josh wins!

For those of you wondering what I was happy about a few days ago, it was this.
For those of us who write about schools, the National Awards For Education Reporting are our Oscars. And this year, I won two. One was for Best Investigative Reporting, for all the Wilmer-Hutchins and cheating stories I’ve been foisting upon readers the last few months. I’m sharing that award with two of my colleagues, the illustrious Holly Hacker and the esteemed Herb Booth.
The one I’m even more excited about — the one that threatens to boost my hat size from 10-gallon to something meant for industrial use — is the Best Beat Reporter prize, which goes to the one education reporter with the best overall body of work in 2004.
Anyway, that’s why I was happy; apologies for the unseemly braggadocio. I get to pick up the awards in May at what will no doubt be a lavish, star-studded red-carpet ceremony in lovely St. Petersburg, Florida, in May. I assume Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty will be seated in the front row, wearing shades and acting like dirty old men every time Charlize Theron walks by.

dressed like a schlub

Potentially telling dialogue about a photo shoot I had to endure yesterday:
Me: I wish someone had told me the shoot was going to be yesterday. I would have worn some nice clothes. Instead I was dressed like a schlub.
Person in charge of the photo shoot: Well, we wanted to show the real you. Isn’t that how you dress every day?

ancient dmn archives, rayne and yellow fever

May I pimp my employer for a moment?
The Dallas Morning News’ historical archives — images of every page of every DMN issue from 1885 to 1977 — are online and full-text searchable. Which means it serves as a big historical Nexis of sorts.
If you’re a history-oriented, journalism-oriented geek like me, this is a source of endless fun. (It’s also a source of endless fun for me because, well, it’s free for me. You have to pay, although the prices seem pretty reasonable to me: $9.95 for an unlimited day pass, $29.95 for a month, $79.95 for 3 months.) If you have a free day and $10 to kill, pony up the cash and spend some time searching for things like your home town, your alma mater, your grandparents who used to live in Dallas, et cetera.
For instance, I searched for “Rayne,” my hometown in Louisiana. Tons of interesting stuff came up, in particular a series of stories from 1897 when an outbreak of yellow fever killed 298 people in New Orleans. (Yellow fever killed over 40,000 New Orleanians in a series of 19th-century outbreaks.)
Rural Louisianians — already used to thinking of New Orleans of a den of vice, squalor and iniquity — were terrified that the fever would cross the Mississippi and infect the countryside. So they instituted a formal quarantine on the city — no one goes in, no one comes out. Which is the background for this great story:
“Lafayette, La., Sept. 29 — The effort of the business men, city and state health authorities of New Orleans to effect a modification of the rigid quarantine restrictions of the various parishes of this state by a conference of the parish and town quarantine officials along the Southern Pacific and Texas and Pacific [rail]roads ended abruptly this afternoon.
“The train carrying the physicians who were to take part in the conference to be held on board the train which left Algiers this morning, passed through Lafayette this afternoon, but failed to proceed any further than Rayne, where the people, armed with shotguns, refused to let it go through.
“When the train reached the corporate limits of Rayne a body of men flagged it down and informed the passengers aboard that it would not be allowed to go on; that under no circumstances would it be permitted to enter the corporate limits of Rayne. Determined men with shotguns and rifles pointed the deadly weapons at Engineer Gregory and declared that the wheels would have to stop. Members of the body of citizens threatened to tear up the track if the train persisted to run through the town.
“The reception was too warm to even permit of a parley and the officials of the train decided that it would be wise to make its way back.
“An unsuspecting fellow walked from the depot at Rayne and entered the train to deliver a telegram to one of the physicians. The guards found it out and would not let him get back into the town and in consequence the unfortunate messenger was compelled to remain on board…
“The news that the physicians who were on the train had recently been in contact with yellow fever patients caused a great deal of unfavorable comment.”
I’ve got the few books that exist on the subject of Rayne history, and this event isn’t in any of them. It’s pretty telling, too, on a few fronts. It shows the vaguely ornery/suspicious attitudes rural Cajuns had (have?) toward outsiders, and it shows the massive mental disconnect between the small towns and the sinful big city. It’s also an echo of the vigilante period in south Louisiana history, when wars between rival extralegal groups served as justice on the prairie.
Finally, the fact the Rayne men were willing to “tear up the track” if the train persisted on entering the city — not even stopping, just entering — shows how big a deal this was to the town. Rayne exists solely because of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Originally founded a few miles south, the entire town was picked up and moved north so that it could meet the tracks when they were laid in 1880. The railroad was the conduit for the entire economy. So if the men of Rayne were willing to rip out the track just to stop this train, they meant business.
Anyway, if you’re interested in 19th/20th-century American history — particularly in Texas — it’s a great resource.

