Bob Dylan sings about the civil rights movement. John Fogerty criticizes the ruling class with “Fortunate Son”. The Hells Angels speed up the death of the hippie counterculture by beating a man to death at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival.
These are just a few of the many iconic points punctuating Coal Ridge High School teacher Joe Luebbe’s rock ‘n’ roll history lesson.
“They are actively using their platform to create change,” Luebbe said of the musicians. “One of the most important parts of studying the history of rock ‘n’ roll is how the music went hand in hand with a lot of these social movements.”
For the past three years, Coal Ridge High School has given its seniors a tour through this genesis of modern music and how it has helped encapsulate our politics, society and culture.
The embryonic stages of this semester-long course shed light on genres like blues and jazz, gospel and country and how they all inspired the traditional spirit of modern rock.
“The year historians like to put on it is 1955,” Luebbe said. “That’s when it all really starts to fall into place.”
Luebbe is also an instructor of United States History and Advanced Human Geography, but his ultimate love is music and just about anything that goes with it.
The 36-year-old hails from Memphis, a musical mecca renowned for being the home of the blues, Elvis Pressley and the birthplace of rock and roll. His father and brother are musicians. And he’s a former roadie.
“My parents had this classic rock playlist of Journey, Boston, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd that was always playing in our house,” he said. “I grew up with it.”
His students were receiving a lesson derived from his musical knowledge around 1 p.m. on April 6. Some of the tasks were to memorize the origins of the Monterey International Pop Festival and later how Roger Waters and David Gilmour formed Pink Floyd.
Jordan Halevy is a senior at Coal Ridge and one of Luebbe’s students. The 18-year-old plays baritone in the school band but doesn’t want to go to college and spend money on a music degree.
Instead, his ambition is to finish high school and tour with a famous band, he said. In the meantime, he is finishing the last months of his senior year by immersing himself in classic rock studies.
“Growing up, my parents always played the Eagles, the Beatles, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac,” Halevy said. “I really find that listening to old music is better, and taking this class is like finding something new.”
Nestled between the computer coding class and the band, Halevy learns about the Woodstock festivals and Elvis joins the army.
“That’s what destroyed his career going into the military,” Halevy said. “I just thought he passed out.”
Coal Ridge senior fellow Lindsy Mendoza, 18, chose Luebbe’s class as a way to better connect with her family’s musical favorite: Elvis.
Prior to taking the course, Mendoza said she was fairly unaware of the details of what her mother or grandmother actually liked.
“I sometimes come home and tell my parents interesting facts,” she said. “I didn’t know any of the Beatles said they were going to be better than God.”
Then she learned that there was more to music than the Beatles.
“I love the idea of learning music and knowing where it comes from and not just hearing it on the radio,” Mendoza said. “Most of the music today is very different from what it was then. Music back then had more feel.
Luebbe suspects his classroom was strategically placed against a back wall, and he laughs when people ask him if he’s blasting music.
While it can get loud at times, he said his real hope is that students really start to listen to the lyrics more closely and make those connections to social justice issues.
‘And I hope,’ he said, ‘that they can also make that connection with the fact that virtually every genre of modern music can be broken down to its roots. Its roots are in rock’ don’t roll.
Journalist Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or [email protected]