I showed the rest of Jimi Hendrix: Electric church, a documentary, to my “American Civilization Since 1865” students who are interested in exploring the limitations and possibilities of postwar prosperity with the experiences of Hendrix, a guitarist who just happened to be African American, in mind. After class, I walked with a student who plans to tackle this matter on the Final Exam.
It is rare to talk to students in this course. When I talk to some, it’s often a pleasure as they mostly interact with teaching assistants. In this case, I learned about how this student feels about tests (he has no use for them). We had an interesting discussion concerning how some of the best ways to evaluate learning involve simply talking to one another.
It was so refreshing to speak to him. Here was someone who just wanted to walk and talk. And listen. Yes, he listened.
Along the way, he asked if he could check out the Hendrix documentary in my hand.
I replied, “I can return it now.”
He followed me to the library and we kept talking. Earlier, as we walked, he got to hear my husband’s experiences as a young man (he’d seen Hendrix opening for the Monkees in the late sixties in Greensboro, NC). My husband even told him about the day Ronald Reagan won and how his father handed him a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
I noticed how the three of us talked about race, class and even generational conflict. No speaking past one another. Three people from three very different backgrounds just rapping, trying to hear, maybe understand one another. Or maybe we just tried to hear.
I wonder what his final paper will look like. Will he engage Hendrix’ performance of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which I also presented in class? My husband shared how it is a song that either pays homage to or desecrates a song that has been in the news a lot lately.
Before we finished the Hendrix documentary, I also showed the class Jennifer Hudson singing the Star Spangled Banner…
…and a performance of this song at the 1971 Wattstax festival, which itself paid homage to the 1965 riots in Watts. See it (and the indifference in the crowd) about 10:50 minutes in in the below clip:
All of the clips just posted unveil how music has had an impact on society. It has been a way for so many people, including young people attending outdoor festivals, to sort through many things. Yesterday, Kanye West’s “Sunday Service” at Coachella trended on Twitter.
How much of the sorting involves listening? Being still? Hearing? I suspect not much. When it happens, I am grateful. As grateful as I was today with my student (and another who is part of my “Front Row Club.” This is the name I give to students who are present in class and present in ways so few are. They sit on the “front row” of difficult conversations. They do not skirt difficult issues. You can hear them thinking. You can see them being still. You can see them carefully being curious. I am lucky to know them).