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by David Dunlap Jr. and Andy Earles

While music, as an art form, spans across millennia and cultural barriers, it also seems most evocative of the geographical region from which it originates. Film music is often used as shorthand for establishing a particular setting. And think of the discipline ethnomusicology; the other arts don't have such a frequently bandied academic buzzword to describe their symbiosis with geography. The 19th-century composer Mikhail Glinka suggested that "the nation creates music" and that the artist merely arranges it.

With this relationship firmly established, it seems logical that musical entities would desire to concretize this connection and name themselves after locations. However, it wasn't until the late 1960s that this phenomenon manifested itself in the spectrum of popular music. We are dubbing this genre of music (primarily rock, both heavy and lite) "Michener Rock" as a tribute to James Michener, who seemingly titled every one of his 12-stone tomes after various geographical entities (Alaska, Hawaii, Poland, Iberia, Twitty City, Space, et. al.) The majority of the bands listed below share not only the place-related naming convention with Michener's books, but also a certain monolithic innocuousness.

Coincidentally, one of the few airport novels by Michener that wasn't geographically themed was Journey, also the name of a monolithically innocuous lite-rock (formerly heavy) outfit that really fits in this genre, but unfortunately is excluded on technicalities. We do not claim that this list is complete. Feel free to write an arrogant missive pointing out our omissions to the editor of this publication.

Click on map or the links below to access band information.
Bands are listed in no particular order...

Asia    Nazareth    Japan    Berlin    London    UK    Boulder    Alabama    Nantucket    New England    Boston    Chicago    Kansas    Black Oak Arkansas


There can be no "Michener Rock" bands whose name consists of "place name + x" or "x + place name." Unfortunately this excludes some real tempting lite-rock turdmongers and barn-door-size critical targets such as the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Bay City Rollers, Kentucky Headhunters, U.S. Bombs, Of Montreal, Sun City Girls and Rare Earth.

2. No "Michener Rock" bands shall be named after mythical locales. This rule hurts the most. Sadly it must be so that we don't spend a dark and stormy fortnight penning vapid capsules on such bands as Narnia, Middle Earth, Hades, Valhalla and Satan's Hollow. Other heavy hitters excluded by this rule can be found in the cassette collection of your mother's alcoholic middle management boyfriend - Styx, Nirvana, Arcadia and Jimmy's Chicken Shack. Andy seemed to have the most trouble with this rule, a lapse which I attribute to: a) his public school education, b) the cumulative effect of three consecutive "Hydrocodone Summers" or c) his sincere belief that Atlantis and Hades are not mythical and do, in fact, exist.


Andy: I'm a fan of the mid-period Afternoon Rock phase and the elaborate album art that went with it. I also own the six-LP live Carnegie Hall set, but never listened to it again after hearing how half-assedly "I'm A Man" was performed. Check out their Behind The Music entry, it's gold. Terry Kath can be seen in the surreal Electra Glide In Blue (1973), where he blows a big hole in Robert Blake during the final scene. Insert obvious joke.

Dave: Luckily they dropped the "Transit Authority" verbiage from their first album to become eligible for our illustrious list. I am still reeling from listening to Terry Kath's "Free Form Guitar" on side three of their debut double platter. I swear to bejesus that it is the wildest noise you will find in your dad's record collection.



Andy: This is going to give me fever dreams.

Dave: Memorable only for their forgettable appearance in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.


Black Oak Arkansas

Andy: Still playing out regionally. Jim Dandy can be regularly sighted at local grocery stores and payphones.

Dave: Black Oak Arkansas really took the whole place-as-name-as-music thing to a whole new level when they offered (via their fan club) a chance to buy a square inch of their eponymous musical commune. Just like Faust.



Andy: I have one significant problem with this band: The album covers during the '70s profanely belied their blandness. I mean, LOOK AT THOSE THINGS!!!! However, getting something as brazenly stupid/genius as "Hair Of The Dog" on the radio has to be commended.



Andy: Firmly atop the micro-genre of bands that were granted their very own spaceships. Third Stage was a big album for me during adolescence, so big that my first neighborhood neck session may have been prepped with "Hollyann." You must give 'em credit for ignoring any and all progressions on the popular music landscape! I guess that makes Third Stage (1986) the very first '70s throwback album that wasn't on SST. Here's to breaking ground!

Dave: I was captivated by the covers of their first couple of records. The images of domed cities being transported by giant guitar-shaped rockets redlined my preteen sensibilities. I was granted epiphanies of nigh Blakeian proportions. There were eight years in between Don't Look Back and Third Stage. What were they doing? Waiting for Thomas Pynchon to write the fricking liner notes? Oh no, that was already-forgotten alterna-dookies, Lotion.



Andy: Have you ever paid a dollar for a Kansas record just to see what one of those ten-minute tracks sounds like? I have, and I'll let you in on a little something...

