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Paternal spectacular: MGMT's Uni connection

Photo by Rachel HunterDavid Goldwasser (center) enjoys an outing on Lake Champlain in 2006 with sons Ben (left) and Jacob. Ben is part of the duo MGMT.

David Goldwasser, a 1968 Uni High graduate, has been living in New York state for the past 20 years. In a rural area between the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Champlain, Goldwasser is an accomplished veterinarian who co-owns an animal practice. Many of you may recognize the last name for its local connections, while others may associate it with indie-rock band MGMT. Dr. Goldwasser and Rachel Hunter, who also graduated from Uni in 1968, are the proud parents of two sons, Ben (who is in MGMT) and Jacob. Ben formed MGMT with Andrew VanWyngarden when they were students at Wesleyan University. Their debut album, "Oracular Spectacular," made many critics' Best of 2008 lists — including here at the Gargoyle. Eleni Yannelis and Hadley Hauser conducted an e-mail interview with Dr. Goldwasser, who answered questions ranging from memories of his Uni days to what it's like being a parent of a rock star.

A photo of David Goldwasser from his senior year. Photo from 1968 yearbook (click to enlarge)

The cover of "Oracular Spectacular," MGMT's debut album. David's son Ben Goldwasser is on the left, Andrew VanWyngarden on the right. Below is an audio file of MGMT's "Of Moons, Birds & Monsters," David Goldwasser's favorite song from the duo's hugely successful debut album, "Oracular Spectacular."

What do you do for a living? Where are you currently based?

I am a veterinarian and co-owner of a mixed animal practice in a rural area nestled between the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Champlain, in New York state.

What is your educational background?

One semester as an undergraduate at Harvard University, six semesters as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, and four years of veterinary school at the U of I.

What is your fondest memory of Uni?

The strong bonds I forged with many classmates. You might be interested to know that a small group of us met for a reunion last summer. We had so much fun we might even have a repeat performance.

What is the most important thing that Uni has taught you?

That is a difficult question. I know that many Uni alumni have a sense that their experience at Uni was life-altering. My own feeling is that those formative years, wherever they are spent, are by their nature life-altering.

I do believe that there was something special about spending five years with a group of bright, intellectually ambitious people. On the other hand, I may have suffered from the lack of ethnic and economic diversity at Uni.

The one skill that I obtained at Uni was an ability to write. I'm not sure whether that is an attribute unique to Uni High grads.

Have you been back to Uni at all? If so, how has it changed?

I have come back, briefly, for reunions. The building and the atmosphere seem very familiar. There is far more ethnic diversity than there was during my years at the school. Of course, the role of computers and technology represents a huge change.

How many children do you have?

I have two sons: Ben and Jacob.

In raising your children, did their high school seem different from Uni?

Very different. They went to Westport Central School, a K-12 public school with an enrollment of approximately 270 students. A significant proportion of these students are classified special ed and/or from poor families. Both Ben and Jake went on to relatively elite, liberal arts colleges, where they were exposed to a far more worldly group of classmates.

The one characteristic of Westport Central School which I find most impressive is the nurturing, almost family atmosphere. Also, because of it's small size, students are expected to all participate in a vast number of extracurricular activities. In some ways, this is reminiscent of my experience at Uni.

If you had lived in Champaign-Urbana, would you have sent your children to Uni?

I certainly would have given them that option. I would try not to pressure them either way.

What was your first reaction when Ben told you that he was in a band? Did you encourage Ben to go into music?

I am a music junkie. Music has been a critical part of my experience ever since childhood. Therefore I was tickled that Ben displayed both an interest and a talent for music at a very young age. He was in a band in high school, and many bands while at Wesleyan University. There were times when both Rachel and I worried that Ben's entire college experience was devoted to his various bands.

Of course, it was his friendship with Andrew VanWyngarden while at college that led to the formation of MGMT. I was fortunate to have seen them perform on campus, and I was immediately impressed by their creativity. I always encouraged Ben to continue to pursue music as an avocation, but I must confess having the typical parental concerns about his ability to make a living in music.

What does it feel like to be the parent of someone famous?

Weird. I share Ben's observations about the difficulty of staying true to oneself while being thrust into the public eye. I am proud of what Ben has accomplished. I would hope that this pride is totally independent of the commercial success of the band. Fame, particularly in the volatile world of popular music, can be so fleeting. Ben has a commitment to making music he can be proud of, without regard to how that affects the popularity of MGMT. I often think of fame as a sort of dangerous drug, and I worry about its influence on Ben as a caring, compassionate person. So far he seems to be handling it well.

Do you like MGMT's music?

I absolutely love the music. I have listened to it way too much, and must confess that I am getting tired of the same old songs. I can't wait for the next album.

How many MGMT shows have you been to? What do you think of them?

In the present incarnation of the band, I have been to two of their shows. I attended several others with very different lineups. Of course, I love seeing them perform live. It gives me goosebumps.

What kind of music do you listen to? Did you immerse Ben in music lessons right away?

I have unpredictable and eclectic musical tastes. I love Richard Thompson, Ry Cooder, Miles Davis, Eliza Gilkyson, Van Morrison, and Wilco, to name just a few favorites. I don't know that we ever "immersed" Ben in music lessons. He certainly expressed an interest in studying piano when he was very young (maybe 8 or 9 years old). We pretty much let him run with it, with the only condition being that if we were going to pay for lessons, he would need to practice. There were various times when he decided to stop formal lessons, but he never stopped playing piano.

What is your favorite song by MGMT, and why?

Off the "Oracular Spectacular" CD, my favorite is probably "Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters." I think it is a very well-crafted song, and musically it transports me to a beautiful place. I also love the 14-minute track "Metanoia," which is available on iTunes as an EP.