Adam Krims: Remember This Face, Save Me a Place

by justindburton on September 14, 2012

This week brought the sad news of the passing of Adam Krims, Professor of Music Analysis at the University of Nottingham. Krims has left behind a valuable well of research that spans popular music, Marxism, music analysis, and a slew of other music-related sub-disciplines. artsjournal.com has posted some thoughts written by Michael Spitzer that chronicle the weight of Krims’ contribution to academia.

Krims also leaves behind colleagues, friends, and family who benefited from more than just his meticulous work. Justin A. Williams, one of Krims’ former PhD students, reminisces below about Krims. Feel free to use the comments of this post to contribute your own thoughts about Adam Krims and/or his work.

Justin A. Williams (University of Bristol):

I only heard a few days ago that my former PhD supervisor Adam Krims had passed away in Paris. Below is not a formal obituary, but my reflections on the time that I had with him over the past seven years. I was not a user of facebook, so was never facebook ‘friends’, so I have not been able to go on his facebook page where there are tributes, but there is a memorial page anyone can access.

I first became acquainted with Adam Krims at the British Library in London. It was not him in person, but it was through reading his book Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity. I remember as I read the book that I kept nodding my head. ‘How can he write so matter-of-factly and sensibly while communicating such advanced and fresh ideas?’ It revealed the way I thought about music and about rap, and it felt like everything I wanted to say about music was there (without realizing I felt that way until that moment, and of course, saying it much more eloquently than I could ever have). That doesn’t happen every day, right?

I forget now what came first, finding that there was someone working on rap in a music department in the UK and then reading the book, or reading the book and then deciding I wanted to work with him, but I certainly wanted to make contact with him after I read the book.

When the time came to consider doctoral study in the UK, I applied to three PhD institutions: IPM at the University of Liverpool, Goldsmiths and Nottingham. Liverpool said bluntly, ‘There is no one here interested in supervising your topic.’ Goldsmiths took so long with my application that I eventually withdrew it. But Nottingham, Nottingham actually communicated. Adam communicated.

After being acquainted through his book, we then ‘met’ through email. Long emails. I was so incredibly impressed with the time he took in responding, the speed with which he would respond, and the grammatical perfection, of course. He would rephrase what I was trying to say to him in such an erudite way (while being humorous, often about cats or ‘Koko’ or ironic mispellings—e.g. Notorious P.I.G. or St. Pancreas). He wouldn’t have liked that I wrote that last phrase in brackets, by the way (and he would have corrected me for using the UK terminology instead of ‘parentheses’). As we were both American expats, Adam either wanted me not to forget my roots, or he stubbornly refused to accept he lived in England. A mix of both, I guess.

By virtue of gmail communication, I knew this was someone I wanted to work with. Keep in mind I had never visited Nottingham or met the man in person, but I was willing to take this great leap for such an opportunity.

My first meeting with Professor Krims in the flesh was right when I started my PhD. He was in his big office in the corner of Nottingham’s music department, with the baby grand in the corner. [Thinking, ‘Wow I want to be a Professor someday. You get a PIANO!’] I gave him an outline of research and mentioned I wanted to look at 2Pac’s ‘I Ain’t Mad at Cha’. He said, ‘Isn’t that the one that goes’ and moved over to the piano and started to play it. I tried to hide my glee at how cool I thought this was, without letting on too much.

The outcome of this conversation was that he said, ‘Well…I think you are ready to do some writing’—this floored me (internally, again), but he always knew what to say. He always knew exactly what I needed to hear, and I am not exactly sure how he knew that.

One of the first things I had to get used to was his sarcasm. Robert Adlington once recounted that he interviewed a PhD student who wanted to do classical music in Vienna in the late 18th century to early 19th century. Adam responded, ‘I don’t think much music happened there at that time.’ The candidate didn’t read the sarcasm and proceeded to explain how composers like Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven worked then. [Embarrassment ensues…]

Apart from chatting in his office and talking by phone and email, my fondest memories are hanging out with him at conferences. He didn’t have to, but he took the time to introduce me to people, and text me the name of the pub/bar everyone had ended up. We sometimes flew from Nottingham together. It was at AMS/SMT Nashville where Adam introduced me to a lot of members of the field, which helped me to get my first publication (he got me my second as well). He got me gigs, including two invitations to conferences in Germany when other people pulled out. In Wuppertal, I remember when he stayed up way too late seeing the sights, got up at 6am to finish his paper and presented the same day without a glitch. The guy clearly loved life and fun, and intellectual pursuits as well. At my first IASPM in Boston, we went out for Chinese food with a few others. He made you feel welcome, yet at least for me as a doctoral student it was like he was welcoming me into his world (of the urban, of rap culture and of Chinese food). We hung out in such far flung places as Walsall, Boston, Nashville, Wuppertal, Egham and Leipzig and I will always have great memories of this. It’s hard to have the fact soaking in that I will never see him at another conference again.

In addition to his role as PhD supervisor, he also felt in a position to advise me on my wedding plans: ‘Justin, the advice I can give to you is do as little as possible in the planning.’ That one worked well.

In more recent years, we stayed in touch briefly and he was always keen to support my career in many ways (e.g. 150+ reference letters). Though he didn’t like the term ‘companion’ for a book series (i.e. a book as a friend?), he was contracted to write two chapters for the Cambridge Companion to Hip-hop, which I am editing—one on Russian rap, and another on geography. This volume will now be very much dedicated to his memory.

Things Adam taught me:

  • There is always someone in the back who asks after your paper [Adam does nasal, high pitched voice impression]: ‘But you forgot to cite x book/author’. Ignore them.
  • You don’t go to conferences just for the papers.
  • Authentic Chinese food is incredibly good.
  • Make one point in your conference paper—audiences have a 12 min attention span (or was it the attention span of 12 year olds?).
  • ‘You’re ready to start some writing’. Write, write, WRITE.
  • It’s ok to obnoxiously sing long passages of Mozart and Haydn to freshmen. They loved it.
  • Prague looks too much like Disneyland.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Things I tried to teach him:

  • Rural is good too (he didn’t listen)
  • Green things are good too (he didn’t listen)
  • Nottingham is a nice place (he didn’t listen)
  • England is nice (he didn’t listen)
  • I did convince him to put in a paper for IASPM Boston, so that’s probably the one thing I convinced him to do.

The list goes on, but hey, a man with such strong opinions is the type that creates amazing intellectual work.

Rap, of course, often deals with a lot of death, loss and tragedy. So I will end this with a few lines of a song from another person who died too soon:

 Tupac Shakur’s ‘Thugz Mansion’:

We found a family spot to kick it
Where we can drink liquor and no one bickers over trick shit
A spot where we can smoke in peace, and even though we G’s
We still visualize places, that we can roll in peace…

Just think of all the people that you knew in the past
that passed on, they in heaven, found peace at last
Picture a place that they exist, together
There has to be a place better than this, in heaven
So right before I sleep, dear God, what I’m askin
Remember this face, save me a place, in thug’s mansion

Thank you, Adam, for everything.

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