What do you get when you combine one arrogant rock star, a traditional English boarding school and ten proper British boys and girls who love classical music? That’s the question VH1 is trying to answer with Gene Simmons’ Rock School. The rock star in question is, of course, Gene Simmons, once lead singer of 70’s heavy metal make-up band, KISS – he of the uber-tongue (Yes, I know they rocked into the 80’s and 90’s, but seriously, have you ever heard “Animalize?” ‘Nuff said). This show promises to be either a train wreck of epic proportions or reality TV gold…. only time will tell. This is the premiere episode, so let’s get started!
Welcome to Christ's Hospital Boarding School, just south of London, England. Established by King Henry VI in 1552, Christ's Hospital boasts some very distinguished alumni, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge (thank you, Google). I also learned from Google that this school is a charitable institution, offering educational opportunities to students who may not come from well-off backgrounds. Just thought I’d throw that out there… sooner or later someone is going to call these kids spoiled, rich brats. Now you know that you should just call rotten brats. Then again, it is the first episode – let’s give these kids a chance. Maybe they’ll surprise us. [/sarcasm]
As we get beauty shots of the Christ's Hospital campus, the narrator tells us that this school specializes in churning out proper English school children who definitely don’t know the first thing about rock n’ roll. We are introduced to “Deputy Head,” Mary Ireland (Seriously. That’s her name) who clearly has no clue who Gene Simmons is. Cut to a montage of Gene at his best: on stage in KISS makeup, spewing blood and waggling his tongue. Oh yeah, this is gonna be good.
Disclaimer: I just thought I should admit up front that, while I am old enough to remember KISS, I was not a member of the KISS Army. During the 70’s, when KISS was at its height, I was much more interested in Shaun Cassidy and John Travolta…. I did have a crush on Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, but that’s neither here nor there. My most vivid memory of Gene Simmons was years later and came courtesy of Oprah. Gene was on her show for one reason or another well over a decade ago. I remember that Oprah asked him exactly how long his tongue is. His reply? “Long enough to make you my closest friend.” Indeed. That’s the first time I ever saw Oprah blush.
Like Lambs to the Slaughter
We get little snippets of the rock stars-to be and learn about their musical tastes which run from classical to well, classical. One student, a red-haired boy called Josh (who is basically Opie Taylor with a British accent), tells us that, in addition to classical, he likes love songs. He then quickly hides his face in shame. He doesn’t clarify whether his embarrassment comes from the fact that love songs aren’t classical music or if admitting he likes love songs will label him as a wanker. As we’ll soon see, the kids have already done this. The narrator tells us that Gene will have six weeks to turn these kids into little rock gods. Unbeknownst to the kids, their final exam will involve opening for Motorhead…. who at this point are old enough to be the students’ grandfathers.
You can almost hear the Jaws theme music playing as Gene approaches Christ's Hospital in a black strech limo. Of course, he’s accompanied by two blonde Barbie-esque girls who would probably list “swimsuit model” as their occupation. Gene emerges from the limo in full aging rock star regalia: black everything, including a black leather trench coat, black sunglasses and jet black hair (courtesy, I’m sure of Grecian Formula for Men). He is greeted by Deputy Head, Mary Ireland, who tells us that she can already tell that he is a troublemaker and that he looks like a caricature of a rock star… much like Mary herself looks like another kind of caricature.
Gene is also introduced to Head Master, Peter Southern, who calls Gene a “pop singer” (it’s not like he’s Ricky Martin, dude) and admits that, while he knows that Gene was in a band, he has no awareness of ever having heard any of that band’s music. Sorry, but don’t these people seem a bit too uninformed? Wouldn’t you at least do a little background check first? Sounds to me like they could’ve just as easily ended up with Courtney Love and they wouldn’t have known the difference. Of course, Courtney would be teaching a different sort of class and the kids would be learning about how to inject themselves without leaving track marks and how to pick a good rehab facility.
Gene tells us that he is not completely without teaching experience. Back in the Paleolithic Era, he was actually a sixth grade teacher in Spanish Harlem. That gig only lasted a short time because his band, KISS, ended up taking off. He says that he never got the chance to see if he was good at teaching. Now he’ll have that opportunity.
Good Morning Mr. Simmons
It’s time for Gene to meet his class. He peers in through the glass pane in the door at the ten of them: they’re all sitting quietly at their desks… completely unlike most kids their age. Suddenly, Gene bursts in the door and screams, “OH YEEEAAAH!!!” I half expect some of the students to start crying. The kids tell us that they have no idea who he is. Gene quickly gets down the business by asking each of the students to play their instrument for him. He sits politely through a mini-recital from these kids who play everything from violin to French horn to piano to oboe. One kid actually says that he plays the recorder. Well, if we’re counting that then hell, I play the recorder too! Or, I did, when they taught it in 5th grade…. that was a couple of years ago though (Hey! No laughing!), so I’m a little rusty. The recorder is right up there with the kazoo – that kid should have stopped with the other 50 instruments he plays.
After the kids are finished playing, Gene confirms what we all suspected was true: you don’t need any musical talent to be a rock star. This explains a lot. Gene says that rock n’ roll is about attitude, not talent.
