Rockin’ the classroom

Manitoba rock historian brings his musical roots to U of W

The Rock Doctor: Music historian John Einarson has written biographies of local legends like Neil Young and the Guess Who.

After opening for Led Zeppelin at age 17 and writing the life stories of local legends like Neil Young and The Guess Who, John Einarson knows what it takes to rock almost any room – even a classroom.

The Manitoba rock and roll historian has brought his decades of knowledge and love of 20th century music to a new course in the University of Winnipeg’s faculty of education.

“I was kind of like a whirling dervish,” Einarson said with a laugh. “I think I overwhelmed them with my energy sometimes.”

The new three credit-hour course, “Hey Hey, My My … Rock ’n’ Roll Can Never Die,” was offered this past fall to future teachers looking to earn a baccalaureate certificate to augment their degrees and future paycheques. But, according to the professor and author of 14 chronicles of artists, bands and genres like country rock and Winnipeg’s ‘60s rock scene, understanding the interconnectedness of music was the most important lesson.

“The whole goal is to get a sense of the evolution of rock and roll,” Einarson explained. “In the 12 classes we probably listened to about 350 songs.”

Engulfing his class of 20 in a variety of genres from Bob Dylan’s folksy sound to the psychedelic riffs of Jimi Hendrix to David Bowie’s glam rock, Einarson focuses on the idea that any music has potential to be influenced by or be a catalyst for social and political change.

Through a mixture of teaching styles – jumping from video documentaries to learning to identify characteristics of specific genres by listening to snippets of songs to playing his own vintage Gibson Les Paul guitar – the 30-year veteran public school teacher pulled on his passion for music to connect with his students.

According to longtime friend and colleague, U of W professor Alan Wiebe, there is no one better for the job.

“Like an archaeologist, he has been able to mine Winnipeg music history and make it come alive,” Wiebe said of Einarson’s talent. “His depth of understanding of not only rock and roll, but his understanding of Winnipeg and musicians is so valuable. He’s so very capable of telling those stories and putting a human side to them.”

Wiebe vividly recalls teaching with Einarson in Morden during the 1980s, when he first began to understand the rock writer’s commitment to mixing together music and education.

“The school was kind of quiet, and then all of a sudden, I heard Roger Daltrey and The Who pounding out of his classroom,” said Wiebe.

Years later – with published books and articles in publications like Mojo, Uncut and Goldmine, curating the Manitoba Museum’s 2010 exhibit Get Back: A Celebration of Winnipeg Rock ‘n’ Roll, along with television and radio work – not much has changed in Einarson’s teaching style.

“I’m pretty sure we were the only class listening to Megadeth and analyzing what makes it distinct to its genre,” he said, adding that he hopes to teach the class again in the summer and in the fall. “Rock and roll is supposed to be heard. It’s lively, it’s noisy, it’s exciting.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 21, 2010)

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