e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


We're hiring...

Asst Professor of Multicultural or Multilingual Writing and Rhetoric

Job Summary

Work-Title: Assistant Professor of Multicultural or Multilingual Writing and Rhetoric
Department: College of Arts, Sciences, & Letters-Language, Culture, & Communications
FLSA: Exempt
Posting Dates: September 26, 2012-November 26, 2012
Go here to apply:

The University of Michigan-Dearborn (UM-Dearborn) is one of the three campuses of the University of Michigan. UM-Dearborn, a comprehensive university offering high quality undergraduate, graduate, professional and continuing education to residents of southeastern Michigan, and attracts more than 9,000 students. Our faculty comes from respected universities and doctoral programs, are recognized for excellence in research and teaching, and are active in professional and academic service roles in their respective fields. US News and World Report recently recognized our campus as a Best Regional University.

The campus is located on 200 acres of the original Henry Ford Estate. Dearborn is centrally located within one of America's largest business regions. The geographically diverse area provides faculty with a variety of urban, suburban, and rural areas within a reasonable commute, including Detroit, Detroit suburbs, and Ann Arbor.

Job Description:
The Department of Language, Culture & Communication (Composition & Rhetoric Discipline) invites applications for a tenure-track, assistant professor of Multicultural or Multilingual Writing and Rhetoric faculty position, starting September 1, 2013. Funding for this position has been approved.

The Department of Language, Culture & Communication has 17 faculty members representing Composition & Rhetoric, Public Communication & Culture Studies, Journalism & Screen Studies, Linguistics, and Modern & Classical Languages. The Composition & Rhetoric discipline has 7 faculty members and has responsibility for the college-wide Writing Program and Certificate in Writing.

All candidates with a primary interest in composition in multicultural or multilingual writing and rhetoric are invited to apply. Secondary areas of interest may include multicultural literacies, contrastive rhetorics, teaching in global contexts, transnational rhetorics and literacies, rhetorics of race and ethnicity, or related secondary areas.

Candidates must have a PhD in Composition and Rhetoric or closely related field in hand by 9/1/13 and must show demonstrated achievement in scholarship and potential for publications in the areas of multicultural or multilingual writing and rhetoric. Experience teaching writing at the collegiate level is required. Evidence of familiarity with best practices in the teaching of writing, including within multilingual or multicultural contexts and using computer-mediated pedagogies, is highly desirable.

In addition to teaching writing and rhetoric courses at the introductory and upper levels, the candidate will be expected to pursue an active scholarly agenda, engage in curriculum and program development within area of expertise, and contribute to undergraduate writing certificate program and first-year writing program. We especially welcome applicants who bring culturally and theoretically diverse perspectives to their research and teaching practices.

The University of Michigan - Dearborn is dedicated to the goal of building a culturally diverse and pluralistic faculty committed to teaching and working in a multi-cultural environment. We are an equal access/equal opportunity employer and campus community, and do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, color, marital status, age, national origin, disability, veteran or marital status, sexual orientation, or genetic information.

Currently this classification is considered exempt in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Note: Please make sure to upload all your application materials as one single PDF file.

U-M EEO/AA Statement

The University of Michigan is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.


Jesse 2009

I find myself wandering through Patti Smith’s “Camera Solo,” the exhibition of the singer-poet-artist’s black and white Polaroids at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  My favorite Patti Smith songs play in my head, “Ask the Angels,” “Redondo Beach,” as I look at the everyday and the extraordinary.  Like her muse, the late Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith has a fetish for everyday objects and she captures simple, decontextualized, sometimes cold images of slippers, pieces of jewelry, and other ephemera owned by persons Smith admires or loves.  “I suppose it’s my way of taking their portraits,” she writes.

