Lou Reed, who died on Sunday, was by any measure one of the most influential rock performers of his time, particularly for his work with the Velvet Underground during the mid- and late 1960s. VU never received much radio play in its day, but re-formed briefly in the early 1990s, playing its greatest non-hits to appreciative audiences throughout Europe.
By then they were part of political as well as musical history. The Velvet Revolution in what was then Czechoslovakia took its name from the band, which had developed a dedicated following among dissidents during the years of Soviet domination. You will not find anything even vaguely resembling a political comment in any of VU’s songs, but it is still easy to understand why the authorities were unhappy about the bootleg tapes of the band that circulated. Some of the melodies were gentle and even lovely, but just as many songs had shrieking blasts of feedback and ominous drones, and you could tell from the recordings that the band itself was very, very loud.
Furthermore, Lou Reed’s lyrics were quite unwholesome, like a Baudelaire sonnet. Some of them were inspired by figures in Andy Warhol’s entourage, with its abundance of drag queens, socialites gone to seed, and people who had turned their lives into one continuous piece of performance art, usually of chemical inspiration. For a while the Velvets were the house band at Warhol’s studio, which was called the Factory. Imagine some Czech bureaucrat -- one eye ever turned, nervously, to Moscow – fuming over that last bit: How dare anyone associate such socially undesirable elements and their hedonistic decadence with anything as glorious and inspiring as a factory!
It must be a fairly common ritual among fans following the news of a musician’s passing: upon hearing that Reed had died, I piled up a selection of CDs next to the stereo and have been listening to them, on and off, ever since. A friend asked me to recommend something by Reed he could listen to while working. Without hesitation I suggested the Velvet Underground live album “1969,” in which once-abrasive songs are rendered in a much smoother but no less energetic manner.
He probably downloaded it, as you do now. The process of finding and assimilating music has changed so radically in recent years that it is unwise to assume that very many readers will now share my experience -- 30 years ago -- of hearing about the Velvets long before hearing their music was even an option.
This was not just a delay but a detour – a matter of reading whatever was available about the group and trying to hear, in the mind’s ear, what they might sound like, based on descriptions of the music. The detour was also literary; the scraps of available information suggested that Reed was interested in certain authors. The VU song “Venus in Furs” takes both subject and title from a work by Sacher-Masoch, for example, while one called “Heroin” almost inevitably inspired references to William S. Burroughs. Reed’s one top-40 hit, “A Walk on the Wild Side,” was named after a Nelson Algren novel. (You’d hear it on the radio every so often without thinking of it as anything more than a jazzy pop tune with a catchy hook -- until the day when you actually paid attention to the lyrics and couldn’t believe the song got on the air.)
Encountering Reed became a drawn-out process of aesthetic education. He served as the guide to a whole counter-canon of the dark sublime. I say that in the past tense but imagine, and hope, that it is still the case -- that “Sister Ray” or “The Blue Mask” will challenge and change the listener’s sense of what counts as music or as a source of pleasure or meaning.
Fifty years ago, Lou Reed himself was a senior at Syracuse University, where he studied with the poet Delmore Schwartz. Reed was 21 – roughly the same age Schwartz had been when he wrote the short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” In it, the narrator revisits the scene of his parents’ courtship in 1909 as if seeing it in a film of the era.
Simply told and strangely beautiful, it is both haunting and haunted. By its close, any hint of sentimentality dissolves in a moment of painful self-awareness. Its appearance in 1937 in the revived Partisan Review was the stuff of legends. The poetry and criticism Schwartz published after that were more than promising, and he won the Bollingen Prize in 1959 (five years after Auden had received it) for a volume of his selected poems.
Beginning in 1962, Schwartz held an appointment in the English department at Syracuse, despite having become, at some point over the previous decade or so, manifestly insane. The distinction between bohemianism and madness is sometimes a matter of context. With Schwartz the case for nuance was long since past. He had fallen into the habit of threatening friends and ex-wives with litigation for their parts in a conspiracy against him, led by the Rockefellers. While living in Greenwich Village he had smashed all the windows in his rented room and been taken to Bellevue in restraints. He died alone in New York City in 1966.