Dave: When IBM transferred my stepdad to Wichita, I tried getting into these white-bread pomp rockers, merely because I was "now a Kansan." But even at ten years old I could tell that the way they tilted their heads and held the headphones on one ear while on stage was unforgivably precious.



Andy: Members of The Soft Machine, King Crimson, Yes, and Roxy Music team up in 1977 to create some seminal Post-Heyday Rock.

Dave: They hold the distinction of being the most unlistenable band on this list. When the keyboard noodles kick in, you are actually happy for a brief respite from the atonal plodding. Horrible. Again with the incest thing as they shared a member of Asia.



Andy: The audio instruction manual for nylon jumpsuit removal.

Dave: They are solely responsible for the pop commodification of country music. Seemed to blend with the Oak Ridge Boys and the Statler Brothers in an undifferentiated blur of beards, barbershop harmonies, and blandly nostalgic odes to the antebellum status quo.


New England

Andy: A Paul Stanley production that sounds like Def Leppard, had they actually hailed from the region immortalized in their tag. "Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya," from their first LP, is perfect - AOR Metal so catchy that you'll swear that it was a hit, when it really wasn't.

Dave: Like Kiss, Starz, and Angel, they were under the Machiavellian management of Bill Aucoin. However, New England had more pop hooks than all of the others combined. Of course, the vocals were fey and thin and the keyboards were high in the mix. So maybe rockers got scared, but nonetheless, their debut (1979) and their second album, Explorer Suite (1980), have more poppy gems than your average Powerpearls comp. Their contemporary sophisticated lyrics had more in common with Rupert Holmes and 10cc than the junior-varsity arena rockers with whom they were often paired. Just to show that the "Michener Rock" scene is just as incestuous as any other, NE's keyboardist, Jimmy Waldo, later joined Alcatrazz. If anything, you must take a gander at the hair of drummer Hirsh Gardner-a poodlesque coif deserving of its own zip code and ecosystem.



Andy: Never really been able to stomach ol' Sylvian. Horrible album covers.

Dave: Even during a recent, intense five-day period where I was into all things New Romantic, I was unable to step to this tuneless, antiseptic offal. David Sylvian's flat delivery makes even the distanced romanticism of Brian Ferry seem vulnerable and warm.



Andy: I wonder where I would be if I sold coke to Don Simpson's maid.

Dave: Around my cul-de-sac, Berlin was like the aural equivalent of Cinemax After-Dark. Glossy, MOR eroticism. Lead singer, Terri Nunn, is credited on Pleasure Victim for vocals and BJs. No joke.



Andy: By far the most listenable Yes side project. They had the hooks, the split-screen videos, and Roger Dean popping back up with some very confusing "Loch Ness Monster meets a Sea World, Three In The Afternoon Performance In The Harbor Of Future Town" graphics.

Dave: The ultimate prog-lite outfit. Take one part King Crimson, two parts Yes, a Buggle, and a Palmer (yes that fucking Palmer) and simmer... but not for too long now. They quickly realized that FM stations were not going to get in bed with an 18-minute "Ode to Cartological Majesty on the Outer Reaches of Io." They boiled off all the excess instrumental onanism and reduced everything to the "Heat of the Moment." Around three and half minutes-about the exact length of time it takes for Carl Palmer's floating drum kit to rotate a full 360 degrees.



Andy: There was one of these in the '70s, who really were from Colorado, but we shall attempt a two-sentence look at the topical irony-metal namesakes, who may actually be named after a big rock, I dunno. I wish that all of the Crusty-Into-Metal evolutions sounded this good.

Dave: Once on Mork and Mindy, during the finale, there's two minutes where Mork talks to Orson about his mission. Orson throws a giant papier-mache boulder at Mork; once he dodges it, he tells Orson, "It's a good thing I didn't land in Buffalo." I mention this because I was just reminded that we have left off the '70s ur-butt rockers from Australia, Buffalo, (Volcano Rock) who in their own way, share a lot with the current buckeye metallians, Boulder. By the way, I found Boulder's Ravage and Savage to be one of the most ball-blistering platters of last year. Highly recommended.



Andy: A glance at this band's line-up reveals members with names such as Thumbs Johnson and Pee Wee Watson. My work is done here.

Dave: First saw these jokers in the local bin of a North Carolina record shop. It seems that they are a bit geographically confused. They are wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words, "South Carolina," they have a song called "California," and found a way to effortlessly combine east coast yoni-magnet balladry with warmed over rust belt boogie. Notable for having a GIANT lobster on the cover of their self-titled debut. However, by the time of the mediocre sophomore effort, the mascot was emasculatingly reduced to an inch-high crustacean-man. The only rock and roll aspect of this band (besides the giant lobster) is that their name rhymes with "Fuck It!"


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