Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


Open-Access Article: “Early Freeze Warning: The Politics and Literature Debate as Cold War Culture”

Posted in Books,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the September 3rd, 2020

An essay of mine originally published in the volume Literature Among the Ruins, 1945-1955: Postwar Japanese Literary Criticism (Lexington Books, 2018) is now available in open-access online form at Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.

Here’s the abstract:

Abstract: This essay revisits the 1946-7 “Politics and Literature Debate” (Seiji to bungaku ronsō), a pivotal controversy among leftist Japanese writers and intellectuals that is conventionally cited as the starting point of postwar literary history. Situating the debate in tandem with three influential texts published at roughly the same time in the West—Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination (1951), Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946), and The God That Failed (1950), edited by Richard Crossman—the essay argues that the debate should be considered an early instance of the Cold War culture that would emerge globally in the decades that followed.

Also available from Lexington Books is a companion volume, The Politics and Literature Debate in Postwar Japanese Literary Criticism, 1945-52, an anthology of annotated translations of all the key essays from the celebrated “Politics and Literature Debate” in late 1940s Japan.

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Re-Encountering John Lee Hooker

Posted in Books,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the May 13th, 2020

Last week, I enjoyed reading Robert Christgau’s belated review of Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century, Charles Shaar Murray’s 2002 biography of John Lee Hooker, the great Detroit blues musician. Christgau admits that he’s never been a huge fan of Hooker’s recordings, but Murray’s writings have opened his ears in a new way.

No surprise, then, that Hooker has risen in my personal blues pantheon. Sure I still prefer early Skip James and Robert Palmer’s Elmore James best-of, among others. But on The Healer, just as a for instance, I can now hear how right it is that the star-stoked first half, most strikingly the Carlos Santana title song and Los Lobos’s big-bandish “Sally Mae,” wind down into a guitar-bass-drums “My Dream” that’s less sung than sweetly murmured and the solo “No Substitute” finale, which fades into a whisper on the repeated theme “There ain’t no substitute for love.” “No Substitute” is some kind of masterpiece. I can’t imagine anyone but John Lee Hooker getting away with it. And I also can’t imagine feeling it the way it deserves if Charles Shaar Murray hadn’t shown me the way.

I haven’t read the Murray book yet, but Christgau has convinced me to put it on my to-read list. And it reminded me of the two times I got to see Hooker play.

The first time was in 1980, I think, at the Union Bar, a venerable blues joint in Minneapolis. I was nineteen at the time and went with my friend Frank to see the “King of the Boogie” in person. We worked our way through the crowd up to the front of the stage, and I remember being blown away by Hooker’s solos. Atonal and punk-ish, they repeatedly seemed on the verge of veering off into chaos but then Hooker would play a lick that instantly pulled the whole string of notes together so that the whole thing made brilliant, completely unexpected sense. It was as if the rest of us were stuck in Euclidean geometry, and he was playing fractal equations. Hooker was sixty-three at the time, but his calloused and deeply grooved fingers looked like they were about a thousand years old.

All through the show, two women who looked to be in their late twenties were standing right in front of Hooker, who played sitting in a chair. I noticed that one of the women kept reaching out and stroking Hooker’s shin as he played. He steadfastly ignored this for most of the set, until near the end of the evening. At that point, he looked straight at the woman with a grin on his face and announced, “The next song goes out to a young lady in the audience tonight. It’s called, ‘(If I Could Only Do Now) The Things That I Used to Do.”

The second time was in the summer of 1986. He was playing at the Cabooze near the University of Minnesota campus. I went with my friend Tom. Again, Hooker provided an amazing lesson in how to make the blues sound completely original. Between sets, they announced that he would be available at the merchandise table to sign autographs. So Tom and I dutifully lined up: for a mere $5, you could get your own signed John Lee Hooker photograph.

As we waited, though, I saw that the whole process was oddly mechanical. When your turn came, you approached Hooker, who took the 8×10 glossy from his manager and slowly printed his name below at the bottom with a thick magic marker. He barely made eye contact with the fans who had waited their turn.

