The emperor is bedraggled after a long couple of months of hustling and flowing at fine institutions all across the US of A (see the "halogen lit" tour I alluded to several posts ago). Never has my heart simmered in the refrains of Journey's "Faithfully" with such earnestness. I'm obviously lying about the "never" part. [Picture: Main Street, Riverside, CA ca. 1920]
Anyway...smack dab in the middle of Emperor's road show was a "homecoming" date of sorts. Even though I never went to or taught at UCR, Highlander-land is close to my heart. And not just because it's a stone's throw from D'Elia's Grinders. I had the privilege of giving the keynote this year at their annual (dis)junctions grad student conference, one of the biggest (in my experience) and fun grad student gatherings here in SoCal. Shout-out to the organizers Patrick Randolph and Helen Lovejoy for wrangling everyone together.
(dis)junctions also marked the first time my folks ever came to see me "do my thing," and I knew I'd be in big trubs if I didn't tell them I had a gig in our proverbial backyard. I warned them I'd be speaking some deep queer theory--basically another language, not only to native Tagalog speakers, but to plenty of folks "in the biz" as well.
"I do not care if I don't understand you. You just better have good style while you're doing it!"
(This explains a lot about me, and my Mamang, the mangled faux-Tagalog name I bestowed upon her instead of the traditional "lola" for grandmother).
My mom, meanwhile, asked if I wanted her to bring sandwiches in her wheelie stay-kool lunch bag just in case "people got hungry." Talk about an Erma Bombeck moment. Needless to say, I declined. But I was nice this time and tried not to reenact that awkward moment in The Prince of Tides when Jason Gould, ridiculously kitted out in football shoulder pads, rebuffs Barbra's/Momma Lowenstein's offer of pastrami sammiches after a rigorous session of butch lessons with Nick Nolte in Central Park.
In the end, my mom still managed to smuggle in a stash of homemade peanut butter cookies (since when did she start baking?!?), which she promptly distributed to the Kangagi and Mr. Troll, who were there to support me with spiritual foam fingers and glitter signs. My mom also managed to spread the cookie love to a jolly if underslept cohort of some of my USC graduate students who presented amazing papers. "So proud, naman!" Before the talk, my mamang pulled the ol' Catholic mass "turn-to-greet-your-neighbor" maneuver and announced to an unsuspecting conference participant sitting next to her, "I am the grandma." (Imagine rolled "r's"). Said conference participant was slightly confused until Doylie revealed la familia was in the house when she introduced me. [Picture L-R, My mom and my grandmother having "halo-halo" at the Salo-Salo Grill in MoValley shortly before the talk.] My dad, meanwhile, put on a show for the colleagues who came up to me after the talk by managing to chug an entire jug of water without ever having the bottle touch his lips.
We capped the conference weekend off with another "research excursion," first to the Menage, and then on to VIP (sans parentals) with some of USC's finest: Princess Charles, Scotland and "the Married Girl." Mr. Troll started a curly-fry trend; T.Ham rocked the dancehall once the "reservations only" drag show ended; Kangagi and I actually won a doubles pool showdown, and we all met some nice kids from Yucaipa who make the trek out to Riverside just to find something to do. Sadly, the RAZR pix I snapped of the his-and-hers Venus de Milo and David statues above the bar are all gone because of a phone mishap too boring to go into here.
A mere week later I found myself in the empire state, in New York City (imagine the Pace Picante Sauce pronunciation) for the splashy AFTER CBGB: Gender, Sexuality and the Future of Subculture event organized by that sharped dress braniac who brings sexyback to academe, Tavia Nyong'o. It was great fun, and I especially loved my old gradskool pal, Matmos co-founder, and Soft Pink Truth-teller, Drew Daniel's glorious riff on the 80s East Bay punk band, Gender Confusion. One of my favorite outcomes of the event was that after my usual suburban riff, James Spooner of Afro Punk fame espoused the glories of hitting up suburban music clubs, not only on the east coast, but back in the day when he was growing up in the "I.E.-adjacent" Apple Valley. He even reminisced about taking excursions with his crew to Riverside's legendary all ages punk venue, Spanky's.
