Tag Archives: Punk Archaeology

Punk Archaeology and Dissertation Progress

In the last week, the Punk Archaeology movement — specifically Bill Caraher — pushed a digital button and sent the first Punk Archaeology reader into the digital and hard copy world. It is the first of its kind, and the first publication from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota-Grand Forks. You can download the Punk Archaeology reader here, for free. Or you can purchase it in hard copy by clicking on this Amazon link here. Sometimes it’s just nice to have both. Yesterday I read that if you want a hard copy, but you don’t want to pay for it, Caraher will fax it to you. But I’m not sure if he was being 34% or 94% serious with that statement. Nonetheless, the reader is published. And it is dedicated to our late friend, Joel Jonientz.

Now, with that business cleared off the table, I wanted to get some thoughts down on a dissertation chapter I’ve been outlining. I am in the process of dissertating (now a verb), and I find that reading, thinking, analyzing and writing thoughts down is the best way to capture said thoughts. Broadly speaking, my dissertation concerns how and why the US-Dakota wars have been remembered on the northern Great Plains for the last 150+ years. The Public Historian published an article of mine on this in the August 2013 issue, (Caraher reviewed it here) and it covered the narrative tension surrounding how and why Whitestone Hill has been remembered: between 1901 and 1914, there was a kind of push and pull between ND US Congressman Thomas Marshall and the more reflective Episcopalian Reverend Aaron M. Beede, PhD.

I’m creating a chapter that looks at the historical landscape of South Dakota, and how early members of South Dakota’s State Historical Society sought to shape and influence how the US-Dakota Wars would be remembered in SD. This takes me to Doane Robinson, and his early 20th-century A History of the Dakota, or Sioux Indians. I am particularly interested in Doane’s background, and the culture he was swimming in: we are all swimmers in a particular culture at a particular time, and this no doubt influences the way we act and decide to act, whether we swim with or against the current.

I know Doane hailed from Sparta, Wisconsin (not far from Portage, where Frederick Jackson Turner hailed from), and he took a shot at farming in Minnesota after the Civil War. This would have put him well within range of the psychological terror-stories of the “Sioux Uprising” that seem to persist in the Minnesota River Valley to this day (full disclosure: my Swedish great-great grandparents were in Willmar, Minnesota around this antebellum, Civil War and post-Civil War time; and I’m supposed to be related to some famous Mattson Civil War hero from Minnesota, too).

Because Doane was in this area, I’m thinking this is one of the reasons Doane came to shape the narrative in the way he did: according to Doane and his friends, the Dakota didn’t have “civilization” until he and other non-Natives arrived (this is how Doane and others understood their world, and it is the historian’s job to understand how historical actors understood their world). I think Jonathan Lear has carved out some of the best intellectual territory in considering the implications of “civilization” and ethics and philosophy, and what happens when one culture collides with another, and how individual players navigated that.

Okay, though. I am going to sit down with Doane’s work this week for analysis and further writing. The key to finishing a dissertation, book, or monograph is to write. Nothing is ever going to be great or formed up in the first or even 5th draft. Keeping at it is the only way it will come to something. With that said, I have to go meet some historians for breakfast now, and that means this post has come to an end.

Following ET in New Mexico from North Dakota


One of the only known Pizza Hut ET commemorative glasses in North Dakota’s Sheyenne River Valley.

Throughout last week I’ve been following the media trail of four friends — Andrew Reinhard, Richard Rothaus, Bill Caraher, and Bret Weber — who were mustered into a modern archaeological dig in New Mexico. The goal was to dig up a pile of ET Atari games that were buried after the craptacular game hit the shelves in 1983. When this game hit the shelves, it signaled the beginning of the end for Atari, as Atari lost (according to the Wikipedia page) over a half-billion dollars after buying the rights from Spielberg; over-producing a terrible game; and banking on the idea that customers would rip them from the shelves. They did, to a degree. But the video gamers returned them for a refund as well.

