talk about yer lame pro-sems
i did a guest shot yesterday in our proseminar for first-year grad students. fun group. as it happens, i just finished writing a chapter with heather hlavka, called no more lame pro-sems, in which we offer 15 theses to reinvigorate professionalization seminars for graduate students.
of course, i completely ignored every single one of those theses when i was a presenter rather than an organizer. instead, i just tried to connect, reverting at times to stream of consciousness and free association. for example, when students sensibly suggested ergonomic improvements to our data center workstations, i mentioned how i'd just learned that a student's left arm went numb after too many hours at the keyboard and how the department must remedy the situation.
since this student also happened to be a fine guitar player, his story reminded me of an ancient spinal-tap-meets-sid-and-nancy tale about one of my favorite guitarists. the story made absolutely no sense in the context of a proseminar on professional development, but there it was.
see, tommy bolin had more talent in his li'l pinky than...well, all our l'il pinkies put together. that's why he's in the guitar pantheon and we still pound away with two fingers and a cloud of dust. i always thought that most guitarists just played too hard, but tommy bolin seemed to play with a li'l sensitivity or touch as well as speed and attack. unfortunately, the young man who was pursued so ardently by billy cobham, deep purple, jeff beck, and the james gang sounds absolutely terrible on certain iconic live recordings. here's the story, according to the more-or-less official tommy bolin archives:
Tommy, who usually snorted heroin and was afraid of needles, had begun occasionally injecting the drug and did so in Jakarta. This resulted in some temporary damage to his arm, a numbness that would affect his upcoming performances in Japan. This was especially unfortunate because Deep Purple’s Japanese record company was insisting on a live album, and the group’s first chance to highlight the group’s live abilities to record buyers was to a large extent blown with the release of Last Concert In Japan.
predictably, the talented mr. bolin was dead within the year. you can still find youtube audio from his seventies-era rawkers and ballads, mostly substance-themed cries for help. and you can still buy a tribute guitar that features his playful visage.
i'd have to squint pretty hard to find any lesson for grad students or prosem instructors in that story, but i guess it does support my assertions about attending to the emotions of one's worklife. and, of course, attending to the ergonomics of the data center. i'd hate to see students plodding through the sociological equivalent of last concert in japan.