Warning: Off Topic Post, Music on North Avenue, Baltimore. English Professors, Do Not Read.

Posted By on April 20, 2011

A student walked into my office yesterday because she overheard my music. There was in her curiosity an eagerness to learn something that most college professors, me included, would like to experience more often.

Apparently is now the number one source of music enjoyment in the world.

And why not?

For those of us who can get by with less than perfect high-fidelity reproduction, You Tube now offers the gigantic advantage of being both video and music. There’s something incredible about being able to watch as well as listen to good music, especially when the performance itself is uniquely original or memorable. And when you are busy writing or grading papers, you can turn off the video and just listen.

The student came into my office because the originality and expressiveness of the music caught her attention — it spoke to her.

And she said, “what is that music?”

I was only too glad to tell her about my latest musical fascination, discovered by accident while surfing…you guessed it, .  And with my computer on I could do more than tell her about it, we could share a listening experience.

Apocalyptica is a truly unique experience — an electrified cello quartet from Finland that covers heavy metal tunes?

As well as classical favorites like “Hall of the Mountain King”?

Yes. And does it all with a mixture of lyrical reverence and bad boy attitude,  going without missing a beat from the hard-driving sound of a string quartet on heavy metal steroids to the sweet mellifluence of Edvard Grieg backed up by a rock-n-roll drummer with a few licks from Metallica.

They rockify the classical and lyricize the rock.

As one  perceptive You Tube commentator put it with just the right flavor of irony, “this is what happens when you take an angry young man and force him to play a classical instrument.”


And these “angry young men”  are amazing, indeed, mesmerizing. If you don’t go in for the heavier sound (I’m not a heavy metal fan), you may prefer, ironically, softer pieces like the band’s cover of the Metallica hit, “Nothing Else Matters.”

So, you are probably wondering, what the hell does this have to do with “Shakespeare?”

Well, maybe nothing.

But consider this: you know the music you’re listening to has something going for it when a student, thirty years your junior, comes into your office wanting to know what you’re listening to so she can hear it too.

I hate to boast — but I was telling Umass professors fifteen years ago to watch out, because THE MOVIE is coming.

It would be better, I said, to know something about de Vere before you come to class one day and 20% of your students have just seen the movie, its won five Oscars, and Vanessa Redgrave — not to mention Sir Derek Jacobi (to my knowledge, as of today, he has and she hasn’t…yet) says “de Vere did it.”

Your students will want to talk about it in YOUR classroom.

And some of them will insist on it — and the more they already know about Shakespeare, and the more you fiddle and make excuses, the more they will insist on it. If you think smart students are bad now, watch how they will react when you respond to Anonymous with such canned clichés as

“there is no such thing as an authorship question”


“Edward de Vere spelled his last name ‘Oxenford.'”


The Tempest was written in 1611.”

Sure thing. That wins a merit badge for a good try, but won’t get you a ticket to Hedingham.

Remember, your students are only two clicks away from answers — often pretty good ones — to these venerable, time honored, authoritative….red herrings. They grew up with Google, not black and white television. And the very “ancient and fishlike” smell is growing more odorous by the minute.

English Professors like James Shapiro can do all the pseudo-sociological and pseudo-psychological damage control in the world, and it will only slow things down….a little. But as e.e. cummings would say,

you and i may not
hurry it with
a thousand poems
my darling
but nobody will stop it

With All The Policemen In The World

Apocalyptica reminds me a lot of Edward de Vere. If you’re scared of skulls and long hair, you’ll probably think of the band as a “monstrous adversary” and do everything you can to keep your teenage daughter from listening to them, just like Elizabethan parents of the 1590s did when the bard came out with a monstrous new play like “Othello.”

If you can “hear the music,” you’ll have a different opinion. Let’s get with it people — if you still think of de Vere the way Alan Nelson does, you aren’t hearing it, you aren’t “getting it,” and you’re promoting a pseudo-intellectual disservice to the life of the mind — protecting a narrow intellectual self interest at the cost of becoming an enemy to free, critical thinking. If Mike Shermer wants to debate that, I’m available.

Mondays, Wednesday Mornings, and Fridays, or by appointment during office hours.

That’s what Apocalyptica has to do with “Shakespeare.” Let’s hear it for classically trained bad boys. Tune in tomorrow for “What does Ezekial 16.49 say?

About the author

Roger Stritmatter is a native liberal humorist who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Contrary to rumor, he does not live on North Avenue. He does, however, work on North Avenue. A pacifist by inclination, one of his heroes is John Brown. But he thinks that Fredrick Douglass, another of his heroes, made the right decision. Stritmatter's primary areas of interest include the nature of paradigm shifts, the history of ideas, forensic literary studies, MS studies, renaissance literature, and the history of the Shakespearean question, the latter a field in which he has published extensively.


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