SparkNotes Blog

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

As rock mags like to point out, everyone had to start somewhere. Usually Rolling Stone is content to run a few goofy-looking senior pics and leave it at that, but what’s more interesting—and helpful if you want to make it big someday—is to learn how the musical giants of the last fifty years started out.

Here’s a look at five groundbreaking stars and what exactly they did in high school to kick-start their careers:

Thomas Erdelyi (Tommy Ramone ) and John Cummings (Johnny Ramone)
While still a tween, Tommy formed an all-Beatles cover band called the Tiger 5. Two years later he met Johnny, a Rolling Stones fanatic, and they combined their obsessions to create the Tangerine Puppets, a sloppy garage rock group. While playing through the Stones’ “Satisfaction” at their high school’s talent show, Johnny managed to whack the class president in a sensitive area with his guitar neck. He claimed it was an accident, but hey, these are the people who went on to pee in Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten’s beer.

Kurt Cobain
This troubled youth dropped out of high school and started a band called Fecal Matter—pretty common occurrence, right? Fecal Matter’s demo tape Illiteracy Will Prevail didn’t get them anywhere, but Cobain did use it to convince Krist Novoselic they should start a band. That band, Nirvana, went on to be kind of big… at least that’s what I read on the Interweb. So keep in mind, high school bands are less about fame and more about finding talented, like-minded people. Then in a few years you can move on to world domination.

O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube)
Ice Cube began his hip-hop career literally IN high school—he started writing raps in his keyboard class. Before long he formed a group called C.I.A., which is less hardcore-sounding when you learn it stands for “Cru’ in Action!” Their one EP, My Posse, was produced by a slightly older Dr. Dre and recorded when Cube was still in high school. Although the EP didn’t do much, it was through C.I.A. he met Eazy-E and helped form the classic lineup of N.W.A.

Jerry Garcia
Before he took generations of hippies on a winding, weird journey with the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia dealt with life’s greatest challenge—high school. He endured thirty-mile bus rides to his high school, where he turned his dissatisfaction to—what else?—rock music. Joining a band called the Chords, Garcia helped them win a talent contest; their reward was studio time where they covered a song called “Raunchy.” Whatever rock ‘n’ roll dirtiness the Chords might have created was ended when Garcia stole his mom’s car. He chose the Army instead of jail, where he was expected to learn discipline. Yeahhhhh…… that didn’t really work. I guess they didn’t realize a few hits of LSD a week was the best way to mellow out this troubled teen.

Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan)

The common narrative is that Dylan started out as a folkie and went electric later. Actually, he started rocking Little Richard-style at high school dances and then moved toward folk, thinking it was more serious. His band was the Golden Chords—apparently people used “chords” in band names back then like they use “crystal” now. During a raucous version of “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” at his high school, Bobby got so loud his square principal turned the microphones off. So when he got harassed for rocking too hard at that infamous folk festival, it was really nothing new for him.

Are you in a band or thinking about starting one? If so, do you have any strategies for worldwide domination or do you just play for kicks? And what is your rock star name gonna be?