You don't go to school to learn how to rock. That's what skipping school is for, right? C'mon, rock 'n' roll's not something you learn from The Man. Unless the man is Paul Green. And he's not even really The Man. In fact, he's the Anti-Man. He's the dude who frees kids, gives them wings and lets their rock-'n'-roll spirits soar.
The real-life founder of the real-life School of Rock doesn't create rock stars, but he does give kids the confidence to try the musician's life. "I keep them motivated and excited and loving music," Green says over the phone from Philadelphia. "If you can get them to overcome fear and laziness, the rest is easy."
Green's School of Rock has been enlightening kids ages 6 to 18 to the powers of rock 'n' roll since its living-room inception in 2001. Today, it schools more than 200 kids, has six Philadelphia-area locations with plans to open two more in New York and San Francisco. But from day one, the idea has remained the same. "We're not the novelty of kids playing cover music; [if we were] we would have petered out a long time ago," Green says. "We're not tied in with the kiddy scene, we're tied in with the local art scene--and we play real rock clubs."
And, according to Green, the kids have the chops to back it up. "My all-star team will blow you away," he says, referring to the tour that will bring a group of his most talented students through Portland Friday.
Green first started teaching guitar lessons while earning a degree in philosophy at Penn State. Like a true philosophy student, Green was actually in school to learn, not just to work toward that six-figure job.
In fact, he liked school so much, he didn't want to leave, and opening the School of Rock meant he didn't have to. "Now I don't have to go to law school," he says laughing.
A year after he formed the Philadelphia-based school, Viacom-owned VH1 approached Green about the possibility of doing a reality-TV series. After some back-and-forth discussion, the channel's interest subsided. A couple of years later, Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures released the movie School of Rock, in which a character played by Jack Black turns a group of elementary kids into an AC/DC-beltin' rock band. The inspiration was obvious and the similarities uncanny. Green considered legal action but the thought was fleeting. "I'm calling the tour 'The Original School of Rock,'" Green says. "So let them sue me and prove they didn't steal it. It's better karma this way--the movie was good for me."
Even Black's hyperactive character shared some of Green's qualities, "though I'm a little slimmer," he claims. But Green is just as energetic. "A lot of the time I'm running around, ranting and raving," he says. "That's what I do--I perform. If the kids need a temper tantrum, that's what I give them. If they need a pep talk or a hug, that's what--well, not in a weird way."
When his won't-give-up-on-you approach to teaching the tenets of rock wasn't quite enough for the kids, he flew Frank Zappa's old partner, Napoleon Murphy Brock, out to show them how it's done.
"I said, 'If you won't listen to me, will you listen to him?'" Green says, laughing.
Brock was so impressed by Green's students and their stunning abilities to play Zappa's highly complex compositions at a recent gig ("He said he just stood there with his mouth open," Green says) that he agreed to join them on a West Coast tour, where they will play 17 shows in 16 days, including Friday's show at Nocturnal.
Half of the road trip will feature Green's 27 top students playing classic rock tunes by such greats as Led Zeppelin, Queen and Yes, the other half has the kids playing Zappa. Both versions will be two-hour, two-set shows. And Portland gets Zappa.
Though the tour will give the kids a healthy head start, Green can't shelter them from the harsh realities of the biz. "The world is going to break their heart, I don't need to," he says. "I'm going to teach them how to play, I'm going to teach them how to play solos and walk up to the front of the stage and pretend the guitar is a machine gun. They'll learn on their own how to play to an empty room."
Certainly, it won't be this Friday.
The Paul Green School of Rock plays with Napoleon Murphy Brown Friday, Aug. 13, at Nocturnal, 1800 E Burnside St., 239-5900. 8 pm. $10. All ages.