It's only rock 'n' roll, but I like it.

In 1975 (a mere 37 years ago, but who’s counting), I was an undergraduate in the UT School of Communications, which had recently relocated to a monolithic rust-colored building at the corner of 26th and Guadalupe, where it remains today.  And considering the education I received there, rust is a particularly appropriate color choice.

At the time, though, we considered ourselves fortunate to be able to take a lab class in a real, live TV studio with cameras, lights, and an editing console.  It was a small but rough approximation of what was out there in the Land of Real Jobs–a quasi-mythical place few of us would ever encounter.

We were so excited back then, twiddling our little controls!  Superimposing our little captions!  By the standards of sound/image editing technology available today to your average enterprising 11-year old with a digital video camera and some decent software, we may as well have been smearing ourselves with dung and howling at the moon.

I should also mention that I took a Computer Science class at UT as well, because I had an ‘eye to the future’.  At that time, the computer language being taught at this very expensive, state-of-the-art university was…(wait for it)…

Yes.  (ANS) COBOL.  Stand back Future!  Here we come!  Hold on…is the moon full tonight?  <ARROOOOOOOOOOOO>

Not to worry.  I don’t recall a keystroke.  But it strikes me as humorous that virtually nothing I learned in my first foray into academia can be translated into anything useful in today’s job market.  I’m guessing this realization would not appear so humorous to my parents, who were footing the bill.

We used to say, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”  Little did we know we were talking about ourselves and our antiquated job skills.

But fortunately, popular music is just the opposite.  The core structures that give it value, strength, and integrity are approaching 100 years old and still going strong.  Of course, if you were born after 1975, YMMV.  (And if you don’t know what that stands for, consider yourself lucky.)

I was reading a ‘book’–I know, a quaint notion these days, and this one was even made from real paper!–written (more likely dictated) by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.  Mostly rubbish, of course, but one thing did come through for me:  Keith’s lifelong devotion to folks like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley.  Of course, all the lads had that in the beginning, but Keith never strayed.  Several times he huffs derisively about Mick coming into the studio in the 1980’s, wanting to put something new into the mix that he “heard last night in the disco”.  You can almost hear the rattling of gnashing teeth in his skeletal jawbone.

IMHO (again, consider yourself lucky), the reason the Stones still sell out stadiums 50 years on–besides the grim fascination with seeing rock performed by people whose hearts, by any reasonable measure, should have stopped beating long, long ago–is because audiences still respond on a visceral level to chunky guitars playing I-IV-V-I.  And ever they shall, because every shred of studio trickery invented since is auditory candy floss.

As for me–my career has not been based on anything so contemporary as Muddy Waters.  I’m playing tunes that are close to 100 years old now.  And people hear it, and dig it, and even dance to it.  This is music that never relied on mixing and overdubbing to make its point.  Even by the primitive recording standards enjoyed by the Rolling Stones in the 1960’s, it was hopelessly antiquated.  Charlie Parker started his career recording on 78-rpm vinyl, and never made a stereo recording.  Somehow, he still managed to invent modern jazz.

This is not intended in any way to denigrate the importance of a college education, which is a ‘must’ in today’s job market.  But it’s just a reminder that there are some things in the past that still resonate today, and resonate loudly enough to provide a career for Keith Richards and numerous others…all the way down to little old me.

Of course, YMMV.

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