Some years ago I began to play songs before each of my American Literature I lectures. I was teaching on the eighth floor of NYU’s Main Building (now the Silver Center), a building that wasn’t really designed for the number of students that flooded into and out of it at the beginning of each class hour. If you didn’t arrive well 15 minutes before the start of class, you’d find yourself waiting in long elevator lines. So I’d usually take the stairs, a good form of passive exercise, but (as you can imagine) I would often arrive on the eighth floor not only winded but in a rather ill-humor.

So I thought that it might be fun to play some music to cheer me up. Then I though that if I got there early, I could play several songs, which might amuse both me and those students who had gotten there early. I didn’t say anything about it, but the songs were linked in some way to the day’s subject. The students soon began to catch on; indeed, I would be met by disgruntled looks on those days when I happened to arrive too late to play the songs I’d prepared. Eventually, one of the students asked if he could make some suggestions for future lectures.

Playing songs before class thus became one of my standard practices. It meant, of course, that I was creating an amped up rather than a contemplative mood before class, but I suppose that suits my style at the podium. And I figured that it might serve as a subliminal suggestion to students that they should be sure to arrive at the classroom early. I also play one song as the students are leaving.

My selections tend to reflect my own prediliction for classic rock, so I’m always pleased to have new suggestions. One of the questions that I was asked on the questionnaire that I circulated at the end of Monday’s lecture was: How did you find so many songs with “cosmopolitan” in the title? The answer is a 180 GB iTunes library. I sometimes find myself using keyword searches to find songs that I didn’t know I had.

itunes_graphic.jpgSo here are the playlists for the first three lectures in this year’s Conversation of the West course.

Opening: Bonnie Raitt, “Something To Talk About”; Dire Straits, “Once Upon a Time in the West.”
Closing: “The Pretenders, “Talk of the Town”

Opening: Erin McKeown, “Cosmopolitans”; Nine Black Alps, “Cosmopolitan””; Al di Meola and Leonid Agutin, “Cosmopolitan Life.”
Closing: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?”

LECTURE THREE: LOOMINGS (Introduction to Melville)
Opening: Corm, “Call Me Ishmael”; Toby Goodshank, “Call Me Ishmael”; Call Me Ishmael, “Seeing Stars.”
Closing: Led Zeppelin, “Moby Dick.”

Monday’s lecture is about Zoroastrianism. Any suggestions?