:: Imagine: You’re five-years-old. One hand is testing out your underwear elastic, the other’s tapping your distracted friend. Then...in walks Brian, decked out in a ‘70s suit doused in paint. His hair shoots out in an electric shock and he's wailing on an electric guitar strapped around his neck. You've heard this sound spilling out of your mom's headphones, but you've never been this close to the wild energy spilling out through Brian’s fingers. You realize right then, to the bottom of your Sparkle Time sneaks, that this is the coolest teacher in the universe, times infinity plus one.Brian Gorman founded Rock Band Land while he was a preschool teacher and a touring musician: “I didn’t like the sugary sweet music we were teaching, and I knew these kids could play rock music.” He joined forces with Marcus Stoesz—musical prodigy and long-time friend—and later Jen Aldrich (“Jemazing”) who helped form the band Rainbow Beast. Over the last seven years, the three of them have churned out long-haired, mind-speaking, creative, world-challenging rockers with size-3 shoes and a whole lot of guts.
Brian marches to the beat of a different drummer—or rather, he’s taken the sticks and is pied-piping down the street with a drove of pint-sized rockers drumming after him. As he puts it, “Everything I’ve ever done is creative.” Back when Brian had a desk job, he sent comical, eyebrow raising emails to the whole company that he was sure would get him fired. But, as tends to happen with creative expression, people ended up loving the emails. Even when playing the fool, Brian’s focus and dedication to his work is humbling. He’s quick to admit, “I can’t stand having people tell me what to do,” and this statement has woven game-changing creativity and uniqueness into his approach to Rock Band Land and his ball-pit of other projects.
THE 5 GROUND RULES OF ROCK BAND LAND:
1 / Be Respectful
2 / Don’t Interrupt
3 / Don’t Say No
4 / No Potty Words
5 / No Parents
Brian is an expert at kid-logic, delivering honest and to-the-point instructions that get the job done. The beginning of class is often spent shouting out every potty word the kids have had a chance to learn from their parents. They laugh, giggle and snort until it all dies down. From there on out, potty words are off limits. Brian explains, “If you use potty words, it’s just too funny. It makes us laugh and we’ll never get any work done.” These kids are professionals, so that’s the end of the potty word business. Throughout the class, Brian talks to his rockers like adults and and lets them rise to the challenge of making adult-worthy rock music.
Class officially starts with kids brainstorming an epic story that their music will later tell. Rockers shout out ideas—“She shoots Milk Bullets and has a cape with a commercial on it!”—that eventually meld into magic. “Super Cow is Fantastic, Captain Gluten is Atrocious” is the title of the most recent brainchild of Rock Band Land. “If a rocker doesn’t like an idea, they can’t just say no,” says Brian. “If you shoot it down, you kill the momentum of the whole group. Having your opinion is valid, but it’s your responsibility to change it.” And that’s where we come to rule number three: don’t say no. This also means that kids can’t say no to trying something, which gives shy kids a chance to break loose. “I’ve had parents come up to me and ask what I did. Their kid was so quiet before coming to RBL, and now their kid is shouting at the mic and leading the band.”
Brian’s approach shows that, given a platform to express themselves, kids will rise to the occasion and make some really amazing stuff. They also develop non-musical chops along the way. “One of my favorite stories,” recalls Brian, “is one of my rockers used to get teased for having long hair. He’d been at Rock Band Land for the last three years and then one day I’m walking with him on the playground and some kid gives him a hard time. He just looks the kid dead in the eye and says: ‘Look! I like my hair. My parents like my hair. My friends like my hair. He (pointing at me) likes my hair. So...tough!’”
When the kids are actually composing, they strap on heavy-duty ear protectors and go to town on the wealth of instruments Brian and Marcus have collected over the years. With instruction, the kids start making patterns out of the chaos. Marcus catches a couple cords here and there on his recording device. At night, Brian and Marcus pore over the music and piece together a song, using bits from the kids’ composed music. When they present it the next day, complete with voices for all the different characters in the lyrics, the kids all grin proudly.
On opening night, families and friends line the block outside the Verdi Club. The stakes are high. Brian says, “We try to make the songs as high quality as possible because this is what the parents listen to all the time in their car with their kids. They only listen to Rock Band Land, so we have to make it perfect.” The Verdi Club floor fidgets in unison as kids and adults criss-cross-applesauce and wait for the show to start. When the lights dim and the rockers take their places behind their instruments, it might as well be 1976 at a sold-out gig at the Roxy; the groupies are bigger and the party ends at three in the afternoon, but this is a day made for Rock and Roll.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO LEARN?
Here's what the members of Rainbow Beast are curious about:
:: Mask Making
:: Sign Language
:: Hula Hoop
:: Tending a Garden
:: How We Communicate
:: How to Use a Table Saw
Rainbow Beast's favorite Bay Area Curiosities:
:: Verdi Club
“I love just about everything that happens at the Verdi Club,” says Marcus, “the shows, the dinners, the storytelling events aggregate into this stellar world-class hole-in-the-wall venue."
Jen’s hidden gem is the Scrounger's Center for Reusable Art Parts. “I've found supplies for making backdrops for school plays, Rock Band Land zines, Halloween costumes, dining room curtains, wedding favors, you name it! And you don't have to be crafty to enjoy it here -- the amazing framed posters, vintage encyclopedias, oversized corkboards, and one-of-a-kind finds are treasures unto themselves."
- Written by Katie Kelly