The exhibition features numerous photographs of literary beds: John Keats, Victor Hugo, Virginia Woolf, the poet and punk rock icon Jim Carroll, with whom Smith shared a bed.  We see their beds, sheets crisp, undisturbed, empty forever.  Smith: “I like to take pictures of beds.  We have extraordinary things happen in beds.  We sleep, conceive.  We dream.  We make love.  We are ill in our beds.  We recuperate.  So our beds are very important in our lives.”

Many of us die in bed too.  Robert Mapplethorpe, the artist with whom Smith lived in New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s, first as a lover and then as a collaborator, died in a hospital bed in 1989.  Smith’s beautiful memoir Just Kids, deserving winner of a National Book Award among other accolades, narrates their complex relationship and exists as a eulogy and encomium to her soul mate.

Mapplethorpe’s life and death hover over Smith’s work, her memoir obviously, but also her lilting and vital new record “Banga,” and certainly the pictures of beds that are part of “Camera Solo.”  Lonely images of beds, resting places if you will, are litanies of Smith’s deceased inspirations.  Smith sings to Detroiters walking through her exhibition, Where would I be without Keats, without Hugo, without Woolf?  Jim Carroll’s most famous song was called “People Who Died,” also a litany of the dead.  Carroll didn’t die in bed, but rather is said to have died at his desk, writing.  All of this hovers as well.

No matter how strong the invocation of Mapplethorpe, “Camera Solo” is never maudlin; beds are a more affirming motif than, say, gravestones.  Yet the empty beds suggest coffins with their crisp linens and their extravagant austerity.

Iconic images of beds usually feature persons in them.  John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their love-in.  The grandparents in the first Willy Wonka movie.  Most of Patti Smith’s beds are empty, their owners no longer in need of them.

One notable exception is “Jesse, 2009,” Patti Smith’s photograph of her daughter reclining in bed, a shy, melancholy look on her face.  Jesse wears a tank top as white as the three pillows propped in the photograph’s background.  She shares her mother’s androgynous style, a style made famous in the album covers shot by Robert Mapplethorpe.  The photograph’s composition is Cartesian, vertical creases on the sheets, a horizontal headboard, but Jesse’s body is sclerotic, sprawled atop the sheets, too human to conform to the object’s coordinates.

The photograph is the most humane image in “Camera Solo,” and not only because it’s one of the few to depict a person.  The photograph is life itself and changes the resonance of the bed motif.  Toward the end of Just Kids, Smith describes her final encounters with Mapplethorpe, who died when Jesse was a toddler.  Smith returns to New York from her adopted home in Michigan, Jesse in tow, to visit the dying Mapplethorpe.  One of his last photographs of Smith is a picture of her holding Jesse.  Part of Smith’s life, slipping away, another part only beginning.

Indeed, our beds are important in our lives, and in our deaths too.  “Camera Solo,” another gift from Smith, celebrates the breathing.  I’m glad I wandered.


Unsolicited Advice

Not that they've asked me or anything, but here are my suggestions for the DNC:

At your convention, don't mention the names Romney and Ryan.  Resist the temptation to discuss the dude who doesn't think you can get pregnant from rape and the dude who held the congressional hearings into the loyalty of American Muslims.  Don't talk about Clint Eastwood or the chair.

You don't have to take silly ideas seriously.

Show the country that you are the big boys with big ideas, the party that doesn't care if gay people get married, the party that believes that church groups are less equipped to handle natural disasters than the federal government, the party that wants to maintain safety nets for the poor and old.

The Republicans used their convention as a chance to criticize Obama (I get it, that's what the opposition party does when running against an incumbent.)  Use your convention as a chance to articulate ideas. Not opinions, not silly stuff, not pandering, not religious dogma.  Ideas.


By The Numbers

Two weeks until my summer class begins, and I'm trying to get in as much work on my scholarly writing as I possibly can.  I write in my basement office.  It's cool down here, which is a blessing on days like today that are in the high '90s.  My dog sleeps on the room's futon.  My desk is an over-sized old library table.  What else is in the room?  A University of Michigan welcome mat.  A laminated "Clergy" sign (meant to put on the dashboard of a car parked illegally) that was in the glove compartment of the first car I ever bought (from a priest).  A framed front page of the Youngstown Vindicator from August 14, 1945 ("Japanese Surrender; WWII Ends"). 

