Reverb Questionnaire is a list of (mostly) static questions we pose to folks outside the music industry. The questions are all answered via email. Previous participants include Michael Chabon, Jay Inslee, and Janeane Garofalo.
This week we pose questions to University of Washington President Michael Young. Here, the recent Seattle transplant muses about the R&B, Japanese flute, and Mitt Romney's musical tastes.
What music have you been listening to today? Did you like it?
When I'm working in my office at Gerberding Hall, I occasionally appreciate a little background noise in the forms of the Shakuhachi Japanese flute, or the Koto. After all the years I spent in Japan, I grew to like them quite a lot. But then again, my wife was in the office for a bit today. She silenced the stereo immediately. Maybe it's an acquired taste, or maybe it just needs a rhythm section.
What's your preferred method for listening to music (iPod, car, home stereo, etc.)?
Live: I love live music shows. But since there are rarely any free nights on my calendar, I've developed a new favorite modality. Some nights, I'll arrive home from work to the house being rattled off of its foundation, which means Marti is upstairs getting ready for an event, blasting Chaka Kahn or Outkast or something, probably dancing around in high heels as she goes. I've become a big fan of R&B.
Do you play an instrument?
"Play" is a very strong word. But yes, I attempt to produce noise from several instruments. Right now, I'm becoming very proficient, once again, at torturing my high school saxophone and oboe.
Do you still listen to anything you were listening to in high school? If so, what?
Sure. The Rolling Stones are still on my favorites list. Simon and Garfunkel. I still like Ian Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot, but I have to sneak those last two pleasures while my wife is in another zip code. She's trying to reprogram what she refers to as my "misspent youth" with a steady stream of early Motown greats like Marvin Gaye and the Temptations.
What was the first band/artist you saw in concert? Would you see them again?
As a teenager in Northern California, I would often hitch a ride to San Francisco and take in the shows. I was a fly on the wall during the days of Haight Ashbury; I couldn't dance and I didn't smoke dope, but it was such a scene. I'm not sure which concert was my first, but I saw the Animals, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead. And my all time favorite: Country Joe and the Fish.
What was the last band/artist you saw in concert? Worth your time?
This summer, I surprised Marti with a weekend of rodeo and the Reba concert (the show opened with another amazing talent named, Hunter Hayes) in Cheyenne. After the show, we dressed in our dude clothes and pretended to fit in at a honkytonk. We attempted to two-step during a George Strait medley, but succeeded only in scuffing up each other's
boots. Nonetheless, it was an epic power date. Watching bull-riding and listening to country music trumps the aphrodisiac effect of champagne and caviar any day.
When was the last time you heard "Stairway to Heaven"? Did you turn it off?
We just heard it over the car radio here in Seattle last week. Absolutely no, we did not change the channel. You never miss an opportunity to air guitar that song. Never mind the fact that we were dressed in tuxedo and evening gown, sitting at a red light on 4th and University. It's not like that's the weirdest thing you'd see downtown.
When you sing karaoke, what's your go-to number?
Years ago, I actually sang a karaoke duet, in Japanese, with Noboru Takeshita, the Prime Minister of Japan. Now, I'm having a hard time even imagining the karaoke scene, but I suppose at one point in my life, I'd have sung the Stones' "Paint It Black." I used to be drawn to all the dark and lonely stuff. These days, I'd probably sing some sort of over-the-top gooey love song; they all resonate with me now.
What is the last song you want to hear before you die?
My wife singing Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home." Without question.
How do you feel about ABBA?
I'm not sure how I feel about ABBA, but I had a funny experience back in Salt Lake when Marti surprised me with tickets to the Utah Symphony "Performs ABBA" concert. It was relatively early in our dating, and I wanted her to meet my brother and sister in-law. She conjured this plan to impress, which sounded interesting, I'm sure, when she made the reservations. But I don't think she was expecting a campy, costumed cover band on stage backed up by the symphony. It was almost creepy, really. Our guests graciously made the best of the situation.
Marti, however, was mortified and did her best to convince us to leave at intermission. The concert was ridiculous and incongruous and as uncomfortable as hell, but the three of us had too much fun teasing her to leave. She still apologizes to Craig and Joni every time we are all together; I don't think she realizes how much they were actually piling on.
Please share a favorite musical moment/story from your past.
We had been in Seattle for only a month or so when, unbeknownst to me, I was called up onto the stage with Bill Gates Sr. to sing "Bow Down to Washington" at the big Recognition Gala, which honors donors and supporters of the UW. In all fairness to my staff, I had indeed been given a copy of the lyrics in the days before the event, but needless to say, I was unprepared for the moment, having no idea that this was an action item.
Of course, Bill was rocking the house, and I was just standing there trying to follow along the video screens, but looking like I was catching flies. Apparently, I didn't learn much about the sneak attack modus operandi of my team, because over the course of the first year, "Bow Down" was sprung on me several times. Did you know that if you just repeat the word "watermelon" over and over, you can mimic almost any lyric?
As fate would have it, Marti finally tied me down and helped me memorize the song; so, to show my appreciation for her help, I quietly made sure she was called up on stage with Bill Sr. at this year's gala... a stunt that has me in the eternal doghouse, to be sure, but I'm pretty sure her fan base grew a bit in that moment. She was fantastic, and it surely took the focus off of me.
What are your thoughts on governor Mitt Romney's musical tastes? Better than his possible higher-education policies?
than his possible higher-education policies?
Whether it's country music or otherwise, Marti and I can't change the channel fast enough when the "we'll put a boot in your ass" a la Toby Keith stuff comes on the radio; it's so hateful and derogatory. It matters very much how the world views our country. I don't consider any of that stuff patriotic. There's plenty of great music, country and otherwise, that doesn't fist pound about the supremacy of Christianity, or my gun is bigger than yours.
I would hope that the Romneys would have the presence of mind to edify as well as entertain in the White House. To send a message to the world that they support those kinds of jingoistic sentiments is a little scary, quite frankly. Higher education is about maximizing human potential and making the world a better place. You can't feel a desire to accomplish those things on one hand and feel contempt and disdain for everyone with a different skin color or religion than yourself on the other hand. I'm sure his educational philosophies are more coherent than his musical tastes seem to be.
If my educational ideas followed the way of my schizophrenic musical tastes... well, imagine James Brown meets the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It's not a fair basis for analysis, and as fun as it may be to experiment allegorically, it's probably the best argument for quiet in the workplace.