Tag Archives: Punk Archaeology

Red River Punk Archaeology and a Global Punk Rock Warlord

Punk Archaeology handbill produced by Joel R. Jonientz, Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Punk Archaeology handbill produced by Joel R. Jonientz, Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Ten years ago today, on December 22, 2002, Joe Strummer passed away. Joe was formative as a song writer and lead for The Clash and, later, the Mescaleros. Tom Vitale of National Public Radio did a story on Joe a couple days ago, the story linked to here. Local to North Dakota, Bill Caraher, professor of history at University of North Dakota, remarked on Joe here. And on social media, Kelly Hagen remarked on his reaction ten years ago when he first heard of Joe’s passing. He was in Fargo at the time (I think Kelly studied journalism — or, what today they call Mass Communications — at Minnesota State University Moorhead, but I better check with him first… yup, that’s what he said). Here’s what Hagen said a couple days ago on his social medias about the passing of Joe Strummer:

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I remember getting home from work at Wendy’s in Fargo that evening, grabbing my stuff to get on the road to Bismarck, home for the holidays, and hearing about this on my way out the door. And how it ruined everything, because there’d been rumors that the Clash were going to reunite, and I was super psyched about that. Still bummed. Blast some Clash for Joe, from here through Armageddon. No better soundtrack to finishing off your worldly commitments.”

This is true.

On February 2, 2013 in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, at Sidestreet (301 3rd Avenue North), the first global Punk Archaeology conference will consider stuff like this, bringing together an interdisciplinary team of Mediterranean, North American and global archaeologists and historians. The conference has 4 punk bands lined up (check out the poster above — Andrew Reinhard, with Barth on drums; June PanicWhat Kingswood Needs; and Les Dirty Frenchmen), and a round-table of discussants. Sponsors of Punk Archaeology range from the North Dakota Humanities Council to Laughing Sun Brewing to North Dakota State University’s Center for Heritage Renewal, to the University of North Dakota’s Working Group in Digital and New Media, to the Cyprus Research Fund.

Kris Groberg, professor of Art History at NDSU, is bringing a local punk archaeology perspective to the conference as well, since punk continues to grow increasingly deep roots up and down the fertile Red River Valley of the north. This, I have been told, is a point of excitement for non-local academics, researchers and scholars (from Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, to Mediterranean archaeologists from Princeton, New Jersey, to Stanford University in California): from coast to coast and beyond, scholars will be descending on Fargo, and one point of consideration is that they get to hear about grass roots Red River Valley culture.

J. Earl Miller, former associate of Ralph’s Corner Bar and current photographer for The High Plains Reader, has considered putting together a parallel campaign the day of Punk Archaeology, and this would bring together t-shirt, record and poster collectors for a day of material punk culture and history swapping.

Now I’m going to play some Joe Strummer real loud like. Here is an official North Dakota Humanities Council link to Punk Archaeology. And below is a documentary of Joe Strummer. He was known to say that the future is unwritten. Punk Archaeologists agree with that, and would only add that much of the archaeological and historic past is unwritten, too.


Thoughts on the Fargo History Project: An NDSU Public History Initiative

As Dr. Angela Smith and a cohort of digital public historians prepares this week for Friday’s grand unveiling of the Fargo History Project at the Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, I thought I’d pull a couple titles off the shelf and revisit them to work up some thoughts for opening and/or closing remarks later this week at that event. The class has benefitted from the scholarship of Carroll Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), from visiting the primary sources within the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, and from first-hand visits to the physical places throughout Fargo. Each individual scholar honed in on specific segments of Fargo history between the years of 1871-1893, and they developed short blog-style entries on these topics. In almost every case, digitized historic pictures either compliment the stories or contribute to the analysis, context, and content.

