My Students Are Cooler Than I Am

When I was in grad school the university put on a free concert each spring. My first year there, the school decided to bring Wilco.

I was elated; I love Wilco. So, when I found out about the show--it was the toward the end of Spring semester, when everybody on campus is at least metaphorically buzzing, happier than usual--I asked my class of English 102 students how many of them were going to attend the free Wilco concert. Not one student raised her hand. So I asked, "How many of you have heard of Wilco?" I think one student put a few tentative fingers in the air. "Uncle Tupelo?" I tried. That same student's fingers flickered a little.

"I am," I announced to the class, "so much cooler than you guys." They laughed a little, knowing, I'm sure, that I probably wasn't, that knowledge of a few semi-obscure bands hardly constituted true cool.

Last year, when I began teaching as a non-graduate assistant, I encouraged my beginning fiction and fiction workshop students to decorate their end-of-the-term portfolios in such a way and/or provide me with a soundtrack that might aid me in reading their stories. I suppose my asking them to do this (or, rather, encouraging them to do this) was a little selfish. I'd already read the stories minus their revisions, and I was looking to be entertained.

Quite a few did some decorating--including drawings, quotations from famous authors, etc. One woman went so far as to hand-sew pouches for her stories and then print the stories on fancy paper and fold them up in fancy little envelopes that she put inside the pouches. Only one guy, though, ever burned me a CD. It was very old country, which, of course, fit the tone of the stories he was writing.

This past term I made the same suggestion to my workshop--make it pretty and/or make me music. I got some cool photographs--Mary Ellen Mark and an aerial shot of a flooding Missouri River--but I also received, count them, three soundtracks.

And I must say, my students now make me seem very uncool when it comes to music. I'm still listening to Wilco and Son Volt, R.E.M. and Radiohead, and they're giving me songs by The Clipse, Jose Gonzalez, TV on the Radio (man, do I love "Dirty Little Whirlwind"*), Great Lake Swimmers, Peter Bjorn and John, and the list goes on and on.

I don't mind so much that most of what I listen to, though once cool, could probably now be called adult contemporary--that someone my age listening to Ryan Adams is like someone my parents' age listening to Joni Mitchell--so long as my students keep throwing some new stuff at me, keep making me feel at least halfway cool.

*Have you heard "Dirty Little Whirlwind"? I wrote a story once that took place at a strip club, and I had one of the dancers dance to an obscure Beck song, because I thought it was cool. If I ever revise that story, I think I'm going to have the dancer shake her thang to "DLW". Man, is it good.


Donna said...

I like the idea of asking students to give you music to help you read their stories. I'd like to ask students to do that for their comp writing. That would really put a different emotional pull on things.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested in checking out
"http://sites.unc.edu/daniel/">Daniel Anderson's blog.
He does a "playlist" assignment (and lots of other cool things).

Avery said...

Adam has his students make a music soundtrack (is this redundant?) of their lives. I think it's the first essay he has them write.

I'm currently listening to Wilco. Ghost in the Egg, or something like that. I'm a newcomer. First time I listened to it was three days ago. It was the first day I drove home from work when it was not pitch black and freezing cold outside. I had the windows down and my dorky sunglasses on.

So, yes: I think my students make me feel very uncool. Not only because of my taste in music.

Though, if they knew my true music love, I don't think they'd ever take anything I said to them seriously.

Don't even ask, Chad: I'm not giving it up.

Caroline said...

I'm only 24 but sometimes I feel my taste can be classified as adult contemporary. I'm a big Wilco and Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown fan. However, I've also recently discovered Peter Bjorn and John. I'm absolutely in love with Jose Gonzalez (that guitar!) and I've heard a bit of TV on the Radio. You've intrigued me with your praise of "Dirty Little Whirlwind." I'll hunt that one down.

Anyway, I'm new here (arrived from Fringes) and thought it was rather awesome that you're talking about music I like. Keep up the good taste.

Chad Simpson said...

Steph--That sounds like a cool assignment Adam has his students do. If I ever teach 101 or somesuch again, I may do something like that.

And about your true music love: Will you say if I guess it correctly?

Neil Diamond?
Barry Manilow?
Salt 'n' Pepa?

Caroline--Thanks for stopping by and for letting me know (in a way) that I'm not such an old fogey. You should be warned, though: this place is very much pro-Cubs...so while your taste in music is strong, your MLB tastes, um, not so much so.

Chad Simpson said...

Oh, and Donna! Thanks for the link.

And it would be interesting to have comp students do the same thing for assignments they've written. I kind of joked about it in my intro to lit class, and my students pretty much laughed at me--the implication being, I think, that they didn't have much of an emotional investment in the essays they'd written.

Avery said...

Yes. But, no, no, and no. Sadly but honestly, you're sort on the right track with those first two. Wrong gender, though.

Come to think of it, I take back that first "yes."

Chad Simpson said...

Steph--At first, I was like, "What's the female equivalent of Neil Diamond?" Then I started thinking about my parents' old record collection, and I was like, "Duh": Barbra Streisand. You don't have to confirm or deny it; I'll just assume I'm right with this one.

I can't believe I didn't think of her sooner.