James Cassar is driven. A fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, he’s a senior editor for the Cavalier Daily, a facilities manager at the Aquatic and Fitness Center and a DJ for WXTJ, the student-run radio station. He writes and edits for a pair of music magazines, Alternative Press and Modern Vinyl. He co-owns Near Mint, a record label, and moonlights as a music reviewer and podcast co-host. He turned 21 last month.
That’s all in addition to his academic load as a double-major in English and media studies. He plans to complete his degree requirements a semester early and graduate this December. Cassar also lives with cerebral palsy and frequently shares his views on disability in his writing. However, as his mother Leslie said, “It doesn’t really matter that James has a disability.”
Despite his busy life, Cassar slowed down just enough for this UVA Today photo essay, presented in the form of an old-style vinyl record album.
A Side: "This Must Be The Place."
Track 1: James Cassar might begin by telling you about his go-to song, “Re-Done” by Modern Baseball. “It’s the first track on the second side of the album it comes from, ‘Sports’,” Cassar wrote in an e-mail. “You literally have to flip a record to hear it if you're listening to it in analog, so it's like turning over a new leaf and [going] to a new beginning with every listen.” The song came out during his first year at UVA, and at some point he plans to get a tattoo of some of the lyrics.
Track 2: Cassar chose to attend UVA and become a music journalist after a high school reading of “Love is a Mix Tape” by Rob Sheffield, a 1991 graduate of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. Cassar is the Cavalier Daily’s arts and entertainment editor; on Monday nights, he meets with colleagues, including Florian Overfelt, left, and Noah Zeidman, right. Arts section co-editor Candace Carter described Cassar’s work ethic and motivation as “simply amazing.”
Track 3: From 10 p.m. to midnight on Mondays, Cassar co-hosts “Time Out with DJ Mom and DJ Dad” on WXTJ with Carson Newman, left. Cassar described the show as a playlist that’s mostly based on whatever he and Newman are feeling.
(For a show-like experience, Cassar created this Spotify playlist. That Spotify list begins with his go-to song, “Re-Done,” which he said sums up his college life. “There was that jittery first year – not from caffeine, but from excitement and promise. Second year and third year mellowed out as I figured out why I was here,” he wrote. “Fourth year is my unraveling, just like how Brendan Lukens and Co. take the action down a notch to really examine what they built in four minutes.”)
Track 4: James isn’t the only Cassar currently on Grounds. Younger brother Sean, left, studies computer science and participates in club wrestling. When Sean applied to UVA, he wrote his admission essay about growing up alongside a brother with a disability and often feeling in his shadow. “James leaves a big footprint behind,” Sean said. Both agree their time at UVA allowed them to mature. The brothers try to spend time together at least once a week, often enjoying a meal on the Corner at Qdoba. Maintaining a strong bond is important to the entire Cassar family; James, Sean, sister Kristi (the oldest) and parents Dave and Leslie exchange group texts every day.
B Side: “Graduate”
Track 1: Jack Hamilton, right, assistant professor of media studies, is Cassar’s faculty adviser. When Hamilton arrived last year, Cassar was one of the first students he met. Together, they’ve created an independent study – what Cassar described as an “interdisciplinary music industry” major. It’s structured around “33⅓,” a series of books about music albums. Cassar’s capstone project is a proposal for a “33⅓” book, which he’ll complete by December.
Track 2: Cassar is also an entrepreneur, half of the record label Near Mint. Partner Corey Purvis, via email, described the joint venture as a “media/art collective.” So, along with music on vinyl, cassettes and CDs, the duo also produces T-shirts, “zines” (magazines and “fanzines”) and screen-printed posters. Purvis, an artist and designer, serves as Near Mint’s creative director, while Cassar does press, manages album releases, arranges tours and sees to the needs of the label’s growing group of artists. Last month, Cassar sat outside a Charlottesville house with Nathan Maizels, left, and Noah Zeidman, right. The Obsessives, a group he manages, performed there the night before the release of their album, “Heck No, Nancy.”
Track 3: The Obsessives, Nick Bairatchnyi at left and Jackson Mansfield, performed to a packed house. Cassar brought in tour manager Ryan Collins to carry out Cassar’s responsibilities on the road. It’s fun, but not a game for any of them. “People will only take you as serious as you take yourself,” Bariatchnyi said.
Track 4: Cassar’s hard work is paying off, and not just in career opportunities. During an early visit to UVA, Cassar recalled feeling that everyone on Grounds had a sense of purpose. It’s clear he’s found his purpose, too. “I've been able to really find my niche in these last few months,” he said. He’ll miss his friends and the learning environment, he said, but right now, he’s looking toward the future, filling out job applications and pondering where he’ll live between work and his current classes. His time at UVA may be coming to a close, but for Cassar, it’s just time to turn the record over and begin again.
October 26, 2015