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Interview with Marc Woodworth

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Title

Interview with Marc Woodworth

Date

Spring 2018
February 21st, 2018

Is Part Of

Skidmore Saratoga Memory Project

Description

An oral history interview with professor and alumni Marc Woodworth. He discusses his time as a student on campus versus as a professor, and life as a Saratogian in general.

Language

ENG

Creator

Eberhardt, Sophia '19

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Eberhardt, Sophia

Interviewee

Woodworth, Marc

Location

Saratoga Springs, New York
Skidmore College, Palamountain Hall

Transcription

[SE] What was an av-average week at Skidmore?


[00:00:06.418]

[MW] I don't know, I was thinking about being here in the very early 80s, oh, I arrived in fall of 1980, and, what I was thinking first about was how much Saratoga's different, which may not pertain exactly to your Skidmore question, but, um, I remember my freshman suitemates and I went downtown and found a really, kind of seedy, backroom pool hall, and we used to like to play pool there once a week and it seemed to me, that that represents the kind of Saratoga that's no longer here. You know, it wasn't entirely upscale bourgeois at that point, it was still a little bit seedy in some places there were a lot of buildings that were unoccupied, there were a lot of storefronts without stores in them, um, I think there were, maybe, more, maybe this is a fantasy, but more, artistic people who, you know, could afford to live in Saratoga, rather than wealthy people, as there are now who can afford to live in Saratoga, so it feels like the, the, the feel of the town is considerably different. [00:01:13.403]

Um, a normal week in town would also have meant, in those days, for me, taking the bus to Moore Hall, which was our dorm on Union Avenue, uh, [it] was the last dormitory that Skidmore kept from the old campus which was still in place, and was still, um, a place where sophomores, juniors, and seniors would live, so, I do remember the first year I lived there, taking the bus around twilight in the winter and feeling, you know I was kind of isolated and far away from campus, so it felt sometimes a little bit, uh, like you were out of the mix of your normal, collegiate life, which was both good and also a little strange, sometimes, [inaudible], um, so that was part of the week, definitely, going back and forth on the bus that I remember. [00:02:06.524]

It was also, I think, the dorm that I would say, [had] a more bohemian element, that the college lived in, so there were a lot of, uh, artist types there, and, uh, people who thought of it as a little bit of a different place to live, on, on campus, so there was quite a cast of characters there, and, it had its own dining hall, so, um, of course there was still a dining hall on campus here, but it had- it retained its old dining hall which was Skidmore's old dining hall, so, um, the denisons of that particular dormitory would, you know, gather in that dining hall, I remember an interesting cast of characters, a guy named Clark who would always take, uh, the effervescence, or the carbonation, out of his sodas, so he would spend a lot of time filling up soda, uh, filling up glasses of soda and then with his spoon, uh, clinking, the spoon, around through the ice and getting the effervescence to get away so he could drink it [00:03:07.929]

Um, there were quite a few people who were, you know, notably eccentric, and it was also, it must be said, at that time, um, quite a drug center I would think. You know, Skidmore didn't, I mean, Saratoga didn't necessarily have a lot of, uh, a lot of industry at that time, but I think there were a number of young people who were selling elicit drugs out of, out of Moore Hall in those days, um, there were some international students, I remember, who, you know, seemingly have a very lucrative full time job it seemed, outside of their studies, in those, in those days. And that seemed to be a little bit based in Moore Hall, so, uh, that was, you know that wasn't, that wasn't part of my week, because I was, I was on an abstinence plan, and I never took drugs of any kind, um, my mother, wisely, made me very [afraid?] of all that stuff, but there were others, probably, who did, so, [there would be?], there would be a little bit of, uh, that kind of element going on down there. But it was, you know, it was still almost the 70s, it was early 80s, and, I guess there was still some of that permissiveness, not that the college would've permitted it, I don't suppose, but it seemed, I think, a little looser now -- then -- than it does now, probably, in all manner of things, and maybe, maybe students weren't, weren't quite so, um, overseen, I guess, in a way. So that's not really much of a schedule of a week but a scan of reassociation. [00:04:37.098]


