Happy New Year!

Today is the start of another year for me–an academic year, that is.

It is an oddity and privilege but the pace of my life has been set by academic calendars for so long it’s now my default position. It’s how I keep my time. I’m a creature of educational institutions, after all. I went straight from kindergarten to 12th grade to college (4 years) to grad school (8 years) to my first (3.5 years) and second (8.5 years) tenure-track jobs. From that perspective, not counting the 2 semesters I was on sabbatical, this is the start of my 73rd semester in education. Put another way, it’s the start of my 37th year of life in educational institutions.

This year I get to teach another semester of my favorite class–Chicana/o~Latina/o Histories. A class that serves as an introduction to Chicano/Latino history, Chicano/Latino Studies, historical inquiry, and being a person of color in college, it’s my lifeblood in so many ways. I’m never more connected to the student I was than when I am teaching this class. It feels like a new year when I do.

I also get to teach one of Pomona College’s first-year seminars this fall. I called mine Race Rebels, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. At a small college like mine, students usually choose my courses after knowing me or hearing a lot about me from others who do. These seminars are unique for the fact that the students haven’t really chosen me as much as having been assigned. That’s a welcome difference, a chance for me to sit with them where we all are equally unknown to each other.

I often say that teaching is my vocation. I still think that and, maybe more importantly, I feel it. But, like any good and meaningful commitment in life, teaching has become an evolving process for me. For me, it’s been about intentional recommitment, constant discovery, and continual learning.

That’s especially true for me right now, as I find myself searching for ways to make what we do in the classroom pertinent to the lives we lead when we leave them. It leaves me feeling simultaneously like my job has never been more needed and, yet, never more irrelevant.

The tension between those two sides isn’t a debate as much as its a window into the struggle of the job. It’s a good struggle. A worthy struggle. A struggle that’s made so much easier by the privilege of getting to work with such smart, passionate, and creative young minds.

So here’s to another year!

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Monday Blues (9.1.14)

Lizzie Douglas (June 3, 1897 – August 3, 1973)–better known as “Memphis Minnie”–was raised in the South. Born in Louisiana, her family moved to Mississippi and then Shelby County, Tennessee, all before the young Lizzie had reached her teen years. At 13, she ran away to Memphis, where she became a street performer. At various times she earned money as a circus act (she toured with the Ringling Brothers Circus), a musician, and a prostitute.

In her early 30s, she and her husband Kansas Joy McCoy were discovered, beginning her professional recording career. A few years later she settled in Chicago, where her experimental, hybrid style took root.

Known for songs like “Bumble Bee” and “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” Minnie was one of the first woman singer/guitarists to ever reach fame. She was an influential figure, and commanded a unique style of blues.

“Kissing in the Dark” (1953) is one of Minnie’s later releases, a thinly-veiled song about sexually transmitted diseases.

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What about Sid?

This year’s Emmy Awards show expectedly (and rightfully) commemorated the life and career Robin Williams.

Williams’ passing was so unexpected–and his career still so fresh, so recent–that it’s no surprise his passing occupied the largest slice of the “In Memoriam” segment of the show.

But Sid Caesar died this year, too. And reflective of the way the television industry is so poorly aware of its own history, his death is easy to miss in tonight’s broadcast. It’s no exaggeration to say that Sid practically invented television as we know it. While his passing was not unexpected (he lived to be 91), and a lot of time has passed since the height of his career, Sid deserved a little more than just a head shot.

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Monday Blues (8.18.14)

In the more than 40 years since they released their first album, a variety of line-ups have played as The Allman Brothers Band. Playing their classic “Whipping Post” at one of their 1970 shows at the Fillmore East (before the March 1971 shows that would make up their third album, Live at the Fillmore East), the line-up featured here is the strongest of their career: Greg Allman on organ; the late-great Duane Allman on lead guitar; Dickey Betts on lead guitar; the late Berry Oakley on bass; Butch Trucks on drums; and Jaimoe on drums.

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Friday Five: Elvis ’72

This weekend marks the 37th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

Elvis was 37 years old in 1972, a year that falls within my favorite Elvis period (1968-72). His live shows in that period were as good as it gets for the King. While you can see hints of his tendency to impersonation himself–something that would become the norm as he went into serious physical decline–you also get some real hints of the greatness that was Elvis.

Here are five live performances from 1972.

5. “Proud Mary” @ Madison Square Garden
My favorite live Elvis album is of his legendary Madison Square Garden shows from 1972. He played two shows on the day of recording, an afternoon and an evening one, with the evening one supplying almost all of the tracks for the album.

4. “Polk Salad Annie”
This is a video from the 1972 documentary Elvis on Tour, a collection of his performances from this period.

3. “Burning Love” @ Greensboro Coliseum
This is from his Greensboro show (April 14, 1972) where he premiered “Burning Love” to a live audience.

2. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”
Another from Elvis on Tour.

1. “Suspicious Minds” @ Madison Square Garden
This is a low-quality video from the afternoon show. One of my favorite Elvis songs, and his last to top the Billboard charts.

 

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Mork and I go way back…

The death of Robin Williams has inspired an outpouring of love and sadness, not just by those who knew him personally but also by people like us, his fans.

It’s an odd thing, celebrity. A man most of us have never met feels as familiar as a friend, even though we remain completely unknown and unrecognizable to him.

As everyday people share their favorite memories from his long and varied career, I’m struck by the way these memories can be simultaneously personal and yet shared. Still, in all the clips and old photos I have seen over the past two days, the one thing I haven’t seen is mention of one of my favorite Robin Williams memories. It was something that provided me and my family with hours of fun.

It’s the “Mork & Mindy Card Game.”

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The interwebs tells me there were two games. Mine was released in 1978 and the other, a more traditional board game, came out in 1979.

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Our game worked kind of like “Uno” where you get rid of cards based on color or kind, except the cards were of various space creatures.

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There were also “special” cards that let you penalize your opponent. Each represented a character from the show. There was a “Cora” card (“Aah Aah!”); a “Fredzo” card (“Zabah!”); and an “Orson” card (called “Zzzzzt”).

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There was also a wild card.

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And, of course, there was…

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The unique part of the game was that you had to pronounce the names of all these strange space creatures as you played the cards. If you threw down a Mork card, you shouted “Na-no Na-no” (the game used that spelling over “Na-nu Na-nu”) and then grabbed one of these styrofoam eggs.

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There was always one less egg than player at the table. The loser had to draw more cards. Every time you had to draw, you had to say “Shazzbot!”

The game was a blast. Whether I was playing it with my whole family or just one-on-one with my sister, it inspired this kind of energetic verbal lunacy that just made you laugh out loud. It was something kind of like the comedic genius of Robin Williams.

Robin Williams will be missed. I’m grateful for his creativity, and for getting the chance to grow up with it. And I am most grateful for the laughter. Thanks for the memories.

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Monday Blues (8.11.14)

Paul McCartney (Liverpool, 1942- ) wrote “Oh Darling!” and recorded it in 1969 for what would become The Beatles last recorded studio album, Abbey Road. It’s a standard blues tune, reflective of the foundation of a lot of popular music of the 1950s and 1960s. This video features the vocals of the song with the music stripped away.

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