Nov 23

I helped make the best program in the country

I haven’t written in this space about IUSTV since we left IU in June, but I think of them often. I have had a few brief text chats with former students, and spent a Saturday afternoon on a lovely and long Zoom call with the young woman now at the top of the station’s org chart, a four-year IUSTV member, the sort who’s really going places in a hurry. I have read IUSTV’s website and watched some of their shows. (After seven years of being so close to the product — 935 scripted episodes of TV and video productions across 15 original programs, 328 podcast episodes and almost 300 hours of live streaming — watching as a consumer is an interesting experience.)

This is something of coda.

Tonight, I received a bit of happy punctuation on my seven-year tenure there. The College Media Pinnacle Award winners for 2022-2023 were announced and IUSTV got good news. Hoosier News Source was awarded second place. This is the winning episode they submitted for consideration.

The merely tolerated organization that no one wanted — always a sore spot for me for obvious reasons — has gone national. And in my last year working with them, they went right to the top. Second place! In the nation!

It gets better. Hoosier Sports Nite was named the top sportscast in the country.

Best of ’em all.

I was lucky enough to see all of this in person, coaching and coaxing and cheering them on. And I was even more fortunate to see this. Not only were the news and sports divisions doing this good work. They were helping each other. They were building a sustainable culture, one that can serve the organization well for years to come. They were graduating. They were getting (great!) jobs. Now they’re winning national awards.

I’m so proud of all of those young men and women. And I’m selfishly glad they got this sort of recognition with programs I was a part of.

I will, of course, take all of the credit.

I went out for a ride in the late afternoon. Before I set out, I saw this tree at the top of our driveway. This isn’t my tree, so it isn’t my problem — presuming the leaves fall straight down and stay there.

That shadow in the foreground? That one is entirely my problem.

It was a 25-mile ride. A simple get-out-and-ride after a bunch of grading and vacuuming and doing dishes and whatnot. It was a good ride, the first 15 miles, anyway. I had one split that was 22.15, which is pretty fast fofr me. And then the 15 to 20 mile stretch was nothing but headwinds. It was like pedaling through gravy.

Later, I was out enjoying the last of the best light of the day. Those brief moments between the full day and the lull of the evening. The sun and the earth have conspired to rotate into that brief relationship where the light is different, but only for a heartbeat.

In that bit of magic, that regular old example of celestial mechanics, you want to absorb the event. I want to photograph whatever the light is dancing on. It’s a matter of timing, then …

And sometimes you get photobombed.

Jun 23

Thanks Indiana, thank you, IUSTV

A note of gratitude for the people who have meant the most, as my time at IU comes to a close.

When I arrived at Indiana University seven years ago The Media School, at that time just a year old itself, was moving into its new building. Simultaneously, the dynamics of all of the student media outlets on campus were changing.

What was once a collection of independent groups — the newspaper had thrived in the basement of the old Ernie Pyle Hall, a building named after the journalism program’s most famous alumnus, the radio station operated out of a house, the TV station produced content from a dorm basement — were all being more formally pulled into The Media School’s new portfolio.

I was given the opportunity to advise and oversee IUSTV. No one else wanted the project, which was often mistakenly viewed as a pesky afterthought, a nuisance. Some people, though, just don’t know what they are looking at. Those first two years, we had to teach equipment and writing, but I also had to institutionalize things like deadlines, planning and various house rules.

Those things were the difference between struggling on a makeshift basement set and growing into two state-of-the-art television studios. Fortunately, I was surrounded that first year by a solid handful of upperclassmen that knew a few things. Together, we re-shaped the organization. Over time, the students that have come through have built on that, and the current roster continues to create good and important work.

My favorite part of academia is watching people grow. The time between a person’s freshman or sophomore year and their senior year is substantial. Their growth, in terms of their maturity and confidence, can be remarkable.

In those seven years, IUSTV produced 935 scripted episodes of TV and video productions. They have has also produced 328 podcasts. We’ve run 15 original shows – each with their own show bible, show runners, schedule breakers and everything else. I’ve watched, or helped, them create 12 of those – seven of which are still ongoing. This year alone, they continually produced 10 different programs and a handful of podcast series. The year before was no less busy.