[SE] Do you feel like the students who were on Skidmore's campus then reflected the community in the -- like, in the Saratoga public more, um, and does that correlate to how Skidmore students are with correlation to the public now? [00:04:53.924]


[MW] Ya that's a good question, um, it's a little hard for me to remember. I don't feel, that at least, I and my group of friends had a lot to do with Saratoga, I mean, despite going to play pool in the pool hall or, uh, going downtown. When I arrived at Skidmore the drinking age was 18, so people did go to bars and certain ones were Skidmore identified, I would guess, so we, we -- uh, I guess we socialized downtown, maybe, you know, maybe earlier than some Skidmore students do now, but I don't remember having a lot of interactions with townspeople outside of, you know, people who worked at the bank, or bartended, or served food. So I don't know if that's different, I mean, you have a better sense of what it's like now, but it's not your interview, we don't have to talk about that [laugh]. Um, but it, it feels to me that the campus and the people on the campus are more intergrated and perhaps a little more welcome and also welcoming to the people of the town now than they were then, [it] seems still pretty separate, um, I think it was, it would have been, of course, quite a while since the school became co-ed, so it was, you know, no longer thought of as a women's college, but there were still many more women at the college than men, I think it was still 3 or 4 to one ratio, maybe, at that time. And, I think the town still, probably, certainley people who had been here for a while still thought of it as, as -- as a rather posh school for wealthy young women and maybe that made them feel that it was still a separate entity from them, um. And, certainly there were still, you know, kids of means who went to the college and kids who drove very fancy cars, the likes of which I certainley didn't have or wouldn't have seen, and, I think, you know, in this town that wasn't booming economically at that point there was still probably a perception that this was a place for the wealthy to go to school and that probably retained something of a divide in there, before. [00:07:01.722]


[SE] Um, so, since you weren't really involved with, like, the Saratoga public when you were here, what factors made you decide to come here and teach and live here?


