Location: 345.102 
Class: Monday and Wednesday
11:30 am – 12:50 pm
Office Hours: Tuesday 3-5 pm on Zoom
(or by appointment)

“Sound is to people what the sun is to light.”
—Ornette Coleman qtd. in BonnarooMusicFest Interview

This course puts literature, music, and popular culture into conversation with one another. Music provides one formal model of how we can approach the complex interweaving textures and soundings of culture, musical and literary traditions, and current important issues such as the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Not only will we read texts and analyze media, but we will listen to the music found therein. In some ways these texts demand not only to be read, but also heard. The course will include essays, poems, songs, TV, and film, and there are two required texts: Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues, which is about Americans, Afro-Germans, and Jews playing jazz in Nazi Germany, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen: a graphic novel about superheroes and 1980s anxiety around the cold war. We will also watch some episodes from the recent HBO Watchmen series, available on Crave TV. The course will end with Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing. Punctuated by the anthemic refrain of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Do the Right Thing is a landmark in American cinema, and it remains as politically and emotionally charged as ever. Aside from core readings and discussion, the course will include a close reading of a song of your choice, a short mixtape/remix project, and a research paper. Due to COVID-19, we will follow current health guidelines in the classroom, which might change as we collectively respond to new developments. Not only will you develop an awareness of the relationship between literature, music, and culture, you will observe how broader struggles for voice, agency, and social justice are integral to a more equitable vision of society.


  • Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • Various Readings and media (most available on VIULearn or the course blog)
  • A good style guide, such as The Broadview Pocket Guide to Writing, is recommended.

Free Writing and Citation Guides:


Participation 5%
Songs are Poems Too: Close Reading (600-750 words) 15%
Take Home Midterm on Half-Blood Blues (1000 words) 15%
Mixtape, Song, or Remix (with short write-up) 10%
Research Essay (1500-1750 words) 30%
Final Exam 25%

See VIULearn for the full course outline and a breakdown of assignments

Music page for the course:


Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term (especially with the shifting challenges of COVID-19) progresses.

Introduction (Jan 10)

Listening: The Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” (1981) and Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic Is a Portal” and my remix (DJ Techné, “Another World,” Portals, 2020)

Week 1 (Jan 12): Intro to the Blues

Reading: Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues” (VIULearn)
Listening: Listening: Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues” (1937) and “Me and the Devil Blues (1928); Louis Armstrong, “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue”; Billie Holiday,“Am I Blue”; Bessie Smith, “Devil’s Gonna Git You”; DJ Techné, “Devil’s Gonna Get You

Week 2: Half-Blood Blues

Reading: Half-Blood Blues (1-65) 
Listening: King Oliver, “Riverside Blues”; Oscar Peterson, “Hymn to Freedom”
Viewing: Ken Burns, Jazz (“Gumbo,” first 13 mins); available on Films on Demand 

Monday, Jan 17Half-Blood Blues (HBB) Part I, pp. 1-16
Wednesday, Jan 19HBB Part II, pp. 17-65

Week 3: Half-Blood Blues

Reading: Half-Blood Blues (66-193)
Listening: Edugyan reading; Bessie Smith, “Empty Bed Blues”; Jelly Roll Morton, “Winin’ Boy”
Viewing: Ken Burns, Jazz: (The Gift, 1-15:06); (Our Language, 10:50-13:28)

Monday, Jan 24: Half-Blood Blues, read until p. 140
Wednesday, Jan 26HBB, 141-193

Week 4: Half-Blood Blues and Bessie

Reading: Finish Half-Blood Blues
Listening: Louis Armstrong, “West End Blues” and Ella Fitzgerald, “Mack the Knife” 
Close Reading of song due

Monday, Jan 31: Finish Half-Blood Blues
Wednesday, Feb 2: Start Dee Rees, Bessie (2015)

Week 5: Bessie and Midterm

Monday, Feb 7: Finish Bessie
Wednesday, Feb 9Midterm

Week 6: Watchmen: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Reading: Watchmen (Chapters 1-3)
Listening: Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”

Monday, Feb 14Watchmen, Chapter 1
Wednesday, Feb 16Watchmen, Chapters 2-3

February 21-25: READING WEEK (no classes)

Week 7: Watchmen Con’t

Reading: Watchmen (Chapters 4-7)
Listening: Nina Simone, “Pirate Jenny”; Nat King Cole, “Unforgettable”; Billie Holiday, “You’re my Thrill”

Monday, Feb 28Watchmen, Chapters 4-5
Wednesday, March 2Watchmen, Chapters 6-7

  • Alan Moore HARDtalk Interview
  • See the Watchmen Motion Comics series, here.

