What Do Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, and Led Zeppelin Have in Common?

What Do Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, and Led Zeppelin Have in Common?

They're all a part of an American Studies major's course load. And meet the man who makes it happen.
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What if I were to tell you that you could take a college course with lectures on Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Dr. Dre, Nirvana, Jay-Z, and Taylor Swift? You’d probably tell me to pinch you. But this isn’t just every students’ dream. For many students it’s a reality. Courses like these are a regular occurrence in the life of an American Studies major. 

In American Studies 232, Contemporary Music in America, and American Studies 335, American Pop Music, taught by Dr. Eric Weisbard, students are able to use their critical reasoning as well as creativity to write their own responses and essays on aspects of the music industry and culture from Church Berry all the way to the most recent Youtube hit “Gangam Style.” As we all know, sitting down to start a paper for a class you dread is painstakingly tedious. From personal experience, after having taken both of these courses, getting through the small responses or papers you’re required to write are more of a bonus than a chore, especially when you’ve been taught the material well by an expert in popular music. 

Meet the man who makes it happen. Dr. Weisbard, who grew up in New York, first delved into music as a freshman in college when a new friend gave him a Velvet Underground tape. Shortly after, he began working at his college’s radio station and was surrounded by thousands of records each day. While listening to the albums he found at work, he and his friends also began to attend concerts. 

“It was like my education was provided for me. You had the opportunity to play records on the air, but also to listen to records off the air,” says Weisbard. “So it was really college and college radio that turned me into a music junkie and got me started writing about music a little bit, because in those days you would write reviews for the college radio DJs on the back of the records, and so that was like my first music writing.” 

Weisbard’s album reviews paved the way for his next adventure: simultaneously pursuing his PhD at U.C. Berkely and becoming a rock critic. He was offered a job at SPIN magazine after editing their book, “The Spin Alternative Record Guide," a book that chronicled alternative music reviews, past and present, and helped Nirvana fans of the 90s discover more music similar to the grunge they loved. 

“So I left grad school, I worked for SPIN first, then at the Village Voice, and then got hired at a music museum in Seattle called Experience Music Project, and it was there that I started to think about going back to academia. It had been about ten years between when I had left UC Berkley and when I called them up on the phone and asked if I could write a dissertation and get a PhD kind of belatedly,” Weisbard explains. 

His transition to Alabama, which may be only slightly different from New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, ended up being more of a double transition. When he began teaching at Alabama, he hadn’t been to a University in more than 14 years, but any student of Dr. Weisbard’s would guess he’s been doing this for a lifetime. 

“From the beginning, what really excited me was teaching the history of popular music, the variety of popular music, and the freedom I’m given at this University to teach it in a way that makes sense to me,” says Weisbard. “And I think that comes through in the class, that I love having that freedom to explore all different kinds of topics and sounds and not be under the pressure I might have been as a journalist to tell only the part of the story that’s relevant this minute, but to get to go deeper and talk about things in a sustained way.” 

As you could probably guess about someone with musical tastes as vast as Weisbard’s, he has to venture now and then to Birmingham to see shows at Bottletree and enjoy the city culture. He’s still waiting on Tuscaloosa to up its game in the local coffee shop scene (we haven’t quite caught up with Seattle). But what he does love about Tuscaloosa is the University and the freedom the American Studies Department gives its professors. 

Weisbard’ss classes usually have three parts: analyzing songs and connecting them to a larger pictures, using an academic or biographical reading that puts the music in context, and finding an overall framework for the class that day. There’s usually a few papers in the classes as well, which help the course contribute to the writing requirement that the course fulfills. 

As far as how these classes give life or academic skills to its students, Weisbard says, “It has always been for me the case that there’s one way of doing careers that’s straightforward, and there’s one way of doing careers that’s anything but. The straightforward one is the obvious: be a doctor, be an accountant, pick a specific, and go for fulfilling the requirements. While that’s totally valid, we also know that an increasingly large number of interesting jobs, whether in media, or any creative work, don’t have prescribed career paths. So if you want to go that way, my classes are in part about helping you develop what we could call the critical skills, but what I would almost say is it’s kind of a cultural language.” 

For the people reading this who think a class on Garth Brooks means an easy A, it can be; however, there’s a disclaimer. You still have to do the work. While it’s fun to listen and talk about the music, you have to be willing to analyze and write about it. 

“What I try to make clear,” says Weisbard, “is that the only way it works to have popular culture in a university course is for what you learn about that culture to be something different than what you knew coming in. And if all you want is to be confirmed in what you already knew, stay away. But if you want to look under the skin of the stuff you know, see where it came from, and see how it connects to thing, then you should take the course.” 

So if you have the opportunity, do yourself a favor and take one of these classes while you still can. Nothing is better than getting credit for a class that you watched Dazed and Confused in. And while you’re at it, get a head start on AMS 335 over Christmas break by reading Dr. Weisbard’s new book Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music.

Cover Image Credit: hollyscoop.com

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What Your Hogwarts House Says About You

Get yourself sorted and find out where you belong in the world of witchcraft and wizardry.
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Sorting at Hogwarts is a big deal. Being sorted into a house is essentially being placed into a family while you are away from home learning about witchcraft and wizardry. Your house is made up of the people you will live with, go to classes with, play Quidditch with and everything in between. You basically spend 24/7 with them. Your Hogwarts house is your home away from home.

