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Clip: Class, Get in Touch With Your Inner Zappa

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  • Carl Zimring
    http://nytimes.com/2003/11/03/arts/music/03ROCK.html Class, Get in Touch With Your Inner Zappa By LOLA OGUNNAIKE Published: November 3, 2003 It was the type of
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      Class, Get in Touch With Your Inner Zappa


      Published: November 3, 2003
      It was the type of hipper-than-thou crowd not easily impressed. But
      belting out spot-on renditions of Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa classics,
      Paul Green's rock cover band, made up of youths well below the legal
      drinking age, managed to win over the skeptical tastemakers that flocked to
      an art-magazine party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, recently.

      "They're so adorable," a young woman wearing a vintage pea coat gushed.

      "You guys really rocked," a bearded eccentric sporting striped pajama pants
      and a rubber pig snout exclaimed. "Have you done acid?"

      As questions about curfews and puberty flowed ? and compliments swirled
      about, Mr. Green, 33, shook hands and beamed. His kids had done it again.
      And then the proverbial record skipped.

      "Dude," said one reveler with a pink buzz cut. "They're just like the kids
      from the `School of Rock.' "

      Actually, Mr. Green argues, it's the other way around. Yes, like Jack
      Black's character, Dewey Finn, in the hit film, Mr. Green abandoned
      playing in amateur bands to teach youngsters how to rock 'n' roll,
      schooling them on the finer points of genres like prog rock, extolling the
      virtues of Pink Floyd. But he insists that his story is the original and
      not some well-timed remix.

      "My first thought was to sue the pants off of them because they are doing
      damage to my business," Mr. Green said a few days before the Williamsburg
      gig. He wore a snug "School of Rock" T-shirt and jeans in desperate need
      of patches. "People are going to think I'm riding off of their coattails,
      which is totally not the case."

      The Paul Green School of Rock Music, an after-school program based in
      downtown Philadelphia, is the brainchild of Mr. Green, who began teaching
      guitar five years ago. On a whim, he brought a group of students to one
      of his band's jam sessions and invited them to join in and apply what they
      had learned in class. "They were horrible," Mr. Green recalled. "I was
      shocked by how little the kids were learning. It was the difference
      between shooting hoops and playing basketball."

      Mr. Green noticed the kids he continued to bring to practice with him
      improved greatly. The idea for a school was born. Scraping together $7,000
      in seed money, he opened the school in 2000, with only 17 students. Today,
      enrollment is at 175 and growing. There are currently 15 instructors. In
      January Mr. Green will open a satellite school in the Philadelphia suburb
      of Downingtown.

      While Mr. Green is not the only music enthusiast to have thought of
      teaching children how to thrash and wail, and is certainly not the first to
      claim his life was surreptitiously borrowed for a film plot, there are
      indeed similarities between his story and the movie. Like the character
      Mr. Black portrays, Mr. Green has an indefatigable manic energy that is
      alternately comical and slightly frightening. "He has been described as a
      regressed 12-year-old," said Jonathan Christian, a former student and
      current guitar instructor at the school.

      Mr. Green said that producers from VH1 ? a division of Viacom, as is
      Paramount Pictures, the company behind "School of Rock" ? filmed his
      school in 2002 for a potential reality series. After four days of
      shooting, he said, the producers disappeared, and were never heard from

      Asked to comment, a spokeswoman for VH1 said, "We know nothing about this."

      Eric Slick, 16, a drummer enrolled at the school for five years, said, "In
      the movie, the guy's like, `You've got to listen to King Crimson, Yes and
      Zappa,' and those are all things Paul says. Even their mannerisms are the

      All purely coincidental, Mike White, who wrote the screenplay for "School
      of Rock," said in a statement issued through his publicist.

      "I've never heard of Paul Green before," he said. "But I think it's cool
      he's on the front lines teaching rock to the next generation."

      "Sounds fishy to me," said Mr. Green, who added that he is contemplating
      legal action. "You can Google `school of rock' and we're right there."
      Sitting in his makeshift office on the second floor of a three-story
      building in downtown Philadelphia, amid threadbare couches, stained carpets
      and walls smothered in rock posters (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix) and
      snapshots of kids clutching instruments, Mr. Green explained his
      curriculum. For $125 a month, students ages 6 to 18 are given one
      lesson a week in their respective instruments; 1960's and 70's rock are
      the core of the program.

      Enrollment is open, and students are not graded. Instead, performances at
      local sites, of which there are five to six a season, act as final exams of
      sorts. "The kids that didn't practice, it shows onstage," Mr. Green said.
      "Rarely do we have a kid that does two or three bad shows. One is enough."

