Rutgers Classics in the news, for better or worse

stekelvarken“It was 20 years ago today…” Lemonheads pseudo-bootleg from 1989

The story will have to speak for itself….from the 13 April 2009 Daily Targum, “Professor journeys from classics to punk rock“, by Michael Schwab / Contributing Writer.

“A song by alternative rock band the Lemonheads debuted entitled “Li’l Seed.”

But many do not know the song was written about 20 years ago by Chair of the University’s Department of Classics T. Corey Brennan, an associate professor at the University.

Although the song is his self-proclaimed one good song, Brennan of late has plenty to be happy about. He was appointed in December to a three-year term beginning July 1 as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge of the School of Classical Studies at the American Academy in Rome.

“As the name suggests, the job [description] literally goes on for pages,” Brennan said.

His central responsibilities surround the overseeing of the humanities at the School of Classical Studies, which includes an array of fields from Latin and archaeology to modern Italian Studies, as well as medieval studies, musicology and art history.

Brennan will also develop cultural programming for the Rome Prize winners, of which there are 12 [in the humanities] each year.

Those attending the institution are winners of the Rome Prize, an award given to various scholars in multiple categories.

Previous winners include University alumnus Junot Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” The recipients of the award are given either six or 11 months to pursue research in their field.

Brennan worked with many people throughout his musical and scholarly career, and they are not at all surprised at his success.

Through the course of his three years, the recipients will travel with Brennan on trips throughout Italy and the Mediterranean.

“The job is based on energizing the humanities … and really making Italy and the Roman world come alive,” Brennan said.

“It’s difficult to praise [Brennan] too much … Every conversation leaves me with a renewed enthusiasm for classics.” said Michael Johnson, a formal doctoral student at the University. “At any time he’s doing multiple projects to help his students and Rutgers’ classics department, all the while producing scholarship at the very highest caliber.”

Andrea De Giorgi, a former colleague of Brennan’s at the University, speaks just as highly of Brennan, recalling a story from his musical conquests.

“Intersecting at one of those crammed-up European summer festivals where both Pearl Jam and the Lemonheads were playing, Eddie Vedder asked Brennan what band was the most influential for his sound,” De Giorgi said. “In his usual, very nonchalant way, he named this obscure band out of Texas with some kind of bizarre Latin name. Needless to say, Eddie spoke no more.” [That would be Boston 07/10/91, where I guess Brennan name-dropped Josefus—Ed.]

Brennan went to a Jesuit high school and started studying Latin at age 13 and Ancient Greek at 14; from there, he kept on going, continually studying Latin since 1973, he said.

Punk rock, on the other hand, did not spark any interest in Brennan until his first year of college in 1977, which he claims was the greatest year in the history of punk rock.

It was then that Brennan took a trip to England where bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash were beginning to change history. Brennan said it was just the right time for him.

“I was just going to the worst progressive rock band [shows] imaginable. You know, just going to Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer shows,” he said.

The minimalist music and the incredible shows, which he described to be “real events” turned him on to punk rock.  During his punk rock asphyxiation, he bore witness to legendary punk rock acts such as Bad Brains, Henry Rollins Band and Dag Nasty.

In addition to “Li’l Seed,” which he spent a year writing and claims to be his one good song, Brennan played guitar and recorded with the band for about two years. The Lemonheads’ commercial success followed just shortly after his departure, featuring two gold albums and that punk cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”

Brennan’s fascination with punk rock ended in 1986 with a radio show called “168 hours and 5,000 records of the first 10 years of punk rock.” He said the show “fossilized” him, making him only able to appreciate those first 10 years. 

Brennan also decided to put down the guitar in 1995 after a failed solo album under the name “Loog,” which was geared mostly toward the Dutch market.

Now Brennan’s musical interests have taken on a very different light. He has been a deejay at weekly summer dance parties in Theo’s Of Princeton Salon, as well as other events around the University. He has vast knowledge about one of the most important eras in music — and scholarship in one of education’s oldest fields.

“You know those people who have the gift to resolve infinite historical dilemmas with one single, brilliant idea?,” De Giorgi said. “That would be him in a nutshell.”

Live in Germany (Bielefeld and Hamburg) summer 1989, apparently in the hope that Suzanne Vega wouldn’t notice

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