This wouldn’t do. So, when my turn finally came up, I lied through my teeth. “Great show,” I said. “You know, the last time I saw you play was two years ago, in Sendai, Japan.” Hooker’s show in Sendai happened in early 1984, before I got there for my year-abroad program that autumn, but I heard all about it from friends at the Peter Pan rock music coffee house. Hooker paused, looked up at me with a smile and asked how long I had stayed in Sendai. I told him I’d stayed there for a year and that I was looking for a way to get back–both of which were true. He asked if I had a girlfriend there, and I told him that I did. He smiled again and said something about how much he liked touring in Japan. He then took up the black marker and signed my photograph (that’s it above) and it was Tom’s turn to get his autograph.

Honesty is usually the best policy, but not always.

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A Light Bulb Goes On in my Mind

Posted in Books,Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the June 16th, 2019

I am reading Mark Fisher’s brilliant posthumous collection, K-Pop: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016) (edited by Darren Ambrose, Repeater Books, 2018) and come across the following passage from his 2004 essay, “K-Punk, or the Glampunk Art Pop Discontinuum.” In the piece, Fisher is trying to define the position of glam rock (in particular, Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music) in a history of UK youth subcultures.

Here’s the passage that caught me up (p. 279):

After the Fifties, pop and art have always been reversible and reciprocally implicating in British culture in the way that they are not in America. […] British pop’s irreducible artificiality makes it resistant to the Romanticist naturalisation that the likes of Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs achieved in respect of American rock. There’s no way of grounding British art pop in a landscape.

Not a natural landscape in any case. […] in the late-twentieth century the ‘space’ of the internal-psychological was completely penetrated by what [J.G.] Ballard calls the media landscape.

When the British pop star sings, it is not ‘the land’ which speaks (and what does Marcus hear in the American rock he mythologises in Mystery Train if not the American land?) but the deterritority of American-originated consumer culture.

Fisher is guilty of a bit of over-generalization here, of course, but he’s also onto something. And the light bulb goes on in my head:

“We are the Village Green Preservation Society, God save Donald Duck, vaudeville, and variety” (“Village Green Preservation Society,” The Kinks, 1968)

“We’ll surf, like they do in the U.S.A.” (“Australia,” The Kinks, 1969)

“Cos I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy/But my heart lies in old West Virginia/Never seen New Orleans, Oklahoma, Tennessee/Still I dream of the Black Hills that I ain’t never seen” (“Muswell Hillbilly,” The Kinks, 1971)

“Everything around me seems unreal/Everywhere I go it looks and feels like America” (“Working Man’s Cafe,” Ray Davies, 2007).

Of course, Ray Davies had this realization long before I did.

Americana. It started as a flickering light sending black-and-white images through an old movie projector. Faces of cowboys and Indians, superheros, the good guys victorious over the emissaries of evil. Then as I grew the music took over. Rock, jazz, skiffle…the blues…and country songs came to liberate me, a north Londoner, growing in [sic] up in the austerity of postwar Britain. The music gave me hope and feeling that I could express myself in song through this new art form called rock and roll.

(Ray Davies, Americana: The Kinks, the Road, the Story [Sterling, 2013], p. viii)

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How to be an Ethical Music Fan in a Corrupt World

1). How to buy music: Never, ever order your music from Amazon.com or its woeful kin. Obviously. Your local record shop, should you be so lucky as to still have one, needs your business. Another alternative is buying directly from the artist’s website. It’ll probably cost you a couple extra bucks, but that’s a low price to pay for retaining the rights to your soul. Online retailers have replaced record companies as the Satan of the music industry. Don’t feed Satan.

2). How to listen to music: Here’s how you can pry something out of Satan. After you have bought the CD or vinyl or mp3 download, use a streaming service to listen to the tunes. If you don’t subscribe to a streaming service, try YouTube. They all pay shit royalties to artists and composers, but after you’ve already shelled out a fair price for your own copy, listening via a streaming service throws a few more pennies in the direction of the people who actually made the music.

3). How to find new music: Read. Good music writing teaches you about your own limits and points out a way past them. Criticism is being squeezed as badly by capitalism as any other branch of today’s music world. If you are so lucky as to live in a place where the local press runs music criticism, read it. Then like it and share it on social media: publishers count up those beans. And buy and read books. Your local bookstore has shelves bursting with excellent writing on music. You could start with Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, Mark Fisher’s K-Punk, or Jim Walsh’s Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes, to name three random examples sitting on my desk right now.

Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments. We need all the ideas we can get.

