Tuesday, August 21, 2018

August 21, 2018: Contextualizing Cville: Dave Matthews

[Last week my sons and I returned to my hometown of Charlottesville, pretty much exactly a year after the white supremacist/neo-nazi rallies there last August (which took place on the day we arrived in town last summer, because apparently that’s just life as an AmericanStudier these days). So this week I wanted to AmericanStudy a few contexts for this exemplary American city’s unfolding histories, leading up to a special weekend post reflecting on where we are in August 2018.]

On two different ways to AmericanStudy a local and global legend.

Before he was the leader of the most successful North American touring band of the 1990s, Dave Matthews was a Charlottesville story through and through. Having moved to town in 1986, at the age of 19, to join his mother, Matthews spent the next five years meeting and performing with local musicians and artists, including his first public performances, first paid performance, and even his first band, the speed metal group Devastator. In 1991 he formed the Dave Matthews Band with a group of fellow local musicians, and they performed publicly for the first time on March 14th at Trax, probably Charlottesville’s most prominent club and venue. It took another two years for the band to release its first album, Remember Two Things (1993)—but the rest, again, is history, and some of the most prominent musical history of the subsequent two decades.

One interesting way to AmericanStudy Matthews and his Band, then, is to consider the complex relationships between place and art. There seems to be no question that Matthews is the artistic and creative leader of the group, and by the time he moved to Cville his identity had been forged from a variety of places and influences, including his native South Africa, upstate New York, and even England. So did Charlottesville simply offer Matthews opportunities to hone and then share his work and talents, and would any other blossoming music scene have done the same? If we tell the story that way, we seem to be leaving out not only the many local artists who influenced Matthews over his first five years in town, but also and most importantly the group of musicians—many native Charlottesvillians, and all more fully local than Matthews—with whom he formed the Band. So perhaps it’s most accurate to say that Matthews’ story reflects what happens when an individual talent finds himself in a community full of talent, when one story intersects with a place full of them, and the art that follows from those encounters and intersections.

On a broader level, Matthews’ Cville story can help us recognize one of the most striking ways in which the city has evolved from the 1970s (when my parents moved there) to its 21st century identity: diversification, and more exactly globalization. As I noted in this article, race and race relations had been a part of Charlottesville for centuries, but mostly in a binary black-white context; the city was provincial enough, in the 1970s, that my Mom was stopped on the street and asked if she was a gypsy (she had long black hair, and slightly darker than pale skin). But over the next few decades, and thanks to a variety of factors—the increasing diversification of the university at both the student and faculty levels, general trends in late 20th century immigration and migration from Latin America and Asia and so on, a global refugee program housed in neighboring Albemarle County—the city and region became a truly and strikingly multi-national place. One in which, that is, a kid from South Africa forming a mixed-race band and playing their first gig in support of the Middle East Children’s Alliance isn’t an anomaly so much as an illustration.
Next Cville contexts tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2018