[MW] Hm, well I suppose that had to do largely with wanting to come back and work with Robert and Peg Boyers on Salmagundi Magazine, so uh, that, that became, kinda, my family when I was here as an undergraduate and they became my family in a way, I was very close to them. As a student I worked on the magazine, um, and spent a lot of time in what I aspired to, which was kind of their adult world of being intellectuals and loving arts and writers, um, so for me, Skidmore represented, uh, that world very strongly, and it was something that I was powerfully drawn to because I was here. And when I came back I came back initially, in a way that maybe, wasn't necessarily, going to seem permanent, but, Bob and Peg were on sabatical. I had a reason to want to -- nothing criminal -- but I had a reason I wanted to leave where I was and do something else and, um, and there was this opportunity to come back and, and help on the magazine while they were gone, and teach a few courses, so I came back for those reasons, and it wasn't, I don't think, at all because I didn't enjoy Saratoga when I was here as an undergraduate, um, I did I loved the town and I loved walking in the town, I love the architecture, um, I loved, actually, some of the sense that the grandness of the town had become compromised, because people couldn't keep up the houses anymore and there were numbers of houses on North Broadway which seemed unoccupied, weren't used in the summer even, and weren't kept up, and that was true all over town. So it's still, it kind of had a, had a bit of, um, degenerated charm, in some way, which I liked in a, uh -- and the town had a lot of, uh, a lot of charm for me in that way so I, I always loved being here even if I didn't feel, you know, like I did all that much with people in town off campus. [00:09:22.806] Um, but, so coming back was not dictated by the fact that Saratoga is Saratoga but it certainly helped that it was an interesting town, um, and when I -- when I was here as an undergraduate I didn't have anything to do with Caffe Lena, but by the time I came back I was much more involved I guess with folk music and contemporary singer-songwriter music was something I cared a lot about in Boston and Cambridge when I was in grad school before I came back, and by, so by the time back, Caffe Lena was really on the map for me, almost immidiately when I got back here, and I spent a lot of time at Caffe Lena. One of my classmates at Skidmore was, at that point, running Caffe Lena, in the early 90s, and I, I came back in 1990, and I spent a lot of time at the Caffe, playing and hanging out, and sometimes helping and doing things there, um. I remember when Ani DiFranco, which may not be a musician you know or might be, was sending her first tapes around, and Barbara ?Harris?, who was the manager at the Caffe at that time, opened the tape and, I guess I came in later that day or that night and she said "Oh, I want you to listen to this, it's really different and I think it's something we should consider," and it seemed very out of the box for the Caffe, I mean, it was identifiably singer-songwriter, acoustic-based music, which was their bread and butter, but it was sharp and it was, you know, irreverent, and it was political and it was edgy, um, in terms of its sexual content, um, all things like that. [00:11:05.066] So it wasn't a given for Caffe Lena, which, you know, probably hadn't had that much edge in that way, and we listened to it together and thought "Wow this is great," so Barbara invited Ani to come and play, um, at the Caffe, and I got to open that show, which was terrifically fun, small crowd the first time, maybe 14 people, 20 people, I don't know, and she was just a knock out. So that's to say, um, there was a lot going on, still, artistically, in town, that I started to discover when I came back in the early 90s, and for me Caffe Lena was really central to that. And at that time, and I guess that's a good way to, sort of, answer, not so much how students interacted with town in my day, but how they did in the 90s at least, there were a number of students who were actively, um, involved in Caffe Lena either as volunteers or as musicians who played regularly or came to open mics, um, and so my students who became friends, uh, during that period would spend a lot of time at Caffe Lena too, so there was a real connection there, uh, for the students who liked that kind of music and wanted to involve themselves. So that was a really great bridge to town, I think, for a lot of people, and I believe, even though I didn't have that experience as an undergraduate, since the 60s that's been a really strong bridge between town and campus for people who like that world. [00:12:26.977]


[SE] Do you feel like that's something that, like, music especially, is something that Skidmore values, and maybe how -- it's more of like how, what are some of the values of Skidmore that you have seen change, and that you hope to not change, and maybe some things that you hope to change, but, I know that music here is such, is such a scene and obviously that is reflected in the town as well and at SPAC and... [00:12:56.207]


[MW] No, that's a, that's a good point, um, I'm trying to think back to undergraduate days in the music scene and, I think it was strong, I definitely knew a number of musicians and [had] a couple of bands of certain kinds that weren't particularly formal, I guess, but we did play, played out a little bit and there were certainly students who had musical inclinations and the culture was strong and certainly classical music culture at the college was strong then as well. There were, I think, already, no -- yea, maybe Filene, there were Filene scholars already, at that point, so some friends were gifted classical pianists, what have you. Um, and then certainly when I came back in the 90s there seemed to be, maybe, more musicians somehow, I don't know if that's true or quantifiable, and ever since there's been a great string of musicians, bands, individuals, singers, who have found that really important, so yea, I think the college has a definite, um, element that, that's highly musical, and not everyone, I suppose, finds their way to Caffe Lena, but, uh, those who do find that connection pretty strong, and -- I'm trying to think of some more stories of those early days, well, and um, Garrett ?Duten? who now is, I think his last name is Duten, who is the person behind G-Love and Special Sauce, went to Skidmore, which, uh, many people know, but uh I remember when he was in my class, probably in the earlier mid-90s, can't quite remember, um, he's played a lot at Caffe Lena, so he would go down there and, and do open mics, and maybe even had a show or two, I'm not sure, as a student I'm not positive about that, [00:14:47.061] and the [?apocrable?], maybe it's true, [mumble] but maybe [?a powerful?] story was that he told his parents that he really wanted to make a go at being a musician and they supported it with the provisal that if he didn't, within a year, sort of establish himself as a musician, um, he could go back to college and they would support his education, but if he took more than a year and then wanted to go back later, um, maybe they wouldn't, so, within a year, sounds too neat chronologically, but maybe it's true, he had a Columbia Records contract, and that was that [laugh], so there were some, certainly some gifted musicians who played there and, and people whos names you don't know, um, haven't had careers in music or were really talented, it was, it was a good scene, and uh, there was a lot of cross-over between how Lively Lucys on campus in those days and the people who were involved with Caffe Lena, um, Barbara Harris, the manager of the Caffe, whom I spoke of earlier, and I did some cross-over productions, so we'd bring shows to campus. I think when Ani got too big for the Caffe we had some Skidmore shows with her. We brought, uh, a singer-songwriter named Shawn Colvin, who was, um, just on the heels of winning her first grammy when she came to Skidmore for a performance that we, we had here, and those were, kind of, cross, um, promoted, as it were setup by the Caffe and the college and Lively Lucy's, so there was a lot of, uh, a lot of musical culture that was going back and forth at that time, in that way too. [00:16:23.973]


