To an impressionable college student, a professor can often seem like a rock star. And for students in Lo Faber’s classes at Loyola University, the professor really is a rock star. Before turning to serious academic life, Faber was the lead singer for the group God Street Wine for 12 years, then founded two other groups.
“I dropped out of college to tour with a rock band. I always tell my students not to follow my example,” he said.
Faber seems fated to have become a writer. If his name, Eberhard Faber, strikes a familiar note, it’s because a long-ago ancestor started the pencil company of the same name in 1849. Faber worked in the family business for a while after high school, then started college, then turned to a life in music, and after great success there, went back to school in earnest.
In 2001, Faber had a daughter and decided to go back to college, receiving his bachelor’s degree from Skidmore on his 40th birthday. His interest in history led to graduate studies and a doctorate from Princeton, working with renowned scholar Sean Wilentz. Now, he has published his first book, “Building the Land of Dreams: New Orleans and the Transformation of Early America,” about the turbulent and passionate colonial era in our city. In its pages, Pierre Clement de Laussat, Daniel Clark and William C.C. Claiborne, among many others, spring to life with all their hopes and schemes in the early days of our city.
At Loyola, Faber teaches in the music industry department — two courses called Introduction to the Industry, the basic class about the business, and History of Music, which goes from Thomas Edison and the first recordings right up to Napster. His students call him Dr. Lo. (The Lo is a shortening of his middle name, Lothar). Eberhard Lothar Faber — “a Germanic mouthful,” he said.
He has lived in New Orleans for 6 years with his wife, Lisa, a preschool teacher at McGehee School, his son Eberhard Faber Jr., 9, and daughter Millie, 14.
Faber wasn’t seduced by New Orleans history in the way that many are; he had no real personal connection to the city. He grew up in New Jersey, and says, “Like any Jersey kid with any ambition, I wanted to live in New York. And I did.”
His work is an outgrowth of his interest in cities in general, particularly “how this collection of seaboard cities and the drive of American expansion led to us becoming a continental nation. I started to think New Orleans was really a key hinge.”
Like many New Orleans historians, he sees the landscape through layers of time and history, even as he speaks. “While we’re talking, I’m sitting on my back porch, looking out over Tchoupitoulas (Street), where I can see the port and big container ships,” he said. “None of this was around in the period I’m writing about; the land itself was recently formed. I’m a great fan of the work of Richard Campanella. I’m a big fan of historical geography. I’m always thinking how the geography has changed, looking for the lines of continuity and the lines of difference.”
His work focuses on key figures of the colonial era, and Faber chronicles the subtleties of race and class and culture and ideology, drawing similarities to what was happening elsewhere as a new nation forged its identity.
Through it all runs the sense of New Orleans as a locale of hope and energy, a city to be dreamed of. “Of course, most people are familiar with the idea from that Spencer Williams song, which we know from Louis Armstrong’s version — “Basin St. Blues” — the place where light and dark folks meet on the banks on the Mississippi.’
“But I always think of William Blake’s poem from the late 1790s, ‘The Land of Dreams.’ Blake was a visionary for this age of revolutions,” Faber said. “The American and French and Haitian and Latin American revolutions were all taking place during this time period, and it was really a period when the possibilities for the whole human race expanded.
“The idea of a land of dreams was a place where human possibilities could be imagined that were not possible a century before.”
Susan Larson is the host of WWNO’s The Reading Life and the author of The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans.