Spotlight: UI professor teaches rock and roll

BY RYAN MURPHY | MARCH 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Steven Horowitz is a rock and roll man.

The University of Iowa American studies professor sees live music on a weekly basis, owns more than 8,000 CDs and 7,000 records, writes music reviews for such websites as PopMatters, and has taught the online American Popular Music: Rock and Roll class at the UI for, as he said, “a zillion years.”

Horowitz said he will listen to and enjoy almost any genre of music, with one major exception: contemporary country.

“When I hear Lady Antebellum, I want to puke,” he said. “What comes out of Nashville today sounds like what the Eagles did in 1975, and I hated the Eagles then, and I still hate them.”

As for his class, which is online, all of its spots are typically filled. Thirty-six out of a possible 37 students are currently enrolled.

UI senior Abby Prescott, one of Horowitz’s students, said the class helps her to understand the history of music.

“I like knowing where things come from, or began, so knowing about the roots of rock and roll has been a fun experience,” she said.

Senior Heather Gragg said she likes the multifaceted perspective the course takes.

“We learn about musical artists of each era, different types of music, and the cultural context of rock and roll,” she said.

Horowitz earned a Ph.D. from the UI in 1986, and he did his dissertation on Paul Goodman.

Following the lead of Goodman, Horowitz believes in the neofunctionalist theory, which he explained as “just because something has a function doesn’t mean that function is positive.”

He then connected his dissertation to his passion of music.

“You can listen to a CD at home, but you are better off at a live show,” he said. “Even if the person behind you is talking, the person in front of you is coughing, even if the group maybe is not on key, but you get the whole live experience, you get human interaction, and that’s what important.”

To get that live experience, he goes at least once a week.

In addition to teaching about and attending rock and roll concerts, Horowitz writes about music for websites such as PopMatters. In this capacity, he’s able to not only attend shows, but interview musical artists as well.

Horowitz said he loves musical journalism.

“Doing that stuff allows you to reflect on the music, and forces you to think about it,” he said. “If the music affects you in a certain way, you are able to tell the artist about it.”

He highlighted an interview with Geddy Lee — best known as the lead singer for Rush — as one of his best interviews.

“Most people think he’s an idiot, but he was so damn smart,” Horowitz said. “He was asking me questions about science fiction, and that’s all he wanted to talk about.”

Horowitz sees the academic field of rock and roll as evolving, and he looks to film studies as an example to follow.

“The way film study has developed is the way rock is going to develop,” he said. “First, it was just a course, and now there are whole departments about film studies.

“My hope is rock and roll will go in the same direction.”

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