So I kept up with the social media and stories, noting to myself that the archaeology of ET Atari games was more popular than the actual 1983 game. I was also happy to read that Caraher made Rolling Stone. Check it out in the link here. CNN covered the story too. Daniel Politi of Slate.com also covered the story, as did Dominic Rushe of The Guardian, and NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story here. Eric Mack of Forbes covered Andrew Reinhard here (well, the picture is of Andrew). And The Onion covered it here.

The more local Fargo Forum ran a story on it here, too. And you can get direct, unadulterated coverage of the ET dig from Bill Caraher’s blog here. So while holding down the bunker in North Dakota, and while reading these stories, I would often take sips from the ET glass pictured here. The glass comes from my fiancée’s sister’s Valley City home. I think it was a thrift store find some time ago. I still have to set down and get an official oral history.

Remembering Joel Jonientz

Joel's art, the February 2013 Punk Archaeology un-conference poster, hangs in our front entryway.

Joel’s art, the February 2013 Punk Archaeology un-conference poster, hangs in the front entryway of our apartment.

Yesterday I learned that Joel Jonientz passed away. His great friend, Bill Caraher, has an excellent write up linked to here. Joel and I didn’t know each other beyond the 5 or 6 times we hung out, usually over some conversation and excellent beer. When we did hang out, Joel always asked the first person who tried departing to stay. I think this is one of the infinite reasons it was so terrible to hear of Joel’s passing.

Earlier this month I chatted a bit with Joel, and someone at our table (perhaps it was me) asked, “How do you go about starting a digital press at a university?” Joel responded with two words: “Will power.” And this is true with just about anything. You have to get up every morning knowing that this is what you want to and are going to do, and you will strategize in every way possible — directly or through chess maneuvers — to make it work. The goal is to keep pushing forward. At the table Joel explained this while smiling.

Thank you friend. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

Blizzard Day History Punk

As I type, I’ve got about 30 minutes before Troy Reisenauer picks me up and we head down to Les Dirty Frenchmen‘s global headquarters on Main in downtown Fargo, North Dakota for another Thursday night practice session. I have my earplugs in my front pocket, and I’m not OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAafraid to use them: as we all get longer in the tooth, these sorts of measures are necessary. I don’t think many of us are eager to burn the punk rock candle at both ends the way that, say, the Ramones so dutifully did — punk rock road dogs for life.

Anyhow, earlier today — because universities were cancelled due to a death blizzard — I had a chance to review and prep for lectures I’m co-delivering with Angela Smith at North Dakota State University. Smith and I are rotating here and there, so that I’ll pick up a block of week-long lectures — American History, 1877 to the Present — intermittently throughout the semester. Today I revisited the required course book readings for the start of my lecture on Monday. The topic is the contested American West, and chapter 17 of the book opens with Frederick J. Turner. So this in turn induced me to yank several works by and on Turner off my shelf this evening, and currently I’m revisiting Allan Bogue, Frederick Jackson Turner: Strange Roads Going Down (U of Oklahoma Press, 1998).

Winter Oil Explosion in Casselton, North Dakota

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west.

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west. Oil plume just to the left of the signage on the horizon stretching south.

This afternoon while following up on a US-Dakota War historiographic line of research in the library at North Dakota State University, I received a few texts from a friend that read, “KFGO News says 7 oil tanker cars on fire, many have exploded near Casselton.” More went up after this text. This raised my eyebrow. It’s not often that oil tanker cars blow up in North Dakota, and my first thought was, “I sure hope this wasn’t in downtown Casselton.” I was thinking I would just stay in the library, but I also thought about how seeing something first hand is different from seeing it on the flatscreen. Historians are fanatics about primary sources. “Might as well make a contribution,” I thought.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota. The setting sun just dipped behind it.

Molly and I drove out west of Fargo on I-94 to Casselton, about a 20 minute ride one way. Here are some of the raw observations: when we started in Fargo, the temperature was -3°F, and when we finished up in Casselton it read -5°F. Sun dogs were also out to the right and left of the sun. Wind was steady out of the north. As we left Fargo, the sun was setting and snow wisped north-south over the interstate. By mile marker 340, we discerned that the horizontal haze in the distance was indeed produced by the burning oil. Since the wind was blowing hard from the north, this horizontal streak stretched south over the horizon. In the flat Red River Valley of the north, this means that the streak stretched south and was visible for a very, very long way. The setting sun dropped behind this streak, some photos of which are included.

