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English Professor Studies Townes Van Zandt

January 28, 2013

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Philosophy, English and pop culture shared common ground on Jan. 22, with a presentation given by Professor Ann Norton entitled "Townes Van Zandt: Outlaw Country Existentialist Poet." Though an English professor specializing in 20th century British literature, Professor Norton's presentation drew students and faculty from several academic disciplines.

The presentation, part of the Philosophy Department Colloquium Series, focused on the late American musician Townes Van Zandt, described as a country "outlaw," or someone who strays from the "mainstream country music." Van Zandt wrote for many popular artists such as Bob Dylan and Norah Jones. Van Zandt, who Professor Norton noted would not be an admirable person in the moral sense as he was both an alcoholic and an avid drug user, was able to inspire educators in other ways, as he wrote a great deal of musical works that left more than just musicians pondering the answers to deep, philosophical questions.

Professor Norton played three songs by Van Zandt and looked at his "deceptively simple" lyrics to discover life questions and ideas posed in his songs, such as the meaning of love and how to get the most out of every moment in the present. She examined his lyrics to find hidden meaning behind Van Zandt's words, showing that through simple phrases, Van Zandt described complex ideas. Professor Norton's in-depth look at the meaning of the words in Van Zandt's songs was proof of how music can be an excellent guide for learning in almost every area, from philosophy to English.

By Meagan Cox '15