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Things You Find in a Japanese Used Bookstore

Posted in Books,Japanese literature,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the January 28th, 2019

In his 1931 essay, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting,” Walter Benjamin writes that to a book collector, the attraction lies not so much in the fate of a book as a work, but rather in the fate of one specific copy of that book. For a collector, “the most important fate of a copy is its encounter with him” (Harry Zohn trans.). In other words, a collector gathers up stories of encounters with books as much as she does books themselves. So here’s a story.

Last December we visited Tokyo. Our last afternoon in the city, I was killing time in Kichijoji and wandered into Yomitaya, a used bookstore not too far from the train station. After browsing the stacks, I had to check out the locked glass cases up front, where they keep the good stuff. Immediately catching my eye was an elegant letter, several pages thick and composed in classical style with a writing brush, sent by the novelist Nogami Yaeko (野上弥生子,1885-1985) to yet another novelist, Oba Minako (大庭みな子, 1930-2007). A remarkable find: modern Japanese literary history, connecting Natsume Soseki’s Thursday afternoon salon from the 1910s (where Nogami occasionally visited) to the revival of feminist writing in the 1970s and 80s, was sitting there right in front of me. The price tag said 150,000 yen, roughly $1400–well out of the price range of this collector.

But then I noticed a postcard sitting next to it, wrapped in clear vinyl: a New Year’s card, sent from Oba to Nogami. There was no price tag on it. It was almost time for me to leave and meet up with the rest of my family, but idle curiosity wouldn’t let me go. I approached the clerk at the cash register.

“I’m sure I can’t afford it, but how much is that Oba Minako postcard?”

The clerk at first didn’t know what I was speaking about. We walked over to the glass case and I pointed it out. She unlocked the case and pulled the vinyl wrapper out, looking for a price tag. Finding nothing, she slid the card out–and it turned out that there were actually two different New Years greeting cards in it, both from Oba to Nogami. But still no price tag.

The clerk explained that the owner of the shop was away just then, and he was the one who would know the price. She turned to another clerk and explained the situation. He picked up the phone and tried calling the owner to ask the price. I felt bad, because I almost certainly wasn’t going to be able to afford the thing. I did, however, start asking myself about how high I was willing to go. I had no idea what the price would turn out to be, but decided that I could spend up to 5,000 yen (roughly $45).

They couldn’t reach the owner on the phone, alack. I thanked the two clerks and made to leave the shop when their telephone rang, and of course it was the owner. The male clerk spoke for a minute or two with the owner, then opened up a file on his computer to confirm the details of the item.

He looked up at me and said, “3,000 yen.”

I had my wallet out in an instant, wanting to make the purchase and get out of there before they decided that the price was a mistake. How could I not buy them after all of that?

Below you can see images of the little scrap of Japanese literary history that I picked up in that used bookstore. I have no idea what I’ll do with them, but I knew in the moment there was no way I could leave that shop without them.


1984 postmark

(「新年おめでとうございます。一九八四年元旦。いつも伺ったときのことを思い出しております。大庭みな子」)
“Happy New Year. New Year’s Day, 1984. I always think about the time I visited you. Oba Minako”


December 1982 postmark

(「新年のよろこびをもうしあげます。元旦」)
“Felicitations on the New Year. New Year’s Day”

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Literary Tourism and Letters of Recommendation

Posted in Books,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the November 22nd, 2017

Over the past decade, I have practiced a particular form of readerly tourism. When I travel somewhere that is the setting for a novel, I bring the book along and read a few pages while sitting in the specific location. For example, in 2014 I spent part of an afternoon in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Later that same year I sat on a park bench in downtown Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and read Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street.

This past September I was in London for a few days. As part of the never-ending exercise of attempting to turn myself into a well-read human being, every summer I read one enormous classic of world literature. For 2017, the choice was Dickens’s Little Dorrit. And so on a brisk, sunny September morning, I rode the Underground to Monument station, walked south across London Bridge and headed for Little Dorrit Playground, a small modern park for children in the neighborhood where much of the story takes place. As I sat on a bench, reading a chapter from the novel, a young mother played with her toddler daughter on the climber and swings.

From there I walked across the street to the site of the old Marshalsea debtors prison, the central setting of Dickens’s story. Only the southern wall of the “College” remains, along with some historical markers describing the significance of the site.

