Sociology professor and drummer of the all-professor punk band Questionable Authorities, Peter Kaufman is more likely to recycle than destroy a hotel room. His smile was calm and gentle when I met him in his JFT office, an indigo painted room with pictures of his various hiking trips hung on the walls. There’s a poster for one of Questionable Authorities’ old shows at the Terrace taped to his filing cabinet, but the band doesn’t play there anymore, he assures me: “the environment was too sterile.” You’ll have a better chance of finding the band at a local bar like Snugs, where they play their bi-annual end-of-semester gig, or at Bacchus, where, on April 24th, the band will play to raise money for the student scholarship fund.
Nicole Short: Tell me about your first memory of the drums.
Peter Kaufman: I started taking drum lessons in third grade. But before that, I remember tapping pencils on the top of my plastic Halloween pumpkin.
NS: Were you in any bands prior to Questionable Authorities?
PK: I was in the concert bands in high school. No rock bands or anything. I had a band in college with a few friends of mine. We called ourselves Ripe Fruit.
NS: Great name.
PK: Yeah, but it was a very short-lived, one-semester-only band. And after that, I wasn’t in another band until Questionable Authorities. That’s ten or fifteen years during which I stopped playing the drums.
NS: So is this–being a part of Questionable Authorities– a dream fulfilled?
PK: I actually have another dream.
NS: What’s the dream?
PK: My dream is to be at a Bar Mitzvah or wedding when the hired band loses their drummer. The band would have to shout out to the party, “Is there a drummer in the house?” and I would stand up and save the day.
NS: And that’s never happened?
PK: It happened once at a multiple-band gig, but I chickened out.
NS: You contribute to a Sociology blog called Everyday Sociology. One of your blog posts includes an “I am a sociologist because. . .” list. Some of these characteristics–like rejecting accepted social orders, defying the status quo–could work for an “I am punk. . .” list, too. Are punk and sociology fused in your mind?
PK: That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about it that way before. It’s a good analysis, and I agree with you, but I’m not too sure what the punk ethos is. I wasn’t a punk kid. I listened to some of the music, but couldn’t tell you too much about the culture. As a sociologist, I think it’s important to know why you’re angry at the system, instead of saying ‘f— the world’ without having a deeper analytical understanding of society.
NS: Punk is decidedly angry as a genre. Are you angry? Ever take out your frustrations during a set?
PK: I don’t use the band as an outlet for anger, no. There was one time when my dog died the night before a gig, and I hit the drums a little harder that night for sure. There was another time when I broke my drumsticks and cut my hands –blood was all over my drum set.
NS: That’s pretty punk.
PK: Yeah, I guess so. But it was an accident.
NS: So in terms of Questionable Authorities, then, why punk?
PK: To be perfectly honest, because it’s loud, fast, and easy to play. We figured we couldn’t really f— it up too bad. And if we do, we can just say: that’s what punk is!