Tag Archive: School of Rock


As I’ve mentioned before, I was a pretty good child. Behaviorally, I never did anything that was really dangerous; never smoked, never did drugs, never snuck out at night, was (almost) never disrespectful to my parents, and didn’t run with a bad crowd.

The biggest bone of contention between me and my parents was my musical choices. As I entered the second decade of my life, they started furrowing their brows. Bands like Aerosmith and Green Day caused them some grief, and they weren’t crazy about Smashing Pumpkins either. And it really started when I was in 4th grade and liked Vanilla Ice enough to ask for To the Extreme for Christmas. I got it, too.

But for whatever reason (fate, luck, God, circumstance, maybe all of them), I never discovered true naughtiness in music in my youth. The most I got was Steven Tyler quoting Frank Zappa (which I didn’t know at the time) singing “Buns up and kneelin’ / I was a’ wheelin’ and a dealin’.” And while that was more than enough for my parents, there were MUCH worse things out there at the time. 2 Live Crew caused quite a stir with “Me So Horny” and their entire As Nasty As They Wanna Be album, and it echoed in the church youth group my parents headed. Likewise, Digital Underground and “The Humpty Dance” crossed the consciousnesses of the teens in my parents’ youth group. They tried to play a cassette of it on a youth group road trip in my dad’s motor home stereo; he promptly threw it out the window.

Those two groups were on the periphery of my vision growing up, but Onyx wasn’t. When I was in 6th grade, there was a kid that went to my older sister’s school (Harkness Road, my own high school) that we gave a ride to in the mornings. We also took him to church for youth group on Wednesday nights (I went to the kids’ program at our church). His name was Luke, and he was what most adults would classify as a “bad influence.” My parents were friends with his mother, and I guess they were hoping good company would redeem bad character, the opposite of the way it typically works. It was through him that I experienced a number of different “naughty” things, Onyx being one of them.

Onyx were an early ‘90s rap group and a key figure in the gangtsa rap movement, a cluster of black artists that used incredibly violent imagery and profuse profanity. Since gangsta rap was meant to present an exaggerated glimpse into the black urban lifestyle and mindset, this also included rampant misogyny. Luke played me Onyx’s debut album on headphones one time, and I was particularly disturbed by the song “Blac Vagina Finda,” which essentially describes an interracial gang rape. I expressed my discomfort and distaste, and Luke laughed derisively and called me a pussy.

Loathe as I am to admit it, my desire to fit in with Luke and other people I was around caused me to wade into the sludge-teeming waters of gangsta rap for a while. It didn’t last long, since the overwhelming waves of stinking immorality bowled me over and were too much for me. It’s not that people like Onyx and Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were simply talking about sex and violence and the bad things of the world; I have no problem with that. It’s the way they talked about them. That way was extremely vulgar and obvious, which insulted the wordsmith in me, but looming largest in my mind was that it was celebratory. In their verbage, the bad things of the world weren’t bad at all. Gun violence was to be celebrated. Misogyny was to be celebrated. Illegal drugs were to be celebrated. Law and order were to be disrespected, insulted and ultimately destroyed. Love is weakness, attachment to your sexual partner is weakness, and your entire ethos is to be dictated by taking what you can get and not caring about how much damage you are causing to the people around you. Simply put, this was the opposite of everything I was brought up to believe.

So luckily, I went back to my Genesis and Phil Collins, and was on the verge of discovering R.E.M. and a world of other delights. And in the end, it worked out.

AC/DC probably would have been on that list of bands my parents were hoping I would NOT be into when I was younger. Like a few others I’ve talked about, my fandom of AC/DC is relatively recent. I was 9 when The Razors Edge came out, and I remember thinking “Thunderstruck” was pretty groovy, but the guy’s voice was like grinding gravel between two sheets of corrugated steel. And at that time, I didn’t have a clue that Back In Black even existed, let alone Bon Scott. A decade and a half later when the Jack Black extravaganza School of Rock was released, I found a liking for “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll),” which led me into Bon-era deliciousness. From there, I was hooked.

