Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rock 'n' Roll High School

Here is a story that ran on Sunday. What a great idea. I mean, I've said it before, "If anything is going to save the planet it's rock and Roll." That photo is Steven with my kids and me. For those of you who don't know, Mr. Van Zandt a.k.a. "Little Steven" is one of Bruce Springsteen's guitarists in The E Street Band. By the way, he's a really nice guy. I for one would love to teach this curriculum. Go Stevie!

November 11, 2007

Van Zandt rolls out plan for rock in schools
By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Steven Van Zandt says rock 'n' roll saved his life. Now he wants to return the favor.

The E Street Band guitarist and Sopranos star began sowing the seeds five years ago with the launch of Little Steven's Underground Garage, an internationally broadcast weekly radio show that celebrates his favorite genre — garage rock, a sound that evokes images of teens practicing in somebody's parents' suburban garage.

Last year, he created the non-profit Rock and Roll Forever Foundation as a vehicle to preserve the music that so shaped his life.

Monday, he will unveil the foundation's first project: a middle- and high-school curriculum designed to introduce a new generation of teens to the music. He planned to make the announcement in the nation's capital, where he is playing two concerts with Bruce Springsteen and the other E Streeters.

Anyone attending the sold-out Springsteen shows might question the notion that rock 'n' roll is endangered. And never mind that The Sopranos skillfully wove rock music into its story line, right down to the last moments of the final episode.

But in a backstage interview before Sunday's show and in an earlier phone interview, Van Zandt said "traditional, straight-ahead rock 'n' roll" doesn't get the airplay or attention it did when he was coming of age in the 1960s.

"If the Rolling Stones came out today, there's nobody that would play them," except perhaps his own radio program.

Van Zandt, 56, says rock 'n' roll is "not informing the culture on an hourly basis as it did when we grew up. It just doesn't resonate with the same degree of depth." And, he says, "It's not so easy to hear new rock 'n' roll on a regular basis."

That's where Little Steven's Rock and Roll High School fits in. The project, being created in partnership with education publisher Scholastic's InSchool division, is still in development.

The plan is to distribute a 40-chapter curriculum, including teachers' guide, lesson plans, DVDs, CDs and Web-based resources, free, beginning with the 2008-09 academic year, to the nation's 30,000 or so middle and high schools.

With this effort, Van Zandt joins a long line of artists who are rallying to keep music education from falling through the cracks, a victim of school budget cuts and the national focus on math and reading. Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones and John Mayer, for example, in recent years have promoted efforts to put musical instruments into the hands of schoolchildren.

Van Zandt strikes a different note. He wants to explore the cultural and historic impact of rock, beginning with pioneers such as Little Richard and Elvis Presley, through soul music, early girl groups, the British invasion, the psychedelic period and ending with today's newer groups.

"We're trying to reach everybody, whether a musician, a rock 'n' roll fan or not. We're going to make a case that this art form is so interesting that you will be absolutely compelled to listen to it, and maybe even learn how to play it."

Van Zandt says he borrowed his title from the Ramones' 1979 movie Rock 'n' Roll High School, in part because "it suggests the eternal teenager in all of us."

Some might wonder whether teachers and principals will welcome a course that takes its name from a film in which a punk rock group blows up a high school. But it is endorsed by the National Association for Music Education, a non-profit whose 130,000 members include teachers, college faculty and researchers. Under a federal grant, the group developed national standards for music.

And he is working with Scholastic to ensure course materials meet national education standards, so it could be used not only in music classes but also for humanities or social studies courses.

Van Zandt "is committed to not only making this something that kids will be excited about but also making it something that teachers and administrators can get behind," says Ann Amstutz Hayes, a Scholastic vice president.

Van Zandt will create and edit the content, and he plans to ask rock journalists and musicians to contribute. A quick peek at topics he expects to address:

•Rock as social commentary. The lesson might begin with Woody Guthrie, include The Beatles' Taxman and Revolution, Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers, and today's hip-hop.

•Rock's influences. A discussion of Procol Harum, say, and The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man will lead to an exploration of works by Johann Sebastian Bach.

• Rock as "the great equalizer." Van Zandt says it is perhaps the only art form where races, classes and genders find common ground. "It's going to be a liberating thing for black kids to know they invented rock 'n' roll."

And, he says, "Only sports really equals it in terms of the empowerment of the typical blue-collar, working-class kid."

That was certainly the case for Van Zandt, who says he barely graduated high school. "Coming from the suburbs of New Jersey and getting famous seemed very much like an impossible dream" to him and his bandmates, he says. "And

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Blogger Jon Hall said...

So the burning question is... did you get his autograph on your E-Street Band album???!!!

5:05 PM  

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