churchgoer probably might not approve of me wanting the trappings of church, without the believing part.

    But in all the craziness of our wedding, it was nevertheless the ceremony that was the most special for me. I got to stand up in front of 120 family and friends--including my grandparents, who just celebrated their 58th anniversary--with my sister standing next to me, and all of my best friends next to her. I got to hold Mary's hand and give her the ritual kiss. I got to sing my favorite hymns, and listen to my sister sing one of them solo, accompanied just by the baroque organ. These minimalist pleasures meant a lot to me.

    If you know me, you'd probably predict that I would feel guilty about enjoying it so much, when so many other relationships in the room couldn't be similarly blessed. I don't mean gay couples, since this church happily does gay weddings. I mean the many other more complicated and multifaceted relationships. Why isn't there a Facebook status update for one's relationship with their grandparents, a tax break for loving your sister, or some bit in the Book of Common Prayer to bless a trio of friends?

    But I didn't feel guilty. This was a time for my relationship with Mary, and I genuinely felt that all of those other relationships in the room were there for us. The priest would say witnessing, I would say supporting and loving.

    So here's to fifty eight more years!