Wisconsin soon, Texas forever

If you’re really close to me, this is the most uneventful reveal ever. I have a knack for saying I’ll keep mum about something but it never exactly works that way. Yet I felt like I should make it official, since I told my boss and my parents and most close friends: I’m moving to Madison in late July, just after my 28th birthday. I accepted an offer from the Media and Cultural Studies program and will be a PhD student come September. I’m thrilled to finally start becoming a badass feminist professor and to do so in a program I regard so highly.

I wrote Feminist Music Geek’s first official entry two years ago today. Friends know that I got my MA in media studies at UT Austin in May 2008 and started this blog following a round of rejections from PhD programs. The idea for the blog actually formed as I was finishing up my thesis, and I was encouraged by friends who followed me on LiveJournal (where I wrote posts that would be right at home here). But when I knew I wouldn’t be going on for a PhD in the immediate future, I had no excuse not to start it.

When I started Feminist Music Geek, I knew that I really wanted to be a feminist media studies professor someday and had to evolve as a scholar. My application could be much stronger, and I decided to create a space for myself to explore ideas related to my subject of study. Writing has long been a reliable way for me to clarify or challenge my opinions, and running a blog could potentially get me in touch with people and volley ideas. I knew who I could be. My thesis adviser was a good mentor and model for someone who believed in education equity, social justice, feminism, media activism, and literacy and used her position in the academy to work toward this. I wanted to follow this example, and believed this blog could help me get there. However, I didn’t start it to get into grad school. I created it because I needed it to exist.

I was lucky enough to work on the UT campus, and thus took advantage of the libraries and various free resources available to me. I also started teaching music history workshops with my friend Kristen, who I met in graduate school. I’d pick up some guest lectures. I also went to conferences, even when I was afraid that no one would listen to my ideas because I was an independent scholar and grad school reject. As the blog evolved, so did I. Specifically, I became especially interested in musical convergence and a deeper understanding of how industrial and textual concerns inform how music traverses multiple media platforms. I used to say that Alexandra Patsavas took my job. Now I think she’ll help write my dissertation.

Actually, I still think she took my job. Which is why I’d still like to work as a music supervisor in some capacity.

I was wholly unprepared for what this blog became. Relative to the substantial efforts of some of my blogger peers, my aspirations for Feminist Music Geek have always been small. Flow was a good working template for me. But I just thought maybe some of my friends would read it. When I began getting 200 hits a day from people I didn’t know, it got a little weird. My daily traffic spiked considerably since then, but the excitement of seeing that there are readers remains fresh. Each time I post an entry, reply to a comment, contend an argument, correspond with a reader, do an interview, or receive a forwarded item about something I might be interested in, I’m thrilled to be in dialog with folks who care about interpreting music culture from a feminist purview. Some of my colleagues followed suit soon after and started blogs. I don’t credit myself with being the impetus, but would like to think I encouraged them to create a public forum for their ideas.

But as I kept going, I took to heart that facing rejection was hardly the end of the world. If anything, it could be the start of something else. Roughly one year after I started this blog, I began writing for Bitch. There’s no mystery as to how it happened. I saw a tweet that they were looking for someone to blog about television. I proposed looking at the intersection of television and music, an outgrowth of posts like the one I did about Peggy Olsen singing “Bye Bye Birdie.” They were on board. However, it was my second time pitching to them. Eight months before, I drafted an e-mail teeming with half-formed ideas I thought they’d like. Much like the statement of purpose I offered in 2008, it was too broad and vague. My second attempt demonstrated specific intent and a clear personal voice. This made the difference. More to the point, firing off the e-mail was not so scary. Literally, the worst that could happen was that they’d say no. Hardly a reason not to reach out, as they could just as easily say yes.

I’m curious about how this blog will evolve as I reenter the academy. Throughout its run, I’ve worked full-time as an archival aide. I’ve stolen writing time when possible, but have juggled this form of fun time with other responsibilities. As a result, I haven’t written for as many publications as I’d like. I’m jazzed about the possibility of contributing to Antenna and In Media Res. I also would like to, you know, get stuff published in a journal. I’m interested in what colleagues like Annie Petersen and Myles McNutt have done as academic bloggers. I’m challenged by brilliant folks like s.e. smithLaToya PetersonJessica Yee, and the contributors to Womanist Musings, who question feminism and the academic industrial complex I am entering into. I hope to balance professional ambitions with more direct forms of political action, as well as continue to write. I’d love to work with them in some capacity, and they can always count me as an ally.

I’m also anticipating what this blog will look like away from Austin. This is an outgrowth of concern over what I’ll be like away from here. I’ve moved six times within the city, but only claimed residence in Houston prior to starting as a freshman at UT. Frankly, I don’t know what January is going to feel like in Madison. However, I’ve endured my share of humid summers to know that I’m willing to find out.