A few months later, at the height of recommendation letter season, I find myself recalling a specific passage from the novel. Pancks, the comical ‘Grubber’ (bill collector) who haunts the impoverished neighborhood of Bleeding Heart Yard, is repeatedly figured as a kind of overcharged motor (“a little steam-engine with more steam than it knew what to do with”). Later in the novel, Dickens gives Pancks a memorable opportunity to demonstrate a powerful sense of working-class resentment against the capitalist class in the figure of his boss, landlord Casby. But the passage that comes to mind now is where he talks about the relative value of personal references in determining the creditworthiness of individuals.

‘As to being a reference,’ said Pancks, ‘you know, in a general way, what being a reference means. It’s all your eye, that is! Look at your tenants down the Yard here. They’d all be references for one another, if you’d let ’em. What would be the good of letting ’em? It’s no satisfaction to be done by two men instead of one. One’s enough. A person who can’t pay, gets another person who can’t pay, to guarantee that he can pay. Like a person with two wooden legs getting another person with two wooden legs, to guarantee that he has got two natural legs. It don’t make either of them able to do a walking match. And four wooden legs are more troublesome to you than two, when you don’t want any.’ Mr Pancks concluded by blowing off that steam of his.

And so, yes, I’d be happy to write that letter of reference for you–and for you, and for you too. The more, the merrier. Meanwhile, I’ll be dreaming about what book to read next summer–and where it might take me.

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War Trauma in a Comic Novel

Posted in Books,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the October 20th, 2014

There’s an unsettling moment in Sasaki Kuni‘s novel, Bonjinden (The Life of a Mediocrity、1929-30). Sasaki (1883-1964) was a celebrated humor writer, as well as a translator of Mark Twain, Cervantes, and others. I’m not aware of any English translations of his work. When I read earlier this year that Kondansha had brought out a bunkobon (pocketbook) edition of Bonjinden, I picked up a copy.

凡人伝

The hook with which the novel begins is that, although we have countless biographies of great men, we have few of mediocrities. In a mode somewhat reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse, the first-person narrator launches into an account of his schooldays, first off in the provinces where he suffers abuse from classmates for the sin of being the headmaster’s son, and then at Meiji Gakuen, a Christian mission school in Tokyo. We follow the misadventures of our anti-hero and his chums, including their crises of faith–but it’s all played for laughs. References to actual historical events allow us to place the story at around the time of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5.

The unsettling moment comes near the end. The hero is teaching at a school way out in the provinces where there is an elderly teacher who happens to bear the same family name as he–a telling detail. To avoid confusion, their colleagues call the protagonist “Young Kawahara” and his senior colleague “Old Kawahara.” Old Kawahara is a former soldier, a veteran of the internal warfare that erupted at the time of the Meiji Restoration. His junior colleagues at the school joke about his main claim to fame as a warrior: his heroic capture of the enemy commander’s leg.

Young Kawahara has heard his colleagues talk about this. One evening, he goes to visit Old Kawahara at his home and nudges him into telling his war stories. Old Kawahara obliges and relates how he came across the corpse of the enemy general on the battlefield. Somebody else had already taken the head, so he lopped off the leg. It’s a gruesome image, but the scene is played for laughs.

But then things get serious. Old Kawahara’s face grows dark, and he starts to tell of another battlefield incident, one that he’s never previously recounted for his colleagues. He was on patrol duty one night near Aizu, enforcing a curfew, when a beautiful young woman appeared in front of him. One of his fellow soldiers yelled out to Old Kawahara to cut her down. He tried to let the woman escape. But just as the woman turned to run away, his comrades saw what was happening and yelled out that he was a coward. In a moment of panic, Old Kawahara slashed out with his sword across the woman’s back. He later learned that it was all a misunderstanding, that the woman was an innocent bystander.

As she fell to the ground, the woman glanced back at Old Kawahara with a vengeful look that has haunted him his whole life. Decades later, he still has nightmares about the woman he killed. She was about twenty, Old Kawahara tells Young Kawahara. He’s certain that she is the reason both his own sons died at the age of twenty: she placed a curse on him so that none of the children in his family would live beyond the age of twenty.

It’s a chilling scene, unlike anything that has come before it in the novel. But soon the narrative shifts back into a comic mode. Old Kawahara has one child left, an unmarried girl who will soon turn twenty. He begs Young Kawahara to marry her immediately so that by the time she turns twenty, she will no longer be his daughter (her name will be shifted from the family registry of Old Kawahara to that of Young Kawahara) and hence will escape the curse. The whole story seems to have been a set up to trick Young Kawahara into marrying the daughter. In fact, Young Kawahara is only too willing to do so, and so the narrative reaches a happy ending.

