I’m Gonna Do That

I have an odd feeling there are a lot of thirty- to forty-something middle and high school teachers doubling as rock fans that struggle to reconcile the songs and stories of our guitar-wielding heroes with the advice we give our students every day. Over break I read the excellent Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements. The book is full of incredible stories of the band “snatching failure from the jaws of victory“, a theme that Paul Westerberg applied to his high school career as well:

Though [Paul Westerberg] was only a couple of months away from a diploma, Westerberg stopped going to class. The elders at Holy Angels gave him opportunities to get his degree. “But by then I’d already made up my mind. It was also the rebellion factor: ‘Fuck ’em. I’m gonna stop before the finish line and not cross it.'”

Toward the end of his school days, Westerberg’s English teacher took him aside and offered a bit of advice. “He said, ‘Do what you know how to do.’ Hell, why didn’t you tell me that four years ago? What I really know how to do is play a G chord with the hammer on and the hammer off. I’m gonna do that.”

The Replacements fan in me loves this story. The teacher in me thinks, “um, couldn’t you have just stuck around and got your degree?” Regardless, his teacher’s advice is exactly the advice we need to give our students, and then just help them lengthen the list of what they know how [and love] to do. [The book goes on to explain that Westerberg spent hours in the library reading after dropping out: he could finally wear his glasses without fear of being beaten up.]

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