I took the exit off of I-94 into Casselton, and we drove north on Highway 18 that runs south-north through town. I eventually parked the car in a parking lot just to the northeast of where the east-west railroad tracks intersect the north-south Highway 18. This is raw video from that:

Here are some subjective thoughts from the outing: I’m uncertain if anyone was hurt, or worse. I hope not. We all hope not. I also thought about the variety of apartments, residences and businesses along these railroads. Molly and I live two blocks north of one of these rail lines. I have friends that live right along them. And what about our neighbors to the north who went through something much worse than this in October 2013 in Quebec. Then I thought of how this will certainly be politicized in

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

numerous ways. Then I thought about how the world — all of us — have been born into a culture that relies on petroleum. It’s kind of a cultural inertia, something America, the West and the world has been increasingly addicted to at least since the turn of the 19th century. It seems that until oil becomes expensive enough, there will not be a massive enough cultural effort to harness other energy sources. We see signs of it, of course, with wind turbines and the hydroelectric. But it’ll be a while before all of these other alternatives eclipse petroleum. That’s kind of the way with the petroleum industrial complex. There is plastic all around us, too.

Anyhow, stay safe in Casselton, all. Looks like they may have already started evacuating the entire village…

Local Music Memoirs

This morning I dropped into The Bismarck Tribune‘s website and noticed a front web-page article on Jim McMahon. Anyone who is remotely connected with the Bismarck-Mandan or University of Mary music scene knows Jim, and they also know about his optimistic and upbeat commitment to professional and informal music. This article got me thinking a bit about how I started formal music percussion training in the 5th grade under the direction of Randy Salzer at Grimsrud Elementary in Bismarck. I knew I was interested in percussion (or what I called “drumming”) for a variety of reasons beyond the mimicry of AnimalTommy Lee, or Keith Moon (among others). So in my earlier years I asked my mom and dad about drumming, and they responded immediately. My mom came from a musical family, so it was not only an easy sell, it was encouraged. Her dad, my Grandpa Christy, was an administrator in a musicians union in post-WWII Rapid City, South Dakota. My mom has childhood stories about any variety of musicians being put up at her home in Rapid City (music being played in the house till the wee hours as well). This is kind of the way with musicians, whether professionally trained or auto-didactics (or both, which often is the case).

From behind the drums in the Les Dirty Frenchmen practice room. Photo from December 2013.

From behind the drums in the Les Dirty Frenchmen practice room. Photo from December 2013.

Nonetheless, the story on Jim McMahon reminded me of the 5th grade, and lugging what at the time was a gigantic snare drum to school before the start of classes. I think we had something like 20 minutes or so of time with our professionally trained teacher, and he taught us the basics of quarter, eighth, sixteenth and thirty-second notes, paradiddles, flams, and rim shots. As my 5th-12th grade matriculation continued, I found the percussion avenues of other instruments, including the timpani. Today, just down the road in Fargo, I like to know that if Todd or Troy (Reisenauer) asked me to drop a timpani solo into a Les Dirty Frenchmen song, I’d be able to do that, no problem.

And here’s another thing that Randy Salzer and Jim McMahon (and Robert Pesky, Brad Stockert, Scott Prebys, and professionally trained musical educators in general) plant within their students, whether they know it or not: training one to act on stage in front of small and large groups. Think about it: it is a rarity to play any song to perfection (which is one of the original socio-cultural gripes that punk had toward the music industry). But anyone can receive training to know that when you sense a screw-up, just push on. Instead of obsessing over the mess-up, embrace and own it. This is what in the arts and humanities we call a “transferable skill.” We can use it in other disciplines, and even as a life ethos. There is a psychology to it, and the more one performs, the better they get at their work, and the better they get at interpreting this to larger audiences on stage, both formally and informally. That’s what Shakespeare said, anyhow, about how life is a stage. It’s much more than sound and fury signified by nothing, though. It is, in fact, about how our actions today — the musical training of students — have unforeseen effects. Or unforeseen repercussions (hey, it’s a blog post about percussion). In every conversation I can think of, Jim has been perpetually open to different ideas that encourage and cultivate the local music culture of Bismarck-Mandan. So I just wanted to end this by saying nice work, Jim. Nice work indeed.