Urban HistoryBringing all of these seemingly disparate and compartmentalized mini-histories under an umbrella of sense requires us to think about cities in the American West as distillations of the resources pulled in from the countryside’s natural, renewable, and non-renewable resources. So what this means is that when we drive by a grain elevator in a rural setting, we should look at the landscape for the linear, abandoned railroad bed. Then we should think about how this was built by a variety of immigrant laborers, and how that provided a route for grain to make its way to larger elevators in urban areas with population concentrations, such as Fargo-Moorhead, Minneapolis-St.Paul, or Chicago. We can then think about how northern Great Plains agriculture is the reason there is a James J. Hill mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota, and how a state Bank of North Dakota, a state elevator in North Dakota, and regional co-ops were historic responses to fat cat Twin Cities bankers and urban industrial areas. Metropolitan bankers in the Twin Cities were not responsive enough to the needs of rural northern Plains farmers and ranchers. Rural farmers and ranchers decided to, in North Dakota, form a state bank.

It is also possible to think about the historic archaeology of dairy cooperatives as responses to large centers of eastern industry. The industrial, assembly-line manufacturing centers (sometimes called Fordism rather than Capitalism) flooded the market with cheap dairy products. They didn’t do this in some cynical or conspiratorial way. But they did it out of their own self-interest. Historical actors in the upper Mid-West and on the northern Great Plains had to figure out ways to make a living, and they in turn responded. They were not going to wait around for industrial assembly lines to become “more ethical.” This is why large local swaths of Scandinavian immigrants in Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota formed rural dairy co-ops. Through these co-ops, they could once again compete with industrial centers. The architecture of the dairy co-ops still occupy our urban and rural landscapes, and in some cases — at least in Fargo — they provide punk rock bands with basement practice space.

That is the interplay, the push and the pull between urban and rural. Again, making sense out of all of this gets a historian thinking about historiography. Here is what William Cronon said in “Kennecott Journey,” Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past (1992):

Mapping out the geography of gender, class, race, and ethnicity remains one of the most important but least studied aspects of environmental history. (Cronon, 1992: 45)

It has been two decades since Cronon said this, and as it pertains to our history of Fargo project, it is important to keep in mind how the individual cultural actors within the history of Fargo perceived the natural and urban world, and also how they acted and reacted to ecology, or nature’s metropolis.


Raw Field Notes: A Punk Archaeology Meeting with J. Earl Miller and Phil Leitch

Notes scribbled down during a punk archaeology meeting with J. Earl Miller and Phil Leitch on November 26, 2012 at Sidestreet in downtown Fargo, North Dakota.

On November 26, 2012, around 6pm at Sidestreet Grill & Pub in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, I met with J. Earl Miller and Phil Leitch. A couple days ago Miller texted me and said Phil and I should meet and chat (one never knows what one is going to discover with a chat). So we did that.

Phil told me many things. One of these things had to do with dark house spear fishing. I thought it sounded like a punk band, but Phil said it’s something his father does during the winters on the northern Great Plains. Phil’s dad wrote a book about this practice, that of which you can purchase at this link here. I just ordered mine.

At top left are the rest of the raw notes I scribbled down. J. Earl Miller also said he wanted lard instead of cream cheese used in all frosting, both foreign and domestic. That is where the eventual phrase, “Fistfull of Crisco” within the notes came from. And then the word “Lardcore” was dropped, this a slight variation on hard core.

Anyhow, the left side of the page is what I took down while we had our hour long conversation. The right side is the follow up notes I took just after J. Earl Miller and Phil Leitch left to continue their dart league circuit (I think they played at Rooter’s this evening).

It’s a good idea to scribble down notes during and immediately after, and any archaeologist will tell you the same. Especially if this is data or a memory (objective or subjective) you want to, well, remember. Don’t trust your instincts weeks later to somehow magically recall everything that you did, this as you sit in front of a computer monitor trying to recall how it all played out. Just jot it down then and there. Then look at it two weeks from then, this when you are sitting down and trying to remember what happened. The notes will jog your memory. Seriously.

