I’ve been told that I look like Jack Black. I don’t see the resemblance myself. What these people probably mean is that I “remind” them of Jables, and I can understand why. We both love good American rock music and good American food, we’re both uninhibited and funny, and we both wear size 40 BVD white briefs.
That’s why I was asked to review the new Jack Black movie, “School of Rock.” Me and my man Toshi took in a preview screening a few weeks ago. I thought it was good, and while a lot of famous movie critics also thought it was good, I think I understood it better then they did. Those critics also liked “Lost in Translation,” a movie Toshi and I each wasted 1,800 yen on last weekend. After it was clear Scarlett Johansson’s butt wouldn’t make a repeat appearance, Toshi nodded off. Me, I was like, What happened to Bill Murray, the star of such classics as “Caddyshack,” “Meatballs,” “Stripes?” I don’t think I’ve seen a great actor fall so low since Steve Guttenberg got dumped from the “Police Academy” series.
When I say “School of Rock” is good, I mean it captures what it’s like to be an outsider, a guy nobody understands. Jack plays Dewey Finn, who’s kicked out of the rock band he formed because he’s too passionate. Then his dweeby roommate, a substitute teacher, tries to kick him out of their apartment because Dewey hasn’t paid the rent and the dweeb’s new girlfriend wants the dweeb to be less dweeby. “Why don’t you kick her out instead?” Dewey says with impeccable logic. “But I may never have another girlfriend,” says the dweeb. Hey, I’ve been there.
Dewey intercepts a job offer for the dweeb and pretends he’s him for a substitute gig at a snooty elementary prep school. At first, all he wants to do is get the rent money, but after he finds out that some of the kids in his fifth-grade class play music he initiates a secret project: They’ll make a rock group and enter a local Battle of the Bands contest.
“School of Rock” has everything: humor, action, suspense, pathos. Toshi complained there was no sex or drugs, but this was compensated for with an abundance of the third element of the holy trinity: ROCK ‘N’ ROLL! Dewey is a proselytizer for the pure stuff: AC/DC, The Who, Judas Priest, Zeppelin.
So it’s not only entertaining, it’s inspirational. “Rock is about sticking it to the man,” Dewey kept telling the kids, and every time he did I got a big lump in my throat. “It’s just acting,” Toshi said, but I don’t know. That kind of persuasiveness is difficult to pull off unless you’re a true believer.
But there was only one way to find out, so we went to the “School of Rock” press conference at the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi. As far as I’m concerned, the Hard Rock Cafe is just a tourist trap, but I have to admit the collection kicked butt: a red Rickenbacker signed by all the members of Warrant, Sammy Hagar’s handwritten lyric sheets from the legendary “5150” sessions, David Coverdale’s hair extensions.
Toshi said the free food kicked butt. While we scarfed down as much nachos and potato salad as we could, the drummerless “house band” entertained the press with a mix of classic rock and songs from the movie.
You could tell when Jack came out because the whole place erupted. We were in a corner booth. The dais was near the entrance, but we could see everything on a TV monitor.
“Proton teaser,” Toshi said through a mouthful of chicken.
He swallowed and pointed at the monitor: “Probot T-shirt!”
Jack was wearing a black T-shirt with the logo of Dave Grohl’s new metal project. He was also wearing a guitar that wasn’t plugged in. “I am Jack Black from the School of Rock, and I have come to teach you to rock!” he bellowed. The media were jumping up and down and clapping. “Is this a press conference or a rock concert? Any requests? ‘Freebird?’ Elvis Presley?” He then went into a chorus of “Viva Las Vegas” that sounded more like Kevin Costner.
With him were two kids from the movie — Rebecca Brown, the girl who plays bass, and Joey Gaydos, Jr., the boy who plays guitar — and Mike White, who plays the dweeb but who also wrote the movie. He also wrote “Orange County,” which I thought displayed moments of profound insight and trenchant wit. But he’s still a dweeb.
Somebody asked about rock films in general. “There are no good rock films,” Jack said. “Rock is like a vampire. If you try to capture it on film, it’s invisible. But we’ve done it. We are the only good rock film. Us, ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘Yellow Submarine.’ The worst one is definitely ‘Rock Star’ with whatshisname . . . Marky Mark. Oh, you liked that? I’m sorry. HORRIBLE!”