But this blog is called Feminist Music Geek, and Austin did a lot to make me one. I have no intention of cutting ties with this place or the dear friends who live here, and I’ll always come back for SXSW. I thought I’d close with some songs that are represent my time in Austin and will, much like this warm city of porch drinkers, critical queers, tough-chick rock bands, and professional Democrats, stay close to my heart. It’ll hurt like hell to write this come July, so let’s do it now.

My friend Caitlin recently posted “You Are Invited” on my Facebook profile when she heard I got into Madison, because she’s a good person. I could pick a lot of Dismemberment Plan songs, as the band’s last two albums (and Björk’s Homogenic) pretty much define 18 and 19 for me. “The Other Side” was the first and last song I played on my radio show at KVRX. “Following Through” recalls much of the romantic angst I carried for a boy during the first year and a half of college. “The City” and “Time Bomb” speak to it more deeply, which makes them harder to withstand. But this song reminds me of a city that didn’t need metaphysical devices to make me feel included.

For about two years, I smoked pot every day. Credit my roommate Amy, a whip-smart survivor who I was close friends with throughout high school and three of my four years in undergrad. She liked her weed, in no small part because she was stressed from holding down multiple part-time jobs to finance her way through school. We fell out of touch senior year despite living together, mainly for petty reasons. Though we grew apart, we still keep in touch. I’ll always think fondly about hanging in our West Campus apartment, watching Dawson’s Creek reruns and Michel Gondry videos, talking shit, eating her oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, giggling, and listening to music. She reviewed Mount Sims’ Ultra Sex when she volunteered for KVRX and it was often the background music for our quality time.

I was in the middle of a fling with some guy when I fell in love with the original version of this song. However, I saw TV on the Radio open for Zykos with a much more important person. The things I remember from that night are: 1) this band could be huge and will be great and 2) the person driving me home doesn’t say much, but he laughs at all my jokes and makes me feel at ease.

I still live with this guy, and he’s moving with me. I love him with all I have and am very proud of him. We have a whole catalog of songs that evoke our relationship, but Visionaries’ “If You Can’t Say Love” probably comes the closest to being “our song.” We’re not married, but you can’t steal this one for your wedding. It’s ours. It’s us.

My feminist music geek awakening happened when KVRX twined with Alliance for a Feminist Option. I attribute this to becoming friends with Brea, who deejayed “The Girl In the Band” (later renamed “I Like You As a Friend”). There were other women at KVRX whose shows I liked, most notably “Downbeat for Danger,” “Making Babies and Wearing Pants,” and “The Lonely Girls’ Co-op” and, later, “Asides and B-Sides” and “Breakfast of Champions.” But Brea was a lightning rod of activity with platinum dreads to match. I was pretty intimidated by her crew, who organized Ladyfest. I wanted to volunteer, but lurked on their Web site instead. Actually, I’m pretty sure Brea recruited me to come to an AFO meeting because she liked my show. I would have been way too scared to attend otherwise, even though I did interview a member over the phone for a school assignment.

Anyway, getting involved was tremendously influential and I’m proud to claim all of these amazing women as friends. They taught me a lot. My first semester with them was a crash course in queer identification, critical race theory, DIY event planning, veganism, anarchism, and collective organizing. Brea also taught me how to shop for groceries during our six-month stint as roommates. Through befriending the group, I learned that feminists like to dance. The movement requires all you have, including your hips and ass (not separate from the person, of course). Most meetings would end with us dancing in Brea, Catherine, and Chu’s living room. “Hey Ya” was inescapable at the time. Brea could lip sync The Sounds’ “Rock ‘N’ Roll” perfectly. Brea and Chu did the “Galang” dance at every party. But Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” best encapsulates who we are. Note that the song is participatory. Stomp on that linoleum floor!

Oh, and since Brea was a deejay for hire at basically any grassroots event or house party, I’ll take this moment to announce that I inherited her deejay equipment and will gladly provide music for your happening. Does Madison need tunes for Take Back the Night? I’m your girl.

I saw a lot of great shows for free during my tenure as a college radio deejay. Deerhoof supporting Milkman. Prefuse 73 supporting One Word Extinguisher with DJ Nobody. But one of the best shows I’ve ever seen was Electrelane opening for Le Tigre on my 22nd birthday.

After graduating in 2005, I stuck around and applied to grad school. I also got a job as an editor and voiceover talent at an e-learning company that subsidized grad school (along with a TAship and an RAship–I didn’t sleep much). The gig was fine until my department was outsourced a month before I completed my MA, so I quit. My boss was really patient and would do fun things like take us out for snow cones. Plus he was hilarious, which explains how he could write a comic strip, become a local radio personality, and help launch a successful sketch comedy troupe. He also didn’t seem to mind that I’d listen to music all the time, even playing it faintly under the courses I was working on (actually, he probably minded a lot–maybe he just didn’t know). I especially liked that I didn’t have to take the job home with me. The mp3 server was pretty sweet too. I discovered Girl Talk and Oneida, and came to treasure Jorge Ben’s A Tábua De Esmeralda. I had no idea how difficult it was to find this uplifting 1974 record until my boyfriend procured a copy from Uruguay for my 23rd birthday. I’m so glad I share cat parenting duties with that guy.