The following year, Reed dedicated a song on the first Velvet Underground album to Schwartz, and in another song from the early 1980s he imagined being able to communicate with the poet via Ouija board. Last year Reed published a tribute to him that has also appeared as the preface to In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, an edition of Schwartz’s selected short fiction.
Reed’s biographers will have plenty to say about his relationship to Schwartz. It was almost certainly a difficult one, since each had a difficult personality. But it would be a mistake, I think, to treat the connection as purely personal.
In his essay from 2012 -- which is a sort of farewell to the poet, and perhaps to us as well -- Reed addresses Schwartz:
“We gathered around you as you read Finnegans Wake. So hilarious but impenetrable without you. You said there were few things better in life than to devote oneself to Joyce. You'd annotated every word in the novels you kept from the library. Every word…. Reading Yeats and the bell had rung but the poem was not over you hadn't finished reading — liquid rivulets sprang from your nose but still you would not stop reading. I was transfixed. I cried.”
What Schwartz transmitted in those moments was not personal experience, nor even knowledge, but access to aesthetic power that the listener might not have had otherwise. And although he was not a teacher, Lou Reed carried on the process of instruction. It gives more than words can say. Like the song says: "Between thought and expression / lies a lifetime."
A new scam is tricking academics into thinking their research has been accepted for publication in a scholarly journal, the American Historical Association warned on Tuesday. Scholars will initially receive an email with "grammatical errors and unprofessional language" with an offer to publish a conference paper, and after submitting one, the scammer will ask the author to pay a "service charge" of several hundred dollars to review, edit and print the piece. The scam is targeting scholars in a "variety of disciplines," the AHA noted.
The renowned columnist P.J. O’Rourke wrote, “There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.”
David Guth should suffer some.
To date his suffering has included six weeks with pay and being allowed to keep a previously approved semesterlong sabbatical, which will begin in January.
Guth is the University of Kansas associate professor of journalism who tweeted on Sept. 16, “Blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you,” in response to the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C.
The journalism ethics educator later compounded his sin by defending the remark -- rather than claiming an off-the-cuff moment of anger, which might have been quickly forgiven and forgotten by most outside of NRA leadership.
By early October more than 100 Kansas faculty and staff members had come out in support of Guth’s First Amendment right to call for the murder of innocent children. Guth was on paid leave from the university while the administration evaluated the situation. While he collected on his $83,000 salary, someone else had to come in and carry his workload.
It took Guth a month and eight days to issue any kind of apology. I suspect the university panel that voted for his return to work may have forced his hand. Regardless, the cruel irony is that Guth’s public regrets were delivered as the families of the latest victims of a school shooting — this time at a Sparks, Nev., middle school — were still making funeral arrangements and praying at their children’s hospital bedsides.
I’ve read all the commentary on how the university should not be involved, that his place of employment is irrelevant, that this is a First Amendment issue.
I disagree on both counts.
Professor Guth’s professional position is of paramount importance here. Words matter, and he knows that well. He's built a career on it.
As a teacher entrusted to educating and training the next generation of journalists, he exercised the poorest of judgment at an already emotionally charged time.
Is Guth's reaction typical? Absolutely. And it's clear how effective that's been on the gun debate. We must demand more of those nurturing members of the Fourth Estate.
If a master of strategic communication can elevate the conversation no further than an I-told-you-so tweet, what exactly are KU communication students learning in their classrooms? I'd question the band for the $125,000 they're paying for four years' tuition.
It sounds great to defend the First Amendment. It isn’t hard to do when you truly agree — at least in theory — with the vitriol. After all, you can remain unsoiled, protecting constitutional virtue while defending these reprehensible murderous visions.
And how many of you jumped to the defense of the Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy when his free speech trampled on the gay rights agenda? Or did you side with Roseanne wishing cancer on all Chick-fil-A customers? I don’t remember a single commentator defending the virtue of both parties speaking their piece.
