Monday, July 27, 2015

A quick update from the road: August events and more

The Music & Work Project summer zine tour is entering its final week. I was hoping to post tour dispatches (like the first 3) more consistently, but it has been challenging to stay on top of it from the road as the schedule rapidly picked up heading into the Midwest. More dispatches are on the way soon, but for now I just wanted to share some quick updates...

First, the tour has been going great! Each event has been so participatory and interesting for me. Hearing people's stories, reuniting with dear old friends, making new ones, and getting to explore new places has been so rewarding. Can't wait to share more soon!

My zine Not for You: Stories of Music & Work from the Precarious Service Industry is now available for sale at the following locations:
  • Wooden Shoe Books & Records: 704 South Street Philadelphia, PA
  • Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse: 30 W. North Ave Baltimore, MD
  • Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative: 426 W. Gilman Street Madison, WI
  • Quimby's Bookstore: 1854 W. North Ave. Chicago, IL
The zine is also available mail order via PayPal. Email here for more info.

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And finally, an events schedule update! Only two events left of the current tour. I'm traveling to Minnesota today and will be in Duluth Tuesday at Adeline, Inc. and then Minneapolis Wednesday at Boneshaker Books.

After this week, I will be returning to the east coast to prepare a presentation about the tour and the project at the Goddard Graduate Institute's residency in Plainfield, VT. The event is August 9th at 7:30 and will be free and open to the public.

And later in August, I will be doing 2 exciting events in New York City: Tuesday August 18th at Bluestockings with the fantastically amazing writer and rockstar Cassie J. Sneider; and then the following night at Interference Archive in Brooklyn, in conjunction with their new exhibit "If a Song Could be Freedom..." That's Wednesday August 19th at 7:00 pm.

Thanks everyone who has supported me in countless and invaluable ways during this tour. It's been an incredible and inspiring experience. Looking forward to what's ahead...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer zine tour dispatch #3: Baltimore

When I first began organizing this tour I got a message from Kate at Red Emma’s in Baltimore inviting me to do an event there. I had already been hoping to visit the worker-owned, collectively-managed bookstore & coffee shop so I was excited. The only issue was one of scheduling. I had originally planned on going to Baltimore earlier in the month, right after Philly, but Kate explained that they would be closed from July 3rd to the 14th. I decided to go for it and shift things around. This ended up working out really well because I was able to ease into the tour with a little extra time to prepare before hitting the road.

I took the Marc train up from DC on the 15th—the day Red Emma’s reopened with its freshly re-painted walls and a some tasty new dishes added to their food menu. I hadn’t realized how close it was from the train station until right before I arrived. After a ten minute walk up Charles Street, I reached their block on North Avenue. I was inspired to see a reclaimed billboard across the street with a huge #BlackLivesMatter poster wheat-pasted across it. I’ve found that the street art and public murals in Baltimore are unrivaled—even compared to Philly.

It was great to be back at Red Emma’s. A few minutes after I sat down, my fabulous host—and former collective member—Corey joined me for iced coffee. We had a nice time catching up before the monthly social justice happy hour began. This one was partnered with three different local trans organizations, “in honor of the trans folks whose resistance sparked the Stonewall Riots.”  The happy hour aimed “to connect with trans organizers and projects providing services for trans people in Baltimore.” It featured cocktail specials named after historical figures in the trans justice movement and a selection of relevant book titles on display.
My event was the following evening and I felt pretty good about spending almost the entire day in this bountiful space filled with delicious vegetarian food, radical literature, and great people. In the morning, I met up with fellow Goddard College alumnus Mark Gunnery. We ordered our coffee to go and then he drove me up to the Center for Emerging Media’s (CEM) new office where he produces the Marc Steiner Show for public radio. I sent Mark a copy of the zine the week before and he agreed to interview me for a future episode of the show. He asked me questions about the project and invited me read a few of the stories from the zine. It was fun to hear Mark’s reactions to the work. And I was just honored to given the opportunity, especially by a media activist and musician who I respect a lot. He’ll be editing the interview and including some of the music that appears in my stories which will be cool to hear.

