Sorry I haven’t had much to say of late, but I’ve been doing a lot of grading of late, and really didn’t have much to add to our ongoing conversation. But I’m here, and away we go.
As part of an afternoon of professional development last week, I found myself in a session on collaborative learning that took the form of an English folk dance workshop. I suspect I might have found it interesting in the abstract — after all, dance was certainly part of medieval popular culture — but alas, we were all expected to participate. I’m ungainly enough under ideal circumstances, but I’ve had another flare-up in my knee lately, and I was accordingly diminished even from my already low skill level. Add to this the fact that the activity gave me flashbacks to the horror of 4th-6th grade phys. ed., and the fact that I was expected to duck and move through the arches of the raised arms of people far smaller than I am, and you can see where this was something other than the high point of even my relatively undistinguished academic career. All told, though, it was pretty harmless, and certainly better than another discussion of “program learning outcomes”.
We have to do all this stuff a couple of times a year, as part of our ongoing “assessment process,” which is a mandate imposed upon us by our accreditors. Presumably, this bureaucratic bilge allows us to demonstrate that we are actually teaching stuff to the kids who come our way. Personally, I’d simply prefer to assure everyone that I don’t just bring the kids into my classroom, cut the lights, and make them nap (which they’d probably prefer, given that half my classes meet at 8 a.m.), but I guess that no longer suffices.
Of course, the question arises: Does any of this do a damn bit of good? I have my doubts, and I’m not alone. I’d really much rather read another book.
Speaking of reading, I’ve found myself delving into some classic SF over the past couple of weeks, reading Heinlein’s Future History and various installments of the Greenberg/Asimov Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories anthologies from DAW. The two books I’ve found on the shelves cover 1947 and ’48, and include such writers as Sturgeon, William Tenn, John D. MacDonald, T.L. Sherred, and Henry Kuttner. Some of the stories hold up less well than I remember, but the good stuff remains really good.
I’ve often attributed some of the more libertarian aspect of my worldview to my reading of Heinlein, but as I read a bit over the last couple of days, I’ve wondered if some of it may come from my reading of old SF in general. A lot of these stories (particularly in these two post-WWII collections) are cautionary tales, with particular regard to the Law of Unexpected Consequences and the corollary problems with Big Ideas and those who would impose same. In particular, I read Sherred’s “E for Effort” and Jack Williamson’s gorgeously bleak “With Folded Hands” last night. I recommend both to people who still believe in man-made utopias. (William Tenn‘s “Brooklyn Project”, though a bit cliched now, also handles its idea with great dexterity.)
Another favorite of mine from the 1948 collection is “Dreams are Sacred!“, by Peter Phillips, which Bugs Bunny fans may find reminiscent of a particular Bugs-vs.-Elmer cartoon. I may have to chase a few more of these collections down; they’re a good time.
And speaking of stories, Eryk Pruitt was foolish enough to invite me back to Durham, NC on 3 May, for another installment of the Noir at the Bar series. I’ll give more details as I have them, and I’d love to see you there!
I was saddened this afternoon to learn that Tom Rapp, of psychedelic folkists Pearls Before Swine, succumbed to cancer two weeks ago. He was 70. He was a well-read songwriter, and the only constant of Pearls, which put out four albums in the late 60s and early 70s. His lyrics would draw from Sara Teasdale and Roman epitaphs among other sources, sometimes in the same song. After putting out some solo albums, Rapp left the music business and went to law school, eventually practicing civil rights law for a number of years. He made a return to performance in the late 90s, and released another solo album in 1997.
His lyrics were often surreal, but were also quite capable of being topical and biting — listen to “Uncle John“, an anti-Vietnam War track, if you need evidence of the latter. The first two albums, released on the legendarily weird ESP-Disk label, are regulars in my musical rotation, and to my mind may rank among the best of the psychedelic era. Interestingly, his song “Rocket Man” (based on a Ray Bradbury story and released on 1970’s The Use of Ashes LP) is said to have inspired Bernie Taupin in a well known collaboration with Pinner’s finest. I actually prefer the Rapp composition.
Rapp also had an agile mind and sense of humor. From the NYT obit:
Mr. Rapp once told the story of being on the bill at a Philadelphia concert sandwiched between two other acts. He was told that because of a scheduling blunder he would have only one minute to play. The promoter said he could collect his pay and simply leave, but Mr. Rapp claimed his 60 seconds.
“I said, ‘I can do a one-minute show, and I can get a standing ovation,’ ” he recalled in the 1987 interview. He took the stage and played nothing, instead simply saying, “Would you please stand up and applaud if you think he’s guilty?”
It was 1974, when President Richard M. Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate investigation.
I’ll close with the opening track from Use of Ashes, a track called “The Jeweler.” It always moves me. So long, Mr. Rapp, and thanks for the music.
See you soon.