Not many people can say that they’ve written a memoir about touring with their own rock band. But Minnesota State University, Mankato English professor Robin Becker can.
Having taught creative writing since 2014, Becker is taking her sabbatical to write her memoir, “Road Kill,” based on her post-high school experience playing guitar for money along the West Coast and Southwest with her best high school friend and first husband. Besides the title, which originates from the photos Becker and her friends took on the journey, the memoir focuses on gender and the patriarchy during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Becker’s music career started out with piano lessons her parents made her take. While not her favorite, it led her to find instruments she enjoyed playing, such as guitar and drums.
“It was sometimes a burden, but it gave me a great foundation because of the music theory tied to it,” said Becker. “I took some guitar lessons for a few years but wasn’t that serious about it. After playing drums in bands down in Austin, Texas, I decided to switch back to guitar.”
Becker and a group of other professors here at MNSU started their own band called Goal Area 51 three years ago. With beats inspired by ‘80s and ‘90s rock bands such as X, The Damned, and The Smiths, the name of the band was inspired by the annual assessments professors have to take.
“When we do our reviews, we have to fulfill goal areas based on scholarly work, student engagement and the like,” said Becker. “We took that and made it a pun with Area 51, sort of a riff on all professors.”
For having an extensive music career, likely the genres change with time. Becker has noticed that while not much has changed artistically, the tools used to create music have changed significantly since she started playing.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on using distortion for vocals, not to keep yourself in tune but to have weird distorted sounds that make your voice robotic,” said Becker. “The structure of songs hasn’t changed because there are only so many combinations that you can put notes in. What’s changed the most is the incorporation and emphasis on electronic music.”
Becker has found that music has helped her grow as a writer; a comfort when she comes to the crossroads of writer’s block. Becker finds music and writing go hand-in-hand in the classroom through consistent practice.
“Part of my job is to help people learn how to be a creative person daily. That’s practice and habit to get work done daily,” said Becker. “You don’t have to be good at every creative endeavor you engage with if it brings you joy. That attitude is something I try to teach to my students.”
While the memoir is a work in progress, Becker is still playing shows with Goal Area 51. The band has two upcoming shows: 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at The Wine Cafe, and 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Makerspace, where they’ll open for Hoot-N’-Hollers.
Becker’s advice for those who want to pursue music, whether professionally or recreationally, is to just go after what they want.
“The more shows you play, the better your performances will turn out,” said Becker. “[Your dreams] will never happen if you don’t go for it.”
Header Photo: Professor Robin Becker wearing her “I heart zombies” T-shirt. (Vanessa Knewtson/Today Magazine)