” ‘School of Rock’ is the only rock movie I’ve seen,” said Rebecca.
“How could you forget ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’?” White said. God, what a dweeb!
Toshi swallowed some chicken. ” ‘Wayne’s World’,” he repeated.
” ‘Wayne’s World’ is not a rock movie,” I said, as if to a child. ” ‘Wayne’s World’ is a movie about rock. But you’re right, it is a classic.”
Some guy from MTV, after apologizing for “ruining rock” (Jack: “You’re not forgiven”), asked about the rumor that White used to live next door to Black and was inspired to write the film after seeing Jack running around his house naked.
White confirmed the rumor and said, “I just thought, he’s gotta be teaching little kids.”
“I was never naked,” Jack interjected. “I was always in my whitey-tighty underpants.”
“Briefs,” said Toshi, gulping a mouthful of cake, “The interpreter called them ‘briefs.’ ” Talk about lost in translation.
White was asked his favorite rock bands. “When I was writing this movie I was thinking of ’70s stadium bands, like Dio,” he said.
“But that’s not the question, Mike,” said Jack.
“My favorite bands?” he said, squinting, sinking deeper into dweebitude. “I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m going to answer the question, if you don’t mind,” Jack said. “I like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. I like all the bands that have the Devil in there. I don’t know why. It’s more exciting, more dramatic.”
He added that good rock had nothing to do with being cool. “The greatest people in history were not cool. They stay in their rooms and work feverishly until they create a masterpiece. They’re not out there at all the cool parties with all the cool people. Take Mike. He’s not cool, and he’s the best writer in Hollywood.”
Jack was totally stoked, bloodshot eyes blazing, saliva spraying. “The thing about rock is that if I love it, when I listen to it it makes me feel very powerful. Makes me feel like crying. Makes me feel crazy!”
Joey said, “Sometimes when I listen to a Hendrix solo or a Page solo, I think nobody can like this more than me.”
“When I hear an amazing rock song, it’s like looking at a Picasso,” Jack said, picking up the thread.
“Or eating a great burger,” added Joey. The waitresses gave him a standing ovation. I was close to tears. Toshi started choking, but it was only a jalapeno.
Two nights later we crashed the Japan premiere of “School of Rock” at Zepp Tokyo in Odaiba. Sheena and the Rokkets were entertaining the guests before the screening, but it was rumored that Jables would do a number with them.
It was strange to see the main dance floor filled with seats. Toshi thought it was strange there was no free food. Sheena and the Rokkets played a half-hour set that had some Kinks songs, some originals, some generic boogie. Sheena was dressed in a spangly top and black tights. The guitar player, her husband, Mr. Sheena, wore big shades and was even skinnier. They had that late ’70s new wave, L.A. junkie look down, except, of course, they were all wrinkly and middle aged.
After the set an MC with long, brown hair and really tight jeans came out. He talked to Mr. and Mrs. Sheena and asked them how they stayed so slim. Mr. Sheena said when you rock every night you don’t have time to get fat.
But just as I started wondering how to fit Motley Crue into the Atkins Diet, Jack came out, his gut proudly preceding him, like a real American. Screw cottage cheese, I thought. Tubby is the new svelte! Whitey-tighties the new Prada!
“Can I rock with you?” he said to the crowd, which was suddenly on its feet. Mr. Sheena went into the opening chords of “It’s a Long Way to the Top” and Jack started knocking over microphones and jumping on the monitors, roaring through the song with all the power of Brian Johnson, but still sounding like Kevin Costner. Joey came out and did Angus’s solos note-for-note.
“I need oxygen,” Jack said after the song was over. He was dripping. Rebecca and Mike joined Jack and Joey on stage and they all talked about the movie. “I knew so many rockers would come see the movie,” Jack said. “I knew I had to do rock justice. I hope kids in Japan form their own rock bands, and their parents, too. You’re never too old to rock.”
What can I say? It was the most moving thing I’d heard since Tommy Lee announced he was breaking up with Pamela Anderson for “the sake of my music.”
We decided to stay and watch “School of Rock” again. As Jack said, it’s the best rock movie ever made and even better than “Wayne’s World,” and how many chances do you get to watch a movie with that movie’s perfect audience — three hundred of the uncoolest people in Tokyo? It was like coming home.
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