What else?

Number of pictures of dogs playing poker...3
Number of images of St. Anthony...2
Number of images of Mary...2 (little knic knac of Pieta; pic of Our Lady of Barea)
Number of records and CDs...hundreds and hundreds
Number of images of dogs...29 (about half of them are playing poker)
Number of things that used to belong to any of my four grandparents...7

I've gotta hang up the flags we bought in the Middle East.  There's not enough stuff on the walls yet.



Good evening.

Cable's been running Alfred Hitchcock films in heavy rotation and I've managed to see several for the first time and several I haven't seen for years.  I caught "Family Plot" and "The Trouble with Harry" this weekend.  They prove that he not only can do dark humor but also outright parody.  The former in particular is every bit as funny a Hitchcock homage as fellow 1970s comedies like "Silver Streak" and "Foul Play."  Great cast too: Babara Harris, Karen Black, Bruce Dern, and lots of very familiar character actors.  I guess this is a drop-off for a guy who directed Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart a bunch of times, but, still, pretty cool.  Meanwhile, "The Trouble with Harry" is absurd and whimsical.  Both are fun and generate real laughs.

Also managed to DVR and watch "Rear Window" and "Vertigo," two of his most famous.  Both are so stylish and cool-looking, it's easy to forget that they are also very very suspenseful.

A bunch more on the DVR, so I've got lot of reason to put off some schoolwork.



I taught The Autobiography of Malcolm X in my English 327 class this past term.  I've always found the text interesting and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, important, but this time reading it was a deeply affecting experience.  Conversion plays such a profound role in the narrative.  This time I read the text as a story of changing who you are.  It's fundamentally possible to do just that, the book suggests.

"The young...are the only hope that America has.  The rest of us have always been living in a lie."

"Anything I do today, I regard as urgent."

And his representation of the Middle East, the site of Malcolm's second great converstion, resonated:

"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this Ancient Holy Land."

Indeed, when Malcolm leaves the U.S. for the first time, he's struck by comparative friendliness.  Even in Germany, en route to the Arab world, he sees this change:

"We went into a lot of shops and stores, looking more than intending to buy anything.  We'd walk in, any store, every store, and it would be Hello!  People who never saw you before, and knew you were strangers.  And the same cordiality when we left, without buying anything.  In America, you walk in a store and spend a hundred dollars, and leave, and you're still a stranger.  Both you and the clerks act as though you're doing each other a favor."


From USA Today



In between classes with little time to think or convince myself to maintain some semblance of optimism, but let me just take a moment to say that the proposed budgets coming out of Washington and Lansing are atrocious. When you're too far to the right for the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Rep. Ryan, you've wandered from the herd my friend. A significant portion of the country (and perhaps the state too) want to dismantle not only safety nets and social service networks but also the entire public sector and public sphere. How can you look around and not conclude that this place sucks?


Heard Outside the Courthouse

Dropping off some papers for Nicole, I overheard the following conversation among two men and one woman who were enjoying a cigarette break outside of an area courthouse.

Woman (pointing at the building): "That place didn't do shit for me."

Man #1 (shaking his head): "That place didn't do shit for me."

Man #2 (nodding his head): "That place didn't do shit for me."


Reading Locally

I found myself in St. Louis last month, wandering downtown streets with locals, NCAA basketball fans, and fellow attendees of a conference for college writing teachers. Never one to pass an indie bookstore, I stopped at Left Bank Books where I noticed a sign proclaiming “Buy locally, read globally.”

It’s not bad advice.

And yet I tend to advocate for reading locally too. I like local writers. I also like writers who write about the physical spaces and places I know. Those who write about my hometown and adopted hometowns, map the geographies where I too have walked, and imagine what the place is and how it means. They do the crucial, intellectual, and affective work of making the familiar unfamiliar. They write their own versions of a place and invite me to do the same.