I started grad school in 2006. By the end of the first semester, my relationship with my roommate fell apart. This was tricky business as 1) I don’t know anyone who completes grad school without slamming a lot of doors and crying in the bath tub, 2) my boyfriend had just moved in with us, 3) we shared a friend group, and 4) we were both feminists, and it’s hard to figure out how to continue to participate in a movement with someone who should be your sister but you don’t actually like that much. But for a time, we had a happy home. There’s a lot of songs that remind me of this abbreviated period of domestic harmony, but Animal Collective’s “Did You See the Words” comes the closest. I do regret that we didn’t get a band together like all the boys around us did. Luckily Follow That Bird, The Carrots, and Finally Punk were putting on shows.

Grad school remains the most demanding thing I’ve done thus far. The intellectual rigor is one thing. Making friends with really smart people is another endeavor entirely, particularly when your default mode is shyness. During the first year, I was completely intimidated by my cohort. Over time, I made friends. I also saw the Slits. I didn’t see the Gossip, even though Caitlin asked me if I was going to after a screening for the Feminist TV Criticism course we took together. Eventually I realized that I lucked into a cohort with a lot of nice feminists who baked vegan treats and supported Kill Rock Stars. I don’t have many songs that remind me of this period, primarily because writing a thesis while working full-time kept me from listening to much new music. But when I turned in something to my adviser, I played Battles’ “Atlas.”

However, we all know that M.I.A.’s Kala dominated 2007. And I felt so cool pretending to be tuff as I cranked “Paper Planes” on the stereo while trekking up MoPac. The doors were always locked for some reason.

From here, most of the stuff that reminds me of home made appearances on this blog. Kristen did pitch a post on Janet Jackson’s influence on her as a feminist. It never materialized, though she has an open invitation from me. But Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” factored prominently in the design of our music history workshops for Girls Rock Camp. Pop music was never the bad object to us, particularly when creating an inclusive curriculum that celebrated contributions from (among other identity groups) women and girls of color. I’m curious how our friendship will make sense of geographical distance, but confident we’ll figure it out. Despite having to puzzle through how to be friends after growing apart professionally, I have yet to find a better collaborator and feminist role model.

Oh, and Hercules and Love Affair’s “Athene” conjures many happy memories from 2008 and 2009.

There are plenty of other songs I could include, and might put on various mixes for the drive north. At some point in the near future, I’ll start a podcast series to accompany this blog and maybe I’ll include them. I’ll also revisit archived entries and remember being won over by tUnE-yArDs, Joanna Newsom, and Patti Smith, seeing the Shondes, Thao Nguyen, Gossip, Dessa, Christeene, and Screaming Females and putting on rocker girl movie nights, an event I hope finds a new home. Wherever I am, I know I’ll carry pleasant memories of dance parties, high humidity, and breakfast tacos. I’m a Texan by birth, but an Austinite forever.

8 comments

  1. lhgarrison

    This post kicks so much ass, it’s not even funny. Or maybe it is funny, just in a kick ass way. I love it. I very much look forward to having you in the hallowed (windowless) halls of Vilas. The dream of becoming a feminist media studies professor is alive and well here, and I’m excited you’re coming here to find it! Reading about your memories of Texas and waving goodbye to it for such a goal really makes me want to dance around to this Polyphonic Spree song (Dallas shout out!). http://youtu.be/rHJo_klmPcA

    I will be sure to fill your Vilas office with a bunch of white balloons upon your arrival. 🙂

  2. Faye Woods

    This is such a lovely post Alyx, and gives me a lot of music to trawl through as well as flashbacks to my own academic journey!

    Congrats on the fabulous new PhD home and community lady and here’s hearing about much academic fun, thought-provoking ideas and ass-shakin music.

  3. Lindsay

    Congratulations on school, and what a great post! Really captures the way we all organize feelings and memories around the music that meant something to us at the time. I’ve enjoyed reading your analyses since stumbling upon your blog a few months ago. Best of luck in your new home!

    • Alyx Vesey

      Thanks, Lindsay. Enjoying Canonball as well. And if you ever find yourself in Madison, don’t hesitate to say hello.

  4. distance88

    On the topic of hip-hop love songs (“If You Can’t Say Love”), you should check out Baje One’s “Tiny Drill”.

    Also, best of luck jumping through all of those (additional) academic/institutional hoops in the near future, and uh, sorry about all of the Odd Future comments. I’m done with that, seriously!

    • Alyx Vesey

      Thanks, distance88! Also, I’ve really enjoyed your Odd Future comments. No apologies need be made. I’ll make sure to check out that Baje One track too.

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