Punk Archaeology Updates

Before getting after some technical writing this morning (only to be later usurped by some Dakota language studies), I thought I’d link to some forthcoming scholarly analyses on the cultural movement of Punk in all of its unadulterated filth and fury. You can read about the soon-to-be-realeased Punk Archaeology anthology here, and about a work of Punk Sociology here. It was great this morning to come across a local story of a proto-punk Jonathan Richman, who is getting ready to play the Aquarium in downtown Fargo, North Dakota this next week too.

On this single-chord punk note, it’s appropriate to mention the passing of one of the first proto-punks, as memorials and obituaries on Lou Reed have been popping up all over the place (here, here, here and here). This shouldn’t eclipse the passing of folk punk hero Phil Chevron (aka, Philip Ryan of The Pogues or The Popes, depending on the year) in early October 2013. A sad reality for sure, and a time for reflection and contemplation.

An October 19, 2013 photo of Modern Times Cafe.

An October 19, 2013 photo of Modern Times Cafe.

And although we are losing our original punk heroes, punk culture continues pushing in a variety of directions today. Here is a photo from some boots-on-the-ground punk (lower case “p”), this coming from the delicious Modern Times cafe in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A couple weeks ago Molly and I had a chance to make a quick jaunt down the I-94 block from Fargo to MSP to visit a couple friends, and the next morning we hit up this cafe. It’s at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and E. 32nd St. in Minneapolis, and everyone should go here. It’s a place where punks either are parents or a place where punks bring their parents to engage in politely brash conversation and society. A couple more photos below, one of the delicious breakfast meal, and below that a photo of a post card from the fine by-and-for establishment. The only thought left was this: “When will Modern Times open up in downtown Fargo and Grand Forks?”

Delicious, sensibly priced breakfast from Modern Times Cafe.

Delicious, sensibly priced breakfast from Modern Times Cafe.

A Modern Times Cafe postcard indicating that this is a place where punks bring their parents.

A Modern Times Cafe postcard indicating that this is a place where punks bring their parents.

At the right, the viewer is informed with the icons that Modern Times is anti-establishment. This includes an anarchist logo, a rainbow with lightning bolts, a pentagram (suggestive of neo-pagan revivalism or acceptance), a phrase that mocks “The All-Mighty Dollar” (strongly suggestive of a counter-capitalist culture), and so on. At the top is a descriptive banner that says, “Where the punks bring their parents; see also: where the punks are parents, where the punks become parents.” Seated in the lower left are two individuals, presumably a mother and her son. Impressionistically, the son is advertising to one and all that he doesn’t care (this indicative of his hoisted left-handed single digit and a “xxx” booze bottle in his right). His mother, like all loving mothers, is just happy to see that her son is engaged in activities of all sorts. She is responding to her son, saying, “That’s interesting honey…”

Book Shelves and Nails: Quick Fix

In the last couple weeks I relocated a number of book shelves, and in the process a couple of those small but important shelf pegs disappeared. So this morning I sat and stared at one of the pegs to think about how to replace them. The gauge looked close to that of a 16 penny nail, so I hit up the local hardware store that sells loose nails. I grabbed two 16 penny double-headed nails and snipped them with the bolt cutters. The photo below shows the original book shelf peg in between the two DIY home-made book shelf pegs. Worked like a charm. Books will continue going back on the shelves this weekend.

Non-galvanized nails cut to book-shelf peg length in front of Michele Butts, "Galvanized Yankees on the Upper Missouri: The Face of Loyalty" (University Press of Colorado, 2003).

Non-galvanized nails cut to book-shelf peg length in front of Michele Butts, “Galvanized Yankees on the Upper Missouri: The Face of Loyalty” (University Press of Colorado, 2003).

