"There's always room in rock 'n' roll for some stuff to start happening at a grassroots level, and the most interesting stuff seems to start there."
Column: off the record..., vol. 12-529
August 26, 2012
Summer is finally at an end, although this year it seems to have been ending for a long time. In Pittsburgh, the cicadas started the first week of July, a whole month early. Following suit, my dogwood already has berries and its leaves are fading to red. If I could hide from the fact before, I certainly can't now; classes start in a matter of days.
Usually at this late date in August, I am in full procrastination mode -- cleaning, gardening, writing -- anything but preparing syllabi. Not this year. I am about to teach everything that matters about the only band that matters.
Inspired by Tim Neufeld's class at Fresno-Pacific University "Theology, Culture & U2," I have developed a class called "Rock and Roll, Culture & U2" for the freshman seminar program at Washington & Jefferson College. Among the issues we will explore are education, poverty, inequity, fair trade, AIDS and debt relief on both local and global levels. In addition to using articles, films, concert footage and lyrics (and the @U2 site!), I have adopted Scott Calhoun's book, Exploring U2: Is This Rock 'n' Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 as the class textbook. It's a great read and covers a wide range of subjects.
I have so much to say and so little time; my biggest fear is that I won't do the band justice. I have planned the class in four parts:
"Let Me In The Sound": The Songs
I am particularly excited to start the philanthropy and greed material. We are going to begin with a brief history of benefit concerts, then move into a more significant discussion of Live Aid and Amnesty International and the subsequent movements and concerts they inspired. In light of the Pussy Riot trial, I think the students will find the material timely and relevant (fingers crossed).
I, too, have been inspired to get involved with Amnesty again. I am hoping we can have some letter writing sessions in class. I used to do that with friends when I was in college and it really fed my soul.
Because I'm on the subject of Amnesty International, I want to highlight some significant developments this summer in the plight of theMothers of Plaza de Mayo, which I have had a deep interest in ever since the song "The Mothers of the Disappeared" was released. In June, financial scandal shocked the group when its former legal adviser, Sergio Schoklender, his brother and more than a dozen others were charged with fraud, money laundering and siphoning public money into personal businesses. This has sent shockwaves through the halls of the highest political powers in Argentina and, most unfortunately, victimized these grieving women once again.
However, the Mothers received some justice when, in July, former Argentine Presidents Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone were convicted for a combined 65 years for the systematic kidnapping of children in Argentina between 1976-1983. As a result, some abducted children have been reunited, or at least been reacquainted, with their birth families.
On a much lighter note, I have discovered the silly Twitter game of "Remove One Letter." Here's a little background. I regularly suffer long stretches of insomnia. One dark night while visiting family last month, I was in bed exploring the twitterverse when I received a retweet labeled #RemoveOneLetterPlays. At about 2:30 a.m., as I lay in bed staring at my phone, I became obsessed with altering the classics, then writing pithy, tweet-sized synopses of the new plays. For example: "Death of an Alesman, a publican's delusions of grandeur prevent his sons from reaching their full potential as barmen" and "Rome and Juliet, a starry-eyed co-ed falls in love with Italian city while studying abroad."
You can see where I am going with this. I started doing it with U2 songs and albums and soon had to stifle my adolescent giggles because I was afraid of waking my father. I should have known I would one day sink to this:
"Two Hearts Bet as One": gambling addicts elope to Vegas where they lose honeymoon fund on craps tables at Caesars.
Clearly, I won't be winning any Grammys any time soon. It's Twitter. It was the middle of the night.
Want to play along? Tweet your creations to me at @arlan001 with the hashtag #RemoveOneLetterU2 and I will retweet them to my followers. Remember that the whole thing will need to be 140 characters or less. Let's start a trend.
© @U2/Hess, 2012.