Tour Magic (part one)

“Tour magic. It’s more than a feeling…It would be tragic if this magic doesn’t happen again.” –Best Friends Forever

Mark drove me back to Red Emma’s where he was meeting a colleague from the CEM. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing, eating lunch, writing some more, and drinking more coffee. Eventually it became evening as I waited for an old college friend to drive in from outside the city to share dinner before my event started. Corey showed up first and we compared our respective days. As we were chatting by the window, someone walked towards our table waving hello to me. I didn’t recognize Amy O. at first since it had been a while, but we knew each other back in Northampton when I worked with one of her best friends at the vegan café. Now she lives in Bloomington, IN and her new band Brenda’s Friend was also on tour. They were playing later that night, basically on the same block, around the corner from Red Emma’s at The Crown. It felt so serendipitous to cross paths like this and I mentioned that fantastic Best Friends Forever song ‘Tour Magic.’ Their music is always the perfect summer soundtrack for me. “Oh, if you’re into them,” Amy responded, “then you’ll probably like our band too.” She had to leave to do sound-check right before my event began, but I promised to stop by their show later.

Some of the events at Red Emma’s are hosted in between the bookstore area and massive café space. Rows of chairs are set up and the speaker will use a microphone to communicate with the crowd. Smaller events, like mine, are held in the Baltimore Free School classroom off the hallway from the bookstore. On Thursdays, there is a CSA farm share pick up in the Free School space until 7:00 pm so as we began arranging chairs for the event, there was also cleaning up of the remains of produce and flower pedals.

As 7:30 approached, a tiny group of familiar faces sat in the chairs around me so Kate asked someone to make an announcement in the main space. It was clear that the event would be starting late (“anarchist time”) which was fine with me. Two older women who had battled gridlock traffic due to the city’s upcoming Artscape festival arrived with glasses of wine from the café. Kate made another announcement which brought in a couple more people. It was time to begin.

Photo by Corey Reidy

After I was introduced, I gave a little background on the project and, once again, invited everyone sitting around the circle to write down the title of a song, an artist, album, etc. that they deeply associated with a particular job experience. I read my stories and answered a couple questions before opening it up. The range of music and types of work everyone shared was really interesting. From the labor classic “Bread and Roses” back in the day to “Mathematics” by Mos Def at the auto-shop as the soundtrack to refusing the boss’ orders. Working at the Baltimore Book Festival and “Love is Love” by Lungfish offsetting the terrible music there. Sweet memories of Neutral Milk Hotel playing at the original Red Emma’s location (“Emma’s 1.0”). Shania Twain and other easy listening hits from 106.5 FM which played constantly at the flower shop. Waiting tables at an all-night diner and improvising a song about parsley to sing to customers while serving their parsley-garnished meals. The awful and soul-less songs that would play at the old department store, particularly “Blame it on the Bossa Nova.” And “You’re Fired” by Strike Anywhere after listening to the radio all day at a health food store and negotiating a new managerial position there as an anarchist.
One Red Emma’s café worker shared some experiences. Often the music playing in the front of the house mashes up with what’s playing in the back if you’re working at the counter taking orders. Being in between both makes it difficult to enjoy either. I asked if music has been a contentious issue during collective meetings and apparently it has come up quite a bit. Music matters.

I felt really good about the discussion. Afterwards I got to catch up with Christa from Red Emma’s at Liam’s pub next door and then after we parted ways I walked over to The Crown where the show was just beginning. The opening band Nudie Suits were amazing—replete with an interpretive dancer. I said hi to Amy and she was happy that I showed up. Brenda’s Friend played next and they were great too, but it was getting late so I had to head out right after their set. As we said goodbye, Amy told me they were playing in Philly the following night and then Pittsburgh on Saturday.

