Dr. Valdez

I took History of Rock and Roll my junior year of college because it gave me the one “multicultural” credit I needed to graduate, as did many other students for the same reason. Only one professor taught it, Dr. Steven Valdez, and he was pretty awesome in every way. His knowledge of blues and rock and roll was encyclopedic, and he was an interesting teacher and storyteller as well. His favorite artist was the Grateful Dead, and let me tell you, you could tell he was a bit of a stoner back in the ’60s and ’70s. His music collection probably rivals that of anyone in the world.

On the morning of the final exam, he made the very large blunder of photocopying a version of the exam with the answers in bold or printed next to the questions or something (it was multiple-choice), but luckily he realized this before passing them out to any students. He had to take the whole box of exams back to his office, which was in another building, and re-print the correct version.

So one of his TA’s, Pete Lawless, who had probably TA’d the class three or four times by that point, had to take over for a while and lead an impromptu review session with questions he came up with off the top of his head. He would ask questions to the whole auditorium and wait for someone to shout out the correct answers. This went on for a good half-hour. It was pretty boring but helpful.

However, the funniest thing I experienced in college happened towards the end of the review session. It might have been the last one because it floored Pete. He asked, “Who was the famous LSD supplier for the Grateful Dead and other psychadelic rock bands?” He was looking for Owsley Stanley, I think. But the first response came almost immediately, from some guy in the back: “Dr. Valdez!”

The auditorium erupted in laughter, and Pete literally sat down at the front of the room because he was overcome with laughter. I had never heard anything so funny in my life, and I’d wager he hadn’t, either.