My first idea was to compile a brief and brisk user’s guide to recent rock memoirs, a sort of Consumer Reports of the best and the worst, perhaps grading them with an A minus or a C plus, the way Robert Christgau used to do with his surveys of pop records in the once-influential Village Voice. So I started with Keith Richards’s Life, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, and John Fogerty’s Fortunate Son before realizing that this whimsical vacation in reading was likely to turn into an unfinishable slog. Even as I read Keith’s (A), Bob’s (A plus), and John’s (C minus) revelatory or not-so-revelatory accounts of the rock ’n’ roll life, more kept issuing from the presses. Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), Viv Albertine (the Slits), Donald Fagan (Steely Dan), Steve Katz (Blood, Sweat and Tears), Greg Allman (the Allman Brothers Band), Peter Hook (New Order), Bernard Summer (New Order), Brian Wilson (the Beach Boys), Mike Love (the Beach Boys), Nile Rodgers (Chic), Richard Hell (Television, the Voidoids), Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses), and the drummer from David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars band (Woody Woodmansey): all have had their say, and that’s not even to mention continuing contributions to the genre by such heavy hitters as Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, Chrissie Hynde, Peter Townshend, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, and Morrissey. Where would I ever find the time to read all of these musicians’ books if I was ever going to read anything else? Or listen to their records? Or vacuum my living room? And then I read Petal Pusher by Laurie Lindeen and decided: the others can wait. More… “It’s the Drummer That Matters”

Stephen Akey is the author of two memoirs, College and Library, and of essays in The New Republic, Open Letters Monthly, and The Millions.
Higher education's (post-)punk moment isn't the end.

Higher education has been making the headlines a lot lately, but not because praise is being heaped upon it for the value it is bringing to the current generation of millennial students. Rather, headlines are loudly proclaiming that higher education is in danger, dying, or already dead. Take, for example, the cover of the September 2014 issue of The Atlantic, which reads “Is College Doomed?” and features a wrecking ball smashing the traditional paraphernalia of academia — textbooks, notebooks, pencils, cap and tassel, and, tellingly, a football. This question, “is college dead?” is certainly a hyperbolic one that has become pervasive in the media, but it should not be all that surprising to many academics. Higher education has been in a “crisis moment” for years now, especially in light of the emergence of nontraditional forms of education that challenge some of academia’s foundational assumptions. The rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and certain for-profit alternatives like Minerva (the upstart education company at the center of The Atlantic article) have shaken those foundations and, if we are to believe these headlines, will soon send faculty and administrators scurrying away from a crumbling ivory tower. It seems that all one needs to reap the equivalent rewards of a college education are access to technology and an entrepreneurial spirit.
More… “Minor Threat”

Kevin Egan is the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry in the Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University.
Grant Hart is a songwriter and musician best known as a former member of the 80s hardcore punk band Hüsker Dü. Hart’s most recent album The Argument is an extended musical reworking of John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost.

This interview was conducted by students in the Honors course “Writing About Rock Music” at Drexel University with guidance from Smart Set editor Richard Abowitz. The conversation was constantly interrupted with laughter spurred by Hart’s infectious humor and sharp wit.

TSS: So I read that when you were growing up, you liked more of the 50s and 60s music…

GH: Well I considered what my peers were listening to and I thought, “God if these people are listening to this stuff, this stuff has to be stupid.” I was making an association that was false and there was a lot of stuff I had to go back and learn to appreciate, things that I skipped over before. Early 50s, the people that came from, let’s say poverty, and were exploited as songwriters but could make a hit record without any instrumentation short of their vocal sounds — that was really intriguing to me.
More… “Change of Hart”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.
Billy Idol with Confederate flag guitar, 1983

I made a kite once for an oversized Australian sound engineer. White paper on crossed dowels, with a painting of a kangaroo and a raccoon dancing under the Big Dipper (Northern hemisphere) and the Southern Cross (Southern hemisphere). Inter-hemispherical friendship and harmony! That was the message of the kite.

I still miss that kite.

The Southern Cross is a very subtle constellation. It’s only 4 stars in a diamond shape. Still, it is beautiful. And for Northern hemisphere dwellers like me, it’s rare and far away, so I treasure the memory of seeing those stars, the Southern Cross, so far away from home.

Except that in the US the Southern Cross also means the Confederate Flag, which to this overeducated Northern Jew whitey race-traitor means KKK and white supremacy, organized or more casual. It’s a stereotype, and it’s also simultaneously a social fact. The Confederate flag has meaning because of how the symbol is used: the social life of an object, if you will.
More… “Southern Cross”

Carolyn Chernoff is a sociologist and cultural worker. She is the co-founder of the Girls’ DJ Collective, and rose to brief infamy last year as “The sociologist of Miley Cyrus.” Her work examines the ways that everyday culture reproduces social inequality. Chernoff sporadically blogs on culture and meaning at popwithpolitics.tumblr.com.