One of the kids, Kwame, tells us that he finds Gene to be intimidating. Another, called Lucian, says that he is arrogant and the rest confirm that no, they don’t like Gene at all.
It’s time for the first lesson, as Gene instructs each of the kids to don his sunglasses and walk into the classroom. He wants them to show him “cool.” I had to watch the show a second time to even see this whole scene because, the first time I watched, I was in hysterics. You have to keep in mind that these kids are in private school uniforms. Not just any private school uniform either: they’re dressed like coachmen for the queen – Queen Victoria. The kids enter the room with as much attitude as they can muster and, honestly, they do pretty well. One kid, however, smashes through the door and falls flat on his butt. Another jumps up on top of the desk at the front of the classroom and yells “Yeah!!!” One of the girls saunters back to her desk and kicks her feet up onto her desk. She quickly drops character and squeals, “Oops! You can see up my skirt!” Even Gene cracks up.
Gene invokes the names of Sting and The Edge and tells the kids that those guys weren’t born with those names. To that end, the kids must choose stage names. We don’t get to hear all of the names, but some include Kwame as “Mr. Cool,” Dudley as “Dudders,” Rodney as “Rods”… hey, what kind of lame ass rock names are these? Then comes Jess as “Bagpuss” (yuck) and red-haired Josh as “Emperor.” I looked at the cast photos on the official site at VH1 and some of the kids never even picked a rock name. You know, if my name was Lucian, I’d be jumping at the opportunity to change it.
Where’s Simon When You Need Him?
The next order of business is to pick a lead singer. Gene has each of the kids take a turn singing, so he can get an idea of what he’s working with. The kids make like they’re auditioning for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Rodney gives “Amazing Grace” a go and he does sound quite good. Camilla tells us that she doesn’t want to be the lead – it terrifies her…. probably Gene is what terrifies her. Finally, we are treated to Josh singing… oh hell, I don’t know what Josh is singing. It could be a very common song, but he sings it like he’s a Viking at the moment of puberty. Gene notices the other kids starting to snicker. I’m glad he can’t see me at home because I was in tears at this point. One of the kids tells us that Josh is kind of an outcast and that the things he does, including speaking elvish (oh Lord), set him apart and make him different. You know it’s bad when you’re considered a nerd by classical music-loving 13-year olds.
Gene passes out rock posters and tells the kids to hang them up around the room. The posters feature everyone from Blondie, to AC/DC, to Jimi Hendrix, to Motorhead to, yes, KISS. He asks the kids if they are all alike. Obviously not – they are all individuals, but all of them are cool. He tells them that part of becoming a rock star is finding out who you are.
The kids will begin their rock education immediately. He gives each of them a CD player and a CD. No, it’s not KISS’ Greatest Hits: it’s a compilation of rock songs. He then plays Queen’s “We Will Rock You” at high volume. Some of the kids reluctantly keep beat on their desks, but he manages to coax Dudley out to play air guitar. At that very moment, Deputy Head Mary Ireland is standing in the hallway, peering through the glass in the classroom door. Clearly, she is scandalized. She tells us that it doesn’t appear as if Mr. Simmons is working off a lesson plan. Because my actual response to that was not PG-13, I’ll just say, “DUH.”
Gene invites Ms. Ireland into the classroom. She tells him that this is not what she would expect to see in a normal class here. Again, I have to ask: Who do they think Gene Simmons is? Ms. Ireland tells the children that she was surprised by their behavior and scolds them for being out of their seats during class.
Is That the New Math?
Class is over and the kids are in the residence hall watching a video about Gene and KISS (in all likelihood, it’s a Behind the Music episode), so they will have a better idea of who their new teacher is. They clearly had no clue who they were dealing with. The video shows clip after clip of Gene spitting blood and rocking out stadium-sized crowds with massive amounts of confetti falling all around him. One of the kids says that Gene has slept with over 4,000 women. Jesse cheekily informs us that breaks down to one woman every night for 16 years. I’d say that it was probably more than one per night, kiddo.
The auditions for lead singer continue in the school auditorium. Each kid will sing a short portion of KISS’ “God Gave Rock & Roll to You” as Gene accompanies them on guitar. It’s exactly like when opera singers audition on American Idol. The last “singer” of the day is Josh – Emperor – who proceeds to jump around and shout out the lyrics like Yosemite Sam with Tourette's. His classmates are clearly horrified, but one look at Gene’s face tells us what we knew all along: we have a winner!
Back in the classroom, Gene asks the students who they think should be the lead singer. The general consensus is that Rodney is the best singer and has a silky, smooth voice, so he should be the lead singer. Gene tells them that being a rock star isn’t about having the best voice, it’s about having attitude. In his mind, there is only one person who fits the bill: Emperor. The kids are horrified. They tell us that they don’t understand why Gene picked Josh. One of them says that no one will take Josh seriously and, therefore, no one will take the band seriously.
As the episode closes, we watch newly-minted rock star Emperor, jumping around in his room (and still wearing his school uniform) lip-synching to Gene’s CD with as much attitude as he can muster.
Next time: Gene’s morality is called into question and the kids audition for places in the band.
Critical@fansofrealitytv.com is my rock star name.