Stormin' Bob Swanson

Blogging Bob

Now That’s What I Call Folk Music! (Vol. 1)

The best folk music is about folks, so you can imagine my surprise and delight to find myself a “folk” subject of a folk song. A little backstory . . . .

Students in my physical science classes are required to complete a “Smarter Every Week” group project. Presentations typically occur on Fridays and focus on explaining the physics involved in selected videos from the YouTube channel, “Smarter Every Day.” In addition to explaining the physics, I encourage groups to add interactive and preferably artistic (a sketch, an interpretive dance, etc.) elements. In short, I want students to make their presentations memorable.

That’s exactly what Ryan Bergman, a member of a group presenting about “The Physics of Beat-Boxing” did when he played an original song about sound waves and, well, me.

“SoundMan Bob Swanson” — an original song by Ryan Bergman

You’ll note at the beginning of the song that he checks with me about the proper wording of the phrase, “a pandemic of certainty” — something that I have apparently said a time or two in class. In addition to teaching about physical science, it is important to me to teach my students critical thinking skills. One of which is to match one’s confidence in a belief or an idea with the quantity and quality of the evidence used to support it.

As a reminder of this (for myself, my students and my audiences), I’ve written this slogan around the sound hole of my guitar — “This Machine Surrounds Certainty and Forces It to Think Again” — following in the folk music footsteps of Woody Guthrie (“This Machine Kills Fascists”) and Pete Seeger (“This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender”). It means so much to me that my critical thinking lessons made an impression on my songwriting student.

Hearing the song for the first time also transported me back 20 years. Shortly after I arrived in Johnson City, TN, to work as a weatherman at WJHL NewsChannel 11, I was asked by my boss (Chief Meteorologist Mark Reynolds) to write a song for one of our “Weather Watchers” who was about to celebrate his 80th birthday. (“Weather Watchers” were a dedicated bunch of viewers who would call in and report their current temperatures right before the newscast.)

Having only known “Weather Watcher” Robie Hensley for a matter of weeks, this was a tall order. I called his daughter, got a laundry list of biographical facts and got to work. I had to have his song written, rehearsed and performance-ready for his impending birthday party.

A song I wrote in 2002 to commemorate the 80th birthday of WJHL-TV “Weather Watcher” Robie Hensley of Chuckey, TN.

Long story short is that Robie loved the song. It means a lot to a songwriter when you can bring the subject of your song to tears (of joy) and that’s what happened at the birthday party.

I didn’t cry in class — in fact, I was smiling ear to ear — but it meant so much to me to join the ranks of Robie Hensley and other “folks” who have inspired folk songs. Thank you, Ryan Bergman!

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