So here’s a question from an old person, what do students think when they hear music by Iron Maiden, the Ramones, Black Flag, and NWA? I’ll admit I have all of these on my iPod. Only one is still around and touring and I took my son to see them a couple years ago. But the music is out there so I wonder what it sounds like to people born after they were in their prime.
I wonder if they react the same way I did when I heard songs by Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles? At the time I remember it sounding fairly simple, not really as loud or angry as I would have liked. But I didn’t not like it. So I held on to it until I got to the point that I could understand and appreciate it and THAT’S when the music of my parent’s generation came to life. Because, without Hank Williams country music would sound like corny cowboy ballads from Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Chuck Berry was part of the holy trinity of what became rock and roll. He provided “licks,” Bo Diddly added “rhythm,” and Little Richard was the “show.” The Beatles along with Elvis took that formula and made music that the masses (re: white kids) would listen to, dance to, and buy. I learned to love their music because once I understood them, I appreciated them, and their music meant more to me.
The first groups were just what I listened to because I liked it. I either stumbled on it on my own, or borrowed a cassette from a friend, or rode in their car and heard it. But I learned later that each of them are similar to the artists from my parent’s generation. Iron Maiden took the “heavy” music of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and gave us heavy metal. The Ramones (thank you Amy Dancer) invented punk and Black Flag took that to give us hardcore. And without NWA hip hop would sound a lot like the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash. Again, it wasn’t until I thought about it and showed an interest that my appreciation grew into understanding.
So do my students think about old (MY) music this way? Do they think about their own music this way? Do they just appreciate what they like because they like it, or do they take the time to understand it? Do they care enough about it to dedicate some time to understanding it? If not music, then what do they care about? Clothes? Cars? Ab crunches and nutrition? Exfoliation and laser hair removal? Role-playing video games versus action-adventure games? And if that’s what they care about, do they really take time to think about it, understand it, and understand its role in their lives. Do they care enough that they seek to make themselves subject matter experts on it?
Knowledge of this kind is very different than the kind of knowledge you get in school. In the College of Business we teach students about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, how to calculate the future value of money, compounding interest, and the role supply and demand play in markets. We ask students to memorize the 4Ps, Porter’s five forces, and the definition of SWOT. Do they care enough that they seek to make themselves subject matter experts on this stuff? Some do, but most lean on their Study Cube app and flash cards to get through the next test. Study it, remember it, take a test on it. Move on.
The ones who care even less will just watch five weeks of lectures on fast forward, cram the day of the exam, and stand in line sweating it out to see if they’ll get in the testing lab on time. If you ask them two days later they can probably still name a couple of the Ps and give a decent guess on one more. Two weeks later that information is gone. Then again, I’m not wondering if these students think. I know they don’t. And they don’t read this blog so I won’t waste space on them. I would rather reach the ones who are curious about where their music comes from, who see that flats are replacing heels and want to dig into this change, who can rattle off examples of Sandbox, Action, and MMO RPGs and know that Colossal Cave Adventure was the foundation for all Adventure games. I want to reach them because I know they’re thinking.
So why does it matter that you care enough to think and understand? Because I’m asking you to figure out what you want to do after school. Entry into the college is your two minute warning for the end of school and the beginning of life. Our old whistle wasn’t very loud so we’ve decided to put something there to make you realize that the game isn’t over, but if the score isn’t in your favor you had better get serious!
There are no right answers when it comes to the kind of music, clothes, or video games that you like. You just like them. Hopefully you like them enough to care about understanding them. To understand them you have to think about them, read about them, and incorporate them into your personality. A part of what makes you, you. Your career is also something that makes you, you. Unlike music, clothes, or video games it also provides for your family, pays your bills, becomes a place where you make friends and maybe even meet your future spouse. When you meet people it’ll be what you talk about and will frame you to the rest of the world. What you DO for a living will have a greater impact on who you are than the music, clothes, and video games you love.
So why, then, is it such a chore to spend a little time thinking about it?