Thursday, February 17, 2005

Eric and Rock School in Long Island Press...

In today's Long Island, NY Press - my son's prolific one sentence following an hour long interview. Ha! But still very, very cool.

The Original School of Rock Comes to New York
Jesse Serwer 02/16/2005 11:26 am

It's early Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, and a bunch of rocker types are discussing the merits of Jethro Tull and Devo, pondering the significance of how many Google hits their own bands get, and just generally hanging out.

All of a sudden, the crew gets the word: It's showtime. The group's ringleader—a short man with wild, bugged-out eyes and a beer gut protruding from his Led Zeppelin shirt—places his hand against that of a little boy who will later be running around the room with a pair of drumsticks, and tells the child's mother, "He's a drummer all right."

It's not the precocious 5-year-old but his reserved older sister that Paul Green is interested in selling to, though, and he begins making his pitch to 12-year-old Ilana Roth and her parents.

"Isn't this a cool place? Don't you want to hang out here?"

It's open-house day at the newly minted New York City branch of the Paul Green School of Rock, a loft space-turned-musical playground in Hell's Kitchen that opens for business this week, and is the latest in a chain of nine similar schools opened by the Philadelphia-based Green. By April 1, Green plans to have his 6- to 17-year-old students—many of whom, like Ilana Roth, have never played a rock song before in their life—tackling Pink Floyd's The Wall. On May 13 they play their first show at the Tribeca Rock Club.

"You know the show South Park -- Crank Yankers -- His band was on those shows," Green tells a young guitar player, gesturing to Dave Dreiwitz, the bassist of Ween, and one of several notable artists who will be giving lessons and helping Green run the New York school (the others include Guided by Voices drummer Kevin March, drummer Claude Coleman of Ween and Eagles of Death Metal, and Eddie "Eyeball" Cisneros of 2 Skinnee J's).

"Wouldn't you rather have a teacher who goes on tour, comes back and tells you stories about what it's like as opposed to some guy that's all washed up?"

While his natural ability to talk kids' language might make Green seem like the perfect babysitter, he lets his potential students know right away he means business.

"I am not nice," Green says. "You just think I am because your parents are here. Once they leave...."

If you think that the idea is inspired by Jack Black's 2004 hit comedy, School of Rock, then you have it backwards. The Paul Green School of Rock actually dates back to 1998 when Green, a self-described "bitter, failed musician" who was offering guitar lessons at a Philadelphia music store, decided to start bringing his students to his band's practice space. Before long, Green was molding groups of kids—average age 14—into full-fledged Led Zep and Pink Floyd cover bands, and performing with them at area clubs and art spaces.

"At first, I thought no one else could do what I do," says Green, whose résumé includes playing guitar in Philly metal acts Sweet Pussy and Apollo Creed, as well as time spent in the Jersey Shore cover-band circuit. "Then I let my staff run the program when I went to Germany. After the sour grapes, I realized that I had created a system that gives confidence and a positive, meaningful experience to our alienated, MTV youth culture."

With investment capital from some wealthy students' parents, Green began opening up satellite schools in Philly suburbs before heading to New Jersey's Bergen County, then San Francisco. Concurrent to the Hell's Kitchen open house, an associate of Paul's is greeting prospective students at the new School of Rock in Salt Lake City.

"We hope to open as many as 25 new schools in the next two years in all the cool cities, and their suburbs," says Green, who will make the trek up to Manhattan from Philadelphia to teach twice a week. He lists Brooklyn, Nassau County and Westchester among the locations he and CEO Jake Szufnarowski are currently scouting. "Someone is going to get the idea to open schools of rock all over the place. It might as well be us."

Green is just back from the Sundance Film Festival, where Rock School, a documentary on the School of Rock, screened to favorable reviews, and where kids from the "Rock School All-Stars"—a group of Philly program veterans who tour and perform about 150 shows annually—got to jam with Alice Cooper.

"A lot of the movie reviews called me a failed artist," says Green. "Which I am. I am very bitter and I live vicariously through the kids. I didn't want to do what it takes to be a rock star in the '90s. I didn't want to hang out with Fred Durst or Carson Daly. I wanted to hang out with Joni Mitchell."

So, while Green likes to call himself the kids' "Überlord," his All-Stars have already soared to heights their mentor never made it to. In addition to Cooper, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, Heart's Ann Wilson and Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan all make appearances alongside the All-Stars on Rock School's soundtrack; they'll play alongside Zappa sideman Ike Willis at a March 5 Zappa cover set in New Jersey.

"We did a 19 shows on the west coast last summer, we're doing a 19-day tour in Europe this summer, we might go to Japan," Green tells his potential students. "We've been in Spin magazine. We are doing a lot for you, so we ask that this be pretty high on your priority list. It should be school, family, then rock school."

A number of Green's original students now work for their mentor, giving lessons at the Philly-area schools.

"Paul's long-term dream is a music scene of real rock 'n' roll that erupts from the rock school rather than the pop rock that is dominating the radio," says Eric Slick, a 17-year-old college freshman and School of Rock All-Star who teaches drums at the Philly headquarters. "He wants to save rock 'n' roll."

Near the end of the open house, things are moving slowly. Only seven kids have enrolled in the program Green expects will soon hold 180. "The only advertising we did is we brought brochures to our show at B.B. King's in December. This is kind of what we wanted—kids who have already seen the shows, so they know what to expect. They will tell their friends. When kids sign up, they usually stay until they graduate high school."

Sensing his newly hired staff might be a little concerned, though, Green pulls them aside.

"You guys understand this is a start-up business, right? I would rather hire a good staff than a skeleton crew. We'll just jam the rest of the time."