How to Get an Education From the Real School of Rock

It's the early '80s. My friend Mark Soden is running the audio-visual lab at a central county high school, which, as at schools everywhere, was a magnet for the campus malcontents. It was the early days of MTV, which they're watching, which gets the kids musing, “Man, it would be so cool to be in a band.”

Mark, who has been in enough bands to know otherwise, gets right on the phone to the LA punk haven the Anti-Club and tells the booker, “I've got a bunch of kids who play power tools.” When he gets off the phone, he tells the students, “Okay, you've got a gig.”

He recruits a few ringers from the Tweezers and his old band the Nu-Beams, just to give the project some semblance of being music, and less than a month later, they and the six students, dubbed Youth Hostel, are onstage at the Anti-Club.

The idea of the power tools has fallen by the wayside. “With these kids, there was the very real possibility of them hurting one another,” says Mark. “We did have one guy, though, who we had using an ice ax to smash records, which sent shards flying everywhere. Someone else played an early drum machine. Another guy had a Casio computer he'd manhandled to make sounds like feedback, which would drive soundmen nuts trying to figure out which of their mics was feeding back. One girl played a turntable, just playing snippets of choice records, such as a radio-station promo record of Senator Everett Dirksen doing 30-second campaign spots. Everett Dirksen was a pivotal fixture of the band.”

And the music?

“It was pretty improvisational. It was also pretty bad. A lot of people I'd been associated with musically came out for the Youth Hostel gigs, and for them and the club owners, it pretty well burned up any cache I might have accrued over the years.”

The band plays a second gig at the soon-to-be-shuttered Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa. It begins to sink in that maybe the rock life isn't as glamorous as imagined.

“They're all complaining: 'There's no food backstage.' 'They won't give me anything to drink.' 'Why is everyone here so mean to us?' If they'd gone the route most bands do—buying gear, learning instruments, learning songs—they might have spent years to reach this point of realization. It really demystified the process for them. As far as I know, none of them ever wanted to be in a rock band again.”

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