School of Rock: An Interview with Scott Walton

In the words of Neil Young, rock and roll can never die. But to find out how it was born, look no further than MUS-40060: History of Rock Music. Take a journey through the colorful and diverse history of America’s most defining and universal art form, examining both how society has shaped the genre throughout the years and how rock music has shaped society. Geared toward musicians and non-musicians alike, History of Rock Music encourages students to make valuable connections between rock music and their own identities.

We checked in with UC San Diego professor Scott Walton to discuss the course, the art of rebellion, and the ways in which rock and roll continues to impact our daily lives.

Q: What was it that drew you to teaching about the history of rock music?

Scott: In high school I was in several rock and blues bands and was completely absorbed with that music. So I’ve always had an interest, and as an educator, teaching rock history is not only a wonderfully engaging topic, but it’s also easy to connect musical developments with socio-political trends.

Q: How will History of Rock Music use the online medium to complement its subject matter?

Scott: Online teaching platforms such as Blackboard provide wonderful tools for sharing and collaboration. In an online setting, students are often more comfortable expressing opinions and engaging in in-depth conversations with their classmates, compared to a large, face-to-face lecture classroom setting. The lecture notes are PDF-based, and once students download the files from our course Blackboard website, they’ll have a useful resource rich with images, links to various websites, and streaming links to audio and video clips.

Q: Rebellion is a key theme of your course. How has rebellion manifested itself in rock and roll throughout the years?

Scott: Almost all popular music in the U.S. over the past century has served as a site for social or political resistance at some point. Early blues musicians were pushing back at Jim Crow, jazz musicians in the ‘30s were instrumental in desegregating the entertainment industry, and when rock emerged in the 1950s it was resisting the comfortable Eisenhower-era notions of American life. Everything opened up in the ‘60s with rock and soul musicians playing central roles in the civil rights movement, antiwar protests, and the sexual revolution. Activists viewed music as one of the most important emblems of their resistance to mainstream society.

Q: Do you think rock still has the power to affect social and political change?

Scott: I believe it does. One only has to look at the role musicians and actors played in the last presidential election, supporting presidential candidates and helping to get out the vote. Having Bruce Springsteen perform at a political rally gets a whole lot more people out to hear a message!

Q: The phrase “rock is dead” gets tossed around a lot. Do you agree with it?

Scott: People also say that jazz is dead. You can only make a statement like that if you think way too much, and listen way too little.  :-)

Discover the musical, historical, and cultural context of this 20th century American art form and how it’s shifted our political and social attitudes as a nation over the decades in this engaging online course starting January 14th. Make sure to enroll on or before December 10th to receive a $25 discount off of the registration fee.

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