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James Iha's Article in Spin Magazine
April 6, 2002, 12:00 am

Source: Spin Magazine

Tonight we take that “midnight train goin’ anywhere” to downtown Philadelphia’s Indre Studios, where the true spirit of rack lives. You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the audience, however, which ranges in age from scruffy kids to middle-aged parents to elderly couples. They file in and sit patiently in the pitch-black space as the small crew of engineers and musicians struggles with amps and microphones during sound check. Chord changes are blown, arrangements are forgotten, and faces are tense. Backstage, the girls in the band apply lots of makeup and check out one another’s clothes; the guys eat pizza and nervously crack jokes. Just a few minutes from now, the gasps and sputters of the lone smoke machine will announce that, yes, there will be rock here tonight—even if the raw, untested performers about to take the stage would be self-medicating if they could.
They’re a band with no manager, no demo, no name, and no chance of bellying up to the bar for a shot to calm the nerves: They’re actual kids. The youngest is ten, the oldest is 17, and they’re all enrolled in the Paul Green School of Rock Music, a sort of after-school program for locals bored with private lessons. “Once, as a joke,” Green says, watching from stage right, “I gave a couple of kids one of the hardest songs I could think of, just to teach them a lesson. And they came back good! And I was like, ‘You knew what? I’m never going to sell these kids short, ever.” He nods just as one of his students hits the wrong chord. Loudly.

GREEN—A 29-YEAR-OLD, STOUT, CAGEY-LOOKING former grunge rocker who loves classic rock—started his school in 1996, transforming a dentist’s office into a glorified practice space. He currently has 90 students (there are about 20 more boys than girls). He pays the rent by charging $100 monthly tuition; those who can’t afford the fee are often placed ‘tin scholarship.” Green (who has the sort of deranged, laserlike intensity of would-be filmmaker Marc Borchardt from American Movie) used to give private guitar lessons in the attic of a local music store, but he says that an open, communal practice space helps the kids learn faster and more eagerly. His pupils agree—for the most part.
“Well, Paul’s eccentric,” says Shannon Loclmer, who’s 14 and studying vocals, keyboards, and guitar. “But,” she adds— possibly because Green is standing close by—in a good way.”
“I gave Sharmon two bands,” Green good-naturedly interjects, “and they both fell apart.”
“I know, I know,” Shannon replies.
“And why did they fall apart?” Green prods.
“Because people in charge didn’t do anything,” she says.
“But with the second band you were in charge.”
“I know,” says Shannon. “I was in charge, and we would have practiced, but we couldn’t agree on a place or time.”
Green sighs. “It’s the story of every band,” he says. From my experience, it’s a story as old as time itself. (Look skyward for extra effect.)
Once a week, each student takes a private lesson with Green or one of the eight other teachers (such as Boss Hogg keyboardist Mark Boyce). There is no grading system, and “finals” take the form of concerts. “I tell them: Not every song has to be perfect, but if you put yourself into it, you’ll have a song,” he says during a practice break. “Bach used the same progressions as Radiohead, you know?” We’re standing in the hallway, which is covered with posters of REO Speedwagon, Meat Loaf, and Journey. There’s a sign that warns NO TOOL! because, Green says, “the kids would just sit around playing Tool all day.” Green adds that his curriculum’s emphasis on classic rock is just “an aesthetic judgment. Even growing up in the ‘80s,” he says, “I always thought music from the ‘70s was cooler.”
Guitarist Angelo Delquadro, 17, would much rather be playing Cradle of Filth, but he considers Green a “good motivator” nonetheless. “He yells sometimes,” Delquadro says. “But he yells because he cares.”
To prepare everyone for this semester’s final—billed as the “Big Bad Corporate Rock” show at the Indre—Green lectures in what could best be described as How to Lose It Onstage lot “So, like,” he begins, “mics come off the stands, we act crazy, solos will be over-the-top, and if you’re the frontman, you should be going for it!” He then singles out a shy 17-year-old girl named Teddi Tarnoff who sings a poignant “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas and then a scorching version of Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” by Journey.
“Teddi,” Green says afterward, “I want you to go home and get the Journey Behind the Music.” “Does that mean she has to watch it, too?” yells one of the kids in the back. Paul continues, undeterred: “And I want you to see Steve Perry,” he instructs Teddi. “You need to get bell-bottoms and a velour shirt!” Teddi covers her face with her hands and laughs.
Next, Paul directs another group through a punk-rock version of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” an eight-minute song that chronicles the courtship, marriage, and divorce of a young suburban couple, with lyrics so detailed there’s even a scene in which they go mattress shopping. Meanwhile, the other students hang out, discussing Green’s musical tastes. “At first I was like, ‘‘70s rock? REO Speedwagon?” says 13-year-old guitarist Ethan Woods. “I mean, I like Tool, Cannibal Corpse, a little death metal. But the more I play these ‘70s songs, the more I’m getting into them. ‘Cause they’re starting to, like, affect me.”
“Now,” adds 17-year-old bass player Amy Liedman, “a lot of the bands we like are from [that era]—no offense to the Smashing Pumpkins!” None taken, gutterpunk!