Week 8: Watchmen Con’t

Reading: Watchmen (Chapters 8-12) and Jason S. Polley, “Watching the Watchmen, Mediating the Mediators” (VIULearn); See “The Ghost of You: Watchmen and Music
Listening: Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower”; John Cale, “Sanities”
Recommended home viewing: Zack Synder, Watchmen  (2009)

Monday, March 7Watchmen, Chapters 8-10
Wednesday, March 9Watchmen, Chapters 11-12

Week 9: Damon Lindelof, Watchmen (2019)

Viewing: Watchmen (HBO), Episode 1 and 6
Reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations
Listenings: Oklahoma!, “Poor Jud is Daid”; Eartha Kitt, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”; The Ink Spots, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”

Monday, March 14Watchmen, Ep. 1
Wednesday, March 16Watchmen, Ep. 6; Coates, “The Case for Reparations” 

Week 10: It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop

Reading: Hip Hop Lyrics
Additional Reading (on VIULearn): Tricia Rose, Black Noise, “Voices from The Margins”; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Intro to The Anthology of Rap, Luc Sante, “Beastie Boys Revolution”
Optional Reading: Ed Piskor, Hip Hop Family Tree (VIULearn)
Remix Project Due on March 23 (Optional Sharing of projects) 

Listenings (choose 5): Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message”; Public Enemy, “Night of the Living Baseheads” and “Fight the Power”; Eric B. & Rakim, “Paid in Full” and “I Know You Got Soul”; Lauryn Hill, “Everything is Everything” and “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”; Queen Latifah, “Ladies First” and “U.N.I.T.Y”; Missy Elliott, “Get Ur Freak On”; MC Lyte, “Cold Rock a Party” and “Lyte as a Rock”; Maestro Fresh Wes, “Nothin’ At All”; War Party, “Feelin’ Reserved”; Snotty Nose Rez Kids, “Son of a Matriarch” and “I Can’t Remember My Name”; Run the Jewels, “Walking in the Snow” and “Just”; Childish Gambino, “This is America”; Anderson .Paak, “Lockdown”; K’naan, “Strugglin’” and “My Old Home”; Nas, “N.Y State of Mind”; Eminem, “Lose Yourself” and “Stan”; Wu-Tang Clan, “C.R.E.A.M”; Aesop Rock, “No Regrets”; dead prez, “Hip-Hop”; Jean Grae, “My Story”; Immortal Technique, “You Never Know”; Atmosphere, “Yesterday”; Fugees, “Killing Me Softly”; Nonname, “Diddy Bop”; M.I.A, “Paper Planes”; Beastie Boys, “Paul Revere” and “Sabotage;” The Roots f/ Erykah Badu, “You Got Me”; Common, “I Used to Love H.E.R.;” Slick Rick, “Children’s Story”; Black Star, “Thieves in the Night”; Macklemore, “Same Love”; Jedi Mind Tricks f/R.A. The Rugged Man, “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story”; Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”; Brother Ali, “Dear Black Son”; Buck 65, “Blood of a Young Wolf”; Shad, “Fam Jam” and “Black Averageness”; Mac Miller, “Good News”; Little Simz, “Woman”

Week 11: Wayde Compton’s DJ Poetics and Hogan’s Alley

Readings: Wayde Compton, “Seven Routes to Hogan’s Alley” and “Turntable Poetry, Mixed Race, and Schizophonophilia” (on VIULearn); poetry pack (on VIULearn)
Home Viewing: “Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley”
Listenings: Charlie Pride, “Is Anybody Going to San Antone”; Kid Koala, “Moon River” (remix); M.I.A., “Borders”; Wayde Compton audio

Monday, March 28: Compton, “Turntable Poetry” and selected poems
Wednesday, March 30: Compton, “Seven Routes,” “Secret Vancouver,” and selected poems

Week 12: Do the Right Thing

Viewing: Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing (1989 | 120 min)
Listening: Public Enemy, “Fight the Power”
Final Paper Due on April 6 by 11:59 pm

Monday, April 4: Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing
Wednesday, April 6: Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing; Exam Review

Featured image for the course is of jazz great Louis Armstrong entertaining neighborhood children on the front porch of his home in Corona, Queens (Louis Armstrong House Museum).