November 16, 2018
I attended a fascinating lecture on serial murder this week delivered by my criminal justice program director. I was reminded of how easily those of us who have devoted a lifetime to a subject (to be clear, Don has devoted his life to the study of serial murder, not the act of serial murder!) can so easily drop dozens and dozens of names, especially of researchers and scholars, when proceeding through a question and answer session about a topic.
It got me thinking that, on the one hand, academics are damn good name-droppers. We will generally not hesitate to name those broad shoulders of the giants we stand upon.
But I also realized that, on the other hand, we might be missing opportunities to drop those names in more subtle ways. I have been recalling dozens of songs where musicians name check other musicians, but in subtle ways that reveal nuance of feeling, not so much direct address of said musician's career or talent.
To that end, I offer the "Top Ten Times Musicians Name Checked Other Musicians (And What Academics Can Learn From Them)." Recognize that I am not interested when the outright entire song is a tribute (Elton John's "Empty Garden," written about John Lennon), or referencing a musician as indicative of a major point (Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke," which uses Duke Ellington as one of many musicians who's got groove). No, these are subtle nods to other musicians that reveal depth of emotion in the moment.
Top Ten Times Musicians Name Checked Other Musicians (And What Academics Can Learn From Them)"
#10 The Cowboy Junkies' accept God's taking of Jimi Hendrix in "Thousand Year Prayer" :
"We greedily ate what you gave us, the rest we tossed/
We've trapped all your rivers, paved every pass/
Pulled at your sky til we caused it to rip/
But you've got Jimi Hendrix, so let's call it an even split."
When facing the biggest questions of the universe, and after all isn't that what academics do, we need to name check the painful ways the universe has let us down. I mean, many scientists must question the way God seemed to give Stephen Hawking so much to overcome.
#9 Lucinda Williams yearns to travel aimlessly while being comforted by Neil Young in "Ventura":
"Take the long way home/so I can ride around/
Put Neil Young on/and turn up the sound."
Upon first thought, I struggle to see anyone being comforted by scholarly work in the way that Lucinda might see Rust Never Sleeps or Freedom. Still, maybe I am underestimating the power of Michael Foucault's 1960 seminal work, Madness and Civilization.
#8 Tanya Donelly turns to Lucinda Williams for the strength to survive in "World On Fire":
"I want in on Lucinda's 'Sweet Old World,' if it's there/
I swear to God there are days/that song's what gets me out of bed."
Can an academic work get a scholar out of bed on a bad day (of a bad week)? Maybe Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is able to do that, somewhere around the stage of acceptance.
#7 Steely Dan recommends drowning the sound of domestic dispute with The Eagles in "Everything You Did":
"I want to hear about everything you did, baby/
I never knew you were a roller skater/
You gonna show me later/
Turn up The Eagles, the neighbors are listening."
Recognize that some of the brilliance of Steely Dan here is the way that last line is melodically different from the previous line. I also love that it suggests the woman has already had The Eagles on, and thus Donald Fagen's narrator suggests some scorn at even listening to that. Hmm, scorn from an academic? That can't be, right?
Can't you hear this shout across the science laboratories at any major university, "Oh, Frederick, please turn up that Glenn Beck interview with Alan Carlin so that the geologists don't hear us!"
#6 Nick Lowe eviscerates Rick Astley as an example that "All Men Are Liars":
"Do you remember Rick Astley/
He had a big fat hit that was ghastly/
He said I'm never gonna give you up or let you down/
Well, I'm here to tell you that Dick's a clown."
Oh wait, academics skewer each other in public? Heck, Nick Lowe ain't got nothing on even your Junior College Assistant Professors.
#5 The Who find a musical drinking partner in T. Rex in "You Better You Bet":
"I got your body right now on my mind/
And I drunk myself blind to the sound of old T. Rex/
To the sound of old T. Rex."
Oh, this is so much better. What is the academic's best theoretical companion to Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, or Elijah Craig? Hmm? Come to think of it . . . let's move on to #4.
#4 The Smithereens fantasize about a female guitarist who invokes The Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman in "Behind A Wall of Sleep":
"Well she held a bass guitar and she was playing in a band/
And she stood just like Bill Wyman/
Now I am her biggest fan/
Now I know I'm one of many who would like to be your friend/
And I've got to find a way to let you know I'm not like them."
What does one even do with this?
"Well, she held a test tube and she worked in a lab/
And she thought just like William Roentgen/
Now I am her biggest fan . . ."
Sorry, madame, I am adamant to stay away from this.
#3 Neil Young makes idolizing Johnny Rotten, in terms of career arc, unbelievably cool in "My My Hey Hey":
"The king is gone but he's not forgotten/
This is the story of Johnny Rotten/
It's better to burn out than it is to rust/
The king is gone but he's not forgotten."
Burning out seems the least likely scenario for an academic. Not with tenure.
#2 Bruce Springsteen implores Roy Orbison to try and get laid in "Thunder Road":
"The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves/
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays/
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely/
Hey, that's me and I want you only/
Don't turn me home again, I just can't face myself alone again."
I guess we need to plead with Alfred Kinsey in this regard. I am tempted to ask you to look at a photograph of Kinsey to wonder if this is possible. Then again, have you seen a picture of Roy Orbison? Seduction comes from words and delivery.
#1 Cheap Trick uses Kiss to exemplify the horror that the narrator's parents might be cool in "Surrender":
"When I woke up, Mom and Dad were rolling on the couch/
Rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out."
This one is easy.
"When I left class, the dean and chair were rolling on the desk/
Rolling printouts, printing and coding, got my IBM programs out."