August 20, 2018: Birthday Bests: 2017-2018

[On August 15th, this AmericanStudier turns 41. So this past week I’ve shared posts of birthday favorites for each of the blog’s prior years, leading up to this new birthday best list for 2017-2018. You couldn’t give me a better present than to say hi and tell me a bit about what brings you to the blog, what you’ve found or enjoyed here, your own AmericanStudies thoughts, or anything else!]
Here they are, 41 favorite posts from the 2017-2018 year on the blog:
1)      Famous Virginians: Arthur Ashe: I enjoyed researching all the posts in last year’s post-Cville series, but this one on three influences on the legendary athlete stands out for me.
2)      #NoConfederateSyllabus: Working on this document with my colleague and friend Matthew Teutsch was a highlight of the last year—it’s still evolving, so check it out and contribute, please!
3)      Pledge Posts: Protesting the Pledge: Both of my sons have continued their acts of civil disobedience, and to say that they are now more salient than ever is to understate the case.
4)      The Worst and Best of Allegiance: Salient enough, even, that I’m highlighting a second post from that same series!
5)      Crowd-sourced Legends of the Fall: Some of the best crowd-sourced posts are those that feature multiple topics and threads, as this great one on both autumn and falls from innocence reflects.
6)      Early Civil Rights Histories: The Little Rock Nine: Better remembering American heroes like the Little Rock Nine is more crucial than ever, and here I highlighted three complementary ways we can do just that.
7)      LongmireStudying: Standing Bear: Not the last time the wonderful TV show will appear on this list!
8)      Indigenous Performers in Popular Culture: Two of these folks I knew virtually nothing about before researching this post—and the third is Graham Greene!
9)      Guest Post: Nancy Caronia on Italian Americans and Columbus Day: A complex and crucial topic, handled with thoughtfulness and passion by a colleague and friend—describes all of my great Guest Posts, and doubly so this one!
10)   Children’s Histories: The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball: A new young adult novel that can add importantly to our collective memories of the Chinese Exclusion Act era.
11)   7 Years of Scholarly Blogging: Matthew Teutsch: Connecting to fellow public scholars has been one of the very best parts of this blog for me, so I’m gonna highlight all of the posts in this week’s series to try to return that favor!
16)   Veterans Days: The Harrisburg Veterans Parade: One of those stunning moments that embodies both the worst and best of America, the exclusionary yet inclusive sides on which I’m focusing in my new book project.
17)   Curry, LeBron, and Sports in the Age of Trump: Another one of those posts that has become only (if frustratingly) more relevant since I wrote it.
18)   80s AlbumStudying: Thriller and Dualities: Any time you have the chance to write, and then to highlight, a post on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, you do so!
19)   Reconstruction Figures: The Fisk Jubilee Singers: Some of my favorite posts here have allowed me to learn a great deal more about topics for which my knowledge was shamefully lacking. This is a very good example of that phenomenon!
20)   Longmire Lessons: Walt and Cady: Back to Longmire one more time, for a (SPOILERiffic) examination of where we leave some of the show’s wonderful characters.
21)   Reviewing Resistance: Fitchburg State University: For a series on the year in #Resist, it was fun to think about some of the many ways my campus is doing its part!
22)   Gay Rights Histories: The Society for Human Rights (1924): Speaking of shamefully lacking knowledge, I knew exactly nothing about this pioneering activist organization before researching this post and series.
23)   Gay Rights Histories: Fitchburg State’s Exhibition: Much closer to now and to home, it was fun to think about why this FSU exhibit impressed me as much as it did.
24)   Famous Boy Scouts: Michael Jordan and Hank Aaron: Did you know that these two legendary but contrasting athletes were both Boy Scouts?
25)   Learning to Love Mariah Carey: My annual Valentine’s series concluded with my newfound and deep admiration for the musical icon.
26)   Anti-Favorites: The Geary Act: We really, really really, need to better remember the horrific excesses of the Chinese Exclusion Act era.
27)   Boston Massacre Studying: My Sons’ Thoughts: You didn’t think I’d miss a chance to share this Guest Post of sorts featuring my sons’ takes on the Boston Massacre, didya?
28)   Black Panther Studying: Erik Killmonger: I haven’t stopped thinking about Michael B. Jordan’s Black Panther character since I saw the film.
29)   Great American Novel Studying: Recent Contenders: There’s no such thing as The Great American Novel—but it makes for a fun debate, and an even funner way to highlight deserving books like this handful of recent classics.
30)   NeMLA Recaps: Back to the Board: I’m so glad to have returned to the Northeast MLA Board that I have to share this post on my reasons for doing so one more time!
31)   AssassinationStudying: Squeaky Fromme: Why a seemingly silly potential assassin was anything but.
32)   Scholarly Tribute: Erik Loomis: A series on the Haymarket Affair concluded with a tribute to one of our best labor historians and public scholars.
33)   Hap & Leonard Studying: Redefining Lynching: As of this writing the wonderful SundanceTV show Hap & Leonard has been cancelled—but no matter what we have three amazing seasons to return to, highlighted by season two as I detail in this post.
34)   Nursing Histories: Medal of Honor Medics: The chance to highlight a few of the amazing Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipients made for a great end to this pre-Memorial Day series.
35)   BlockbusterStudying: The Last Jedi: The latest in a series of posts through which I critique Yoda, praise Luke, and rethink the American mythos that is Star Wars.
36)   McCarthyism Contexts: McCarthy’s Lies and Rise: Joe McCarthy rose to destructive power by lying all the time, and nearly destroyed the country with his continued falsehoods. Seems worth remembering.
37)   The Supreme Court and Progress: Loving v. Virginia: Loving Day is one of my favorite American moments, and has so much to teach us about both our past and our present.
38)   Summer Class Readings: “Of the Passing of the First-Born”: This chapter from Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk is one of the toughest and most important American texts I know.
39)   Representing Race: Seven Seconds: If you haven’t yet seen this Netflix original show, I highly recommend it, for all these reasons and more.
40)   KennedyStudying: Chappaquiddick: Posts that challenge my own ideologies and perspectives are ones I always try to highlight in these series, and this one did just that.
41)   17th Century Histories: Jamestown’s First Slaves: But so too are posts that help us unearth American histories and stories we all need to better remember, which remains my #1 priority in this blog and one I can’t wait to continue in the year to come!

42) A bonus highlight, my most recent Guest Post, in which the great Kathleen Morrissey shares her thoughts on how rhetorical bubbles and borders limit our immigration debates!
Next series starts tomorrow,
PS. You know what to do!