WATCHING GREEN WORK, I WONDER WHAT MY LIFE would have been like had his school been there for me during my formative years. Like most musicians, I learned hnw tn play guitar by myself, in my bedroom. After schonl I would spend hours listening to my older brother’s classic rock records and playing my first cheap Cort guitar. My early rock life was pretty isolated, until I met some friends in high school (in a middle-class suburb of Chicago) and we formed our first band (which, at my school, was sort of a “weird” thing to do). Our sound ranged from Midwestern rock like the Replacements to new wave music like New Order—or so we liked to think. Our first gig was at some after-school talent show, and it was pretty nerve-racking. All I remember (besides being completely flummoxed by the horrible, cavernous live sound) was keeping my head down, never moving, and concentrating very hard. I don’t know if I ever looked up during the Pumpkins’ career, although I do remember headbanging slightly once or twice during that “grunge” era.
And, as some of Green’s pupils can testify, having self-confidence is key. Fifteen-year-old bass player Monica Montiel says that Rock School has exposed her to more than band interplay and ‘70s power ballads: “I used to be all about fashion,” she says, “but I think Rock School has opened up my eyes to what good music is. I really like Weezer, and I want to be like Gwen Stefani. When I’m onstage and it sounds right, I feel good inside knowing I did something right.”
And then there are the practical problems—it’s good to learn how to negotiate them as early on in your rock career as possible: “During my first concert,” says 13-year-old drummer Joe Randazzo, “the smoke from the smoke machine started coming back at me, and my eyes were watering, and I was, like, coughing and stuff. I couldn’t see anyone—Paul, the band, or even my drums. But I couldn’t let the team down, so I had to keep going.” I want to tell him that I know all about the smoke machines—I can still feel my eyes burning to this day. But Joe doesn’t need to hear it. He’s already earned his wings.

SO, HOW EFFECTIVE IS ROCK SCHOOL, YOU MAY ASK? Well, during the Big Bad Corporate Rock show, the kids tear through Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”—sweating and very convincingly rocking out, oblivious to their nervous parents. And when they hit the line, “And all the kids at school / They were wishing they were me that night,” it rings so, so true.
After the set ends with (of course!) Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Green strides onstage, congratulates the bands, and takes his bow, relieved of his mission. I hark back to the words of General Douglas MacArthur: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
And, like the old soldier, Green quietly vanishes into the cold, starry Philadelphia night, having succeeded in his one real goal—doing everything he can to ensure that the kids have a good show. “The one way I shield them,” he told me, “is to make sure they play in front of friendly crowds.” Tonight they did. “I’m losing my hearing,” says John, 80, who came to see his grandson Angelo (of Cradle of Filth fandom) perform. “So sometimes it just all sounds like noise to me. We went with a lot more cowboy music in our time, but I wouldn’t miss it.” And, John adds, he really believes that rock school is paying off: “Oh, I thought my grandson was good,” he says enthusiastically. “The kid’s got a good chance of maybe getting somewhere.”