At 17, in love with Kerouac, my favorite sequence in On The Road was Sal’s bus ride through my home state: “[W]e got on the plain of Ohio and really rolled, up by Ashtabula and straight across.” Ashtabula, just an hour north of Youngstown, my hometown. Sal doesn’t even get off the bus in Northeast Ohio, but this mention of the local suggested transcendence to the young me.

Somehow this affinity for Kerouac’s Ohio allusion led me to an anthology called Youngstown Poetry put out by the great Pig Iron Press, a local institution, a legendary small (and thoroughly local) press. Talk about buying and reading locally. The Pig Iron volume contained “local” writers, which was great and all, but what I loved was the text itself: the poetry of steel mills, the poetry of Italian neighborhoods and sausage sandwiches and Catholicism, the poetry of Mill Creek Park. The poems themselves, some by locals and some by transplants, put this familiar place in a whole new context.

At 19, I took a community-based poetry-writing workshop at the Pig Iron facilities. Other participants were a generation or two older than me, but I felt at home at that local place: part Kinko’s, part lending library, part artist’s studio. The press called downtown Youngstown home, sitting a block or two from Cedar’s, my favorite bar in town. Pig Iron welcomed anyone committed to reading (and writing) locally.

Kerouac and the Youngstown poets started my lifelong affair with book and poems and songs about the idiosyncratic places I loved due to circumstance and quirk. The text need not name the place. Youngstown’s own Stiv Bators never mentioned, in my recollection anyway, Youngstown, but when I listened to his most notorious band the Dead Boys I knew that he too was a product of the Catholic Schools of my diocese. When the Dead Boys repeated the line “ain’t no loser” in their punk classic “Sonic Reducer,” the words wrote their own story about the place—a transgressive and loud narrative, the narrative I needed to hear.

But the literature of place, the work that I’m calling “local,” isn’t really about places. Those poems, songs, and novels are about me and my relationship, as a reader and a human being, to that place. Stiv’s not singing about Youngstown. Kerouac’s not writing about northeast Ohio. Though it’s called “Youngstown,” even Bruce Springsteen’s ode to the city of my birth has less to do with the events the song narrates and more to do with audience members, like me, who have a reference point. About the time Springsteen was writing the words “I’m sinking down, here darlin’ in Youngstown,” I was trying to scrape together the money to put down the deposit on the starter kit for new door-to-door knife salesmen, and, yes, working at a fast food joint in Youngstown. Surely you see that Springsteen was writing about me.

My affective relationship with places led me to great local work (and great local work stoked my affective relationship with places) even as my geographies changed. A few years later, when Detroit felt like home, the poet Jim Daniels and his verse about assembly lines and working-class auto workers in and around the Motor City held great appeal. I loved spotting names of streets I cruised and the narrators—especially in Punching Out, Daniels’ great cycle of poems about the reluctant young auto worker Digger—whose voices sounded like people I knew.

And I loved that poetry especially when I moved away from Detroit for the first and only time I’ve ever done that, in the mid-1990s. Homesick, I was missing Detroit and Detroiters and, yes, Daniels was writing for me. And I was still reading locally, even though I was miles from Michigan.

From Jim Daniels to Philip Levine, currently our nation’s Poet Laureate but I’ll always think of him as a local guy. Eventually the pulpy procedurals by the great Detroit crime novelist Elmore Leonard. Later still, the ultraviolent blaxploitation of Donald Goines, whose Detroit novels Whoreson and Dopefiend proved as influential in the hip hop world as Scarface and George Clinton. Reading locally.

I took temporary leave of Detroit last year, spending a year teaching and writing in Beirut, Lebanon. Another adopted hometown, another place I love. There, I read in translation the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who wrote in exile in Beirut for many years and was concerned with place for so many important reasons. In his poems of Palestinian liberation, Darwish imagined a place whose very existence is often denied. Whose work could possibly underscore any better the need to imagine locales and speak to readers who share a complex affinity and connection to a place? His work wasn’t about Palestine. It was about his readers. I can’t claim to understand how it feels to be Palestinian, but I know how it feels to read one’s way into a new relationship with a place.