“Oh yeah?” I replied. “I’ll still be in Pittsburgh then! Maybe I can go to that show too before my train leaves…”
Brenda's Friend at The Crown


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer zine tour dispatch #2: Washington, DC

On Monday July 13th, I hit the road. It was disorienting leaving Philly on a bus going in a direction other than northeast. Instead of the usual trip over the Delaware River into New Jersey (and beyond, always), this double-decker bus went by the stadiums in South Philadelphia, over the Schuylkill River and past the international airport. We quickly entered the state of Delaware drifting southwest down Interstate 95 toward Washington, DC. The tour had really begun now.

I hadn’t been to DC in 5 years. In the years I was in college and just after graduation, I would visit fairly often for protests and activist conferences. It felt strange getting off the bus and being surrounded by this now-unfamiliar city. Before I knew it, I was in a suburban Virginia-bound car with my friend who kindly offered to host me during this visit.

The next morning, I took the Metro back into the city. I got off the orange line at L’Enfant Plaza, across from the National Mall, and walked into the Capital Gallery building. I took the elevator up to the second floor and entered the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage. The center is home to the annual Folklife Festival and Smithsonian Folkways where my friend Meredith Holmgren has worked for the past few years. When I began organizing the tour, she invited me to do a lunchtime event in their conference room.

Before the clock struck noon Meredith gave me a tour of the office including the vaulted Folkways archives—thousands of original recordings, some dating back many decades such as this box set of Lead Belly’s 'Work Songs of the USA...'

It was an honor to present at this venue and to share ideas and stories with a group of people who are passionate about music and culture. And unlike the two events in Philly last week, I didn’t know anyone sitting around the room besides my friend who graciously introduced me. The Smithsonian staff and interns were enthusiastic about sharing their music and work experiences after I finished reading stories from my zine. And it was fun to see everyone learn new things about each other.

That infamous hit song by The Eagles made its second appearance on this tour: “My first waitressing job in high school…the kitchen staff played ‘Hotel California’ on repeat every shift…this would be interrupted by calls over the scanner radio—the head cook was also our town’s fire chief.”

Other stories ranged widely: A live performance of ‘Amelia’s Waltz’ performed each morning at the New England Literature Program; one CD, 1 to 2 hours every day for a month at Banana Republic (“utter torture with mix of brainwashing”); ‘The Whistle Song’ (safe for work version) breaking up the monotony of classical music; ‘Umbrella’ by Rhianna at a café job; and Elton John’s ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ album as the nightly soundtrack to mopping the floor at a summer camp dining hall.

As one would imagine, the discussion was smart and lively as people offered new insights I hadn’t considered yet and asked a lot of the questions I’m excited to immerse myself in exploring further. Someone brought up the distinction between hearing and listening—music as background sound vs. actively engaging with it as a work of creative expression. The associate director of Folkways observed that a lot of my stories described oppressive experiences. He admitted that, as a musician, he had never thought that the people laboring on the clock where he performed might not always be enjoying the music. I explained that The Music & Work Project is about investigating the spectrum between oppression and liberation: recognizing the ways our workplace soundtracks can further alienate, while also illuminating the endless potential for music to make us feel free and even point towards new ways of living and working.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer zine tour dispatch #1: Philadelphia

The Music & Work Project summer zine tour officially kicked off this past Thursday at Wooden Shoe Books in Philadelphia. That morning, I picked up the first copies of Not for You: Stories of Music & Work from the Precarious Service Industry from the print shop in South Philly. It was exciting to see it in print for the first time! The zine itself is pretty short. It features a short intro about the project, 11 vignettes about the role of music from my past job experiences, and a brief outro posing questions for further inquiry. Throughout is the beautiful artwork of my sister Sarah Dineen which ties it all together.