Viewership from 2022-2023 compared to 2015-2016 before my arrival, is up an improbable 1,901 percent. One thousand, nine hundred and one percent. The social media metrics all show substantial increases. Some six-dozen students and shows have won statewide and regional and national awards. They’ve earned every bit of their success. And when they leave, IUSTV alumni work in the professional media all over the country and abroad.

With gratitude and pride I think of them all, seven years worth of them, in the collective. Their teamwork, and how they so generously support one another, creates lessons we all learn over and over. What makes the work they do great is that they do it together.

Today, we are now graduating students who tell us they enrolled at IU specifically to be a part of what IUSTV is building.

What IUSTV is building. That is what I’ll look back on proudly. That notion is what I’ll take away. Even as I am sad to know I’ll miss out on some truly talented, hardworking people there right now, even as I am excited about what is coming next, that continued growth at IUSTV is the part of IU I will truly miss.

Jun 23

Some boxes are emptier than others

Something amazing happened in my office today. It’s one of those grown up things that should never feel like a fun thing to the adolescent version of your inner monologue, but is immensely satisfying to the adult part of your conscious thinking.

Not everyone thinks as an adult, of course. Not everyone has an adolescent version of their inner monologue. We can all agree that 33,977 emails is a lot of emails. That’s so many emails the email program had to delete them in batches.

I wonder how long it took to accumulate those emails. A bit longer than it took to dispatch them and, even though they were all already in the trash folder, watching that number disappear felt pretty great. It was a good Thursday exercise. But why this Thursday?

Lyris Hung is here for your fiddle needs. She’s using a looper, or some such technology, to do a multitrack song all by herself. (She is the fourth artist I’ve seen do this live, and I’m sure that she could do whatever she wants with this, though this is a beautiful atmospheric piece. The second person I saw use this was also a violin player, Kishi Bashi in 2015, and his set was so incredible I was convinced he’d discovered the future of music. Maybe I’m not far off.)

Also, Hung transitions effortless into the opening strains of “The Wood Song,” and that’s never a bad thing, another classic track from the chronically misunderappreciated “Swamp Ophelia.” Critics are on a deadline and they listen to a song a few times, maybe, amidst whatever else they have going on. They bang out some copy and move on. Thing is, this song is going to be 30 years old next year. Still a huge a hit with the Indigo Girls’ fans.

Also, once again, The Ryman … an amazing place to watch a show. Each time I upload one of those videos I find myself wanting to go back.

Let’s spin a few more CDs so that we can find ourselves (temporarily) caught up in the Re-Listening project. You know the drill by now, dear regular reader. I am playing all of my old CDs in my car, in the order in which I acquired them. Today we’re doing a double shot, because it is the same band on two consecutive discs. I must have had a few extra bucks in my hand at whatever point this was in 1999, because I probably did a little binge buying. This first one was a 1993 CD that I picked up to replace the old cassette version of Pearl Jam’s “Vs.”

This was their second studio album. Wikipedia tells me they scaled back the marketing, and yet still sold 950,000 copies in its first five days on sale, a record which apparently stood for five years. No idea who took that odd bit of trivia off their shoulders.

This album stood atop the Billboard 200 chart for five weeks and was certified seven-times platinum. So naturally, I needed the copy in a new format. Though they produced no videos (again, this was 1993), Pearl Jam had four singles chart from Vs. Three of them lodged themselves into the top three of the US Mainstream Rock chart, including this one.

(If you watch that with the closed captioning on YouTube tells you it begins with “pensive indie rock music.” That’s not where I give up, but perhaps it should have been.)

For some reason seven songs from this album have their own Wiki page, including “Rearviewmirror” which is a wholly underrated track. And it is great in the car, at any age, just so long as the wheels are turning reasonably fast.

Best song on the record, even if it’s a 20-minute pretentious put-up.

Which brings us to the “Yield” record, somehow. “Vs.” was second, “Yield” was fifth, and I got the ones in between later on, for whatever reason. That doesn’t make any sense, in retrospect, given how much I enjoyed Pearl Jam. But maybe I was starting to shuffle in another direction by this point. “Yield” came out in early 1998, debuting at number two on the Billboard 200. I picked it up somewhere in 1999. “Faithful” is OK, but things were changing to my ear.

