My "regular job" has little about it is sufficiently regular to earn
that description. I work alongside Steven Van Zandt, best known as
guitarist in the E Street Band, for his role in The Sopranos,and for his
widely syndicated rock and roll radio show, Underground Garage.
I met Steven several years back, when I was working for the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. While at the Museum, I conducted
a number of artist interviews, with folks ranging from Hal Blaine and
Robbie Robertson to Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Plant, Grandmaster
Flash, Cowboy Jack Clement, Lou Adler, Mick Jones (from the Clash, not
Foreigner, for those who care), Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers,
Elvis Costello, Isaac Hayes, Paul Westerberg, and many more. These
conversations were among the job's greatest features. I learned an
enormous amount from the people with whom I was speaking.
One such interview was with Little Steven.
What struck me about Steven was both his deep knowledge of rock and
roll history and his absolute and unbridled affection for it. I talk with a lot of
folks who love the music. Steven, however, would kill for it. This may be
one reason he got the role in The Sopranos.
That interview inspired me and forged something of a connection between
us. Several months later, Steven contacted me about a project he was
planning. Short form: soon after that, I was no longer working for the
Museum but was working for Steven's Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.
The project Steven described, which would be the Foundation's first major
initiative, was a history of rock and roll curriculum for middle and high
school students. Steven recognized that in the age of No Child Left Behind and
its focus on testing, the arts programs in our schools face brutal cutbacks.
The end result? Students who grow and prosper through arts education,
who do their best learning in that context, are often the ones who are truly
left behind. When we cut arts education, we abandon our own.
They pay first, we pay later.
What Steven also recognized was that music didn't need to live in music
departments alone. Music culture is experienced on many levels—as
a visual culture, as a social and political culture, as a literary culture, a
fashion culture, a cinematic culture. Rather than try to save the study of
music by trying to save the music programs that are so much under threat,
Steven's idea was to bring the study of music into a range of disciplines,
to take music into the many areas in which, really, it already lives. In
social studies, language arts, in media studies, film studies, and beyond:
to explore the music in relation to its full cultural dimensions,
that was his aim.
Needless to say, I thought this was among the best ideas I'd heard in a
while. And we're now at work preparing to bring a history of rock and roll
curriculum into the schools.
In addition to my work with the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, I am
also at work on a book project that is still under wraps but soon to be
announced. Stay tuned—it's something that I'm very excited about.
Copyright 2011 Warren Zanes. All rights reserved.