The rest of the weekend was a Pinay-fest and karaoke revolution. 'Day--that's Dr. Christine Bacareza Balance to you--had a stellar dissertation defense prefaced by rich food intake and even richer intellectual conversation. With her Imelda coif and her Pinay posse surrounding her (including her sweetheart si Gars, Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns and Jessica Hagedorn--as well as myself and soon to be USC Mellon postdoc, Robert Diaz) she put on a dazzling display of ube cake-fueled chat with her committee consisting of the Imperial Princess la Shimakawa, lady Munoz, Tavia, Kandice Chuh, and LMSP Burns. [Right: J.Hags and 'Day celebrating at the end] Sadly, the QBN MAMI and Freestyle Queen, Doctora Alex Vazquez's sister chose to have her baby on the same day, so our homegirl in piracy and hoop-earringed dreams could not be there.
Here's a quickie yearbook spread of that afternoon featuring lots of Pinay on Pinay love, a couple of Cubanas/os and some East Asian sistahs for good measure...
If only my mom were there to bring the pot of adobo. But that craving was taken care of with a mass migration, apres defense, to Cendrillon for goblets of Calamansi Margaritas and nouvelle Pinoy cuisine. (The daing na trout on garlic rice was sarap to the max!)
Appropriately, the night was capped off by a frenzy of Karaoke at a little Chinatown fusion spot called Asiaroma. I'll soft-disolve into a photo archive soon. I will pause to say that among the highlights of the evening were multiple duets featuring JJ Chinois and Nao Bustamante taking their performance art to an entirely new level. Since the informal riff I delivered at the CBGB event was all about the Karaoke revolution, I'll let that text provide the backdrop for a slide-show of our song-fueled intimacies. I'd like to think we brought a little of the I.E. back to NYC that night...
FUTURES of A FORGOTTEN PAST
For today's event we were asked to pick a clip that speaks to a future or history of a subculture that we love. This filled me with a tremendous sense of anxiety. I felt I had to pick something really cool and underground that would attest to a cosmo hipster fetish for obscurity and completism. But when I thought about something I’ve watched over and over again in the past couple of years—something that harkened back to those nights spent scarfing curly fries near the pooltable, or watching music videos unspool at alternate house beats in the corner of the I.E.'s stripmall video clubs, I couldn’t help but play THIS of all clips
I shared these repeat viewings with my old pal and artiste extraordinaire, Lynne Chan aka JJ Chinois. And we luxuriated in this gaudy scene of unbridled vocal prowess and physical awkwardness. Carrie is singing HEART of all things, and the duo has been inducted into the pantheon of rock "dykeons" despite the fact that they aren’t practicing Sapphic sisters. (Their cameo on the L-Word in Season 2 only sealed the deal). By drooling over this clip, were JJ and I just a couple of post-suburban brown butches reliving a forbidden lust for the high school prom queen circa 1991? She sure ain’t in Checotah anymore. As it turns out, my andro-hooves "aShane" girlfriend actually WAS the prom queen in her Sweet Valley high school. But I digress...
JJ and I didn’t even grow up in the same ‘burbs. Very different ones, in fact, in opposite parts of the golden state.
JJ grew up in Cupertino/Saratoga—The cradle of the so-called “creative classes" and the home of Macintosh Computers.
I grew up in Riverside—Home of a Rohr defense manufacturing plant since shut down, that was already an industrial substitute for the citrus industries of yore.
So what DID make us loop Carrie on repeat? Was it the same thing that brought us together when we met in college—studiously repressing our suburban histories as we aspired towards indie-dom—until we realized we could split the harmony parts to the chorus of “Galileo” and spit Hall and Oates’ “M-E-T-H-O-D- O-F L-O-V-E” without dropping a beat? Was it about the fact that our future as members of various subcultures would always be defined by an unacknowledged past?
What about the sub-cultural desires spawned somewhere else? Born in provinces, or in the suburbs….in and around malls, in schoolyards after hours or in the words of Alex Vazquez, on the “slippery naugahyde seats of a Dade County Public School Bus?"
Made in garages (thank you Christine), in the dormitories at UC Irvine (thanks PJA), in basements, attics, public softball fields radiant in twilight smog, their abandoned dugouts serving as open bars stacked with Tallboys and Hennessy. It is, was and will be in these “transnational suburban hubs” that we bump to AZNBlatino Freestyle (thanks again, Alex Vazquez). There that we conduct our pinoy Practices of Everyday Performance like the karaoke in our parents’ carport or at the community rec. center (Christine Bacareza Balance). In many respects what America understands as acts of Idolatry are performances cribbed directly from an old Pinoy variety show long before American Idol was born. A show called Student Canteen, where girls "Prom D" or pulled “prom D probinces,” barrios and squatter areas would “break it gently” to Angela Bofill:
I DO YOU BETTER THAN YOU.