Much was written and said about how the band changed their process when they produced this album, and how that helped form a more straightforward, accessible record. No longer the guys in flannel from Seattle, they were America’s rock band, by this point. I remember thinking this, though it is not accurate or at all fair to say, but they were as close a thing to The Doors as the ’90s would produce, and Roskilde was still a year or so away. So they’d mainstreamed the sound, which diluted the power a bit. All of the slower, quieter songs sounded like this for a time.

And the intensity that is Eddie Vedder’s hallmark felt a little askew on this record. Except for “MFC.”

I doubt I listened to this one enough way back when to give it a real chance, but I don’t think my impressions have really changed much. Platinum in five countries, and an undeniable hit, but this was the last of Pearl Jam’s studio records that I bought. (Not counting picking up a few earlier discs.) And so we’ll let Yield’s hidden track, “Hummus,” play us out.

That’s it for today.

Tomorrow: Big news.

Jun 23

Gather ye songs while ye may

We had a late lunch outdoors at Buffalouie’s, one of our favorite local joints. It’s the sort of place where the owner thinks of it all as a party, and he’s the host. He knows people. Knows their names, remembers their stories. He has the great gift of recall, such that, despite the thousands of people that come through his doors each year, he can make a mental reconnection even if you haven’t been in for a bite in a long, long time.

He has always been good to students, for he knows where he makes his money. And he’s always been helpful to the students I know, for he knows a little free marketing might be a good thing. And he’s just a decent sort. During the beginning of the pandemic he made lunches for some time for all of those little kids who were missing out on free lunches — an important part of many kids’ diets — because they weren’t in school. All of it together makes one loyal. And the food isn’t bad, either. Much better than the nostalgic dive a block away.

So we were sitting out under an umbrella on the sidewalk when the funniest, saddest, happened. Someone we know walked by, doing that thing where they stare intently at their phone so they don’t have to make eye contact, or engage with you. It was perfect.

Then I had a moment that reminded me of the early scene from “Dead Poet’s Society.”

Seize the day, boys …

Seize. The da — ahh, never mind, then.

We went to the lake to float on floats, which we did for an hour or two yesterday. And then the thunder came through. So we called it early. That just meant we got to dinner faster, takeout Japanese to celebrate another big day, and that was Tuesday. Today, the usual, which means you get more music.

Since we saw The Indigo Girls two weekends ago, and I have video, I’m sharing video. This is from 1992’s “Rites of Passage.” Oddly, this record gets dismissed by critics in the qualitative sense, but they all give it a lot of stars for quantitative purposes. No one knows what they are talking about. This is the fourth studio album from Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, and it included contributions from the likes of Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Michael Kamen, Kenny Aronoff, Benmont Tench, The Roches, Nollaig Ní Chathasaigh and more. Six or seven of the songs have become standards in their catalog, including “Joking.”

The record peaked at 21 on the Billboard charts and is certified platinum. Maybe no one knows what they are talking about, but fans know what they’re buying. This wasn’t released as a single, but there was a video. And aside from the clothes, some 31 years later everything is the same.

OK, the clothes and that TV set. But every shot they put in the TV is still with us today, too. The activism went mainstream, and time is still funny.

We continue along in the Re-Listening project, as well, with Keb’ Mo’s “Slow Down.” This is the thing where I am listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. This record came out in August of 1998, but I picked this up in 1999. (Eventually, I promise, we’ll make it past Y2K.)

This is the second Keb’ Mo’ record I have, a few months ago we touched on “Just Like You” for the Re-Listening project. It’s good to have a few pieces from his catalog for hinting at some musical complexity. Variation is important. Here’s the thing, Keb’ Mo’ sounds so comfortable, so confident, so at peace with himself, that it doesn’t sound much like the blues.

Peoples Exhibit A, the opening track.

Now that’s a fine song. Good and fun. But is it the blues? He won his second Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album with this record, so I’m clearly wrong here, and that’s fine. This song is about that all-too-common phenomena many of us experience, the money going out before it can even come in. There’s a certain sadness,some blues, you might say, with the concept behind “Soon As I Get Paid,” but he’s just too joyous and the guitar is too comfortable.

