Creators of Bellingham State of Mind
When the Western duo Nathan Cox and Rashawn Scott posted their music video, titled “Bellingham State of Mind,” on YouTube on September 13, neither one had any idea it would be so popular. The 4-minute, 42-second Jay-Z-inspired ode to the “City of Subdued Excitement” gives viewers a musical tour of the city and even includes a cameo by Bellingham’s resident celebrity Ryan Stiles.
Review writer Matt Crowley managed to track down Cox, a Western graduate, and Scott, a Western senior, back in October to ask them why they wrote the song and how it felt for their creation to receive so much attention. The video has racked up over 200,000 views since its release.
The AS Review: What originally inspired you to write the song?
Nathan Cox: I was in New York City last November, and it was right after [Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind”] came out, and I just remember walking around Manhattan listening to the song and just thinking how much it made me feel a part of everything even though I wasn’t even from there. So, I just kind of imagined how much more of an effect that would have on people who actually do live there, and I came back and I’d seen online that people had done other versions of the song for their hometown, so I thought to myself, “Bellingham’s got plenty of character, it definitely deserves its own version.” So I just kind of decided on a whim one day to sit down and write it out, and I wrote the whole thing in about four hours. I was pretty happy with it and then just kind of started getting the ball slowly rolling on making it actually happen.
Review: How exactly did the writing process go, were there places and names you wanted to drop, or did you just go with it and see what you came up with?
Cox: There’s definitely a few places that I’m really familiar with and that I love in Bellingham…I’m not gonna lie, I made sure I wasn’t omitting things too enormous. I hopped on Wikipedia (laughs) … or some other websites that have landmarks and stuff. But, for the most part I’m very familiar with the town and I just kind of went through and went piece-by-piece with Jay-Z’s lyrics and saw where different things would fit in at different places … He has the line, “Everywhere I’ve been cities filled with them,” and so I thought to myself, what matches that? And, it’s like, well there are hipsters everywhere, so that works.
Review: So … how did you get Ryan Stiles?
Cox: (laughs) Since I’m an Upfront member, he comes and does shows on Thursday nights occasionally, he’ll drop by and play with some of the other people. Since I became a member in June, I would see him fairly often and kind of had casual conversations with him, and I was sitting next to him on a couch in the back room and when there was a lull in conversation I said, “Hey, I’m filming this music video, do you know the song ‘Empire State of Mind’ by Jay-Z?” and he was just like, “I’m 50. No, no I don’t.” I was like, “Alright, it’s a music video, I mention you in the name, it’s about Bellingham, and I was wondering if you would be in it?” He said, “Do I have to do anything?” and I said, “You just have to stand there.” So after the show we just hopped up onstage, it took like five minutes, two takes and that was it. Pretty easy.
Rashawn Scott: He wasn’t a diva at all.
Cox: He was just like, “How many views are you up to?” (laughs) That was the first thing he said so I knew he had seen it at least.
Review: Did you expect it to be such a smash hit?
Scott: I honestly thought it would be like, oh, a funny video that Nathan made, like a little “ha ha” between a small group of friends, but it’s gone above and beyond. I had no idea. When it was at 100,000 – no, when it was at 10,000 it was pretty surreal…and then it exceeded the population of Bellingham.
Deng Duot, WESTERN STUDENT FROM SOUTHERN SUDAN, ON CASTING HIS BALLOT FOR SUDANESE SECESSION
In January, the people of Southern Sudan made history by voting to secede from the northern part of the country and create their own nation. Sudan, which has the largest area of any country in Africa, has been entrenched in internal war for decades. Western student Deng Duot, who was born in Southern Sudan and immigrated to the U.S. in 2006, cast a ballot in support of secession and spoke with Review writer Kirsten O’Brien about the future of the new nation. Duot was also recently elected as the Associated Students vice president for diversity for the 2011-2012 academic year.
The AS Review: How has your life been affected by the conflict in Sudan?
Duot: I was born in Sudan, but because of war, my mom left and came to Kenya, and that’s where I grew up. In 2004, I had the opportunity to go home and I saw how beautiful the land was. And then in 2005, I went back to Sudan again. Over there, it’s like home, and home is wherever you feel free to do whatever you want to do. You are always happy because it is your home!
Review: How aware do you think people in the U.S. are of the situation in Sudan?
Duot: I don’t know. Sarah Palin was asked about Africa, and she did not even know where Africa was. And Sarah Palin was someone running for [vice] president. How come people in high positions do not know about what is going on in another part of the world? A few people might know, and I can’t say that the whole population doesn’t know. There are individuals who are interested in knowing what is going on in another part of the world, and they will know.
Review: Do you think the Southern Sudanese secession is something that people here should be talking about?
Duot: Well it’s not a matter of people talking, it’s a matter of people recognizing something that is new. There are a lot of things that are going on, and people seem to be interested in things for a short time, but after that they just forget. Back in the day, people were talking about the genocide in Darfur. And I don’t know now, how many people are still interested in solving what’s happening in Darfur? Obama was talking about solving the issues in Darfur, but I don’t know, is it still interesting? No. But there are a few individuals, like George Clooney who went to Southern Sudan and got malaria, who are still interested in solving those issues. So, a few people are still concerned.
Review: When the Southern Sudanese government officials are sworn in and Southern Sudan is recognized as a sovereign nation in July, how do you think you will feel?
Duot: It will be really good for me, because I’m looking forward to seeing what my future will be. And also, I will know that I am a free citizen in my own country. I want to go and do whatever I can do to help people [in Sudan]…. Seeing myself as a person who has a country, I will express my views, and even stand for something if I want to.
Keeping it real with T-Pil
As Review writer Kelly Sullivan wrote in her January interview with Western journalism professor Tim Pilgrim, hundreds of students file into the first-floor lecture halls of the Communications Facility every year for one of Pilgrim’s most well-known classes, “Journalism 190: Introduction to Mass Media.” There, students listen to Pilgrim lecture and view his film selections on a broad range of media topics, including explorations into the mass media’s role in social inequality and racism. We wanted to know more about this long-time educator and part-time poet, so Sullivan sat down with him and gave us a brief glimpse into one of the more interesting and colorful professors here at Western.
The AS Review: Where did you grow up?
Pilgrim: I grew up in Montana, in Dillon, the southwestern corner quite near Yellowstone Park. It’s sort of in a corner where Butte and Missoula are the closest big towns, and then Idaho Falls is a big town to the south.
Review: What inspires your poetry?
Pilgrim: A lot of it is imagination. I mean obviously if you look back a couple years at my stuff it comes out of some sort of personal turmoil.
Review: A lot of students take Journalism 190, what led to the development of that class?
Pilgrim: If you don’t have a class like Journalism 190, where you don’t have somewhere to learn that journalists serve a purpose in maintaining the status quo, they [students] internalize the values of the society. If they don’t take a class like 190 then they don’t become a little bit critical of the gathering of news….It’s really about media as a social force, and so I taught this class several places and the version that is here at Western is sort of my own development. I try to pick videos that bring in experts from around the country and they have good, although sometimes old, examples of support for the arguments that they make. Kids nowadays don’t learn by lecture…. Mass media are the solution, but my class is about the problem. How in a democracy, where all of the ideas are supposed to get out there, how do you get them out there if not through media? And if media are diverted to entertaining us and making profit for owners, then do all the ideas get out there? And if you don’t have all the ideas getting out there do you really have a democracy?