Seattle Rock Class, Tuesday, 10/16/12

Posted: October 17, 2012 in The Strangest Tribe: the College Course

Sometimes college classes accomplish what I believe they were meant to. Sometimes I learn as much from my students as they do from me.

We spent the bulk of the class talking about life within the Seattle music scene.  Students read about college and blue collar kids freely mixing in bands, sharing houses, working crappy day jobs, and creating music as an end in itself.  I admire those artists who have challenged the American ideal to create as much wealth as possible…people who decided to create art for its own enjoyment.  My students, a generation removed, brought a different perspective.

They seemed to form a consensus that they could not follow a similar path as these scenesters did. They cited the tough economy as one factor…it’s just so competitive out there now. How can one legitimately explain to a prospective employer, when asked, a decision to form a band and live in a punk rock house for three or four years after college, when their peers have beefed up their professional resumes during that time?  For those who don’t end up in a Pearl Jam, reentry into the work force is much more daunting today than two decades ago.

The class also cited technology as another factor that could preclude them from creating their own music scene. Young folks, as a number of students pointed out, could live on less back then. Cell phones didn’t exist and you didn’t need a laptop. The low cost of living (not to mention Seattle’s cheap housing in the ’80s–which is no longer the case today) allowed people to have low-level day jobs supporting their lifestyles. One almost cannot exist now without a smartphone and some other computing device, all of which costs money.

Technology, again as my students pointed out, can become another deterent to certain behaviors. While the class has enjoyed stories of the Thrown Ups tossing raw oysters at their audience, or the U-Men setting a moat on fire, they also noted that today such behavior would be instantly recorded and transmitted worldwide via Youtube or social networking sites. Prospective employers could find out about these reckless actions and, again, due to today’s competitive market, decline to hire people because of them.

We also talked about our music selections this week: the open-ended musical experimentation of Amy Denio and the acoustic harmonics of Capping Day…which led us to our special guest (via Skype), the highlight of yesterday’s class…Laura Weller-Vanderpool of Capping Day and the Green Pajamas.

I think our Q&A with Laura became the most productive so far. The class, which consists of mostly women, appreciated a female perspective on a male-dominated music scene.

Laura stated that while men within the Seattle music scene accepted and encouraged her musical pursuits, she also felt the sting of discrimination from other sources. For example, during her formative years, women inclined to play guitar were steered toward the acoustic variety. As in: “You’re a girl? Great. Play like John Denver. What? You want to play like Jimmy Page? I’m sorry, that’s for the boys.” She talked about how things have progressed since, how her teenage daughter and her female friends play multiple instruments in bands.

She also mentioned the trials of venturing into a music store back then. When she tried to purchase an instrument, employees either treated her as someone with a complete lack of knowledge or, worse, assumed she was with her musician boyfriend.

Overall, Laura brought a critical perspective not only on the Seattle music scene, but also to the importance of including all its talent.  The students loved talking to her, and we greatly enjoyed and appreciated her time. Laura is working on a project called “These Streets,” which will result in a theatrical production based upon female contributions to the Seattle music scene. You can find out more about it at:!/thesestreetsseattle?fref=ts.

(Capping Day’s Laura Vanderpool talks to the class via Skype from Seattle.)

  1. Liz says:

    Wish I could say times have changed rapidly, but any time I visit a music store, I have to “prove” i know what I’m talking about, whereas a 14-year-old boy is given more respect. Nuts, right?!

  2. Stephen Tow says:

    Agreed. That sucks. We’re obviously not there yet.

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