Learning to embrace life’s complexities is an inevitable lesson in Phillip Naylor’s classroom. The Western Civilization and History of Rock ‘n’ Roll professor has been teaching at Marquette for more than 30 years and is a bit of a complexity himself. Between his office’s arbitrary door decorations — insightful quotes, words in other languages, black and white photos — and his affinity for blues and Northern Africa, Naylor said there is one common thread that defines him: the need to explore.
“In all my classes, I ask my students to explore, but also to see what they’ve got inside of themselves,” he said.
This secular and spiritual experience echoes not only Marquette’s mission, Naylor said, but boyhood adventures he had with his parents, who grew up in Turkey. He grew up reading encyclopedias and traveling. During one trip to Iran, Naylor’s father made him meet members of the Zoroastrians, the oldest religious community in the nation.
It’s no wonder that the Velvet Underground and various blues artists make up Naylor’s favorite music: They’re people who explored, themselves, he said.
“I see music as documentation,” he said. “It helps me understand history.”
For students of Naylor’s Western Civilization II class, music might help them understand history, too. Naylor and other Marquette faculty members formed “Western Civilizations,” a blues band that seems to parody the college classroom experience. The album cover is the image of an infamous test-taking blue book.
“The band enhanced my knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “It’s beyond playing. It’s production.”
Naylor’s teaching assistant David DeMarkis, a graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences, played the harmonica during the band’s performance of “Midterm Blues,” one of his favorite memories with Naylor to date.
“Dr. Naylor was simply amazing on guitar,” DeMarkis said in an email. “His best quality as an educator is his ability to personalize history within the classroom.”
“Having fun is really important when you’re discussing life and death issues,” Naylor said. “If you’re too wrapped up in it, it’s pretty demoralizing.”
Since publishing “North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present” in 2009, among many other books, his occupation now seems more like a vocation, he said. In staying true to Marquette’s mission, Naylor said, “I just hope I’m serving in some way.”