Saturday, August 8, 2015

Rockin' in the Scholarly World

I'm so excited,
And I just can't hide it.

The Pointer Sisters' 1980s hit song expresses well how I'm feeling these days about, of all things, my scholarship.

As a university professor, I'm evaluated annually on my performance in teaching, service, scholarship, and, because I teach at a faith-based institution, the integration of faith and learning. Of these four areas, scholarship is the one that many faculty at my university worry about the most--especially because we teach four classes per semester. With that kind of teaching load and the expectations for committee work, other service, and active participation in a faith community, it can be tough to find time for the sustained intellectual and writing discipline required to produce journal articles and the occasional book.

Personally, in order to amass the proper number of presentations, articles, and books (whatever that is; no one is ever able to give you a number) to be granted tenure, I chose to specialize. As a result, virtually every presentation and writing project I've undertaken for the last six years has been about a very narrow field of inquiry, specifically the rhetoric and style of C. S. Lewis's prose works.

While specialization has its rewards--it's a good feeling to study one area so deeply that you attain some level of expertise--it also has its downsides. It can seem repetitive after awhile, and you begin to feel like a one trick pony. Whenever I tell Janet about my latest project, for example, she sighs and asks "Are you ever going to write about an author other than C. S. Lewis?"

And this brings me to the reason for my excitement: I'm finally going to write about someone else!

But it gets better.

I get to write about two of my longtime favorite rock stars: Neil Young and Jackson Browne.

If I were to name my all-time favorite singer-songwriters in trinitarian terms, it would look like this:

Bob Dylan (Father)
Neil Young (Son)
Jackson Browne (Holy Ghost)

Truth be told, on some days I could replace Browne with John Prine or perhaps Emmylou (though more for her singing than her songwriting).

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when the opportunity came along to write an academic article about two of my musical heroes.

It happened like this: I was scrolling through postings on a Christianity and Literature list serve when I came across one from a prof who was proposing to edit a volume on Rock and Romanticism. By Romanticism he meant the literary, artistic, philosophical movement in the early nineteenth century. The idea was to explore connections between Rock and Roll artists and the spirit of romanticism.

I immediately began to think about the British Romantic poets--Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats--I teach in my British literature class and how I've noticed echoes from their work in the lyrics of some of my favorite singer-songwriters from the 1960s an 1970s. Because I assumed Dylan would be an obvious choice, I opted for Young and Browne. I sent the prof a proposal for a chapter, and it was accepted.

My tentative title is "I Wandered Lonely as a Rock Star: Neil Young and Jackson Browne as Romantic Lyricists."

This is pretty much a dream writing project for me. I get to research and write about two singer-songwriters whose music got me through high school and college in one piece and whose works I've continued to enjoy over the years. I've also seen both artists in concert multiple times.

And it counts as scholarship!

I've been doing preliminary reading--Neil Young's autobiography and a book on Browne, Cat Stevens, and James Taylor--and I'm feeling a little guilty. Should scholarship really be this much fun?

Because I'm stepping out of my scholarship comfort zone, it feels like--well, the Pointer Sisters say it best:

I'm about to lose control,
And I think I like it. I like it.