[SE] Do you remember any notable performances either than Ani DiFranco? [00:16:29.566]


[MW] Um, at the college, um, well I loved the Shawn Colvin show, that was terrific, and, um, and the thing I loved most about that night, perhaps, was that, um, I invited a young woman named Mary Lou Lord to open the show for her, and she was somebody I knew from Cambridge, Mass, and she was a street singer, she played in the subways and in Harvard Square and she was a terrific [00:16:54.073] um, singer-songwriter, and, at a time when the consolation of music meant a lot to me is to go listen to her play in Harvard Square in the subways, just sit there for a couple of hours and she introduced me to a lot of musicians and thier songs, she's a real advocate of great songs, and a great chooser of songs to cover, um, and I just loved her and her work and she was, uh, a close friend of Shawn Colvin, as it turned out and they became friendly, I don't know how Shawn and she found one another. Anyways, so that was a great thing because she got to open the show for Shawn, it was a big sold out house at, um, at u, JKB, and she just won the Grammy, Shawn had, so there was a lot of buzz about the show and it was really packed and exciting, it was a really great show. That was a wonderful show. And then, there's a, there's a New Hampshire singer-songwriter, um, who died a couple of years ago, sadly and prematurely named Bill Morrissey, and he had a show at the dance theater that Lena and Lively Lucy's put on together and I remember that he had a great Irish fiddler named Johny Cunningham who's played with a lot of Celtic bands and it just a terrific musician and Bill himself is a very gifted, kind of literary singer-songwriter, um, who actually had a novel published by Knopf, or [?book of great editors?] who's very literate, interesting singer-songwriter, and I, I love that show, he was very, he was very wry, very great on stage, and that was the show that, that I met my wife at actually, so she came to that show and we met there, and that was the first time we had met one another, which was exciting, of course, so that was a memorable show, and I got to introduce Bill that night and, I don't know, I said something modestly funny, and for some reason Billboard Magazine was convering that show and so they ended up writing a really good live review of the show and they also included the thing that I said, which was supposedly funny in the introduction, which is, you know, kind of weird for this little show at Skidmore, would end up in Billboard, and weirdly a quote from me would end up in a Billboard article, so, I, I remember both of those shows pretty well. [00:19:17.595] Um, and we had a lot of good Lively Lucy's shows and um, I, I guess, it's, what is it now, is it Earth Fest? What do we call it? Something like that...


[SE] Earth Day.