amc and madlib

Two music recommendations:
A Toast to You, American Music Club’s new live album, is quite fabulous. Good sound, and it captures the band in the much-finer-than-expected form of last year’s tour. Available only through their web site for $10; it’s sold out at the moment, but they expect stock by March 1.
– In the inconsistent world of hip-hop, one dictum always proves true: If Madlib is involved with a project, it’s going to sound fabulous. The man’s a stone-cold genius whose sound — basically a grand summation of black music circa 1972, soul, funk, jazz and radical Motown all rolled into one — is instantly identifiable, no matter what name he’s recording under.
Those would include: Jaylib (his collab with J-Rocc), Madvillain (his justifiably lauded project with MF Doom and certainly the only hip-hop record I can remember ever getting a multi-page review in The New Yorker), Quasimoto (his bizarro alter-ego, with the voice of a “tree-blazin’ ghetto chipmunk”), Yesterdays New Quintet (his jazz outfit, which does things like reimagine an album full of early ’70s Stevie Wonder instrumentals), or even under his own name (like like his remixing of the Blue Note catalog).
Anyway, what’s got my attention at the moment are Mind Fusion Vols. 1 & 2, his two new mix CDs. Volume 1 is all Madlib-style hip-hop; volume 2 is all straight soul, jazz, and funk — emphasis on the jazz. Both are great and, er, available at the illegal downloading site of your choice. Probably in some stores, too, although not in any I’ve been able to find.
Want a flavor of the Madlib sound? Go here to download a 69-meg zipped MP3 of a DJ set Madlib did in 2001 on KCRW’s Chocolate City.

a race of tony danzas, shakespeare on chatwin

I’m back in the states. The last thing I saw on Morelian soil was a poster advertising Los Gigantes de la Danza. Some sort of dance troupe, but of course I couldn’t get the image of a malignant race of giant Tony Danzas, roaming the countryside with strangely plastic features, out of my head. Fe, fi, fo, foss / That’s right, I’m your boss.
One of my first tasks in Dallas was to pick up a copy of Nick Shakespeare’s bio of Bruce Chatwin, topic of several recent posts here. Flipping through, it looks like Shakespeare makes the same point I did about Chatwin’s self-excision from his writing:
“He is perceived to be the most glamorous example of a genre in which so-called ‘travel writing’ began to embrace a wider range: autobiography, philosophy, history, belles lettres, romantic fiction. But unlike Colin Thubron, Jonathan Raban, Redmond O’Hanlon, Paul Theroux, Andrew harvey, he does not put his travelling self at the centre. His stance is unflappable, detached, discreet — ‘a pose rather than a subject,’ writes Manfred Pfister, the result of a ‘brilliant self-stylization rather than the self-reflective depth and emotional richness of subjectivity.’ Bruce’s lack of introspection is old-fashioned, but his style is contemporary. This unusual blend accounts for his distinctive voice.”
Looking at Shakespeare’s 600 pages, it may be a while before I report back on the bio at length. (I still haven’t written up the Garcia Marquez and Graham Greene novels I rolled through in Mexico. I think my novel count in 2005 is probably already ahead of 2004’s.)

will no one defend jethro tull?

An airport ride has been arranged; muchas gracias — that means “much thanks,” I think — to Katie.
In other matters: Is there anyone out there who will mount a rousing defense for Jethro Tull?
In my classic rock phase (c. 1987-1993), I listened to a lot of bands I don’t pay much mind to now: Pink Floyd, Skynyrd, hell, even Deep Purple. I’m not embarrassed by any means — there was some great shit in there, and when Floyd comes up in the iTunes shuffle, I’m happy to close my eyes, imagine pot smoke nearby, and mentally reclaim my pimply virginity.
But Jethro Tull? I used to listen to tons of Tull. I remember saving up to buy both their 20th-anniversary box set and their 25th-anniversary box set. I think I owned something like 20 Tull cassettes at one time, all of them now buried in one of those boxes that got sealed three apartment moves ago and hasn’t breathed fresh air since.
But when I hear them now, I’m left to wonder: What in the hell was I thinking?
I mean, it’s just crap, isn’t it? Bloated as the stomach of a beached whale. Full of that weirdly narcissistic English romanticism. And that fucking flute. And the proto-orgasmic yelps after every other flute note. The first couple albums aren’t awful, I guess. But geez, Ian Anderson’s court-jester tights started cutting off the blood to his brain as soon as 1971 hit, didn’t they? Or maybe it was the codpieces.
I mention all this because, just a few posts ago, I hinted that the ’90s band Bush might not be the height of human artistic achievement. For that critical crime, I got a half-dozen readers storming crabwalk HQ with pitchforks and torches, rallying in defense of Gavin Rossdale’s good name. (Although I would point out no one stood up for Silverchair.) So I figure there’s got to be someone out there who, like the 15-year-old me, can tell me why Tull is the best thing since orange Tic Tacs. Anyone?