I just finished Annia Ciezadlo’s fantastic memoir Day of Honey, her story of being a war correspondent first in Iraq and then in Lebanon. More specifically, in Beirut. More specifically, in Ras Beirut, living at one point around the corner from the building where I lived in the Hamra neighborhood during my year abroad. Late in her memoir, she recalls a period of intense sectarian violence in Summer, 2008, and recalls the streetfights that took place on my block, even mentioning my building, where she visited the residents taking shelter in the basement.

These passages were riveting to me, not due to the subject matter, but because of that familiarity, albeit a familiarity that was challenged and recast as I imagined and remembered the place anew.

Reading globally? Maybe. As much as I love the steel mill poetry of Youngstown and the dirty crime fiction of Detroit, I’m increasingly drawn to non-fiction about the Arab world. A space on the other side of the globe, my most distant homeplace. My goodreads.com booklist suggests an eclectic, broad array of reading material. But so many of those books, so many of my own idiosyncratic obsessions (punk rock, working-class poetry, the Beats, the Middle East) have much to do with my shifting localness. Of all the things for which I’m thankful, some of the most profound blessings have been calling multiple places home and discovering writers who create place-based work that’s just for me.

Buy locally, read locally. Because it's all about you.


4Cs Chair's Address

Just got back from 4Cs, the annual flagship conference in my field (Conference on College Composition and Communication). Always nice to spend a few days reconnecting with friends from graduate school and from my first job. I mean, Facebook is great and everything, but you can't beat dinner in the big city (St. Louis this year) and the obligatory can't-believe-I-graduated-from-Arizona-a-decade-ago conversations. Panels and presentations always differ in quality and always will, but I consistently walk away from sessions with ideas and/or energy.

Malea Powell gave the chair's address and did a fabulous job of provoking thought. She discussed her own subfield--Native-American Rhetorics--and questioned whether it's time we move beyond relegating such pursuits to "alternative" status, challenging *everyone* to get involved in de-colonizing work. This blurb doesn't do her talk justice. Also noteworthy: Powell's inclusion of multiple voices during "her" talk--various members of the field went to the mic and told brief stories of their own about their inclusion (or lack thereof) and/or entree into Comp Studies. "This is my story, make of it what you will," they intoned. Which was interesting, but also left me asking: what if we choose to ignore your story?

Why not end each person's story with something like, "This is my story, please think about it and adjust your practices accordingly"?



I shared Billy Collins' Morning with my students today. "Why do we bother with the rest of the day[...]?" the poem asks. Some of my favorite poems by Collins capture the home, the day, the ephemera of the narrator: the barking dog next door, cello recordings, student papers. "Morning" is no exception, as we encounter the vitamins, espresso, and arcane machinery of literacy that define an idiosyncratic a.m.

This morning, before I shared "Morning," I realized I never loved the Southfield Hwy. until the Southfield Hwy closed for several months, humanizing my Berkley to Dearborn commute each morning. My own morning is sometimes bad radio and good cereal. The latter has whole grains, the former is bleached bland carbs. I should listen to NPR each morning, and not just during Bad Radio's commercials. Sometimes I walk the dog around the block, other days are lazy and she settles for the backyard. We should circle the block each morning. With thanks to Billy Collins, two morning resolutions.



Though on "Spring" "Break," I'm reading the ethnographies my Composition 106 students wrote. Many of them chose fascinating places to visit and study: Eastern Market, a braille bookstore, an after-school tutoring program for minority kids, CityYear Detroit, etc. Been a while since I enjoyed reading student writing this much. Definitely would like to keep this assignment in heavy rotation when I teach Comp 106.



