Indie Rocker Teaches Writing

Damon H. Krukowski ’85 teaches Expository Writing. To people outside of his sections, however, he may be better known as the former drummer for Galaxie 500, the late-eighties indie band that pioneered the dreamy “slowcore” sound. Doubtful freshmen in need of concrete proof need look no further than the archived records at Harvard’s radio station in the basement of Pennypacker. On the cover of “Today,” the band’s second full-length, someone has scrawled in Bic pen: “Damon, the percussionist on this recording, gave a brilliant and cogent Duchamp presentation in the Jameson seminar last year.” It’s signed by someone named Vodka.

Krukowski, for one, takes his duel life—and the above comment—in stride. “I bet I know who that is,” he says, laughing. “I was in grad school at the time.” Rather than launch into a story of Vodka’s raucous college years, however, Krukowski’s conversation gravitates more toward Duchamp.

“Duchamp was an artist in every sense,” he says. “He even made music, although it was pretty conceptual. …It’s connected to what I’m teaching now, although I’m not using Duchamp, because my class is specifically about music. But I use John Cage. Cage was enamoured of Duchamp and his work, and they played chess together every day.”

To many of us, the return to academia after a ten-year stint as a freewheeling musician might seem incongruous. And indeed, although Krukowski looks back with fondness at his time at Harvard, he freely admits that, as a graduate student, he disliked the teaching. Yet, it only takes a few minutes of conversation to see his genuine enthusiasm for art’s more bookish side. He navigates discussions on Jonathan Richman and John Cage with equal ease, and says that he’s as much surprised by his return to Harvard as anyone else.

“I thought I probably would never teach,” he says. “But, things change and I decided I wanted to try again.”

He seems to be enjoying the job so far. Krukowski’s Expos section, “Music and Its Environment,” analyzes avant-garde recordings in class, pushing students to broaden and even redefine their ideas about art.

For Krukowski, it is certainly the closest intersection of school and music in all his time at Harvard. He doesn’t discuss his own songwriting in Expos and says he is not aware, “particularly, that my students know what I do outside of class.” This new teaching venture marks the first time that Krukowski, a former student of literature, has brought music of any kind into the classroom.

The course’s cerebral approach to music belies the fact that Krukowski and his bandmates spent their undergrad years playing sloppy Clash and Sex Pistols covers (“everyone hated us,” he recalls). The more tempered, thoughtful songs of the Galaxie 500 project emerged after college, in the broader Boston scene. “We gravitated toward a sound that was based on more American bands…Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman, Modern Lovers…there was a punk rock ethic to it, but it was no longer loud and fast. Which we were just bad at.”

The band grew in the bar by North Station where anyone could play; in the underground network that was, at the time, “just a bunch of misfit and losers, really,” admits Krukowski. “This was before the whole alternative rock idea. No one was paying attention to us…It worked out, we could get cheap rehearsal space.”

Years later, Krukowski and his wife Naomi Yang ’85, Galaxie 500’s former bassist, continue to make music under the simple moniker of Damon & Naomi. They play shows around the Boston area (including an upcoming gig at the MFA on March 12), often collaborating with other bands that they’ve met and worked with over the years. “We’ve traveled a lot with our music, and you end up making connections that are kind of fleeting but they’re very intense…It’s this funny musician community,” Krukowski says.

Krukowski also writes prose poetry, and holds public readings from his work on occasion. Although otherwise hesitant to infer any direct connection between his art and his teaching, here he makes an exception. “My prose poetry is actually very strictly rhetorically correct,” he jokes. “Hence why I feel I’m qualified to teach Expos.”