by Ryan McKinnon
The seamless cohesion of musical passion and economic common sense is not better personified than here at Virginia Tech in economics professor Mark McLeod. Former front man for ?The Kind,? a Grateful Dead cover band, McLeod spent the late ?80s and early ?90s traveling the eastern seaboard playing gigs, working odd jobs and frustrating his former professors, who?s economic tutelage he abandoned to pursue rock ?n? roll glory.
?It was just something I always wanted to do,? said McLeod. ?There?s nothing like playing music when you have an awesome band and a crowd that?s into you.?
Looking at the chronology of major events in McLeod?s post-graduate life, one gets the impression everything is out of order. McLeod did not even learn guitar until after he graduated from the College of William and Mary and immediately after passing his graduate school qualifying exams he hit the road with ?The Kind? for the better part of a decade. Finally, after his eight-year hiatus, he returned to receive his Ph.D. and become a professor.
McLeod?s roundabout story of temporarily abandoning economics for music is an unconventional testimony to the value of discipline.
?You get into this cycle where the more music you play the better you get and the better you get the more you play,? said McLeod. ?Eventually you can pound it out like a monkey at a type-writer.?
In their hey-day ?The Kind? played over 300 straight weeks at The South Main Caf?, now known as Baylee?s.
?I remember one stretch where I played 21 gigs in 20 days. You can?t even talk after doing that,? said McLeod.
After eight years of constant travel and not much in the way of income, McLeod left behind the world of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter and delved into academia full throttle. He pursued and attained his Ph.D. here at Virginia Tech in economics and left the entertainment of the fraternal masses at South Main Caf? to others.
The sweet irony of it all is that those years spent rocking out more than amply prepared McLeod for life as a professor.
?There is no doubt in my mind that the skill of performing in a band and the skill of teaching are similar,? McLeod said. ?I came back and just started getting great evaluations as a teacher.?
Richard Ashley, an economics professor, can testify to his keen ability to excite students on a subject that can sometimes be very dry.
?He has a superb reputation around the department for the way he teaches and for his (rapport) with students,? Ashley said.
How then should one feel about Mark McLeod? Has he betrayed the whole concept of rock and roll and sold out for a life of supply and demand, monopolies and economic theory? Or even worse, is he a washed up hippie, slogging through a hated day job while inwardly yearning for a return to better days long gone? The apparent truth is that McLeod is neither. Thankfully, his love for economics and music peacefully coexist.
When asked about how some might perceive his current position as contradictory to his former life, McLeod responded with optimism.
?You get out in the real world and a lot of people think that academics are not part of the establishment,? McLeod said. ?I don?t see a conflict of interest there.?