Friday, May 25th, 2007 8:17am

Rock on, kid 

Rock on!

Remember when you were 13? You’re sitting in the back of your mom’s station wagon…er…SUV, and she’s driving you to your Music Lesson. You’ve got Meatloaf…I mean, Bunky, blasting on the stereo. Your axe, [that’s supercool music lingo for your instrument] which is - no - not a violin, but an electric guitar, is next to you on the seat, and as you cruise along, your fingers are automatically drilling the Mozart …ack…the Led Zeppelin songs you are about to rehearse with your fellow music students. Sound familiar? Not at all? We were born into the wrong generation, my friends.

Welcome to the Paul Green School of Rock. With an official motto of “Saving Rock and Roll One Kid at a Time”, the franchised School of Rock describes itself as the “nation’s premier performance-based rock music program.” The school accepts kids between the ages of 7 and 18 and prepares them for rock and roll performances. The admission is rolling, and there are three seasons (spring, summer, and fall). Students participate in a 45-minute private lesson on their chosen instrument as well as a 3-hour supervised rehearsal every week. Each season culminates in a show featuring tributes to such bands as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, and the Beatles. According to Green, “We find that the combination of private lessons and group band practice with their peers is the best way to motivate kids to practice hard, overcome stage fright, and become amazing musicians.” [Green’s school was the basis for the documentary Rock School, and seems to be the inspiration behind Jack Black’s 2003 Hit movie School of Rock though there was no official acknowledgment of that connection.]

[As an aside, the School of Rock is not to be confused with the non-profit organization Rock for Kids, which brings musical education to kids who are homeless or in need. Rock for Kids, a volunteer-driven organization, serves nearly 500 Chicago kids per year at fifteen different locations.]

Last Sunday I attended (crashed?) an all-Led Zeppelin tribute at the Abbey Pub, given by the students at the Chicago School of Rock. I was there to hear my friend Adam Fishman, a sophomore at Walter Payton College Prep, perform. Adam, a math genius, talented actor, guitarist, and Bob Dylan look-and-sound-alike, is the son of my dearest friends Sara Stern and Ted Fishman. No less talented is Adam’s cousin, Joey Fishman, who was also performing on keyboard and vocals. The two sets of Zeppelin tunes, which lasted about 2 hours total, included such luminous covers as Black Dog, Fool in the Rain, and an über-bluesy version of You Shook Me. The performers, who ranged in age from 7 to 16, covered the entire show…every instrument and every vocal part was performed by a kid. In addition to being blown away by the precision and tightness of the ensembles, I was amazed at the depth of the performances. Although it is universal, classic rock, this music is of a generation before theirs…it is music of their parents’ generation…and many of these young performers had an ease and coolness that was well beyond their years.

Before you wonder what qualifies me as an accurate judge of rock bands, let me just say that I, too, had my moments of [self-described] rock-and-roll glory. In college, I was in Suddenly Seymour, arguably the Hottest Band On Campus [rivaled only by the merely lukewarm groups, Thin Lizard Dawn and Projectiles of Love]. I was the placid keyboard player who reminded everyone of Lori from the Partridge Family (i.e. I didn’t move around much). In all sincerity, though, I’ll argue that my college band experience was one of my most educational chamber music experiences. We played only cover tunes, but each of those had to be learned by ear, organized in rehearsal so that each part was distinct yet all were cohesive, and drilled until we were really playing…together, with one energy, one spirit. Looking back, it was one of the most positive collaborative musical experiences I’ve had.

But back to the Zeppelin show. Of course, there were some reminders that these were kids performing. The 7-year olds were cute, and pint-sized…it was surreal to see a three-foot-tall lead singer, and/or bass guitarist. During one tune, the three teenage lead members…pale, skinny teenagers…took off their shirts, to giggles from the teenage groupies and nervous grins from the adults in the audience. The final tune of the afternoon, Stairway to Heaven, was sung by an eighth grade girl - in braces, yes, but with a degree of depth and understanding that was impressive. Stairway, the quintessential slow dance of my junior high school days [remember that? A weird song for a slow dance…romantic at the start, then getting faster, and faster, and more frantic, until you didn’t know whether to hold on to your partner and keep on shuffling from side to side or break out into a wild, thrashing, arm waving mania], sung by a kid who was born in 1994? Whoa, dude.

That’s the other great and funny thing about this show. The audience was comprised of about 85% parents. There were a few teenagers, obviously friends of the performers, but mostly parents and sibs. How perfect! The elders got to Rock On, and that they were, rocking hard to the blasting sounds of their own chickadees. And the kids, legitimate Rock Stars for the afternoon, received wild, fanatic screams of approval from their most fervent groupies of all: Mom and Dad.


  1. Zack Fishman says:

    This is a side of you that I did not know. Your writing is wonderfully approachable, intelligent, witty, and really fun to read. I loved visiting your site! I will be back many times.

  2. Adam says:

    Projectiles of Love were “lukewarm”?Please.:)
    It was cool to stumble across your website.Glad to see you are doing well.

  3. admin says:

    OMG! Adam Bratman…I’m so busted. :)

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