Note: Sid Vicious died on February 2, 1979. Leitch noted this early on during our meeting, and he also noted that the Punk Archaeology round table will take place on that day, February 2. Leitch also said to visit the Fargo Band Family Tree website, which is linked here.


Quick Remarks on How to Live Sans Irony

A couple days ago (11/19/2012) Nick Steffens wired a facespace message to me from Salt Lake City to Fargo with the attached New York Times “Opinionator” piece by Christy Wampole entitled, “How to Live Without Irony” (11/17/2012).

The title of the article communicates a hipster trope from any age that seeks to outflank the absurd by acknowledging, amplifying and asserting that absurd. For example, “How to Live Without Irony” is a funny thing to say or read, although the humor is seven-chess moves removed (or what we might call deep humor). To live without irony, or to say there is a way to live without irony, is arguably irony.

Wampole’s introductory paragraph smacks of Anatole Broyard’s 1948 piece, “The Portrait of a Hipster,” and Wampole might do a bit more to tip a hat to Anatole within the 2012 piece. For example, check out this Wampole excerpt from November 17, 2012:

“The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.”

And then compare it with this excerpt from Anatole circa 1948 (first published in Partisan Review, June 1948):

As he was the illegitimate son of the Lost Generation, the hipster was really nowhere. And, just as amputees often seem to localize their strongest sensations in the missing limb, so the hipster longed, from the very beginning, to be somewhere. He was like a beetle on its back; his life was a struggle to get straight. But the law of human gravity kept him overthrown, because he was always of the minority—opposed in race or feeling to those who owned the machinery of recognition.
The hipster began his inevitable quest for self-definition by sulking in a kind of inchoate delinquency. But this delinquency was merely a negative expression of his needs, and, since it led only into the waiting arms of the ubiquitous law, he was finally forced to formalize his resentment and express it symbolically. This was the birth of a philosophy—a philosophy of somewhereness called jive, from jibe: to agree or harmonize. By discharging his would-be aggressions symbolically, the hipster harmonized or reconciled himself with society.

Maybe Wampole had initially included an Anatole reference in an earlier draft, but some hipster editor didn’t recognize it as important and therefore sliced it out? I don’t know. And this is not to say that the irony-amplifying hipster surfaced only after the Second World War. If thinking deep about the hipster-ography (which is the study of hipsters over time), the name Diogenes enters the brain, an Ancient Hipster, or moreso a Punk, from the Mediterranean if there ever was one. Diogenes lived in a gutter with his dogs and ate bags of onions and questioned everything — if his delivery was off, he would certainly be regarded as a jerk. In the words of Oscar Wilde, it is very impolite and even impossible to be 100% honest with everyone all the time. Was Socrates a hipster? I’m not sure. But I’m willing to pose the question if it leads today’s hipster or student into considering whether philosophers and thinkers from yesteryear were in fact hipsters in their own time and place. Thanks for the article forward, Nick.

Note: Perhaps the most thorough contemporary exegesis on hipsterosophy is the 2010 piece published by n+1 (Brooklyn, NY) titled, What Was the Hipster?: A Sociological Investigation.


Punk Archaeology: Joe Strummer on DIY

This evening I revisited the documentary, “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten” on the Web 2.0/DIY platform that is YouTube. I have AppleTV jacked into a shamelessly huge flat-screen, and the AppleTV somehow allows me the ability to stream any YouTube selection through it. So by punching in “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten,” YouTube’s search engine returned a series of 2008 uploads by the YouTuber named “madferrett.” Smack dab on 4:02/8:24 in the fourth of eleven installments (the subtitle is “Squatting 101’ers DAY’S”), the late Joe Strummer defines Punk as straight-away Do-It-Yourself. Of this DIY ethos, Joe in the video says:

We had the nerve to rent a room above a pub, and charge people 10 p [aka, pence] to get in. That’s how we learned to play, by doing it for ourselves, which is like a punk ethos. I mean, you gotta be able to go out there and do it yourself, because no one is going to give it to you.