We always had "School Mass" on holy days of obligation like Ash Wednesday. Boys in corduroys, girls in jumpers filing into pews. The priest coming down from the Altar for kid-friendly homily. Once the priest talked about Jesus saying we must forgive our neighbors not merely seven times but seventy times seven times. "How many times is that?" the priest asked. "490," an eighth grader volunteered. School Masses tended to be interactive. I was about nine and that kid and Jesus both seemed brilliant to me. We happened to have School Mass the day John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan and James Brady. Wikipedia says that was March 30, '81. I don't think March 30 is a holy day of obligation. Must have been some special occasion.

Once at School Mass, Fr. DeLucia gave a rousing talk about why people set up mangers at Christmas. Francis of Assisi started the tradition. An Italian invention, don't you know? Homilies at St. Anthony's often invoked the Italian people the way the dad in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" invoked Greeks. We invented it all. The pinnacle of civilization. This "manger homily" was from the days when both Frs. DeMarinis and DeLucia were at St. Anthony's, right before the priest shortage rendered such an arrangement a luxury. Both priests had names starting with the letters "De." No wonder I entered seminary.

On Ash Wednesday, the homilies discussed what kinds of stuff one might give up for Lent. Candy, pop, fighting with siblings. Mass meant a day without Math or Social Studies. Those underpaid teachers, nun or otherwise, must have loved holy days of obligation. I'm talking about "grade school" here. We just called our Catholic school "grade school" because K-8 was under roof so distinguishing between "elementary" and "middle" made no sense. At Ash Wednesday Mass, every kid lined up for ashes on the forehead. Most boys ended up with black smudges on their uniforms by the end of the day. We also got burlap squares with black crosses on them, meant to be pinned to one's winter coat and worn throughout Lent. I've never seen these burlap pins since. Was that a late '70s/early '80s fad? I can picture dozens of kids at recess, running around in unbuttoned winter coats, little burlap pins above our hearts. I started Catholic school nearly thirty-five years ago and didn't go to a secular, public place of learning until grad school. And in 2012 these recollections rise again from the ashes.


Professional Accidents

I'm reading Roger Ebert's memoir LIFE ITSELF and enjoying the writing very much. I've long thought of Ebert not only as a good film critic but as a good writer. He's always personal and often funny. His readers know him and like him. After a bit of a false start in which Ebert lists extended family members (for a chapter or so it's like reading the genealogical passages from Genesis), LIFE ITSELF settles into a folksy, fond series of thematic recollections. A chapter on his dad. A chapter on Catholicism. More thoughts later, I'm sure.

In the meantime, a connection. Ebert points out that although he works hard, happenstance has played a significant role in much of his professional life. His boyhood pal's dad happened to be a newspaper editor. The Sun-Times happened to need somebody to review films soon after he became a "newspaper man." Is Ebert the exception or rule? Happy accidents and random events often conspire and affect our lives, sometimes in profound ways. When I started my master's program (1996), the new TA director happened to be an enthusiastic, recent graduate of Arizona's rhet/comp program who talked up his alma mater. More recently (2009), surfing the list of Fulbright host countries while racked with killer migraines, I came upon Lebanon and stopped surfing.

Here's a big one. At the end of my first year of undergraduate study (academic year 1992-1993), I was turning in some piece of paperwork (this was pre-internet) in the liberal arts dean's office. I hadn't declared a major but was thinking of either philosophy, Spanish, or both. The secretary, filing my papers, saw I was undecided and said, "Do you want to declare a major?" I was about to say no, when my Intro to Drama and Poetry professor peered around the copy machine and said, "Yeah, he wants to major in English." I had tested out of first-year comp (yes, it's the focus of my teaching life and I never actually took the class!) and instead took a literature class during Winter semester of freshman year. The secretary grabbed a major declaration form, wrote "English" on it, and handed it to me to sign. Which I did. Dr. Jim McDonald declared my major for me.


