1. When did you start at Draper?
2. Are you a full or part-time student?
3. Where are you from?
Born in Durham, NC, raised in Scarsdale, NY, and have lived in Manhattan for the last seven years
4. What are your primary research interests?
I’m all over the place. In Draper I’ve taken two non-fiction writing courses, two philosophy courses, one on Kafka, one on Hitchcock, a fiction-writing course…
For my thesis I focus on three ‘movements’ in popular music of the 20th century: rock n roll, punk, and hip hop—the ones that really transformed mainstream culture worldwide. While historical circumstances give each of these movements its own identity, a close and analytical look shows that they are all expressions of the same human impulse. I argue that this impulse is a manifestation of a metaphysical idea that Nietzsche explored in his first book The Birth of Tragedy: the co-existence of two artistic forces in nature, which he names the Apolline and Dionysiac.
5. Why did you choose to pursue an interdisciplinary degree at Draper?
I wanted to be a better writer. I did undergrad at Tisch in the recorded music program, but obviously I have a very broad range of interests. I wanted to take the kinds of classes I didn’t have the chance to take before.
6. What do you plan to do after Draper?
Get a job. I’m keeping an open mind. I would ideally like to turn my thesis paper into a book. But I’ll have to see how feasible that sounds in a couple months.
7. Do you have any special activities or projects outside of your academic work?
I am a songwriter and recording artist. I used to play in a band called Nobody Can Dance, but now I’m on my own and just released my first solo record. It’s called Seven Songs, and it can be heard and downloaded at www.sambelkin.bandcamp.com. It’s all completely free, not even an email address is required, so I encourage people to go and download it.
This particular project, Seven Songs, I would categorize probably as folk or singer/songwriter or something. This project is definitely more of a mellow, acoustic affair, with very short songs about simple things, like new love, old love, jealousy, etc. Kind of like a more lo-budget Leslie Feist. These particular songs were written at different times, the first track is from 2005, the last from 2009. None are new. I have a catalog of songs I’ve written, a shoe box full of notebooks and scraps of paper, and I chose ten of them that fit together on an album, and then I only ended up recording seven of them. So that’s where Seven Songs comes from.
8. How does living and studying in New York impact your educational experience?
Living in New York has shaped who I am, for better or worse. I may have spent my childhood in Westchester, but my post-high school years were truly my formative years, emotionally and intellectually, and they were all spent in NYC. I don’t know if I’ll be able to define its influence on me until I know what it’s like to live somewhere else.
9. Is there any one place (museum, library, shop, park, etc.) in New York that is your favorite? Why?
I love the 48 cents rack at the Strand, a dive bar in the East Village called B Side, and Amy’s Bread below my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen.
10. Coffee or tea?
11. Are you a fan and/or user of social media? Why or why not?
I’m a fan of Facebook. I think it’s amazing to be able to see how your childhood friends have grown up, who they’ve become—people I otherwise would have forgotten. It’s also currently my only means of publicity as a recording artist.
12. What was the last book you read for fun (not for class or research)?
Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman. Before that, The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy and a novella called The Beach of Falesà by Robert Louis Stevenson.
13. If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be drooling in an office from nine to five, or working for peanuts in that circus they call the music industry. At least that’s where my resume shows the most experience. I do have career aspirations as a songwriter, but music is so abundant these days that it has no financial value anymore. When you start to rely on your music for a paycheck, there are strict rules you have to follow. It ruins all the fun. But working for other artists doesn’t strike me as an ideal alternative.
I very much enjoy writing about music, as well as film and literature, and I would love to pursue a career path that allows me to do that. I’ve always been an analytical thinker, but school is what has helped me become an analytical writer. So were I not in academia, I’d probably have some day job that I didn’t find very fulfilling.