Rocking the Classroom

In a world where music has gradually been processed like so much cheap cheese, where whole nations sit down on Saturday nights to exercise their right to text fresh meat through the awful karaoke mincer, those of us who love music, real music, should go down on out knees and thank Paul Green. He’d love that. In Don Argott’s documentary Rock School, Green is the founder, principal and apparently the only teacher at the Paul Green School of Rock, a Philadelphia-based after-school club that takes local youngsters from the age of 9 to 17 and trains them to become rock musicians. Green, who turns out to be the biggest kid in the bunch, is a curious mix of motivational speaker, ringmaster, educator and mentor wrapped in a malodorous-looking, XXL Jethro Tull t-shirt. In between sweary rants at the listless kids and frantic ducking and diving to keep the operation going, Green, who started the school in 1998 when his own dreams of rock stardom didn’t pan out, leads us on a warts-and-all tour of the school and its pupils.

Among the trainees we meet are the all-rocking 9-year-old twins, Asa and Tucker Collins, a Joni Mitchell-like crooning Quaker named Madi Diaz-Svalgard, a depressed, mislabelled philosopher named Will O’Connor who chose Rock School over suicide and an astonishing 12-year-old prodigy, C.J. Tywoniak, whose guitar is a foot taller than him. What emerges most strongly from Rock School, apart from the jaw-dropping talents of some of the kids, is that Green is determined to treat them like adults. He refuses to pander to their whining, or talk down to them and is absolutely serious about their progress as musicians. It’s easy to see how readily his pupils respond to him, and how conducive the ramshackle, paper-strewn school is to fostering their talents, but, thinking back, it’s hard to see what Green does exactly. We never see him teaching chords, or giving voice lessons or tips on performance. He seems to play the role of vibes-master, a Pied Piper who has given himself the responsibility of finding and developing the next wave of axe-wielding rock gods. If all this sounds familiar, that's because Green’s antics were the basis for Richard Linklater's 2003 Jack Black vehicle School of Rock, but as usual, the real story is far more interesting.

Green, for all his verbose bluster and uncomfortable fits of arm-waving frenzy, comes across as a proud teacher, an intelligent and articulate musical historian and a highly efficient motivator. With all the shouting and roaring, it’s as if Green is training the kids for the inevitable hearing loss that a lifetime of strutting in front of a Marshall stack will inevitably result in. However, his results speak for themselves, with the film building towards Green taking a band of his best and brightest on a road trip to a Frank Zappa festival in Germany. Once there, he harries his well-practised charges into performing Zappa’s convoluted jazz-rock to an gob-smacked and highly appreciative audience. It’s the high point of a wholly satisfying, occasionally thoughtful and frequently hilarious movie.

Rock School is a delight; a palate-cleansing benzene sorbet that cuts through the gloopy starch of the recent run of bad films and the monstrous production-line of modern democratic pop.

1 comment:

Aiden Kenny said...

Hooray! You finally got to see a film you enjoyed. I think your recent track record of having to sit through increasingly brain-numbingly moronic, spirit-crushing cinematic fare might have defeated a lesser critic.