Today, Silver Disobedience sits down with: Stephen Tow. Stephen is the author of London, Reign Over Me: How England’s Capital Built Classic Rock, to be published by Rowman & Littlefield on February 15, 2020. Stephen also teaches history at Delaware Valley University, located near Philadelphia. He specializes in rock n roll and twentieth century America. As part of the music course, his students have had the opportunity to interact with various musicians, including Yes’ Steve Howe, The Kinks’ Dave Davies, Nirvana’s Chad Channing, The Go-Go’s’ Kathy Valentine, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Blind Melon’s Rogers Stevens, Fairport Convention’s Judy Dyble and Richard Thompson, The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, The Patti Smith Group’s Lenny Kaye, and others. This spring, he has added some new guests including The Runaways’ Cherie Currie, and Buffalo Springfield’s Richie Furay.
Stephen is also the author of The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge, published by Sasquatch Books in 2011.
What is your background?
I am the author of two books as you’ve previously mentioned and have been teaching history at Delaware Valley University for 20 years. I’ve taught all eras of American history including a course on the Vietnam War and various honors seminars. Over the past several years I have developed a three-credit course on rock n roll history. In addition to our guest speakers, I have the students write about songs from various eras as well as what I call the “album project.” For this assignment, students randomly pick from a hat (literally) of 100 albums released from 1965 to 2008. The purpose is to force them to experience the album as a whole, which gets them out of their modern-day mindset of cherry-picking songs, often taken out of context.
What inspires you to create?
For whatever I do, I have to be moving forward, whether it is teaching, writing, or playing guitar. Treading water is boring, so I’m always looking for new areas to learn about, explore, and hopefully create something new and exciting.
How has your career influenced your passions (or vice versa)?
Not sure I can answer that one directly. I’ve always been motivated by working outside the lines. Most people follow the same career path their entire life. I’ve always avoided classifications. I started out as a CPA, but decided I didn’t want to become a partner in an accounting firm, so I started my own small practice while pursuing a master’s degree in history. Then I started teaching history. Then I began to write about rock bands…something a CPA or even a history professor isn’t supposed to do.
What is something that you must do every day (by choice)?
Play guitar. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t pick them up. I have four acoustic guitars including a small travel guitar that I take with me on business or pleasure trips so I don’t miss a day.
What are some things that you would tell your younger self, if you had the opportunity to offer advice retrospectively?
I think I would tell myself not to waste time pursuing what other people think your career path should be. If you don’t like what you’re doing, change it now, or just do something else on the side. Whatever. You’re bounded by nothing.
If you could be answering these questions from another location, anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Either Seattle or London. (Or maybe Tallinn, even though I’ve never been there.) I know a lot of people in Seattle and London and love both cities. Seattle is kind of weird and eclectic (well, at least at used to be…Amazon has changed it dramatically even over the last few years), and London, is well, London. I love England in general and could see living there for a time.
Who are some role models in your life?
My parents and my sister. My father passed away when I was 15, but his contrarian outlook on life has always stayed with me. I can’t help but roll my eyes every time a new fad comes along that makes absolutely no sense. For better or worse, I’m stuck with that. My mom taught me never to take any abuse from anyone, and my sister showed me how to be positive and love your life.
What are some common misconceptions about getting older that you’d like to change?
A common misconception is that once you reach a certain age, you can’t change. I mentioned earlier about playing guitar. It wasn’t until after 50 that I attacked the instrument seriously. Over the last few years, I’ve gone from someone who tinkers with the instrument and could barely play to a pretty solid musician who performs regularly at open mics. Small time, I know, but it’s a pretty cool thing in my world.
What is something you appreciate now that you hadn’t before?
Maybe time, which goes back to the previous question. As you get older, you learn that it doesn’t go on forever, and you have a limited amount of time to make your mark. So, I’ve been trying not to waste too much of it.
What’s a lesson you learned within the last year that you’d like to share?
That it’s ok to be wrong. I think I learned this with my daughter. Sometimes it’s ok to apologize, even if I’m convinced I’m right, because it’s in the best interest of everyone.
What kinds of relationships are important to your work?
For writing, I have to be respectful to everyone, especially my interviewees. I’ve done hundreds of interviews over the past few years, and they mostly work because I respect people’s time and their lives. They don’t have to talk to me. They’re not making any money from me, so they are completely giving of their time. I counter by showing genuine interest in their lives, and they seem to appreciate that.
What would you like to be doing exactly five years from today? Ten years?
I have no idea how to answer that question. Sorry.
What one idea would you like to share with the Silver Disobedience community?
Don’t be afraid to follow your own path, even though family and friends may doubt you. Ultimately, it’s your life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can find me at stephentow.com. Also, they can follow me on Twitter at @StephenTow or on my Facebook author page: Stephen Tow, Author.