Three Things

1. For the first time since graduate school, I'm teaching MWF classes. Hello Friday. After three weeks, my sense is that Friday morning is great for freewriting and discussions, not as great for peer review and other more regimented tasks. Today, among other things, my two classes included: watching a youtube video of Patti Smith covering Adele, a discussion of Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Arabic Coffee," and a discussion with a young woman about her name happening to be the name of a city in Lebanon and a tasty dish often eaten at funerals or during Ashura. Believe it or not, we were focused (mostly). For the first time this term, I wasn't wearing jeans nor slippers.

2. I love goodreads.com and wish I would've joined sooner. Great place to track books you have read, are reading, and plan to read.

3. Naomi Shihab Nye visited Ann Arbor this week and I had the pleasure of going to both a reading and a lecture. Also, got (another) autograph. [I love signed books!] She has such an amazing presence at readings in particular and she shared some of the poems from her new book, Transfer, that use lines from her late father's journals as titles and use her dad's point-of-view. Quite beautiful. Definitely one of my all-time favorite poets.


Hunger Games Trilogy

I would have loved these books even more if they existed in 1987. The fourteen-year-old me loved Stephen King's "Bachman books" which strike me as the most obvious antecedents. The best Bachman book, "The Long Walk," centers on a futuristic America where oppressed young citizens elect to take part in a marathon walk where the last person standing wins a lottery and all the losers face death by firing squad. Oh how I loved this story. The Hunger Games books have a similar conceit: dystopian society in which a reality tv competition pits teens against one another in a fight to the death. I don't want to say more about the plot because you should read these books before the first film adaptation comes out this March. They're quite compelling and I admired how damn dark they were too. Relentlessly dark at times. The third book, "Mockingjay," dragged a bit, but the first two--total page-turners.


Tuesday Tuesday

So I'm thinking of joining Weight Watchers. We have a group on campus and it's cheap. One of the challenges (and they are legion!) is that a lot of good Lebanese food adds up quickly in terms of points despite all the health benefits. Olive oil and lebneh are examples. Both have calories and (good) fat so the point value is high. I just hate the idea of turning to food that's actually less healthful just because it's lower in points. But then I think of the health benefits of weighing less. I know that the answer here is to eat much less olive oil and lebneh, in addition to other healthy foods.

Have a rare morning today to work on my research/writing. (So why am I blogging then?) Then it's off to campus for a meeting, class prep, a panel discussion on All American Muslim, and a work-out. Livin' the dream.

Surely a post is coming about The Hunger Games. I'm mid-way through the third and final book in the series and I'm loving these novels in a big way.


youtube, archives, fandom

Did you know that users upload forty-eight hours of video per minute to youtube? This shouldn't amaze me given the fact that youtube has permeated nearly every facet of society. Still, think about that. Forty-eight hours of footage. Every minute.

This got me thinking about the volume and diversity of live music that is available. Putting aside music videos, promos, and other "professional" clips (if such a thing can even be said to exist), consider for a second the accessibility of live footage of your favorite band. You can't go to a rock show and not see dozens of people filming a song or two. I imagine this is true for most genres. Grateful Dead fans famously (audio) taped and traded shows for decades. Official live albums--again, were talking audio here--were especially trendy during the arena rock 70s (Kiss, J. Geils, Frampton, The Who, Cheap Trick, Bob Seger, and others created iconic road records) and attracted even casual fans who approached the live album as a kind of greatest hits. And of course bootleg live records also circulated, especially among hardcore fans.

But youtube provides aural and visual representations of live music, mostly fan created. I wonder if record companies, (some) bands, Live Nation, Ticketmaster, et al, will eventually create more corporate sanctioned "channels" and crack down on amateur bootlegs. For now at least, much of youtube belongs to fandom. Like live albums in the 70s, I see the live music on youtube as walking the line between appealing to casual and hardcore fans. The casual fan can search for a single track and find it in seconds. The hardcore fan can search for a particular song at a particular show or make note of different versions of the same song over some particular period of time. Jay-Z and Kanye West seemed to nod at this phenomenon when they performed multiple versions of "N****s in Paris" at shows on their recent tour.

