Fall 2010 / Spring 2011

Photo: Marty Perez
Photo: Marty Perez

“The energy, enthusiasm, diversity of interest … the fire in the belly that I get any time I’m in front of any class at Columbia just feels like home." -JIM DEROGATIS

Say Hello to DeRo

Author. Critic. Music industry loudmouth. Jim DeRogatis Joins the Department of English in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In a dimly lit, acoustically perfect recording room, Jim DeRogatis is co-hosting his WBEZ radio show “Sound Opinions” and exuberantly dissecting the importance of one of punk rock’s most important records: The Clash’s London Calling.

"When I bought this record when it came out, I didn’t know that [its cover image] was the exact lettering and color scheme from Elvis Presley’s debut album,” DeRogatis says on the show to fellow music critic Greg Kot, his co-host. “The Clash’s take on it was to take the same layout and same color scheme, but [with bassist] Paul Simonon on stage at the Palladium in New York destroying his bass, pounding his bass down into the ground. Elvis Presley was the beginning, we are The Clash, and we are going to be the end. That was the statement of what would eventually be called London Calling."

It’s observations and analyses like these that have given DeRogatis a reputation as one of the most informative, creative, and thought-provoking figures in the music industry and music media. And now he’s coming to the Department of English. Just days after recording this show, DeRogatis shocked the music and media worlds by announcing he was leaving his position as music critic of the Chicago Sun-Times to join Columbia’s Department of English this Fall as a full-time lecturer.

“The energy, enthusiasm, diversity of interest … the fire in the belly that I get any time I’m in front of any class at Columbia just feels like home,” says DeRogatis, who was previously an adjunct instructor at the college. “It’s a privilege to work with kids who are so eager to get out there in all these different fields...

In the fields of music journalism and music criticism, DeRogatis is a pioneer and a legend. The author of several books, including Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs,America’s Greatest Rock Critic, he’s written for numerous nationwide magazines, including Spin, Guitar World, Modern Drummer, Penthouse, and GQ—not to mention doing a brief stint in the 1990s as an editor at Rolling Stone. In total, DeRogatis, who is also the drummer in a Chicago-based punk band called Vortis, brings more than two decades of professional experience to Columbia and to the Department of English, along with a wealth of knowledge in writing, music, and criticism.

"Hiring Jim means our students will have the opportunity to study writing, reviewing, and criticism with one of the major critical voices in popular music in our generation,” says Dr. Kenneth Daley, Chair of the Department of English. “He has an infectious enthusiasm for our students and for our Professional Writing program. He’s a great addition to the English Department, to the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and to Columbia College Chicago.”

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1964, DeRogatis developed a knack for writing and a deep appreciation for rock music while still in high school. In college, and as a fresh-faced student at New York University (NYU), he recalls driving his journalism teacher crazy by asking questions such as, “What is the difference between criticism and journalism?”, and, “How has the role of investigative reporting changed in the wake of Watergate and Silkwood?” This drive earned him an early ‘A’ in the course, and it opened the door for DeRogatis to meet and interview his hero, Lester Bangs, also a musician and music critic, who died two weeks after DeRogatis interviewed him.

“More than any rock musician, [Bangs] was really a hero to me because of the way he brought rock ’n’ roll alive on the page,” DeRogatis says. “I thought he was an incredible writer and made music come alive for me.”

While still a student at NYU, DeRogatis says, he enjoyed the university’s urban atmosphere, and he appreciated that his favorite professors were working professionals. These two similarities between NYU and Columbia, he says, strongly influenced his desire to teach here. “For the last ten or fifteen years, I have gotten to speak fairly regularly to classes all over Chicago,” DeRogatis says. “Columbia kids are in your face. They want to know why you write what you wrote. There is an energy here that reminds me a lot of when I went to NYU.”

Like Bangs’ approach to music criticism, DeRogatis’ is creative, honest, and—often times—brutal. He’s never been afraid to say things as he sees them, and he’s been known to offend many in the recording industry. “I’m from Jersey, so why mince words?” he says. “You know, the Broken Bells don’t happen in a universe that doesn’t include Usher, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift. It’s all part of a continuum, and it tells us about life in 2010.”

In his course “Reviewing the Arts,” which is part of the Professional Writing program in the Department of English, DeRogatis combines his enthusiasm for great writing with his fervor for music, teaching students to channel their own interests into cohesive writing that bursts with both meaning and flavor.

When he begins this Fall, DeRogatis will continue to teach “Reviewing the Arts,” as well as “Writing for New Media,” “Careers in Writing,” and other courses that will help the Department of English develop its Professional Writing and Creative Nonfiction programs. As a professor, DeRogatis says, he wants to inspire students to get excited about their craft—much as Bangs did for him.

“I always tell my students a great food writer can write a thousand words on a glass of milk,” DeRogatis says. “I can’t do that, but I know how to do it for music, and hopefully I can help you become a better writer. I don’t care if you love a movie or hate a movie, and I disagree with you. That’s irrelevant. It’s the power of writing [that matters].”