      Here you will not find the jock or the cheerleader, homecoming king or
      queen. "It's usually the disaffected, the out-of-place kids who in this
      place find a home," Mr. Green said. There was Britney, Schultz a
      16-year-old guitar player and sardonic wit, with a pierced lip and a
      preference for dark clothes. "Once you go black you never go back," she

      "If she wasn't here she'd be drinking a 40 in a train station parking lot
      somewhere," Mr. Green joked. "Sounds about right," Britney said dryly.

      And there was Jeremy Blessing, a lanky John Lennon type who knows little
      about music made after 1984. "The more I learn about music the further back
      I go," he said. A guitar hung from his narrow neck. "Now I'm back to 50's
      Delta blues.

      Mr. Green has been known to morph from friendly band leader to tactless
      drill sergeant in nanoseconds. Due out next year, "Rock School," a
      documentary by the independent filmmaker Don Argott about the music
      program, captures Mr. Green going ballistic on several occasions. In the
      past, his demanding ways and brutally honest assessments have brought some
      students to tears. "I switched to drums because Paul told me my guitar
      playing was atrocious," said Asa Collins, a 9-year-old drummer with a
      platinum blond mohawk.

      "Trying to explain him in words ? he sounds like a huge idiot who has no
      respect for people," said Gaja Stirbys, a former ballerina who now studies
      drums. "But if you see how he works with people, it's such an amazing

      Mr. Green does not apologize for his brash style or strict ways. "Kids are
      lazy and they have to be pushed," he said. "I take a very firm `my way or
      the highway' stance. If you don't like it, here's the phone book. There
      are other music schools."

      Deriding most contempory music, he is equally as adamant about the type of
      music taught at his institution. J.Lo? "That's what we're against," he
      said with a grimace. "This is war." Dave Matthews Band, perhaps? "People
      think he's really good and his drummer is really good, but his drummer
      couldn't be the drum tech for one of the Zappa drummers."

      It comes as no surprise then that Mr. Green's charges prefer Jethro Tull to
      Jay-Z. With the exception of Radiohead ? "We all love them," said Eric,
      the 16-year-old drummer ? and Outkast, they have little patience for groups
      currently garnering radio play. Mention Britney Spears and watch sparks

      "She makes me want to kill myself," Eric said. The drumsticks he held
      suddenly looked menacing. "I hate her so much."

      Nothing disturbs them more now, however, than Mr. Black's comedy. "It just
      stinks that Jack Black is getting so much press, because that could be Paul
      and us," said Kelly Crimmins, a 14-year-old singer.

      Julie Slick, 17, a bass player and Eric's older sister added, "We should at
      least get to ride on the coattails of their success."

      "Yeah," Kelly chimed in. "We should get to play on `Conan' or something."

      For the last month, Eric, who runs the the school's Web site,
      www.schoolofrock.com, has had to suffer pesky fans of Mr. Black. " `Your
      movies are so great ? will you marry me?,' " Eric mimicked in a high
      pitch. "I've seen Jack Black on the cover of every single magazine as the
      rock savior. Paul Green should be on the cover of every rock magazine
      because he's out here saving rock."

      Growing up in Port Richmond, a section of Philadelphia Mr. Green
      described as "the white man's ghetto," he learned to be self-sufficient
      early in life. His father died when he was 5. His mother, who worked a
      series of odd jobs and dated a string of "weird men" was crazy, Mr. Green
      said affectionately. "She smoked pot and played guitar. She played a
      classical nylon string guitar and she finger-picked and would sing Joni
      Mitchell songs. She was really good."

      Mr. Green was bullied ? "I had to run home so I wouldn't get punched in the
      face," he said ? and by high school he discovered "drugs, girls,
      skateboards and rock," and dropped out. He played in several local bands,
      but as he grew older, the prospect of living out of a tour bus became less
      and less attractive. The director Cameron Crowe's rock valentine "Almost
      Famous" convinced Mr. Green, who eventually received a philosophy degree
      from the University of Pennsylvania, of one thing: "I wanted to be a rock
      star, but I wanted to be a rock star in 1972."

      Mr. Green said he had yet to see "School of Rock" but was confident his
      students would crush the film's band in a face-off.

      "I'll take my best six kids and I'll kill them," he said, with all the
      cockiness of a rock star. "I'll take my second best kids and I'll kill
      them. I'll take my third best kids and I'll kill them. I'll beat 'em three
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