Teaching and Cover Bands

I’m on a video spree tonight; playing around with the goofy squirrel movie got me thinking about another video I slapped together last May for a presentation I did at University of Mary Washington– this was the first go around for “Being There” which turned out in some ways to be “Alan’s Favorite Things and Odd Stuff on the Web”.

I had this one slide and effort to make a connection between teaching and cover bands. I actually got so carried away by the video I made to emphasize the point, it was later it dawned on me that maybe while fun, it sort of was a stretch from the supposed topic- a pitfall when you get hooked on media.

What I Learned from Johnny Cash

Here I tried to make the connection between teaching and cover bands. If you go to a bar and the music is a Beatles cover band, you pretty much expect 60’s dress, British flags, and faithful copies of the Fab Four’s music.

Maybe teaching certain subjects is like that- there are maybe only so many ways to teach the area of a triangle or sentence diagramming.

But often, our most memorable learning experiences are from teachers who do original versions of "old" classics.

So if you can follow this analogy, here is an experience I had with Johnny Cash— not an artist I liked very much (I am a 60s rock and roll fan, anything blues based works for me). I knew who Johnny Cash was,”the man in black” but he was country, outside my music scope.

But after learning more about the “man” after seeing “Walk the Line” I was intrigued to listen more to his music, and eventually looked to YouTube, where I found his version of Rusty Cage– a heavy metal song originally recorded by Soundgarden.

I’m trying to make a case that either version is "better" (though I do have my personal bias).

But Johnny Cash has done a complete and utterly creative re-interpretation of a driving heavy metal riff into an acoustic blues jolt. On the screen above I have made my own mashup- actually an intersection of 2 YouTube pages, and a video of both artists singing the same song.

Rusty Cage Remix

My stretch is that good teachers do this as well- take a previous work and put a new interpretation on it, and done well, create a compelling resource (song) that may speak to a person where the original may not. Remixing and mashing up is an age old custom, just recently recast into a new media form.

The video is a questionable use by me editing of the two videos, so check it out before the lawyers find it.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. I like the analogy here. As teachers, we certainly should both cover (in the coverband sense) and remix material. And yes, it’s a matter of taste, but as you allude, taste and circumstances change.

    I remember the Soundgarden version well, and when I was a fan of theirs, I saw Johnny Cash in one of his less popular periods. I didn’t much like his music until much later, but before Walk this Line.

    What I really liked about Cash’s later music is his ability to tap into (alternative) popular music and actually create something as good if not better, while creating a real cult appeal. His NIN cover of Hurt is one of my favorite, and Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode cover) is also a terrific song. I wish I could accomplish that sort of thing in the classroom … create that kind of appeal … that’s a testament to something even beyond what I’d call classic talent.

    Thanks for the post Alan. All the best.

  2. This is an interesting analogy – I’ve often felt like ‘Billy Connolly’ during face to face teaching sessions – where I’m there to ‘entertain’ the crowd with real life funny ‘situations’ to bring their learning alive. Using a story or ‘situation’ which students can ‘relate’ to certainly supports Constructivism learning theory.

    I also seen a quote something along the lines of ‘teaching is 20% knowledge and 80% acting’.

    Allison, Adelaide, Australia

  3. I’ve done this last year with JumpCut. Students in junior years get lost in trying to made ‘great production value’, so allowing them to mash things up, gives them the ‘bling’ factor they want, sound quality and then then can remix a message. It worked so well that we now have a standard HSC assessment task in year 12 English that uses this approach. Over 2 years it has gone from Movie Maker to iMove and now to online. Kids get really into it and spend less time concerning themselves with production values and more time on creating the message and content.

    Nice post (again)

  4. Cash’s covers of U2’s One and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus are also awesome.

    I like the idea of teachers as cover bands, particularly when teachers are asked more and more to follow prescribed (some would say scripted) programs. It’s more about interpretation and flare than reading from a script.

  5. My favorite is “Hurt” originally performed by Nine Inch Nails. You do make a great point. There are many parallels. I find myself in a world of teachers in which act as the “Perfect Cover Band”. These teachers spend every waking moment trying to recreate the song the way the original band performed it. I spend every waking moment trying to explain to my students that the “conventional way” is not always unique and creative. Being a Science teacher, seeing the students twice a week, I am constantly trying to reverse the damage created by “Perfect Cover Band”.

  6. Alan,

    I like the analogy of teacher as cover band. Teaching is an art, and as such requires the teacher to create a way that communicates to their students, much the way you just taught us. Familiar story, but unique approach. Great example.

  7. Harry Nilsson used to write his songs by trying to come up with lyrics and music to plug the holes where he’d forgotten bits from the original song.

    It’s an enormous sonic tapestry we’re working on together, all of us.

    Musical analogies are the highest form of analytical thinking! And here’s another vote for “Hurt”–see the video if you can.

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