[MW] Earth Day, sorry. Um, so, it seemed, before that became quite as full-blown as it has been for the last decade or so, it used to be kind of a Lively Lucy's, outdoor, spring music day, um, and I think it evolved to include more facets as it has now, but there were lots of really good events, musical events, around that as well. [00:19:49.084] So, and then that, I guess it was more folk-based then, too, it was more of a singer-songwriter and folk-based show than it necessarily is now, and it was some really beautiful April days just out on the green listening to really good music, um, [?that was a piece?] of those days, musically too. [00:20:07.714]


[SE] Do you feel like, as a music writer, you've been able to, you know, excel in this environment? Or do you ever feel like you should be living somewhere else? [00:20:21.757]


[MW] No I actually, I've never thought, I've never thought that, but now that you mention it, I suppose, because it's a place that is welcoming for music and has a lot of students interested in music, it's been possible for me to imagine courses and to, uh, figure out a way to include in my teaching life, um, the study of music, in, in a way that I certainly didn't when I first came here. I mean, I would teach classes in writing about the arts and we would include some musical writing as well, that was there from the beginning, but then to feel able to design and offer courses that have to do primarly with music and music writing, um, has probably something to do with the fact that musical culture here, um, which is more of a teaching than writing myself, but, um, but, but I think being around so much music and finding it possible to see so many good things that had been used, like SPAC for bigger shows, or Caffe Lena for smaller shows, has been necessarily something that's kept my head wrapped around music a lot, and maybe that wouldn't happen in a different place as much. [00:21:36.331] Um, and maybe the fact that we're pretty approximate to Boston or New York is - a chance to go see music in those places - is possibly significant, but, but you know that's a good question to think about and to think about how the writing of mu-, about music is place-based, I've never really thought of that before. [00:21:58.238]


[SE] Um, you just mentioned how you took a course in writing about arts, and I guess, on a broader term, how have the courses offered at Skidmore changed and hopefully have gotten better? Are there any courses...


[MW] [speaking over SE] Ya that was a course actually I taught, not took, but, um, just, that was a class that I used to teach a lot for first-year students who took a writing class in English, as they still do, called 105, um, I don't know, I found I because I have a kind of independent, not independent, but kind of hybrid position because I'm editing Salmagundi and serving in that capacity and also teaching as lecturer I'm not teaching as much as people who are full-time faculty, um, I found that the English department, and more broadly the college and MDOCS, has been very open to my proposing different things to do, which, I think, is a hallmark of Skidmore, you know, the ability of the institution to, uh, use the energy and, and interest of its faculty to come up with things that might increase the opportunities for students to do different things and find a way to make that happen. [00:23:18.981] So, that's always seemed to be a hallmark of the institution, is, you know, "this sounds like an interesting idea, how could we limit that instead of saying 'no that's not in the curriculum' or, um, 'we don't have that kind of course, so, I guess we shouldn't have that kind of course.'" People tend to, if it's a good idea, try to make it happen, and I think that has added, I'm just speaking from my own personal experience but I'm sure that's true for any number of faculty who proposed new courses and figure out how to, you know, implement what they, what they really love to teach in the classroom, I think, um, that's probably something that creates a lot of good energy around what we offer students. Is it different than what happened in the old days? I'm not sure if it was more rigid then or not, I don't know. Um, but, I've always appreciated the openness to ideas and the openness to encouragement of new things that [inaudible] the academic life that I've experienced here, at least. [00:24:17.210]


[SE] Ya, that's great. Um, kind of to direct it back to something you said much earlier, you said that you were living at Moore house...


[MW] Moore Hall.


[SE] Moore Hall, Moore Hall, um, were you here when the campus got switched to... [00:24:30.793]


