Friday, May 18, 2007

Archives Project: STL #19

Title: Kinda Dumb (But I like It)
Description: Let us lift our goblets to The School of Rock
Date: 6 November 2003

Soon after we got home from seeing “The School of Rock,” my wife put an AC/DC record on the turntable.
“That’s obvious,” I said, because the movie had ended with Jack Black in an Angus Young style schoolboy uniform (let out considerably), fronting a band of 10 year olds playing “It’s a Long Way To the Top (If you Wanna Rock and Roll).
“I know,” she replied with pride.

Because the movie was directed by Richard Linklater and written by Mike White (Chuck and Buck, Freaks and Geeks), I thought it might be more than the big dumb comedy it appeared to be. Not that I particularly like either Linklater or White, but I at least expected them to play with the expected formulas a little more. But this movie plays out pretty much exactly as you’d expect. The unlikely outsider insinuates himself into a position of responsibility, does it his way, succeeds until exposed. Precocious but uptight kids encounter zany teacher, learn there’s more to life (namely, the perfect rock show that can change the world); even more uptight parents see there children in new way; and so on. When the teacher tells the kids to ‘stick it to the man’ by playing rock music, we arrive at the movie’s paradox: rock and roll has become institutional rebellion. Even the stuffy principal likes Stevie Nicks. Black’s character momentarily observes this paradox, but the larger issue, that rock only exists in quotation marks these days*, is glossed over, as is the sex and drugs part of the trinity.

I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t enjoy the movie. Jack Black screws up his face with typical fervor, and its often funny, but nothing you don’t expect from him. The first time I ever saw Black was a “showcase” of Tenacious D which didn’t divulge J.B. and K.G.’s comic intent immediately. Black’s imbibing of heavy rock mannerisms is so complete (“I see a lot of potential Back Stage Bettys in the audience tonight”) that I couldn’t tell if these two chubby middle aged dudes strumming acoustic guitars was a ‘real’ band or not. That uncertainty—wondering if he’s really joking or not—is the key to Black’s success. Likewise, a parody needs an element of loving what it’s lambasting. A detailed knowledge and appreciation of hard rock always comes through in this movie, mostly through Black, the True Believer, who may be sincerely quoting “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (“We roll the guitar bite”) to ten-year olds, who might really mean it when he prays to the God of Rock for the power to blow people's minds with our high voltage rock.”

“High Voltage” brings us, of course, back to AC/DC. It wasn’t their first album (High Voltage) that Niffy put on, but the Holy Grail of Heavy, Back in Black (the one that starts tch tch tch tch),The story is familiar: the singer dies from choking on his own vomit so his mates recruit a singer who sounds like him or close enough and record the party record of the decade. That I think is the best that this particular school of rock can give us.

So when I say that “School of Rock” is stupid and obvious, I mean it in the same way as if I was describing an AC/DC song, or religious devotion; I mean it in a good way. So let’s all raise our goblets to rock and keep praying for the gig that changes the world.

*stolen from Simon Reynolds’s blog