Those who preach tolerance the loudest really only practice tolerance when it fits their own agendas.
As a Connecticut resident, the shooting at Sandy Hook opened my eyes to both sides of the gun control debate in a way nothing had ever done. Writing this, I still think about the uncertainty of those first few hours. My own children were in an elementary school just 20 miles away ... were they safe? I felt paralyzed with fear.
It doesn’t surprise me that Connecticut officials quickly moved to pass some of the most restrictive gun legislation in history. It also doesn’t surprise me that gun sales in Newtown and the rest of Connecticut rose astronomically immediately after the shooting. Similar spikes were seen after high-profile shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Tucson, Arizona.
Wishing for peace while at the same time arming yourself for possible danger seems a natural human reaction.
What Guth fails to acknowledge is that it’s easy to be a zealot when dealing with ideas in the abstract. But Americans no longer have that luxury. Innocents are dying by gunfire every minute — across this country, among every age group and demographic.
If anything, Sandy Hook made me, a strict gun control advocate, question my anti-gun stance for the first time in a serious way.
Two days after the Sandy Hook shooting, an off-duty deputy sheriff took down a gunman at a San Antonio, Texas movie theater. The shooter wounded two before being shot. The national news media, still offering wall-to-wall coverage of Sandy Hook, largely ignored the story. Would San Antonio — or the country — be better off, had the off-duty officer not had the gun?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know we need to have a serious, rational conversation about the matter rather than listening to hateful sound bites in the national news or posting angry retorts on social media every time we read or hear something with which we disagree.
Guth knows that shooting down any opposition with hate speech isn’t the role of a journalist. And it's definitely not the role of a journalism educator.
Elizabeth Barfoot Christian is an assistant professor of communication at the University of New Haven and editor of Rock Brands: Selling Sound in a Media Saturated Culture (Lexington, 2011).
A University of Wisconsin at Superior professor has voluntarily resigned, after reports surfaced this summer that he pleaded guilty and served prison time for attempted sexual abuse in another state more than 20 years ago, when he was a high school teacher. Matthew Faerber, a tenured professors of vocal music, was placed on paid leave in August after a newspaper in Utah, where he used to live, published a report detailing his past criminal record, involving two 13-year old students. The university announced that he voluntarily resigned, after a lengthy investigation into Faerber’s record, Northland’s News Center reported.
Faerber was hired by Superior in 1998, but the University of Wisconsin System did not introduce mandatory background checks for all employees until 2007.
Chancellor Renee Wachter said in a statement that Faerber -- whose status changed to unpaid leave earlier this month -- resigned "under terms of a separation agreement. We believe that this is a fair and reasonable resolution to a difficult situation, which serves the best interests of students and the entire UW-Superior community."
Faerber could not immediately be reached for comment.
Campus Equity Week -- organized by the New Faculty Majority to draw attention to the conditions of faculty members off the tenure track -- kicks off today. On different campuses there will be lectures, rallies and teach-ins. A list of events may be found here.
But the group that represents FARs in all divisions, the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association, wants Division I to stay intact. In a position statement obtained by Inside Higher Ed, the FARA Executive Committee argues that Division I institutions are committed to a group of core academic and athletic values and primarily compete against each other, so retaining the current division would be "the most practical option."
The FARA also wants the Division I Board of Directors to comprise a "small group" of university presidents (as it does currently) and CEOs "looking to position intercollegiate athletics through the changing and challenging landscape of American society." The group would not make policy but would set an overarching agenda and oversee NCAA leadership at lower levels. FARs, athletic directors, coaches, athletes and other stakeholders would have a say in policy development, and would be entitled to seats on the various boards, councils and committees that make rules.
Edinboro University announced Friday that it will eliminate the jobs of more than 30 faculty members, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Like other members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Edinboro is facing tight budgets. The university said that six positions would be from the tenured or tenure-track faculty members. The remaining 25.8 full-time equivalent faculty cuts will be from those off the tenure track.