Country Music, Music and Language

Jun 2008

Linguist, musicologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and aesthete, Aaron Fox is a modern-day cross between Imhotep, Douglas Hofstadter, and your fun uncle who never grew up, never got a real job, and is far more stimulating than the remainder of your relatives for it. Aaron's knowledge base is capacious and ecumenical - he oftentimes seems like a throwback to the days when it was possible to know everything - and both classes I took with him were relentlessly interdisciplinary, touching on topics as variegated as poetics in Baptist bars, Jakobson's six functions of communication, and the adaption of country music to Alaskan Inuits. Aaron's classes are always laden with misnomers: for example, we read articles about music and language in Country Music, and Aaron's treatise on country music in Music and Language. In general, anything Aaron teaches isn't so much about the topic at hand as it is about stuff Aaron knows about the topic, stuff Aaron could free-associate off of this knowledge, stuff Aaron could free-associate off the free-associations, and so on. The first ten minutes of the first class of Country Music were a pretty reliable microcosm of Aaron's teaching style: one tangent follows another, each more fascinating and just as relevant to the topic at hand as the last. Everything Aaron says is interesting. This is the brilliance of his teaching style: it's not just the broad base of knowledge, but the connections between thereof, that makes a genius, and to sit in lecture for an hour and fifteen minutes twice a week to watch his mind work in unbounded creativity is endlessly stimulating and inspiring. Accordingly, the workload comprises one paper (really as long as you want, and on whatever topic you want.) Some of my classmates wrote about Tim McGraw, irony, and self-reflexivity in modern commercial country; I wrote about country music tropes and picaresque detective fiction in Coen brothers movies. Whatever you choose as your topic, Aaron is always free for consultation. A welcome change from the nanny state of most classes, Aaron's pedagogy is all about self-motivation, self-determination, and creativity - essentially a grad-level class in undergraduate dress. Some will find the infinitude of choices to be baffling, but I loved it, and the first and second paper I've truly been proud of were legacies enough for what I thought was an awesome educational experience. Categorically recommended.