Why are so many pop stars turning lecturer?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The days when pop stars just sang are over. Never mind Will Young on Question Time – musicians today are likely to be lecturing at a podium near you. Elisa Bray samples their wisdom

There's a long history of rock and pop stars being awarded honorary degrees, but increasing numbers of them are now taking to the lectern. The American anti-folk singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis is the latest; he's been touring with his lecture on the comic book Watchmen (based on his university thesis) from London's ICA to Portland, Oregon.

One fan said: "Warner Bros should have given [Jeff] a hundred million dollars instead [of making the film]. Where the movie didn't add a single thing to my experience of Watchmen, the lecture blew my mind and captured my attention and imagination."

Lewis is just the latest in a string of musicians who have turned lecturer. Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos addressed students at Edinburgh University back in 2004, while Johnny Marr gave his debut lecture in November – on the misfits and mavericks of the music industry – in Salford's Maxwell Hall, where The Smiths played one of their final concerts in 1986.

Jarvis Cocker delivered his lecture on lyrics at Brighton Festival; its success saw him take it on to Manchester University's In The City conference, and you can catch it at the South by South West festival in Texas this month. And Peter Doherty was invited to Trinity College, Dublin last month to take students' questions.

Here, we present a few extracts from what they had to say.

JEFFREY LEWIS, ICA, London, 24 February 2009
Subject: 'Watchmen'
"The Comedian's real name in Watchmen is Edward Blake. The biggest association that I could come up with for that name is obviously the English poet William Blake, whose poem 'The Tyger' is quoted in Chapter 5. 'The Tyger' is from William Blake's Songs of Experience, which was written as a second part to Songs of Innocence, and the contrast between innocence and experience is obviously applicable to the Comedian and Moloch.

The apocalyptic vision of William Blake's poetry in general fits into Watchmen's apocalyptic themes. In addition, there are other associations we can bring up with the Comedian's real name of Edward Blake. If we were to free-associate phonetically on Blake, it's not much of a stretch to come up with the adjectives 'black' and 'bleak'.

There are a lot of references to this in conjunction with the Comedian in Watchmen. Hollis Mason writes of the shift away from innocence in 'Under the Hood.' He says, 'There seemed to be a bleak, uneasy feeling in the air.' In Chapter 11, he refers to the Comedian explaining 'life's black comedy' and then he also talks about denying the Comedian's crimes their 'last black laugh at earth's expense'.

Moloch again represents the innocent contrast to this. We find out when Rorschach tackles him in Chapter 2 that he is also known as William Vaughan and also as William Edgar Bright. One of his former aliases is 'Bright', so this contrast between innocence and experience, dark and light, fear and William Blake, is inherent in that last name.

It was at this point in reading Watchmen that I started to wonder whether I'd gone insane or whether these things were just coincidences. In piecing them together, everyone kept asking me what the point of my thesis was. There were just so many different things. I guess my thesis statement is just that Watchmen is better than I thought it was, or that Alan Moore is more of a genius than I thought he was. Or I don't know what."

JARVIS COCKER, Brighton Festival, 23 May 2008
Subject: "Saying the Unsayable"
"Let's take a look at the rhyming structure of 'I Am the Walrus'. First, there's another Beatles song, 'Michelle', which has a more conventional rhyming structure – 'Michelle, my belle. These are words that go together well, my Michelle.' Rhymes generally come at the end of a line.

Now, here's 'I Am the Walrus'. You look at it – 'together, fly, come, long'. The rhymes here are more complicated. It's a more complex approach. 'See how they run like pigs from a gun.' So you have rhymes, but they are inside the lines. And it leaves the end of the line floating free.

And I think that that's important. Because if John Lennon sang 'waiting for the van to come, sitting on a cornflake, semolina pilchard devouring a corncrake', the whole thing would sound awkward and contrived. The listener would be in a permanent state of tension thinking, 'What the hell is he going to get to rhyme with walrus?'

The more complicated rhyme structure here gives the impression that it doesn't really rhyme at all, which lends more authenticity to its stream-of-consciousness approach. It feels like a genuine and unpremeditated outburst.

This question of [whether] to rhyme or not to rhyme is where many a songwriter comes a cropper. It's the one thing they know a song must do, so they pursue it at all costs and they become a rhyme whore.

A rhyme whore will do anything for a rhyme. They will defy all notions of good sense, of good English, intelligibility, logic, syntax, taste. You name it, anything goes, as long as they get the rhyme. And this can have unintentionally hilarious results."

JOHNNY MARR, University of Salford, 4 November 2008
Subject: 'Always from the Outside: Mavericks, Innovators and Building Your Own Ark'
"The British music industry has never created anything, ever, in its history. It has never innovated anything. It's done plenty of good things – it's brought plenty of great innovators to light and helped to make great records and events – but nothing of any value was ever created inside the British or American music business. It always came from the outside, from outsiders created in the real world.

These people, out of necessity, rejection, frustration and talent, and with vision, built their own ark and sailed it alongside and ahead of the music industry. They created their own market. They did their own research and development. They did it, and they still do it, in small clubs, playing in front of a few people, supporting other bands, going up and down the country in little vans, they do it in home-made studios, they do it on MySpace, on Facebook. They don't do it on The X Factor.

They were always people from the outside. Take Les Paul and his innovations for the electric guitar; he was rejected as a crank. The Beatles were rejected by Decca for their four-piece guitar line-up. No one invented Bob Marley, The Sex Pistols, Kurt Cobain or Jay-Z – they all invented themselves and were rejected. They were outsiders and they were necessary."

PETER DOHERTY, Trinity College Philosophical Society, 6 February 2009
On Paul McCartney: "They let me out of rehab to do that interview, so to be honest, I didn't even recognise him with the medication I was on. They cut out a lot of it, some of the questions were a bit personal and they left them out in the end. I was asking him about some of the things they used to get up to on tour with The Beatles. You hear about The Rolling Stones and the total decadent rock bands, but The Beatles were the baddest of all, but it was all kept quiet."

On Mick Jones of The Clash: "He's quite a knowledgeable man. He can see through things. He was like a father figure as well, he would take us aside and go, 'Why are you fighting, boys, you're brothers, you're on the same side. Stop it, you know? Don't let something beautiful die.' We split up the next month. It was the first album we ever made, the first time we'd been in a proper studio, and it was dead exciting for us just to be recording our songs and to have someone whose songs we'd grown up on. [Jones produced The Libertines' two albums and the first Babyshambles album] It was all like a dream."

On inspiration: "No one, really, I've done it all on my own. I'm quite a lonely character. Most of my friends are dead and have been for hundreds of years. I quite like cats. Do you know what, I don't actually like cats so much. It started off fine, but now they've just taken over, they've just expanded. I'm trying to keep the population under control; it's about 12 now. But I mean, they're so smelly, it's disgusting. I'm trying to get to grips with the philosophy of cats, as it were."

On the new album: "I've reverted to where I started out. Songs like 'Albion' and 'Music When the Lights Go Out' were quite ballady and slow and they were the first songs. Then The Strokes came along and our manager said, 'Look, you're going to have to speed everything up if you want to get signed.' So we did that.

When we first got into the limelight, we were so deranged and angry and a bit twisted that we'd just get on stage and turn it up as loud as we could, whack it out and get off as quickly as we could. There was a lot of frantic, nervous energy and it was all a bit more aggressive and chaotic, and then we just calmed down a little bit, sadly."

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth


Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links