Rock Music and Society: It’s Only Rock-‘n’-Roll, But Students Still Like It

Victor Boris teaching the popular Rock Music and Society class

At first blush, most people wouldn’t consider a class about rock music very intellectually stimulating, but Susquehanna students who take Rock Music and Society would beg to differ.

“It changed everything, almost as much as World War II did a generation beforehand,” says creative writing major T.J. Heffers ’12, speaking about the genre.

Rock Music and Society examines how society has influenced rock music and, in turn, how rock music has influenced society. Victor Boris, the adjunct faculty member who currently teaches the course, says the class studies music in relation to “attitudes, trends and problems in the growth—or decline, in some cases— of America and portions of Europe.”

For students like Heffers, who generally listen to 1960s and ’70s rock, the class provides a historical and cultural context for the music they love. And for those students not so well versed in it, the class exposes them to new music. Victor Boris teaching the popular Rock Music and Society class.

For instance, Megan Kingsborough ’13, an international studies and Spanish major, says she was “never really an acidrock kind of gal.”

“But,” she says, “it’s not that bad, actually. I have learned to like more kinds of music.”

Students study performers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Frank Zappa. Boris ranks these artists among some of the most profound musicians in modern history. “Each had their own style,” he says.

However, the course doesn’t study their music from a technical standpoint; it focuses instead on a historical perspective, exploring structure and messages in songs from the 1950s to 1990s in the pop, rock and blues genres. Historically, it covers the civil rights, women’s and hippie movements, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War, and the threat of nuclear destruction.

“It makes so much more sense when you study a song in the context of history, just like one would a book,” Kingsborough says. “One couldn’t fully understand Animal Farm without comprehending totalitarianism, just like one couldn’t understand Revolution without understanding John Lennon’s views on Vietnam and the social protests.”

Boris emphasizes that Rock Music and Society is just as much about its second component—society—as it is about its first. “I feel that students who take this class should be interested not only in the ‘oldies’ that we still hear in malls and restaurants today, but they should be made aware of the recent history that made the world what it is today.”

Contributing writers to The ‘Grove section are Audrey Carroll ‘12 and Megan McDermott ‘14.


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