I arrived at the Wooden Shoe (where I have been volunteering for the past 6 and a half years) early to set up the space and get ready. Expecting about 20 people, I arranged the usual set up of 4 or 5 rows of chairs. But as 7:00 approached the sun appeared to be setting prematurely; the outside world through the storefront windows getting darker and darker each minute. Eventually I welcomed those who had showed up as we rearranged the chair formation into a more intimate circle. Just as I began, the sky opened up and the rain didn’t let up until after we were done.
Being the first event of the tour, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It went really well though. I invited everyone to write down the title of a song, album, artist or musical genre that they deeply associated with a particular job experience. After I read a few of the stories from my zine, I pulled them one by one out of a box and invited everyone to share their experiences. We heard about singing songs (to unwitting customers) while collecting shopping carts in the Whole Foods parking lot and the different soundtracks of competing burger chains. The music of Belle and Sebastian curing homesickness on the job and “Hotel California” playing on the radio while shoveling the literal shit out of a hoarder’s abandoned house.

The following evening, I biked out to West Philly where my friend Mary Tasillo lives and runs The Soapbox—an independent publishing space and zine library. We set up in the dining room/event space in between the zine library and kitchen. We set up food and drinks and by the time the event began all the chairs we arranged around the room were full. It was great to see some old friends who showed up and I decided to start, once again, by inviting them to write down song titles related to a past work experience. I felt a more comfortable presenting after the kickoff event and the discussion was really engaging. Stories were shared about over-played Starbucks CD’s, afternoon frat parties disrupting library research/labor, the not-always-positive jobs featuring live music, and getting through retail drudgery through 90’s indie angst.

With both events, I asked if I could keep everyone’s songs that they wrote down. So I’ll be collecting these throughout the tour—a documentation of music and work from the lived experiences of workers making the most of it.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

The summer zine tour begins tonight!

I'm excited to announce that The Music & Work Project summer zine tour will be kicking off tonight in Philadelphia! I just picked up copies of the zine--Not for You: Stories of Music & Work from the Precarious Service Industry--from the printer this morning. At 7:00 pm, there will be a short reading and discussion at Wooden Shoe Books on South Street. The zine launch will be followed by another event tomorrow night at The Soapbox: Independent Publishing Center in West Philly at 8:00 pm.

The tour continues next week and through the rest of July. See below for the full tour schedule...

The Music & Work Project summer zine tour
Thursday July 9th: Philadelphia, PA. Wooden Shoe Books. 7:00 pm
Friday July 10th: Philadelphia, PA. The Soapbox: Independent Publishing Center. 8:00 pm
Tuesday July 14th: Washington, DC. Smithsonian Folkways. 12:00 pm
Thursday July 16th: Baltimore, MD. Red Emma's. 7:30 pm
Friday July 17th: Pittsburgh, PA w/ Phil Mittereder. Babyland. 8:00 pm
Sunday July 19th: South Bend, IN. The Birdsell Project. 3:00 pm
Tuesday July 21st: Madison, WI. Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative. 7:00 pm
Thursday July 23rd: Des Moines, IA. Plain Talk Books. 7:00 pm
Sunday July 26th: Chicago, IL. The Garden of Wonders on Racine. Time TBA.
Tuesday July 28th: Duluth, MN. Adeline, Inc. 7:00 pm
Wednesday July 29th: Minneapolis, MN. Boneshaker Books. 7:00 pm

"This collection of stories presents Matt's reflections on his own experience, offering an implicit critique of empty labor and hierarchical power dynamics. On this tour, he will be presenting these stories and the ideas behind them, but also starting a conversation to gather the thoughts and stories of others along this theme for a second book." -Mad House Publications

Friday, July 3, 2015

Last chance to help fund the summer zine tour!

Ok, this is it. The Music & Work Project summer zine tour IndieGoGo campaign is down to its final hours. Thanks again to everyone who has already donated to make this possible. There are several East Coast and Midwest tour dates confirmed (schedule update coming soon), but in order to make it out to the Pacific Northwest I'll have to raise a little more money in the next 40 hours. Donate now if you can or help spread the word!

Also, the zine has been sent to the printer and will be released next Thursday! The zine tour will be launched that night at Wooden Shoe Books in Philadelphia at 7:00 pm. And here's a little sneak peak of the zine....