[MW] No, that had happened probably, what, 72... so it was probably about eight, eight or ten years before the switch was happening, I don't know when it was completed. So that was, like, the last dorm, and they kept that dorm for quite a long time and people lived there, I'm not sure, they just tore it down this year, as, um, as they've started to put up condos on that, on that spot, um, and it was a, you know, terribly ugly, but endearingly ugly, building [laughter from SE] that was made of pink, um, rock-like material that was supposed to age to gray, an elegant gray, but it never did, so it was known as the "Pink Palace" and, you know, it-it was kind of a, I don't know what it was -- a 1960's, kind of, failed cubist design that looked very different from anything on Union Avenue, that's for sure. [00:25:20.402] And it had no trace of Victoriana about it, whatsoever, so um, so no I didn't experience that switch, and, you know it was interesting though to be part of that vestigial campus that was downtown because, you know, I also, I also loved the fact, when I wasn't taking the bus that we would walk to campus, which was a significant, a significant walk, a 20-25 minute walk, and just to be part of town in that way and really experience the architecture of the beautiful, old buildings that, that lined all of the streets, and to feel like Saratoga had a deep history, and it had, uh, a sense of place that wasn't fully dependent on the college, though the college was part of that sense of place, seemed to be really important, and, and, you know, it provided a kind of depth to your experience here, I guess, as a, as a student or as a person that is not insignificant. [00:26:13.189] I mean there are so many wonderful colleges within a very short reach of here, um, and some of them are in, you know, tiny towns essentially out in the middle of the country and, I think we have a special, uh, a special reality here because of the town's deep history and what's available to us, maybe the most notable aspect of that is the architecture which we can see and experience and walk past each day, and that gives us that sense, but then the more you start to understand the town as a whole and its history and what's gone on here and how it was first an Indian -- Native American healing place and then became, also, a healing spring for white settlers, um, and established itself in that way, that long history is not what you have everywhere. [00:27:08.412]


[SE] Yea...


[MW] So...


[SE] Yea. Um, so I guess to wrap it up, how do you define your relatinoship with that Saratoga history that you were just talking about and also just Saratoga today and especially Skidmore College. [00:27:26.818]


[MW] Hmm, um, I don't know, I find [that] because I grew up in an area of Massachusetts, um, I grew up in Carlisle but my friend was from Concord, the next over, which has itself a very rich history and was, you know, obsessed with the American Revolution when I was a boy and I went to high school in a town where Thoreau and Emerson wrote and were buried, that, it's sort of unthinkable to me to live in a place that I don't know the history or care about it, so for me, understanding upstate New York history, which I didn't know that much about, coming from Massachusetts, and starting to look into the Native American history around here and how this land was contested by the Mohicans and the Mohawks, the Iroquois and the Algonquian, different peoples, and how the Dutch influenced the area -- that's become something I've really spent a lot of time reading about and thinking about and that I'm deeply interested in. [00:28:30.077] So, so for me part of, part of being a Saratogian is, is really having a sense of the importance of that past and the detail of that past as much as I can and that makes the place, for me, livable, in some way, I mean that's really important to me, is to-is to have a sense of place of -- a place's history, and, you know, there's a lot more to learn, I don't know anything like all I could but what I do know has made this place feel rich and feel very much like home or a home, um, in a way that it wouldn't if it didn't have history. [00:29:08.296] And Skidmore's sort of impossible to think of in any objective way outside of my own experience because it's been home for so long, you know, aside from, um, six years when I was at graduate school , you know, I've lived here since I was eighteen years old and it's inextricable from every development that's -- that I could imagine for myself I suppose. Um, and, it's really where I, you know, as a-as a place, as, Skidmore, as a place where I lucked into a relationship with some of the smartest people I've ever met who are incredibly good-hearted and incredibly brilliant, um, in the English department, in Salmagundi-at Salmagundi, uh, Magazine, at the development of my love of literature which I came to Skidmore with, but which changed and deepened when I was here, uh, and continues to do that and to talk, you know, in these offices with Robert and Peg and our student assistants and other colleagues in the department about work that we love and to communicate with some of my favorite authors who I happen also to be friends and contributors to our magazine seems like a really extraordinarily rich way to live and to me that's completely inextricable from Skidmore and from living in Saratoga. [00:30:35.810]


[SE] Yea, that's great, that you so much.


[MW] You're welcome, thanks.

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Eberhardt, Sophia '19, “Interview with Marc Woodworth,” Skidmore Saratoga Memory Project, accessed April 24, 2019, http://ssmp.skidmore.edu/document/772.

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