Punk Practice Last Night

I’m about ready to dash out the door, pick up Molly from work and grab lunch at Lucy’s with two long-time friends, Tiffany Johnson and Justin Vinje. But I wanted to upload a photo from last night, my second practice with Fargo-based punk band, Les Dirty Frenchmen. Last January-February, two of the Frenchmen, Todd and Troy, collaborated with the Punk Archaeology un-conference at Sidestreet Grille and Pub. A couple months after that, they said their drummer was moving to a non-Fargo location (I think the Twin Cities), and they asked me to consider taking up the drums for LDF. I said sure, I’d be glad to.



I keep fiddling with the panoramic feature on my iPhone 4s, and so here is what it looked like from the drummer’s perspective last night in the LDF top secret practice space. I think we might start working on some new songs, too. One of those is titled, “Budget Fracking,” a kind of absurdist nod to the Bakken of western ND. Long live local punk.

Modern Archaeology of Grilling

The sun is just starting to set and I’m sitting in the back yard of a residence in Valley City, North Dakota, and thinking that it is worthwhile to both upload a pic of and put some thoughts down on the material culture in front of me. I was thinking this because archaeologists often come across assemblages that have either no voice, or they consciously or unconsciously ascribe a voice to the assemblage through the construction of typologies and interpretations. Archaeologists will find themselves thinking, “I seriously would like to have a conversation with the individual who created this Mandan-Hidatsa pot sherd,” or “If I could only chat with the person who made this Scythian arrowhead…” To counter that, at least in the here and now, I’m going to quickly expand on the domestic assemblage that goes hand in hand with a Saturday evening grill on the northern steppe of North America in the first week of July, 2013.

A contemporary archaeological domestic assemblage from the evening of July 6, 2013, Valley City, North Dakota.

A contemporary archaeological domestic assemblage from the evening of July 6, 2013, Valley City, North Dakota.

Big Picture: This residence is, today, on that proverbial edge of town, a kind of gateway between the rustic countryside and the city or village. To borrow from Raymond Williams, the countryside has been characterized as representing purity and a re-engagement with the wilderness and also backwardness and idiocy (from Virgil, Thoreau and Muir to the Industrial and Post-Industrial H.L. Mencken and beyond). The city as well has been represented as cosmopolitan, where citizens of the world unite to exchange ideas and culture and conversation. Cities also are known to be bastions of corruption and vice. This is the kind of intellectual borderlands where I sit at tonight.

Immediate: with what archaeologists call a “domestic assemblage,” to my right is an aim-and-flame; a can of Miller High Life (the new hipster beer that my friend Troy Reisenauer said may be poised to usurp the hipster Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, if not already); a small bowl of apple wood chips soaking in water; a large coffee cup with a small amount of shucked peas from the Valley City farmer’s market; an iPhone and MacBook Pro, presumably made somewhere in a factory in East Asia by a team of workers who have un-imaginable hours to work; a crumpled up paper bag; and tongs to work the coals on the fire. Music playing is Bruce Springstean, “Mansion on a Hill” from the Nebraska album (appropriate for the Great Plains for sure).

Background: center-right is a make-shift grill (one of those portable backyard firepits, this also made in some East Asian factory by workers with un-imaginable hours); a slender grate; and a bag of Our Family hardwood lump charcoal. I don’t have a proper charcoal grill here (at my girlfriend’s sister’s place), so I just started using the firepit. It has worked quite well.

Far background: behind that (even more blurred) is a pre-WWII home shrouded in modern siding and asphalt shingle with aluminum downspouts, a lawnmower, a plastic gas can (a petroleum product that contains petroleum), a quasi-rusted stool and chair, an A/C unit (which is humming), and toward the back of the house is the beginning of the sparse tree line that separates the country from the city (as mentioned at the outset of this blog).

I better get after putting the steaks on the grill, as these coals are primed and ready. In any case, note how much stuff in this assemblage is industry, factory-made, and whether or not it originates from East Asia or North America (or beyond). The only thing that is produced locally (that I can think of) are the peas I’m shucking, the steaks from Valley Meats I’m readying to put on the grill, and this blog entry. The center of the globe’s gravity continues moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific World, this whether we know it or not. Happy evening to you all. Here is that Springsteen song: