e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Kanye West Monster Muppet Remix

Watch the Throne

How about this show? Jay-Z and Kanye West are performing as a duo at the Palace of Auburn Hill in September. I've never seen Kanye live but Jay-Z's free show at Cobo Hall in 2008--a get-out-the-Obama-vote event--stands out as one of the best concert experiences of my life. J and K plan to release a collaborative, long-talked-about record called "Watch the Throne" next month. I've avoided the snippets and leaks, preferring to wait until the whole thing is available (August 8). Expectations couldn't be higher, due not only to the quality of the individual output of the two artists, but also due to their past collaborations: Kanye got his start producing Jay-Z's classic record "The Blueprint." Have they rapped together? Um, yeah. Does Roc Boys ring a bell? How about Monster?


Live from New York

This weekend I devoured the book Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. For the pop culture enthusiast, this is the ultimate stay up past bedtime (and, in my case, don't get those student papers graded) tome. Shales and Miller include plenty of gossip and talk to virtually every living writer and cast member (Eddie Murphy refused to participate) about the drugs, the politics, the music, the rivalries, and the attempt to maintain a countercultural ethos in the face of success. But aside from the juicy stories about cocaine, the text also has so much to say about the relationship that SNL has established with its audience. I liked learning that Chevy Chase--the closest the book has to a villain--turned down Animal House because of his rivalry with Belushi and his disinterest in doing what he saw as an ensemble comedy when he could be a leading man in Foul Play instead. But I liked even more the opportunity to recall my own history with the show. That's the genius of the book: the ability to entertain the part of you interested in the salacious details, the part of you interested in a cultural history of the 70s-through the present, and the part of you that wants to connect your own story with the story of a pop culture behemoth.

My brother Steve had an SNL record with skits from the first cast and as a little kid, say eight or nine years old, I loved a lot of movies with people I knew were SNL people: "Meatballs" with Bill Murray, "Foul Play" with Chevy Chase, that kind of thing. So by the time I could convince my body to stay up late enough to watch the show, I did. I remember watching Eddie Murphy in the Gumby assassination skits, and the bit where Tim Kazurinky is married to the chimp. I must have been ten years old. I can remember my older brother and sister coming home (they were college age then) and I was just kind of chilling out with SNL. An essential ritual. Years later, I went off to seminary at age 14 and most of the priests were sort of vaguely left-leaning, and they were that generation that saw SNL as something radical, so ordering pizza and staying up to watch SNL was encouraged. The "Wayne's World" years, although my favorite skit back then was Sprockets. A bunch of Catholic teen-aged boys living away from home, contemplating the priesthood, and the show was, once again, a ritual (in a lifestyle and a belief system full or rituals).

First year of college, my friend Jason and I were seeing some bands play at Grounds Coffeehouse one Saturday night and I remember walking through Detroit to get home, me and Jason, trying to make the opening of SNL. That was the night Sinead O'Connor tore up the picture of the Pope. There we were, in the front room of a home where Catholic missionaries lived, watching this shocking thing. After college, first year of grad school, I was earning some extra money cleaning the Youngstown YMCA, working nights, and I remember watching the Christmas episode of SNL in one of the workout rooms while mopping the floors: Molly Shannon sniffing her underarms as the Catholic schoolgirl. Depressing job, but there was that ritual, that constant. I can't believe people don't watch SNL, that people didn't grow up with this crazy, occasionally smart program. The cliche is how the quality varies year to year, cast to cast, a theme this book tackles of course, but even during down years, nothing captures the moment quite like SNL. Yeah, I wish the show still did the avant garde stuff they did during the 70s (look, Sun Ra is on this week!), but I still set the DVR.

Shales and Miller have somehow created a book that does about eight things at once, not the least of which is appealing personally and affectively to the obsessive fan. Check it out folks.


