The Tropics of Meta Gang Picks Their Favorite Cover Songs

We asked our contributors and followers what their favorite cover songs were, along with R. Mike Burr's piece about Ray Padgett's book Cover Me yesterday.  Here's what they had to say. What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments! Saira Mazhar: Tommy Loveless: Chris Staaf: Nick Juravich: Jesse D. Kelly: Jude Webre: Todd Moye: Hope … [Read more...]

I Hope You Can Cover for Me: Mike Burr on the History of the Cover Song

Ray Padgett’s Cover Me gives the prestige treatment to the humblest of album afterthoughts and concert crowd pleasers:  the cover song. Padgett expands the mission of his blog of the same name to trace the history of the cover, choosing to focusing on twenty interpretations that range from the truly iconic to the historically significant. Each chapter is well researched about the covered song and the artists involved, and delivers a surprising amount of information without seeming too much like homework. Padgett intersperses his prose with an amazingly thorough list of interviews, including excellent conversations with Mark Mothersbaugh and Roger Daltrey, and full-page artist photographs. … [Read more...]

The Monitor: The Punk Album that Predicted Our Politics

One night soon after we moved to Atlanta, I was hanging out at the Graveyard Tavern, killing time before a show.  I picked up the local indie music magazine and read a review of a new album by a band called Titus Andronicus.  As a history professor, I was both intrigued and mortified.  It seemed audacious on so many fronts: they were named after Shakespeare’s most notoriously violent play, a punk band attempting a concept album about the Civil War. Yes, that Civil War. The one with Stonewall Jackson and ironclads. It sounds like a recipe for a prog-ish, pretentious disaster, right? The Monitor ended up being one of my favorite albums—one that I continually go back to and enjoy for its … [Read more...]

South of Shaw: Introducing Straight Outta Fresno

“Pretend,” we instruct our students, “that you have been hired by Fresno City to make postcards, visuals that capture and represent the city, its history, its people, its spaces.” “Now,” we continue, “do your best to draw some postcards.” They dutifully scribble lines that look like City Hall, the historic Warnors Theater, the Fresno arch and the Christmas Tree Lane in the Fig Gardens neighborhood. The more skilled and adventurous students draw portraits of elected officials and Fresno State’s President Joseph Castro. Despite our students’ ethnic and geographical diversity, they tend to depict and reflect a top-down version of both history and the city. Yet, in more casual conversations, … [Read more...]

Got Revolution? Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Summer of Love, and Hippie Commercialism

Don’t underestimate the Airplane, even if it’s easy to do. Sure, none of their other music exceeds the concise psychedelia of their best-known songs. Yes, they morphed into progressively lame versions of themselves throughout the seventies and eighties. And yes, their final iteration, Starship, inflicted the world with “We Built This City”, which might objectively be one of the worst songs of all time. Added together, these parts might as well make Jefferson Airplane just another relic. Yet their sum is so much more. Forget the Airplane, and you not only miss out on some fine music, but you also commit a minor act of historical amnesia. If you want to know how sixties music morphed from a … [Read more...]

Smurfs, Wizards, and the History of Hmong B-Boy Culture in Southeast Fresno

Hip-hop’s founding myth places the culture’s birth at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, where on a summer night in 1973 Clive Campbell, aka Dj Kool Herc, held a back-to-school party in his apartment complex’s recreation room. After Herc’s initial reggae offerings fell on deaf ears and, even worse, still feet, he did what any good DJ would do: break out the James Brown. From behind his turntables, Herc noticed that dancers got especially hype when one of Brown’s songs was stripped bare of everything but Clyde Stubblefield’s funky drums. Eventually, Herc engineered a set up consisting of two turntables and a homemade mixer that allowed him to isolated these “breaks” in the song by switching … [Read more...]

Remembering Denis Gainty, Bluegrass Virtuoso and Beloved Historian of Japan

With a weary and heavy heart, Tropics of Meta marks the loss of yet another great historian, having meditated on the tragic passing of Cliff Kuhn less than a year and a half ago. Georgia State's Jeffrey Young offers this celebration of Denis's rich, vivid, and too-short life. Denis Charles Gainty was born in Saranac Lake, New York, on August 31, 1970 to Clement Joseph Gainty and Mary Kate Gainty.  He grew up in Western and Central Massachusetts spending especially joyful years in Shelburne, MA.  His close relationships with his brother Chris and his sister Caitjan were the anchors of a wonderful childhood much of which was spent exploring the outdoors.  As a boy, he excelled at his studies … [Read more...]

How the Labor Movement Shot Itself in the Foot: Rock Edition

“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly,” Thom Yorke sneered on Radiohead’s seminal 1997 album OK Computer. He did not mean aesthetic ambition, of course—the band had that in spades—but the crass materialism of a yuppie careerist, the proverbial “kicking, screaming Gucci little piggy.” The next year, rapper Amil made a very different declaration on a classic Jay-Z track: “Ambition makes me so horny… My hoochie remains in a Gucci name.”  Their two perspectives on material aspiration could not be more different—the art-rocker disdains the trappings of consumerism, while Amil is totally frank about the fact that she wanted her art to succeed commercially, to bring the comforts that upward mobility … [Read more...]

When Prince Met Spotify

This blog has never made a secret of its furtive love for the Purple One. He was one of the few cultural figures that we rushed an immediate retrospective about—the Beastie Boys being another, upon the death of MCA in 2012. For the Gen Xers and millennials who make up most of the writing team at Tropics of Meta, these artists meant enough to us in our formative years to merit instant assessment and reflection. Prince was also one of those unusual—and increasingly rare—characters in popular culture who boasted such universal appeal, across races, classes, and genders, that their death left a blast crater in the public consciousness, noticeable to those who hadn’t even heard the news. I … [Read more...]

It Started Here: Jean Vang’s Journey into Fresno’s Hip Hop Past

Popping is a dance style that originated in Fresno and is characterized by abrupt spastic movements. The dancers pop their limbs in sudden drastic motions while incorporating subtle pauses to accentuate these popping gestures. The origins are often credited to brothers Popp’ in Pete and Sam Solomon who helped create the dance stylings in the 1970’s.[1] The Solomon brothers grew up in West Fresno which was predominantly African American. Latinos and African Americans were often segregated to this region of Fresno, which suffered from widespread unemployment and poverty. The schools in this region were neglected and housing was dilapidated.[2] It was under these difficult conditions that the … [Read more...]