I always say lives can change dramatically because of a flip comment. I know, for I speak from experience.
On April 15, 1987, I was performing with Lather, Rinse, Repeat and made a smart-alecky remark over the P.A. about how I hoped everyone had gotten their taxes in the mail. As we launched into “Tax Man” by The Beatles, I saw Glenn Gass (IU’s Rock History Professor who taught a class devoted to The Beatles) enter the room. After the show, I approached him and blurted, “If you ever need an assistant for your rock ‘n’ roll classes, let me know.” Turns out he did, and I became it. Kismet! After completing my Bachelor’s in 1988, I began a Music Composition Master’s just so I could keep riding that sweet rock history gravy train for a couple more years.
In 1989, the School of Music scheduled Z201 - The History of Rock 'n' Roll during the summer, but Glenn was unavailable. By then, I’d sat through his lectures a few times, so I offered to fill in. Surprisingly, everyone thought this was a fine idea. Even more surprising was that I preferred teaching to performing. Go figure.
In 1992, I jumped at the chance to take over the rock history course on IU’s Indianapolis campus (IUPUI). I also taught Classroom Guitar for beginners. That was my first exposure to people who have no sense of rhythm AT ALL. I was at IUPUI through the end of 1998.
In 1993, I taught Z201 in Bloomington while Glenn was away on sabbatical. That class drew over 350 students. Concurrently, I developed a companion course that covered rock music of the 1970’s and 1980’s. In January 1994, Z203 - Rock Music Of The ‘70’s & ‘80’s filled to capacity on both the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses.
After teaching Music Of The Beatles in 1995, I developed a similar course to explain the music of Frank Zappa. Z402 - The Music of Frank Zappa was first offered in the fall of 1996, and I have taught it regularly ever since. Students who enter knowing nothing typically leave believing Zappa was one of the greatest musical geniuses America has ever produced.
In the fall of 1998, I was made a full-time Assistant Professor on IU’s Bloomington campus and moved back there. Inspired by the success of the Frank Zappa class, I set to work developing a course on the life and music of Jimi Hendrix. This new class was first offered during the summer of 2000. Seriously, if I had a time machine, I’d save Jimi.
Next, I developed a course that examined the music of three disparate artists. Z320 - Beach Boys, Beefheart & The Residents was first taught in the spring of 2001. The thrust of the class was to explore how artistic intent can be successfully realized in wildly different manners. I offered this course a handful of times, until the students bellyached so much about The Residents that I disgustedly pulled the plug. Seems The Residents were too spooky for them. Cowards!
I was concerned about the Music School’s lack of attention to blues music, so in 2001, I went to work developing a blues history course. This was my most intense and time-consuming project so far. For over two years, I lived and breathed the blues. I reached the opinion that it is America’s greatest, purest art form. In January 2005, Z385 - The History of the Blues was first offered. It now occupies a permanent slot on my teaching roster.
In the fall of 2011, The Beach Boys released Smile, the album they abandoned in 1967. With this missing piece finally in place, I was able to properly develop Z405 - The Music Of The Beach Boys. Any person who wonders if The Beach Boys deserve their own class definitely needs to take this course. Columnated ruins domino, right?
In 2006, I was made Senior Lecturer. I’m not required to do research, publish papers, or perform service. All they want me to do is teach, teach, teach like a madman. I’ve offered courses for Indiana University regularly since 1992, and I’ve now taught over 25,000 students.
My students are not music majors. I do not train students to be musicians or music educators. My subject matter is mostly uncharted, and I’ve researched and developed classes on my own dime. My goal is to make music more understandable, enjoyable, interesting, and important to the average person. To me, the worst teacher is one who makes a student dislike the subject matter, but that will never happen on my watch. I swear.