The Living Room of Bob Kubey's House, Highland Park, NJ, March 19, 1995

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Gary Radford describes the genesis of The Professors on WPSC-FM radio, December 28, 1997

Jamming in Highland Park (4 tracks), March 19, 1995

Gary Radford - Guitar; T-ski - Lead Guitar; Craig Brown - Drums; Robert Kubey - Drums and Vocals

There are two musics (at least so I have thought): the music one listens to, the music one plays. The two musics are two totally different arts, each with its own history, its own sociology, its own aesthetics, its own erotic; the same composer can be minor if you listen to him, tremendous if you play him (even badly) (Roland Barthes, 1977, p. 149).

These are the opening lines of Barthes’ (1977) essay “Musica Practica.” They do much to describe and explain the creative experience of playing in The Professors in its early days in 1995. The Professors began in the front room of Robert Kubey’s house in Highland Park, New Jersey. The room was small and Bob’s drum kit (which he borrowed from former student, Craig Brown) filled half of it. The furniture was pushed back to the walls, extension cords criss-crossed the floor for powering amplifiers, and bottles of beer adorned the fireplace. The reason for these get togethers was an overwhelming desire to play. Not to play songs, but to play music in Barthes’ sense. These sessions consisted of 20 minute jams, usually around the classic 1-4-5 blues chord sequence, with T-ski and I trading the rhythm and lead guitar roles. These jams didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t have an end point. They couldn’t be repeated. We enjoyed them in the moment of their playing, in the act of their playing. As Barthes notes, this music would be awful to listen to, but tremendous to play. I remember well the looks of horror on our wives’ faces as we exposed them to this noise. I also remember their polite condescension as they told us how “good” we sounded. They seemed to know and understand that this music was for us, the players, and not necessarily for them, the audience. In these early sessions, the idea of an audience was quite irrelevant.

This gap was between players and audience was explicitly recognized and exploited in many Professors’ songs. For example, one of the Professors’ earliest original compositions was entitled “Crap.” The title was derived from the reaction we expected from the people who might listen to the song. T-ski would introduce the song in performance by saying: “This next song is called ‘Crap.’ Just in case you call this music crap, it is crap!” In other words, we don’t care if you think this song is awful because we know it’s awful. Another song which addressed this self-reflexive recognition of the purposeful distancing of the audience was T-ski’s “The Arrogant Song.” In explaining the rationale of this song, T-ski notes the following:

"When we perform in a club, there is a certain tension. Every band wants to be original and yet every band wants to be liked. They want to perform and do things that they hope the people will enjoy. I was thinking that, instead of being like everybody else, we should be arrogant and obnoxious. We just come on and say that basically we don’t give a shit about you" (personal communication, May 31, 1997).

This cavalier and arrogant attitude displayed in those early days was really a defense mechanism against our own insecurities about our abilities as musicians and the deliberate shifting of identities (from Professor to rock guitarist). Yet the deliberate and self-reflexive invocation of this defense mechanism also worked to create a space in which we could play and write where the fear of outside criticism and judgment became managed and diffused. In effect, we transposed the principle of academic freedom from the classroom to the jam session and, ultimately, to the performance. As classroom professors we had the right and the privilege to express ideas without fear of reprisal. As musical Professors, we had the right to make music in any form we wanted without fear of criticism. This mindset of academic/musical freedom allowed us to be creative and original. It enabled us to rationalize away, to a large extent, any potential negative feedback of our audiences.

The beauty of the original Professors was that we did not work from music that was written down. As Barthes so rightly describes, this music was not inscribed in chord charts. It was inscribed in the body: in the fingers of the left hand struggling to find the right notes on the fret board; in the fist of the right hand as it hits the guitar strings; in the biceps and triceps of the arms pounding the drum skins; in the foot tapping frantically up and down keeping the time and rhythm. Barthes (1977) describes this kind of music as:

an activity that is very little auditory, being above all manual (and thus in a way much more sensual). It is the music which you or I can play, alone or among friends, with no other audience than its participants...; a muscular music in which the part taken by the sense of hearing is only one of ratification, as though the body were hearing - and not ‘the soul;’ a music which is not played ‘by heart:’ seated at the keyboard or the music stand, the body controls, conducts, co-ordinates, having itself to transcribe what it reads, making sound and meaning, the body as inscriber and not just transmitter, simple receiver (p. 149).

One of our early jams was given the title of Retro. It consisted of three chords and a guitar riff and emerged spontaneously, as these things do, from a chord sequence I was fiddling with during a break between songs. T-ski soon joined in, and then Craig Brown on the drums. The sequence evolved into a full-blown 25 minute jam which Bob Kubey captured in its entirety on video. Bob’s video represents Barthes musica practica perfectly. He pushes the camera into contorted faces, with close ups of fingers, hands, ringing guitar strings, and knees pounding up and down. In this video, Bob captured a music that is “manual, muscular, kneadingly physical” (Barthes, 1977, p. 150) which has no direction except that which is spontaneously created in the moment of its playing. It captures “that style of the perfect amateur” (Barthes, 1977, p. 150), the great value of which touches off in us “not satisfaction but desire, the desire to make that music” (p. 150).

I often use this video in classes as a demonstration of Barthes’ musica practica. Barthes laments that musica practica has disappeared and that “concurrently, passive, receptive music, sound music, is become the music (that of concert, festival, record, radio)” (p. 150). Barthes (1977) continues: “So too has the performer changed. The amateur, a role defined much more by a style than by technical imperfection, is no longer anywhere to be found; the professionals, pure specialists whose training entirely esoteric for the public..., never offer that style of the perfect amateur” (p. 150). I offer Bob’s Professors video as an example of a form that is not as dead as Barthes implies, and that musica practica is alive and well in front rooms and garages all over the world. I compare Bob’s video with a video of Pink Floyd’s “Delicate Sound of Thunder” tour (Marvis & Isham, 1989), where the music is overshadowed by the expertise of the technician “who relieves the listener of all activity, even by procuration, and abolishes in the sphere of music the very notion of doing” (Barthes, 1977, p. 150). The comparison works well and makes the point vividly for the students, who are also pleased and surprised to see their professor in a black t-shirt and jeans wailing away on a guitar with way too much distortion.


Barthes, R. (1977). Musica practica (S. Heath, Trans.). In R. Barthes, Image, music, text (pp. 149-154). New York, NY: Noonday Press.

Marvis, C. (Producer) & Isham, W. (Director). (1989). Pink Floyd in concert: Delicate sound of thunder [video recording]. New York, NY: CBS Music Video Enterprises.


Collaborative Musical Expression and Creativity Among Academics: When Intellectualism Meets Twelve Bar Blues. American Communication Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, Fall 2002

This page last updated August 29, 2013 by Gary Radford.
Many thanks to Kurt Wagner, Marie Radford, and Jon Oliver.