College kids can study George Jones (and Miley, too)

12:00 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 Local

It’s past Labor Day now, which used to mean everybody was newly back in school. Now kids go back in early August, and Christmas decorations are up in some stores. Another change: College courses are not what they used to be.

Some institutions of higher education are offering surprisingly specific courses in music and pop culture.

For the third semester in a row Middle Tennessee University has many students enrolled in a course called The Life and Music of George Jones. Yep, schooling about “The Possum,” taught by songwriter Odie Blackmon. “(The students) don’t know a world without ‘American Idol,’ ” Blackmon told the Tennessean. “I want them to know what it took to build a real artist, a game-changing, true artist that was also commercially successful.”

The concept came about after Jones’ widow, Nancy, established a scholarship in his name for recording industry majors. Before you think it’s all “yee haw” and “drankin’,” please know that the course is much more than that.

From Jones’ childhood in rural Texas during the Great Depression to his rhinestone suits and struggles with alcohol, it covers the gamut of Jones’ life. Several class sessions are devoted solely to what I think is the greatest country song of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” but course time also looks at tunes that weren’t so well known. “There’s so much more substance to George’s catalog that people don’t know about,” he says in the article. “A lot of people don’t know the musical experimentation he did; he made some rockabilly records (under the name ‘Thumper Jones’) and a Vietnam protest song called ‘Unwanted Babies’… . People know him as this hardcore traditionalist, but he did try other things.”

If George is not your shot of whiskey, Skidmore College offers The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media, which uses Billy Ray’s little girl as a “lens through which to explore sociological thinking about identity, entertainment, media and fame,” according to an ABC News story.

Still no? Maybe you’d like Philosophy and Star Trek at Georgetown University, which centers on topics in metaphysics that come up again and again in “Star Trek.” If you’re attending Rutgers University in New Jersey, how about Bruce Springsteen’s Theology, which offers a “theologically oriented approach to Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics. We will focus on Springsteen’s reinterpretation of biblical motifs, the possibility of redemption by earthly means (women, cars, music), and his interweaving of secular and sacred elements.”

Then there’s The Theology of Harry Potter at Centre College in Danville, Ky. The course description says it “will allow students to develop an understanding of theological concepts such as God, sin, and theodicy (the problem of evil), and also to study the literary epic genre through the lens of the Harry Potter series.” Makes a Possum sound appealing doesn’t it?