Humans of Emerson: Barry Marshall

Q: What are your music origins?

Barry Marshall, Senior Affiliated Faculty, VMA

Barry: Well, I actually started as a singer and I got into a really good band when I was sixteen, probably the best band across five towns. We got a lot of performances and paid gigs, and in those days I’d make $50 a night from singing. This was in 1967, so the equivalent to today would be like $500, and if you make $500 on a Saturday night when you’re sixteen years old, you become passionate about it.

I played the drums when I started professionally. I was a pretty good drummer, and I still am, actually, and that’s probably my best instrument. I did that seriously for about six years and we played all the big clubs of NYC and Boston. I was really in sort of the punk rock of the late 70s. I had my own band in the 80s that I fronted and throughout this entire time I was really attempting to become a rock star.

I learned how to get a band started, how to get a horns section, how to write songs, how to arrange vocals and make it all sound good and I learned how to produce records. While I was producing I got an opportunity to produce a singer who had been famous in the 50s and 60s, LaVern Baker and I convinced her to make a comeback. We worked together on a few songs and we actually had pieces in a couple movies—Dick Tracey and A Rage in Harlem. I ended up working with her for the next eight years and we toured multiple countries. We went all over Europe and did festivals in France, Holland, Italy, England, and Switzerland, as well as all over the United States; some crowds were as big as ten thousand, fifteen thousand, and even thirty thousand people. I had a really great time and I learned a ton and I made a good living.

Q: What made you decide to teach film of all things?

Barry: I started teaching audio and record producing and I ended up teaching every aspect of the music business at some point, and that’s actually how I originally came to Emerson, to teach about the recording industry as a business. As time went on I realized I enjoyed films, and I had worked in film as a musician producing soundtracks. I also worked with films as a critic when I was twenty years old and I wrote for papers about movies in the 70s, which was a great period to write about them and I did that for several years. Looking back now, that’s probably what got me into wanting to teach about film because I already knew about the history of film and I realized from being here [at Emerson] and knowing some of the students that I could teach about it.

Q: When you teach do you have optimism about the current generation?

Barry: Absolutely! Absolutely I have optimism. I might sound cynical at times – and I am cynical – but I do believe in people. I see your generation doing the right thing more often than not; I think there’s hope in this generation for sure. I spent many years worried about how the banks and the insurance companies were ripping everyone off, and for most of my life I was hoping more young people would get active. Not necessarily to be like my generation, we were always demonstrating and working against the government sometimes. Not because they were the government or “the man” but because they were wrong. Some things I love about our government. I loved the civil rights movement but I used to worry that young people were losing that drive. Now I feel like it’s coming back and that’s optimistic. I think the best thing is to be as informed as possible and to read. I’m old school enough that I think actual newspapers are better, because they are more detailed than what you get online or television news. You guys know what to do, you can do it.

Interview conducted by Benjamin Schachter Gordon, Luminary Writer, Office of Diversity and Inclusion