When you get sorted into a house, it is based on your personality traits. The people in your house are typically like-minded people who display the same characteristics as you.

When you’re a first year at Hogwarts, the minute you set foot in the castle you are swept into the Great Hall to have the ancient Sorting Hat placed on your head. This Sorting Hat decides which “family” you’ll be spending your seven years with.

For some, it is very obvious which house they will be in, due to certain personality traits they possess. For others, they may exemplify traits that fit a multitude of houses and are uncertain where they may end up.

To find out where you belong, you can take the official "Harry Potter" Sorting Hat quiz at Pottermore.com. For all you muggles out there, these are the characteristics that the houses possess and what your house says about you:

Gryffindor: The house of the brave, loyal, courageous, adventurous, daring and chivalrous. Those who stand up for others are typically Gryffindors. Brave-hearted is the most well-known Gryffindor characteristic, and Gryffindors are also known for having a lot of nerve.

Gryffindors are people who hold a multitude of qualities alongside the ones listed, making them a very well-rounded house. People who are Gryffindors are often people who could fit nicely into another house but choose to tell the sorting hat they want Gryffindor (there's that bravery). "Do what is right" is the motto Gryffindors go by.

Being a Gryffindor means that you're probably the adventurous and courageous friend, and you are usually known for doing what is right.

Ravenclaw: The house is known for their wisdom, intelligence, creativity, cleverness and knowledge. Those who value brains over brawn can be found here. Ravenclaws often tend to be quite quirky as well. "Do what is wise" is the motto they strive to follow.

Though Ravenclaws can be know-it-alls sometimes, they most likely do know what the wisest decision is.

If you are known for being the quirky friend, the smartest in the group or just great at making wise decisions, you're definitely a Ravenclaw.

Hufflepuff: This house values hard work, dedication, fair play, patience, and loyalty. Hufflepuff’s are known for being just and true. "Do what is nice" is their motto.

Hufflepuff is known as the “nice house” and believes strongly in sparing peoples feelings and being kind. This is not to say that Hufflepuffs aren't smart or courageous. Hufflepuffs just enjoy making others happy and tend to be more patient towards people.

If you ever find that you are too nice for your own good and cannot bear to hurt someone’s feelings, congratulations, you are a Hufflepuff.

Slytherin: This is the house of the cunning, prideful, resourceful, ambitious, intelligent, and determined. Slytherin's love to be in charge and crave leadership. "Do what is necessary" is the motto of this house.

Slytherin is a fairly well-rounded house, similar to the other houses. They are loyal to those that are loyal to them just as Gryffindors are and are intelligent as Ravenclaws.

Slytherin house as a whole is not evil, despite how many dark wizards come out of this house. That is merely based on the choices of those wizards (so if your friend is a Slytherin, don’t judge, it doesn’t mean they are mean people). Slytherins do, however, have a tendency to be arrogant or prideful. This is most likely due to the fact that everyone in Slytherin is exceedingly proud to be there.

What Hogwarts house you’re in says a lot about the person you are, the traits you possess and how you may act in some situations. But in the end, your house is really just your home that is always there for you. Always.


Cover Image Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

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Forget Halloween Costumes And Trick Or Treating, Inktober Has My Full Attention This Year

Inktober dares artists to push some time for themselves to draw at least one drawing each day in their October schedules.

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Besides waiting for October to celebrate Halloween, artists look forward to something else in October, which is Inktober.

Inktober means artists can draw things each day according to the month of October, under the requirement that they must be drawn in ink. Often times, many people will think it is a waste of time to draw during the month of October, but it's not for artists. Other than putting up costumes and preparing Halloween decorations, artists can try out ink for the first time if they have not done so already during this time of the year when drawing. Also, for ink, artists do not have to use expensive or any fancy ink at all, it can just be simply drawing with pens that have ink. And of course, artists need to draw on a paper to do Inktober as well.

In addition, this does not only challenge artists in drawing in ink but also their consistency and time management. Inktober is more fun if you actually do create one ink drawing each day in October. However, many people who are so busy with their lives, have the tendency of not able to have time to draw. Therefore, Inktober dares artists to push some time for themselves to draw at least one drawing each day in their October schedules.

Besides challenging artists for time management and consistency, it is also a time for artists to see and view other artists' Inktober drawings. This is also the best part. Artists will then can see many unique and beautiful Inktober drawings posted on social media such as Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram. Then, all the inspiration will be overflowing within the artists during the month of October. This is the perfect time to do Inktober because this October is a big hype for many Halloween festivities and film anniversaries. Artists will then be in touch with their creativity and imagination this October.

Furthermore, this year is the first time that I have tried Inktober, which is great to do in an hour or so. Although I was cluttered with lots of work and homework, I decided to take a little time off from them and give myself some time to draw a little to celebrate October. It is a perfect way to cope with stress. As I was drawing for Inktober, I already forgot what I was stressing about. Then, I was amazed by what I could draw with ink. After, when I am done with an Inktober, I will have the confidence to finish up my homework. Other than that, you will also be amazed by how your Inktober drawing turns out at the end and the reaction you will get after seeing the finished product of your Inktober drawing.

It's another fun activity that I insist artists should do this October because it's another way for artists to express themselves through drawing. I also encourage artists to hurry to do some of the Inktober because it only lasts only in October, which means one month. Overall, I am excited to see what kind of Inktober drawings there'll be for this year!

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