By Sam Levin
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A 2006 graduate of St. Elizabeth Academy, eighteen-year-old Kim Anderson looks like your typical easygoing college student: hair cut in a punkish wedge that exposes multiple ear piercings, outfits that run to the ultracasual (e.g. plaid pajama pants and a Backstreet Boys tour T-shirt).
Yet the Saint Louis University freshman says she was "really shy" before coming to Rock School for guitar lessons in 2004. It was here that Dave Simon discovered Anderson's hidden vocal talent and encouraged her to get onstage. Worried that "everyone would think I suck and they wouldn't want me to sing for them," Anderson required some convincing. But belting out Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker" caused her confidence to bloom. Now she's the Rock School's office manager-cum-administrative assistant, responsible for billing, filing and "basically everything [Simon] asks me to do." Simon calls her an "essential" part of the operation.
Anderson is also an essential part of one of Rock School's first concert bands to move into the "real world": Her all-girl band Mood Swings (see www.myspace.com/swingus) has played at the (since closed) all-ages St. Peters club Sally T's and the Creepy Crawl, and has a November 22 gig scheduled at the Red Sea.
Now Anderson is thinking bigger.
"At first when I started taking lessons I thought it would just be an after-school thing," she says. "Now it's a huge goal for me: to be professional, have my own equipment and go out on the road. I don't think it'll ever happen, but we'll see. You never know."
No, you never do. The pop charts have always been peppered with pubescent pop-tarts, from a pre-adolescent Michael Jackson to 1980s mall stars Debbie Gibson and Tiffany to 1990s icons Hanson and Britney Spears. But today's musical role models seem more like peers than mentors. Some members of the multiplatinum rock act Panic! At the Disco, emo-dreamboats Cute Is What We Aim For and snarling grrl-punks Be Your Own Pet are barely out of high school; Hayley Williams of Paramore was sixteen when her band released its 2005 debut. For the right kid with the right talent, a career in music may well be within reach.
"The rock stars of today are the kid that lives next door," Dave Simon agrees. "That's the image they're selling: It's this kid in your high school class, not this 25-year-old guy who lives in some far-off big city and stands on top of the mountain singing his hit song. It's much more down to earth and more accessible which I think is a good thing."
And it's not all about glory. Fifteen-year-old Jonathan Todd plays in Failure for Friends (www.myspace.com/failureforfriends), which has gigged at a friend's birthday party and a high school bash. Next they aspire to record with rock school instructor Ben May, drummer for local punk-poppers the Cause.
Todd's father has been taking him to clubs like the Way Out and the Creepy Crawl since he was twelve.
"I see a show every weekend, whether it's local or a big band," the younger Todd says. "Local bands are always fun shows. If you start going to see a band enough, you get to know the people at the shows, you get to know the bands. It's more of an experience. You're united with the people that are into them."
Todd says when he grows up he "pretty much would be satisfied" having a day job and playing every weekend in a local band.
"Right now, in all honesty, we're just in it to have fun," says seventeen-year-old Covent Garden drummer Alex Frankel, who studied at Rock School until 2005. "We figure the music industry is such a tough industry to break into and be successful, we'd rather have guaranteed success in other aspects of our lives."
Simon says he has been asked about whether the Junior Mints, say, might generate some money, and about why he doesn't focus more on educating kids about the business aspect of the music industry. His response: He'd rather help the kids develop their musical chops and social skills and see where they go from there.
"The music industry is not something I would recommend to people," Simon says. "It's an entertainment industry, and not everyone comes out of it feeling so good about themselves. And at least people come out of this stage you're going to feel great about yourself. If you're young, you've had great experiences with music. All these kids get into it, not because they want to be rich and have careers it's 'cause they love rock & roll. The industry the minute that's added to the equation, the purity is gone."
That view isn't surprising, as it's coming from a guy who studied jazz at Webster University, and who still relishes his memories of being fifteen and playing music in the basement.
"If you can learn the rules and learn the theory, that's gonna be a good college prep experience," Simon reasons. "I would love it for the kids that come out of here to go into a jazz program and have teachers go, 'Oh wow, you really know your stuff. Where did you learn this? Oh, Dave Simon's Rock School.'"
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