Like Idol and the Pinays that have graced its neon stages (Jasmine Trias, Camile Velasco), Student Canteen continues to be beloved by the so-called "Prom D’s" whose children are still provincial, even after they supposedly “ARRIVED” in places like West Covina and Torrance.
In these transnational sub-urban hubs ('cause lots of immigrants can’t afford to live in cities anymore) we honed our subcultural skills through singalongs with our sistahs or bros, by choice more than blood, while riding 3-across in the backseats of Nissans on the 60 West—insert your stretch of freeway, bridge or tunnel here…
The radio plays our favorite song, and that's what keeps me holdin' on...baby do you miss me? Now that I'm gone?
When I was young I'd listen to the radio, waitin' for my favorite songs. When they played I'd sing along...it made me smile...
The clip I played today, one that dares to revel in Idolatry, isn’t just the cry of that forgotten and some would argue justifiably forgetable, sub-urban past of arbitrary immigrant and queer musical discovery. The kind of musical discovery that doesn't happen in a hip little record store with snobby salesclerks, but is dredged up from the bargain bins at K-Mart, amply stocked with Air Supply’s greatest hits (such a smash in the South Pacific). Or it's summoned forth from the the Columbia House Catalogue—10 Cassettes for a penny!—that came in the mail with our mothers’ invitations from Ed McMahon. Indeed, what Carrie Underwood gives us is a glimpse at a future heralded by the Casio trumpet blasts of an empty orchestra.
It’s THE KARAOKE REVOLUTION people, on and beyond your PS3’s…(aren’t gamers another sub-urban subculture thriving, mutating colliding?) I would argue that this Karaoke Revolution is in its sinews if not on its surface, a queer, working class, racialized revolution not cool enough (just yet) to make it on a white hipster’s tshirt. Not the cool that the creative classes trade as capital, and that makes cities too expensive for a place like CBGB. Now CBGB’s future is purportedly in a Las Vegas mall. Everyone’s saying subculture is dead.
Maybe subculture hasn’t died…maybe it’s simply RELOCATED…
Relocated back to where it came from but felt too embarrassed to name…where the kids have nothing to do and don’t give a damn ‘bout their bad reputation as freaks, geeks, queers, immigrants, gangstas, minimum wagers—yes, they live in the suburbs. The thrill is there. There where you ultimately learned enough skillz in your high school choir to bust "Alone" apart on National TV with open throated ferocity, face framed by a Jon Benet mane, sleepy (or is it sultry?) winks of glittery eye-makeup for emphasis…
And it is there where you sounded sweet and low like the saccharine with the same name. Like Karen Carpenter of Downey, CA. She honed her chops as a female lyric tenor in the Long Beach State University choir (choir geeks, band geeks—aren't these subcultures?). This was shortly before she and her brother Richard launched a little musical form we call the POWER BALLAD (Heart’s “Alone,” if not the earliest, is one of the best). In 1972, with “Goodbye to Love,” before there was a 710 freeway to slice across Long Beach and graze El Sereno along the way, the Carpenters created the spark that would inevitably ignite the world with innumerable butane flames, thanks to Tony Peluso of “Instant Joy’s” distorted "melodic fuzz" guitar solo.
What lies in the future is a mystery to us all…
I’ll say goodbye to you with a farewell clip featuring the form that taught us how to cry "Alone" in our bedrooms with our headphones on in the dark until we found those precious others who did the same in nowhere elses...while an unmistakable voice sang with a tender faraway sorrow, as someone played a sad guitar…
Rollin' deep in the heart of the I.E. through the gnarled concrete arteries of 60+10+91 east to neon sunsets and Naugles, Taco Tia, the Mad/Friendly/Happy or Lucky Greek,The Menagerie, Spanky's, Butch's Grinders, The Denny's Cocktail Lounge at Hardman Center (in pace requiescat). We spell Paris P-E-R-R-I-S, bitches!