In other words, this horrific story of traumatic war memories is used as a comic device. I can’t help but wonder how this sequence struck its original readers back in 1930. There were earlier fictional works in Japan that depicted the horrors of war, but almost always the violent scenes in them depict Japanese soldiers as the victims rather than the perpetrators of atrocities. By the late 1930s, and especially after 1945, we started to get many novels that depicted ugly battlefield incidents, including those committed by Japanese troops–but I can’t think of a work that puts such a scene to use for comic effect.

I suppose it makes a difference that the war depicted in Bonjinden is a civil war rather than a foreign war. But I still can’t quite get my mind around the way the scene is used in the novel. Did this sequence disturb readers in 1930 Japan, or did they simply fly past it without a second thought? Was the scene warning them about horrors to come, or was it preparing readers to laugh them off?

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My Viennese Summer

Posted in Art,Books,Classical,Fiction,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the September 28th, 2013

I hope that you had a good summer, wherever and however you spent it. Classes at UChicago start Monday, so let me try to recap my own summer. For me, 2013 was the summer of Vienna, in imagination and reality.

The July 31 free concert by the Grant Park Orchestra in Millennium Park helped get things started. The program consisted of a single piece: the rarely performed Symphony No. 2 by Viennese composer Antonio Bruckner. It’s a delightfully sweet composition, especially in the slow movement, and the performance on a fine summer evening captured it quite gracefully. Mentally I was already walking alongside the Danube, the Blue Danube.

Around the same time, I began my background reading: two fine cultural histories of Vienna: Frederic Morton’s A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (1980) and Carl E. Schorske’s Fin–de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (1980). From there, I moved onto Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday (1942), an elegiac memoir of the novelist’s life in Vienna that he completed in exile in South America, the day before he committed suicide. I also read Vienna Idylls, a collection of short stories by Arthur Schnitzler. It’s easy to understand why Freud loved Schnitzler: his fiction throbs with repressed desires and unspoken impulses. His characters say one thing, but clearly mean something entirely different. They think they desire one object, but obviously covet the exact opposite. Modernity in a nutshell.

On the morning of August 6, we arrived at the airport in Vienna, took the express train into the city and then the subway to Graben. The moment we emerged at the top of the escalator from the Stephansplatz underground and into the ancient plaza was stunning–as was the heat. We checked into our hotel and began a dazed four-day visit. The highlights for me were visiting Berggasse 19–the apartment where Sigmund Freud lived and worked from 1891 until 1938, when he went into exile after the Nazis took over Austria–and the Prater amusement park, home of the famous Ferris wheel. I’ve always loved carnivals and fairs (a few weeks after Vienna we made our annual pilgrimage to the Minnesota State Fair), and I especially liked Prater because it was the only time during our visit to Austria that we mingled with working class, immigrants, teen-agers: ordinary folks, out like us for a good time on a pleasant summer night.

Another highlight was the Secession museum, where we spent half an hour in the company of Klimt’s Beethoven freize.
the-beethoven-frieze-the-hostile-powers-left-part-detail.jpg!Blog
The Secession was also hosting an exhibit of the work of Thomas Locher, inspired by Jacques Derrida’s writings on Mauss and the gift–which have been enormously influential on my own scholarship. We had to rush through that exhibit, though, as the museum was closing. After exiting we wandered through the outdoor night market that lies just outside the museum.

In the two months since we returned from Vienna, I find myself stumbling into references to Vienna everywhere. Summer’s gone, but I’m still walking alongside the Danube.

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Upcoming Japan-related Events at the University of Chicago

Apologies for the dearth of posts recently: it’s been a busy couple of months. The coming weeks and months promise to be just as busy, with many exciting Japan-related events on the horizon here at the University of Chicago. If you’re in the area, please consider joining us for some of the following events:

March 11: William Marotti (Associate Professor, History, UCLA) will be giving a public lecture on “Perceiving Politics: Art, Protest, and Everyday Life in Early 1960s Japan” (5:00 p.m., Wieboldt 408). He’ll discuss his new book, Money, Trains, and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan (Duke University Press, 2013).

March 15-16: Remediations II: A Japan Anthro Workshop. Michael Fisch has organized this exciting event, featuring presentations by a number of up-and-coming Japan scholars. I’ll be a discussant for Panel 2: “Rethinking the War Machine: Remediations of Violence.”