Small Conferences

Every spring my field puts on a big conference that attracts thousands of scholars of rhetoric and writing. Most years I attend and many years (i.e., when my proposal gets the thumbs-up), I give a paper. Typically, I also go listen to lots of other papers, go out to dinner at least once or twice with my friends from graduate school, attend parties sponsored by textbook publishers ("enjoy free drinks and finger food and, by the way, please make your students by our stuff"), meet with the rest of the editorial staff of a journal whose board I sit on, attend a breakfast for writing program administrators, attend my graduate program's annual party, and collect free stuff from the publisher's display area.

Right now I'm sitting in the airport in State College, Pennsylvania, having just attended a much more intimate gathering of colleagues. I gave a paper based on the research I was conducting in Beirut. I listened to other papers. But know what else? I met a boatload of people I never met before. I connected with senior scholars. I had a lot of conversations and took a lot of notes and got a lot of ideas. There's a perennial conversation about whether my field's big conference has gotten too big and outgrown its usefulness. I'm not sure how I feel about this, but the thing is, I don't go so far as to say the big gig isn't useful mainly because I like seeing old friends. As far as a professional experience, the small conference is where it's at. And Penn State does a great job putting on a small conference.


"I just don't get the appeal"

I've been thinking a lot about pop culture since I got back to the U.S., a place no doubt consumed with consuming. Surrounded by the music I listen to on my laptop (Nas and The Kills yesterday) while I work and the "Big Love Season 4" discs Nicole and I have been watching in the evening, I experience both connection and disconnection when I walk into my classes and lead discussions with my students about mass culture. We are all critics and consumers. We critique and we consume.

And while I am interested in how the stuff I like shapes me, I'm also curious about why particular pop culture artifacts do absolutely nothing for me. I just don't get the appeal. A few examples:
  • video games
  • tv shows about judges (Judge Judy, People's Court, etc)
  • hockey
  • Kid Rock
  • Lord of the Rings
  • celebrity reality shows (e.g., Kardashians)
By acknowledging two of these non-affinities, I run the risk of having my Michigan residency revoked. Fun fact: you can get kicked out of Oakland County for disliking Kid Rock and hockey. But there it is. I've got to be honest. If the pop culture we love paints our backgrounds, than how about the artifacts we just don't "get"? In what distant but so-close (too close) galleries do they reside?


The Top Five I.R.S.-Era R.E.M. Music Videos

The Top Five I.R.S.-Era R.E.M. Music Videos

Over at PopMatters, A.J. Ramirez shares five great aural and visual moments from REM's classic I.R.S. years. One could quibble with the exclusion of Radio Free Europe, but why bother? Those early REM albums influenced the junior high me as much as novels like On the Road and The Stand did. REM made music for those of us shaped not only by family and religion and school but also by books and films and records. See also Patton Oswalt's essay (from this book) about working as a movie projectionist, which he "soundtracks" with REM's Fables album.

The New Pornographers - Moves

When the dream became reality, reality got rocked.


Summer Teaching Etc.

My summer mini-semester began today. A whole semester crammed into six weeks. I have a section of first-year writing and a section of advanced exposition, so I have four relatively full days in the classrooms per week. I have my students following an ongoing news story of their choosing and writing about how the press covers the issue. Luckily, only a few seem to have chosen the Casey Anthony verdict.

In addition to teaching, playing with my new computer (a MacBook Pro) has occupied my hours. Took me a long time to get around to switching to the Mac. Bit of a learning curve, but mostly the machine has been a pleasure to use. First things on my new i-Tunes account? The new Kills album, Blood Pressures, which is outstanding. Also, "Monster" by Kanye West and a Motley Crue compilation. Looking forward to figuring out iPhoto and iDVD.

This weekend, I'm off to the Penn State Rhetoric Conference to give a paper. Hope to see a lot of colleagues and friends. But I can't believe I'm getting on a plane so soon after the neverending Beirut-to-Detroit trip last week.


Non-Academic Reading Part Three

While overseas this past year, I logged here and here some of the things I read. Given the mystical nature of the number of three, why not post a third list?

--Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Margeurite van Gueldermalsen, Married to a Bedouin
Mahmoud Darwish, The Music of Human Flesh