Soundtrack to the lifecycle of a pig

The vegetarian in me thinks this is completely bizarre and sort of barbaric: producer Matthew Herbert will choose a pig (yet to be born) and record every step of its lifecycle, from birth to butchery to its eventual consumption, and release it as an album.  I’m all for experimental art, and I know the pig probably would have died anyway bla bla.  But I admit that I don’t really see the point of this work given that Herbert doesn’t appear to be doing this to raise consciousness about animal consumption or anything, you know, worthwhile.

Norteño music, south-of-the-border hot dogs

Yesterday’s dining section of the New York Times featured an article about Sonoran-style hot dogs: bacon-wrapped, smothered in beans, guac, tomatoes, onions, salsa of all kinds, mayo, potato chips, etc.

Despite the fact that I’m rather intrigued by this development–given that I grew up in the land of a thousand variations on cooking bratwurst, sausage culture nostalgically interests me–I valiantly tried to ignore the food part of the article so that I wouldn’t be tempted to try a Sonoran hot dog.  (Bacon+pork hot dog+dairy products=quite unfriendly to the quasi-kosher vegetarian who authors this blog.)

What really caught my attention instead was how the reporter deployed music to set the scene for his detailed descriptions of southwestern-U.S./northern Mexico hot-dog-eating life.  Check it out:

One Sunday afternoon, as a mariachi band played, an after-church crowd, half Anglo and half Hispanic, thronged El Güero’s outdoor dining pavilion.  Babies cried.  Teenagers table-hopped.  And parents argued that, rather than order a second dog, children should fill up at the salsa bar at the back of the pavilion, stocked with peeled cucumbers, sliced radishes and chunky guacamole.  Front and center at every third table was a Sonoran hot dog.

Doesn’t knowing that a mariachi band was playing help you taste the sliced radishes a little more pungently?

One recent afternoon, at one of the two Oop’s hot dog stands he operates on Tucson’s south side, Martin Lizarraga sat beneath a tent-draped ramada anchored on one end by a flattop-equipped hot dog cart, and on the other end by a minivan painted with a hip hop-inspired, anthropomorphic hot dog character.

As a tripod-mounted speaker blared norteño music into the street, and toritos–mozzarella-stuffed, bacon-wrapped güerito chiles–browned and then blistered on the flattop, Mr. Lizarraga talked of the days when he worked as a liquor salesman in the Sonoran capital city of Hermosillo, frequenting the “table dancing club” for which he named his two hot dog stands.

With his 14-year-old daughter, Abigail Lizarraga, by his side, he spoke, with great enthusiasm, of Hermosillo, where “every corner has a hot dog stand” and “the health department is not so strict” and vendors have the freedom to garnish a dog with everything from cucumbers in sour cream to crumbled chorizo.

Notice how different music is linked to each type of setting.  The family-oriented setting plays mariachi; it’s characterized by restraint, with parents telling kids not to get another dog, but rather to fill up on toppings if they need to.  The second cart both plays norteño and has a hip-hop-inspired logo.  The owner used to be a liquor salesman and enjoys the creative freedom his profession enjoys back in Hermosillo–the description of his business is characterized by more expansiveness and sensual joy.

The music evoked in each case is also a provocative commentary on U.S.-Mexican border culture.  Given the popularity of Sonoran hot dogs and northern Mexican musical styles in the southern U.S., along with many other cultural signifiers of course, what conclusions can we draw about border culture and the effects of immigration and colonization?

One easy way to think about the ethnomusicological approach is to think about both how music is influenced by its context, and how it in turn influences that context.  Both dimensions are operating here: how do you think about norteño and mariachi (whether or not you have ever heard either style) based on the settings the reporter evokes?  How do you think about each hot-dog-eating setting based on the musical descriptions that have been embedded in the story?

What I’ve been listening to lately

This is a busy week for me so I’m being lazy and sharing what’s been in my ears lately.  Hopefully I’ll have time for a more substantive post tomorrow.

1)  The Dead Weather, “I Cut Like a Buffalo” from Horehound, which came out last Tuesday.  I rarely buy albums on the release date but I love just about everything Jack White does (except for the Raconteurs, for whatever reason) so I picked this up right away, by which I mean clicked “Download” because waiting in line at a record store is old school and expensive.

2) The Decemberists, “The Rake’s Song” from Hazards of Love because I was cleaning out my wallet and found one of those cards from Starbucks that gives you a free download.  I like the Decemberists but their historicism gets in the way of their music-making, I think.

3) Gossip, “Dimestore Diamond” from Music for Men, mostly because Beth Ditto is, famously, having a moment and I wondered if the music would be affected, and also because Rick Rubin produced this album and I’m always interested to see what he does with a group’s sound.  I think this track is better than the single “Heavy Cross.”

4) Dirty Projectors, “Temecula Sunrise” from Bitte Orca.  I was in Temecula, CA over spring break, celebrating Purim at the local Chabad House with a great group from Penn Hillel.  After the service we had a really amusing discussion with the rebbetzin about vegetarianism–she thought it was totally nuts, essentially because she likes meat.  Chabad has interesting views on vegetarianism anyway…

5) A lot of Socalled as part of my research (more on that later this week).

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