April 22: 2013 Najita Distinguished Lecture in Japanese Studies with Ueno Chizuko(5:00 p.m., International House). A public lecture by the respected sociologist and influential feminist critic, one of Japan’s leading public intellectuals.

April 25-26: “The Cold War in East Asia,” a conference organized by our graduate students featuring a number of guest speakers. I’ll participate as a respondent for one of the panels.

May 10-11: “The Russian Kurosawa,” an innovative event organized by Olga Solovieva that brings together specialists in Russian literature, Japanese film, and other disciplines to reconsider Kurosawa Akira’s film adaptations of Russian literary works. The event will include free screenings of several of Kurosawa’s films.

Spring quarter will also see screenings and events surrounding the films produced and distributed by Art Theater Guild, the primary force in independent Japanese cinema during the 1970s and 80s.

October 18-20: The Association for Japanese Literary Studies Annual Meeting: Performance and Japanese Literature. The call for papers and other information are available here.

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Reading Bob Mould

Posted in Books,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the January 12th, 2013

I recently finished reading Bob Mould’s See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody. Most of the reviews I read praised the book, but complained that it focused too little on Mould’s days as leader of the seminal hardcore band Hüsker Dü and too much on his recent activities, especially his description of growing into the identity, social and sexual, of a mature gay man.

My own response was the opposite. I appreciated the chapters on Hüsker Dü–especially since they allowed me to relive a part of my youth. I never became a huge Hüsker Dü fan, but I was a year behind Mould at Macalester College, lived in the same dorm and even had one class with him (“Introduction to Sociology,” about which I remember nothing else). I remember in particular one fiery early performance by the band at a kegger in the basement of Doty dorm. I shared many of the places Mould writes about (Cheapo’s Records, Northern Lights, Ron’s Randolph Inn, Seventh Street Entry, etc.) and I knew a number of the people that show up in his story. Reading the book was a nostalgic experience, and of course it got me digging out my copies of “Flip Your Wig” and “Warehouse.”

But it was the later chapters that really fascinated me. In part the appeal came from the sympathetic insider’s account of a scene that I don’t know: Mould helped me get a feel for what everyday life is like in a different corner of the universe. Even more than that, though, I was struck by his description of what it means to grow up, to take on and live out fully the identity that one has pieced together. The book is a real anomaly: a thoughtful, fearless account of what it means for a rocker to become a middle-aged adult. We’re not all rock stars, but we all grow old, and Mould writes well about how to do that with grace, joy, and intelligence.

I am sorry, however, that he left out my favorite Hüsker Dü story. There was a thriving underground music scene in the Twin Cities circa 1982-3, and it was starting to get mainstream media attention. Local television reporters, after getting their vaccinations updated and donning protective gear, would pay hesitant visits to the subculture and report back in half-curious, half-terrified fashion about what was happening. So the mass audience learned that something was going on in the clubs of downtown Minneapolis, but the knowledge came with real anxiety. Did we have punks in Minnesota? Would they act rude and say bad words? Were they like us?

At the time WCCO-AM radio was the most mainstream of mainstream media. One of the old clear-channel stations allowed to broadcast at 50,000 watts, it dominated the airwaves. WCCO utterly owned the local radio audience ratings–at its peak, it had twice the listeners of its nearest competitor. If you grew up in Minnesota in the 1960s and 70s, like me, you can probably still remember all of the announcers, the farm reports, the Boone and Erickson comedy routines, etc. (A nice sample of air checks is available here).

WCCO’s position had begun to slip by the early 1980s, but it was still a powerhouse. One day in 1985 a WCCO deejay risked playing the latest record from the celebrated local punk band, Hüsker Dü. It was on one of the station’s afternoon shows aimed at housewives, as I recall, and the record the deejay chose to play was the cover version of “Love is All Around,” the opening theme song from the old “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The station’s phone bank lit up: calls flooded in from around the state. People absolutely loved the record. Hüsker Dü might be punk, but by taking up the theme song from the beloved “Mary Tyler Moore Show” (set in Minneapolis and a source of immense pride for WCCO’s audience), the band showed they were part of “us.” The cover was an affectionate joke, and WCCO’s audience got it. The station ended up having to play the record over and over again during the following weeks. All over Minnesota, housewives and their preschool offspring got their first exposure to hardcore punk, all thanks to “The Good Neighbor” (the station’s promotional slogan), WCCO-AM.

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