Musical Musings with Mr.McGivern


Max Luebbers

By Max Luebbers ’16, Entertainment Editor

English teacher Chuck McGivern’s first introduction to music as an art form would be seen by some as fairly unconventional to say the least. I asked this question expecting a response along the lines of “a family member once played me this song…” Instead I was treated with a harrowing tale.

Mr. McGivern’s impressionable young mind was wracked by an experience I can only describe as traumatic. In tenth grade, Mr. McGivern was locked in a room with his best-friend by said best-friend’s father who had “Partaken in some ‘after-dinner’ drinking [laughs].” The two boys were then handed sheets of lyrics and made to listen to vinyl after vinyl in silence while “Mr. Best-Friend” spun tales of various concerts he had attended as a young lad. McGivern describes this first experience as “kinda creepy.”

Naturally this had quite an impression on Mr. McGivern. He cites these late night sessions as formative moments in his musical taste. He was drawn to the lyrical artistry and storytelling ability of Tom Waits and Harry Chapin, instead of the vapid dance ballads that warbled out of his parents’ record-player.

Reflecting upon the first music he found on his own, Mr. McGivern recalls wanting to understand why some songs were still being played years after being written and still receiving praised for their artistry. In studying the evolution of music as a whole he came upon the rather common realization that his own tastes at the time were “kinda pathetic.” He quickly became “a total snob.” Undeterred by the new moniker, he fell in love with some of the most timeless folk musicians like Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam). He recognized that much of their impact on him was due to their relatable storytelling and a connection to the difficulties he was having in his own life, especially with family members.

While lyrics don’t mean so much to him anymore, Mr. McGivern still advocates the use of good headphones and a silent room. He recounts a story about how he spent two years’ worth of savings to buy a pair of headphones and a stereo that took up half his bedroom. “My bedroom was the size of this office.” He motions vaguely around the fairly snug closet-sized room [laughs]. This “Music Cave,” Mr. McGivern says, really helped him learn how to listen.

Mr. McGivern then recounts his first experience with classical music, and, oddly enough, it bears a striking resemblance to his previous foray into Mr. Best-Friends own “Music Cave.”He was led by a certain teacher into a dark classroom with nothing but a single candle and forced to sit and listen to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, a tune he had recognized from watching Platoon few years prior. He remembers vividly going out in the following months and buying every classical vinyl he could get his hands on. Captivated by Bach and Mozart’s timelessness he ironically tore through the record bins of Circuit City. Mr. McGivern recalls his experience as dishwasher in Philadelphia, washing dishes while Classical strings played in the background. He notes with amusement the odd juxtaposition of greasy dishes and oiled violins.

Mr. McGivern harbors some disdain for groups that he finds to be too gimmicky. He cites both U2 and Coldplay as examples of bands that have gone too far to pander for their audience. On the flipside he recognizes the pitfalls of getting carried away by a groups own “alternativeness”. While he recognizes the influence of groups likes Violent Femmes and Sonic Youth, he feels that know they’ve become far too discordant for his own taste.

At this he stops abruptly. “I never understood the popularity of Dave Matthews.” He expresses his distaste for fans who are apparently on a first name basis with “Dave.” Mr. McGivern recalls trying to dodge requests for Matthews when he DJ’d house parties. “It was something about his voice” he says. Mr. McGivern seems to admire the female voice however. He shared with me his love of brit-bands with female leads like The Sunday’s with Harriet Weaver and The Cranberries with Dolores O’Riordan. In response to my proddings about his thoughts on Icelandic singer Bjork, he responds rather strongly. “With the Sugarcubes! She’s freakin’ crazy! She’s definitely out there.”

To close our discussion Mr. McGivern really stressed the importance of keeping an open mind and circling back to listen to music you may have once passed up. Don’t under estimate the power of a good guilty pleasure alongside more sophisticated artists. He cites Michael Jackson as a major guilty pleasure. Among some of his new favorites, Mr. McGivern shared names like Beach House, Spoon and, Beck’s latest release. He also suggests the oddly-named by Wussy, whom he heard last week on a local radio station.

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