In the beginning there was Elvis, and Elvis was rock ‘n’ roll.
The foundation for Lake Tahoe Community College’s newest class, “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” is built on the legacy of the rock ‘n’ roll king. He set in motion a decades-long, music-fueled journey that shook society to its core and greased the wheels of the civil rights movement according to Professor Dona Nichols.
“Elvis legitimized this music. He brought black music to a white culture,” Nichols said. “I believe rock ‘n’ roll played as big a role in the civil rights era as Martin Luther King, Jr. … Once you break that barrier and get people listening to the same music, dancing on the same dance floor, it makes the civil rights movement a little easier.”
Nichols designed the class three years ago for San Jose State University, where she’s taught in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department for the past 14 years. She’s bringing the popular course, which spans from the days of Motown to the British Invasion and the glam rock era, to LTCC this summer starting July 2.
As for the sex and drugs mentioned in the course title, Nichols argues the birth control pill and the one-night stands it facilitated were responsible for igniting the women’s movement.
“I graduated from high school in ‘71. I really enjoyed the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and I came out of that time pretty much unscathed. If I knew I was going to grow up to teach a class on the subject, I could have told my mom I was doing research,” she said.
Young students intrigued by the course description and baby boomers who want to relive the history of the psychedelic ‘60s typically constitute the majority of the class, Nichols said. They’re welcomed with rock ‘n’ roll as soon as they enter the classroom, encouraged to get up and dance — there’s extra credit available to those willing to strut their stuff on top of the tables — and the finals often include a “Name that Tune” section that prompts students for the name of the song, the artist and a fun fact about the composition.
“I needed something fun,” said Melody Gonzalez, a former student of Nichols’ who signed up for the class as a freshman. “I thought this would be something I’d look forward to. At first I thought, ‘What will my mom think?’ but I wanted to try something new that fit with the college experience.”
For LTCC students, “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” offers an opportunity to try a four-year university class. It also may lay the foundation for a new broadcast-specific pathway the college is considering, LTCC Interim Dean of Instruction for Humanities and Social Sciences Kurt Green said.
The college will offer two communication or broadcast courses this fall, aiming to eventually build a program that would lead to a broadcast degree or certificate and would connect various community groups such as KTHO-FM. “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” complements other LTCC courses such as the introduction to computer music composition, Green said.
Registration for the new summer course is still open, Green said. For more information on the class that revives the history of the ‘60s and ‘70s, visit www.ltcc.edu.
“Music is the one thing that can really transcend time. You hear a song and it will put you back in time,” Nichols said.