Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

March 10, 2004:

Rock 'n' roll, 2004—
Publish or vanish from site

by Andrew Romano '04

On May 17, 1955, the juvenile delinquency drama Blackboard Jungle closed its run at Princeton's Garden Theater. That night, 10 enterprising students met at a local record shop to purchase copies of the film's groundbreaking theme song, "Rock Around the Clock." The plan, as revealed in the next day's "Prince": to blare Bill Haley's hit single at 11 p.m. from "key places" on campus "in hopes of triggering an outburst."

It worked. By 11:30, a mob of over 1,000 Princetonians spilled out of the 1901-Henry Hall quadrangle, releasing water hydrants, setting fires in ash cans, lobbing rolls of toilet paper into trees, and chanting "go, go, daddy-o" on their march up campus. As Borough police swarmed Nassau Street around 12:30 to quell the "riot," a few importunate undergrads hurled cherry bombs at passing cars.

At Princeton in the mid-50s, rock 'n' roll filled the streets with students; today, it fills the syllabus of a course called MUS 264: Urban Blues and the Golden Age of Rock. Only a year old, the wide-ranging survey of rock-based genres (including doo-wop, surf, acid, prog, and fusion) is one of the most popular offerings at Princeton. To wit: MUS 264 hit its enrollment limit of 170 students in the first few hours of spring term registration, when only seniors were allowed to choose. Meaning that a tenth of the senior class chose to rock 'n' roll.

"It's my last semester here, and I wanted to take something interesting but not too demanding," says William Robinson '04. "I've taken plenty of useful classes over the past three years. It's time for something cool."

During a recent lecture, Associate Professor Rob Wegman fired up McCosh 10's state-of-the art speaker system and slipped a CD of "Rock Around the Clock" into the stereo. The twang of Danny Cedrone's guitar solo spread to every corner of the large room, which is about the same size as the Garden in the 50s. Wegman, a Dutch-born scholar of late-Medieval and Renaissance music, tapped his toes to the beat.

As the song faded out, Wegman lowered the lights. A video clip from Blackboard Jungle played on a huge screen behind the stage. Vic Morrow, his surliness undiminished since 1955, smashed math teacher Richard Kiley's priceless jazz records just as he smashed them a half-century before.

There was no riot this time around, though: no fires, no toilet paper, no "go, go, daddy-o." The students were too busy taking notes.

There’s an unwritten rule known in the halls of the academy as “publish or perish”: To obtain tenure and receive full professorship, one must get one’s work in print.

In the halls of 48 University Place — where, following the completion of a six-month renovation project, all 22 of Princeton’s student-run periodicals and papers are now busy setting up shop — a novel variation on “publish or perish” has recently taken hold: Publish or trade your office space for a desk drawer.

“We will be randomly checking the use of offices,” said Director of Princeton Student Agencies Sean Weaver at a February 13 meeting with publication leaders, “If we see students aren’t using their space, we’ll reallocate it.”

Visiting 48 University Place around 9:30 on a recent Sunday evening, I witnessed the new rule in play.

A two-foot tall plastic Jesus glows in the window of the Nassau Weekly’s basement office, a few paces to the right of the back door. The kitschy beacon is a testament not only to the Nass’s sense of humor but to its sense of permanence. Published regularly each Thursday, the tabloid is free to worry about embellishment rather than eviction. Ditto for Business Today. The organization monopolizes the entire third floor of 48 University Place, where it has installed a mascot equally befitting its mission: longtime secretary Carole Klein. The Daily Princetonian dominates levels one and two; assorted editors rush to finish off copy, layout, and a box of Papa John’s pizza.

Not every group is as comfortable as the Prince in its new digs. Basement office 012, home of the University Press Club, remains Spartan. Around 10 p.m., the group — a cadre of stringers paid to cover the campus for off-campus newspapers — scans a 12-point agenda for the meeting. Point two: “Seriously, if we don’t use the room, it’s gone.” Vice-president Jon Cheng ’05 jokes that behind a half-open heating vent hides Sean Weaver, “randomly checking the use of offices.” Staffers might make similar wisecracks in the “use it or lose it” headquarters of Tiger Magazine, Nassau Literary Review, Troubadour, or Prism.

For the one-issue-old Prism (“Princeton’s Newest and Only Literary Journal with a Focus on Diversity”), scoring an office was surprise good news. According to Weaver, groups awarded private HQs in 48 University Place had private HQs somewhere on campus prior to the building’s overhaul. Fledging Prism, now ensconced on level four, did not. Nor did other new, unfamiliar, and/or sporadic publications: Kruller, Peeps, The Internationalist, Pauper, and Distractions Puzzle Magazine, to name a few. But unlike Prism, these periodicals and papers didn’t get offices; they got individual sections of locked file cabinets in what Weaver calls “shared space.”

“The new [shared] office is best viewed as a symbol that AFP is here to stay,” says Gabe Collins ’05, publisher of American Foreign Policy (“The Nation’s Only Student-written, Student-edited Foreign Policy Newspaper”). “While sharing space does have some inherent disadvantages, the layout closely fits our needs and we are pleased with it.” When asked if AFP, which publishes regularly, will request a private office in the near future, Collins says only: “Given the continual birth and death of campus publications, I feel it best to reserve comment on this matter.”

Around 10:30 I sneak into Room 402, which American Foreign Policy splits with the rest of Princeton's political press corps. AFP, the Idealistic Nation, the Journal of Foreign Affairs, and Princeton Political Quarterly subsist in shared space the size of a motel room, while the Tory, the Spectator, and Progressive Review claim abutting offices no larger than a walk-in closet.

The law of "publish or perish" will govern the tenents of Room 402 in the coming months. As humming fluorescent lights reflect off the hospital-green tiles under foot (new for ’04), I imagine the fun: the liberal Idealistic Nation vows to displace its arch-foe, the Tory; American Foreign Policy, and the Journal of Foreign Affairs jockey for the attention of Princeton's insatiable foreign affairs/foreign policy readership. With a new $15,000 coffer (administered by the USG's Special Project Board and replenished annually by various departments and deans) now available to all of these publications, the playing field is level and the contest is just beginning.

The mascot for Room 402? Hanging limply in the corner, a big American flag.

Andrew Romano ’04 is an English major from Medford, N.J.