Another parallel. Like those who bought a live album or bootleg in the 70s or 80s, fans today who surf youtube can appreciate the mythology a band creates by its choice of covers. Springsteen saluted 60s r&b and garage rock by covering Mitch Ryder, for instance, and buying a Springsteen bootleg a generation or two ago was an education in his influences. Want to see Weezer doing "Pumped Up Kicks" last year? Want to see Green Day do AC/DC? Youtube's got you covered. Have at it.

What's surprising, though, is how much pre-youtube and pre-camera phone live music is out there, and it's archived for our pleasure. I was too young to see The Clash in person but I can see them via youtube in their early days in London all the way up to when they opened for The Who in '82. I've always been fascinated by the infamous '72 tour where The Rolling Stones (with--sorry Ron Wood--the great Mick Taylor on second guitar, showing off cool new songs from "Exile on Main St," and supported by Stevie Wonder!) destroyed hotel rooms, did a lot of heroin, and reportedly blew minds on the stage. And now I can watch Keith play Happy a year before I was even born.

I can find clips of the night I saw Neil Young in Cleveland in '93 and ended up with a minor misdemeanor citation from Cuyahoga County. I can find clips of the first rock concert I ever attended (10,000 Maniacs). I don't mean the same band during the same tour, I mean the exact show. I can even find clips of local bands from Youngstown, Ohio, circa early 90s. And I don't remember anybody ever having a video camera at Cedar's or The Penguin Pub, but the clips are there. Couple that nostalgic ability to re-see with the archive that is setlist.fm, much less trafficked but in my mind an equally addictive site for the hardcore music fan, and you've got quite a record of your sordid past. If you haven't been to setlist.fm, it's function should be pretty self-explanatory. It's a wiki that houses the setlists performed by popular music performers. What exactly did Neil Young play that night I saw him twenty years ago? The answer's right here.

I know that Patton Oswalt and others have commented on the internet taking away the magic of the search by putting what used to be obscure right in front of us. But I like the idea of preservation of the minute details we obsess over. Accessibility doesn't take away the obsession, and it certainly doesn't take away the magic. (I don't see Oswalt liking comics any less.) In a way these archives keep us honest: The Stones didn't play a three-hour set of Motown covers in '72. And nobody claims it's the same as being there. I'd have loved to see The Clash opening up for the Pistols on the Anarchy Tour but I was three years old. Seeing it on youtube's not the same thing obviously. But I can access the archives, feed my fandom, and be honest (oh yeah, they didn't play very well).


Recent Reading

The joys of break are the joys of reading for pleasure. I devoured Life, the Keith Richards memoir, and got a kick from not only the Brit dialect but also the lingo of swinging London. Richards tosses in plenty of instances of "baby" and groovy sounding sentence fragments too. He uses these fragments to underline, sometimes stating the obvious (a stand-alone like "Wild" might follow an anecdote that absolutely is) and sometime editorializing (often his comments critique Mick Jagger's ego and love of fame). You get the obligatory stories of heavy drug use, but you also get a sense of Keith's deep, deep love of music and musicians. Wild baby.

Also read the somewhat mediocre Geraldine Brooks novel People of the Book. I loved the premise--a researcher and rare-books expert tracing the history of a sacred, centuries-old Jewish text through Europe. Also loved the recurring theme of "conviviality," the togetherness invoked by stories of Christians, Jews, and Muslims interacting together (15th Century Spain! 20th Century Bosnia! Palestine! Australia!). It's a globetrotting, time-traveling narrative and the good, bad, lovely, and ugly of the interaction of Big Western Faiths comes up thematically and drives the plot too. While the historical chapters popped, the present action sometimes tried too hard to combine pulpy action and romance with the more heady themes. DaVinci Code for the New York Review of Books set. Good but not great.