Here is the Joe Strummer YouTube embed:

In the long-winded scheme of things, this is also referred to as being an autodidactic, or a self-taught learner. As fellow blogger Bill Caraher and I continue conversations with any and all about Punk Archaeology, this invariably has helped develop and shape the all-important fineries of the Punk Archaeology conference scheduled to take place in downtown Fargo, North Dakota on February 2-3, 2013 (it starts Saturday evening and is scheduled to end Sunday morning).

It seemed reasonable to post Joe’s remarks, if nothing else to continue to consider what the phrase Punk Archaeology means. In one sense, there is the localized archaeology of punk within Fargo-Moorhead, where any number of bands formed up in DIY fashion to cut loose on stage. In another sense, there is punk archaeology (or Punk Archaeology, depending on how formal one wants to be), the latter word “archaeology” not only specific to the discipline of said archaeology, but also to other DIY attitudes intrinsic to sustaining the disciplines and vocations and trades, and also as in the archaeology of knowledge. Punk archaeology is all around, and often right in front of us. Back to it on this end.


Punk Archaeology Inspiration

Studying and thinking deep about material culture is an interesting business. It is interesting because there is both the objective object, or the thing in front of you, and then there are the ideas that we as flesh-and-blood human beings attach to that object. And the word “attach” does not mean to suggest that an idea is somehow unreal, or fake. Ideas, after all, come

A piece by Michael Strand.

from the mind, and since the mind is real, so is the abstraction that is the idea. One doesn’t have to act on the idea, but nonetheless, the idea remains real.

In the last month and a half, North Dakota State University’s Michael Strand has had at least one conversation with me about this, well, idea. One evening he explained how he worked on creating an artisan bowl for food (and Michael often asks that his artwork be physically used for family style meals, especially if they are bowls and cups, as his Ted Talk video expands on below), and he used this serving bowl at a dinner with an ethnic Kurdish family in Washington state. He is poised to take this bowl to another Kurdish dinner, this one in northern Iraq. I believe that dinner is pending, but no doubt the bowl and the individuals around it (from Washington state to northern Iraq) will serve to connect ethnicity and individuals. In the business, we often call this community.

In a separate but similar vein, on September 14, 2012, Michael expanded on some of his art at a collaborative exhibit with his colleague Amy Smith. He encouraged me to photograph and share this art, and then I asked if I could put a digital camera in his face while I questioned and he provided answers to his latest works. He said it was no trouble at all. So I will do that here:

And then contrast it with his TedX Fargo Talk that colleague Angela Smith forwarded to me here…

…Michael was and is speaking in large part to how objects, or material culture, carries with them archaeological and historical — aka, humanized — provenance, at least if we, as humans, stop to consider it. This material culture can be both 2-dimensional in form (or what historians often refer to as “primary sources”) or it can be 3-dimensional (what everyone often calls “stuff”). The notion that objects carry ideas with them can loosely be referred to as Romanticism (which is a word with a LOT of baggage, none of which I will go into here), but it can also be referred to as an archaeological school of thought known as post-processualism. In another archaeological way this is what Ian Hodder asked readers to consider in an article I am furiously searching for throughout my shelves… ah, here it is. In his 1991 piece, “Interpretive Archaeology and Its Role” in American Antiquity (Vol. 56, No. 1, page 9) Hodder said,

…new theories and the new ways of writing them often serve to make archaeological texts more obscure and difficult for anyone but the highly trained theorist to decipher. How can alternative groups have access to a past that is locked up both intellectually and institutionally? Subordinate groups who wish to be involved in archaeological interpretation need to be provided with the means and mechanisms for interacting with the archaeological past in different ways. This is not a matter of popularizing the past but of transforming the relations of production of archaeological knowledge into more democratic structures.

The more I think about all of this, the interplay of ideas with material objects, the more necessary and impending it is to have a Punk Archaeology conference on the evening of February 2, 2013, in downtown Fargo, North Dakota (insert “Grow Buzz of Punk Archaeology Conference” here)…