There’s a lyric about not being able to afford the bar tab, Monday mornings, and the IRS, but it’s just happy listening, somehow. He’s got three Grammy awards for blues records, and has another a handful of nominations spread out across his 19 records. And, at 71, he’s still touring, crisscrossing the country several times between now and October. Hopefully he’s getting paid. But even if he’s not, you know what the tunes will sound like when he takes the stage.

Jun 23

Photos, cycling, music, cats: a Monday clearance

I feel like I should be doing something. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Ah, well, you know how it is in the summertime. Things come along when they come along. Ideas too! And sometimes activity, as well. I’m sure it’ll come to me, or catch up to me, at some point.

I had to go into the office for a few minutes on Saturday. The tree outside my window looked pretty nice that afternoon.

We’ve had some pretty nice light lately, which is a thing you find yourself saying from time to time in these parts, even in the sunny part of the year. These are the woods behind our house, this evening.

That photo is timestamped 9 p.m., which is a magical thing, to be sure. Look how much light there still is in the sky! We’re just now approaching sunset. For my money, the late hours of daytime in the summer is the best part about this place.

Also, the cats. We didn’t check in with them last week, and site traffic no doubt suffered, as the weekly updates on the kitties are the site’s most popular feature. Just ask Poseidon who, I am sure, will tell you all about it.

Recently, we paused a bike race we were watching so we could watch a car chase. Which is to say, we paused a bike race so Poe could watch a car chase. He was invested.

He knew this particular chase wasn’t going to last much longer. There’s no tire on the front of that car. At the conclusion, he was trying to give the driver a few helpful tips. Get out of the car, lay down and listen to the officers’ instructions.

Poseidon would not be a good wheelman, I think.

For her part, Phoebe did not watch the car chase. I think she knew the inevitable outcome, or was embarrassed that her brother would assume the position.

Phoebe, I think, might be the better driver of a getaway car of the two. Whereas Poe would be like, “Hey, what’s up? Is this fun? This looks fun. Can this be fun?” Phoebe is always looking for a way to get out of any room, juuuust in case.

Smart girl, that one.

I had a brisk 34-mile ride on Saturday. I set no Strava PRs, and so that part was disappointing. But I did chase this guy down from a long way back, so there’s that.

He was a bit surprised when he looked over his shoulder and saw me. Maybe it was the huffing and/or the puffing.

Since we saw The Indigo Girls at The Ryman last weekend I’ve been doling out a few songs. That’s going to continue on for a while, because this was a great concert. This is the first track from their eighth studio album, 2002’s “Become You,” it sets the tone for the record, and it holds up like all of the best of their catalog. “Moment of Forgiveness” has a great set of lyrics, a wonderful refrain and a keyboard sound that doesn’t really come across here, but the spirit of the song, and more of Amy Ray’s spirit, does.

Speaking of the spirit of music …

More music! The Re-Listening project, to be specific. I’m playing all of my old CDs in the car, in the order I acquired the CDs. And right now we’re in 1999, listening to a double-live CD which was released in 1997, from a series of concerts in 1996.

Everybody got that?

This is Lilith Fair, which I didn’t see live, the timing and location never worked out, but I’m certain that, if I had, I would have been duly impressed.

The first track is from Paula Cole, who I did see at a different festival about that time. She had a cold, she said. She was afraid her voice would crack. She stole the the show.

There’s this cool song from Autour de Lucie, a French pop band I’d never heard of. Quite captivating, really.

Lilith Fair, of course, was a Sarah McLachlan-inspired project.

In its first summer, Lilith easily outpaced the then-fading Lollapolooza festival, in both audience size and ticket sales. It returned for two more summers and went on to become the top-grossing music festival of the late 1990s, racking up $60 million in ticket sales over its three-year run.

Indigo Girls, Joan Osborne and and Victoria Williams were among the other headliners. Then there was the incomparable Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple and Natalie Merchant. It’s an amazing, embarrassing catalog of star power. The stage was full of huge and important musical acts, like Suzanne Vega.

But I’m betting the Songbird herself often stole the show. How could she not?

For my money, the best song on the double CD is this rendition of “Water is Wide” by the Indigo Girls, Jewel and Sara McLachlan. I listen to this over and over, just for the goosebumps.

Both Shall Row.