Music has always been the centerpiece of my life, the language through which I speak and am spoken to, but it’s better for certain music to enter your life at certain stages of your life than others. Gangsta rap, while it was a horrible experience for me, came around at just the right time. It taught me a very stark lesson about where my musical boundaries were, what I could take and what I couldn’t. AC/DC, likewise, came around at just the right time. Had I waded into their music at a younger age, I might have not only drawn the ire of my parents (even more than I did anyway), but I might have become a different, more depraved person. It’s because AC/DC came around when I was mature enough to deal with them that their bawdy talk and low-brow subject matter can hit me at the angle it does. If it were from a different, younger angle, it would probably be a lot more harmful.

Next: always a bridesmaid, never the best-selling album of all time.

Paranoid – Black Sabbath – 9/18/1970

Things were barreling along for Black Sabbath since their first album. Black Sabbath didn’t do it for the critics at the time, but it sold well. The band was like lightning, and they did their best to capture that lightning in a bottle with their first two albums. They returned to the studio just a few months after Black Sabbath was released, and they again did a recording at hyper-speed. It was 6 days and Paranoid was ready for the presses.

In 3rd century BCE, the Macedonian author and war strategist Polyaenus wrote an account of Macedonian king Antigonus II Gontanas’ siege on the Greek city of Megara. Antigonus came with an impressive array of war elephants, but they failed because the Megarians outsmarted them by doing a simple but ingenious thing. When the fearsome elephants approached, the Megarians took several pigs, doused them with pitch and resin, lit them all on fire, and sent them out the city gates where they ran pell-mell, screaming and squealing. They ran right into the elephants. Instead of crushing the much smaller animals under their feet, the elephants panicked and fled in terror of the killer pigs, quite often killing the soldiers driving them. Antigonus had to admit that he had lost to a bunch of pigs.

This could be seen as the Little Guy (the Megarians) using pretty ingenious methods to overcome the Big Guy (the Macedonians) who was pushing him around. It’s kind of a cool underdog story, but what about the pigs? Any way you spin it, it pretty much sucks to be them.

From there we go to “War Pigs.” In Black Sabbath’s narrative, the “pigs” are reversed to mean politicians who carelessly and arrogantly send others off to die. BS must have been feeling the injustice of the powerful making unilateral decisions that have no effect on them, but a huge effect on the powerless. But the song was originally about witches and satanic rites, a darker but less sophisticated subject. The original lyrics can be heard on The Ozzman Cometh, a retrospective of Ozzy Osbourne’s solo career released in 1997.

Whereas their record company generally ignored them the first time around, they were slavering dogs for Paranoid. Executives paid it very close attention, meddling only a little in the scope of record companies’ involvement in the creative process. The album was originally supposed to be called War Pigs, but label bigwigs thought that would cause too much controversy about the ongoing Vietnam War. The band members had to be saying, “What’s wrong with controversy? It is about Vietnam!”

The title track comes next, though it almost didn’t exist. Near the end of the recording process, they found they didn’t quite have enough material. They also didn’t have a punchy, radio-friendly single, as the record company reminded them. Tony Iommi started playing a guitar riff, the rest of the band joined in, and Geezer penned lyrics on the spot. “It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom,” drummer Bill Ward explained.

Twenty or twenty five minutes to give birth to what is largely thought of to be one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time. In Finland, its name is even shouted out at concerts, regardless of who’s playing or what style of music is being performed. The riff is one of the easiest guitar licks to play, and the legacy of “Paranoid” has grown so that for nearly every young rock guitarist, this is one of the first songs they learn.

no, not THAT Iron Man… jeez

Amazingly, this album houses yet another iconic and uber-classic metal song, “Iron Man.” When Tony first played the riff for the rest of the band, Ozzy said it sounded “like a big iron bloke walking around.” Lyrics were again written on the fly in the studio, and recording of it couldn’t have taken that long. Again, this is foundational stuff for rock guitarists. In the movie School of Rock, Dewey Finn is introducing classical guitar prodigy Zack to the electric by playing him rock licks and seeing if he can copy them. And what’s the first riff Dewey plays for him? You guessed it.

Tomorrow: can music be evil?