The term “weekend warrior” could as easily apply to wannabe rockers as it does to those who speed across the summer lakes—both have day jobs but live for their passions. And being a so-called “rock god” is the aspiration of a great many, but the statistics are punishing: no matter how good you are, how many hours you devote to music, there are only so many spots at the top, with luck unfairly favoring some and not others.
The answer to this unfairness is to keep on playing for the love. Rock your local bars and regional festivals and hopefully make a few extra bucks, all while writing new music and earning new fans. But, in all likelihood, it’ll be necessary to keep the day job to stay in front of those damned bills.
So it is true for those corporate types who pay hefty sums to attend Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, where they can not only train with Alice Cooper and Steven Tyler, but actually play on a stage with them—for a few days anyway. It’s become such a staple of the culture that it was even the basis for a classic “Simpsons” episode wherein Homer is trained by no less than Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, the late Tom Petty and Elvis Costello.
It all was the brainchild of the rather spunky entrepreneur David Fishof, a onetime music agent-turned-sports agent-turned-rock promoter, who seemingly never had a good idea he couldn’t monetize. The new documentary “Rock Camp” starts off as Fishof’s story: He grew up the son of a temple cantor who had survived the Holocaust, and as a child spent many summers with his family in the Borsch Belt of the Catskills. There, Fishof caught fire scheduling bands at those summer retreats, and thus was born a passion and a talent for bringing first musicians, then sports figures, in front of larger and larger audiences. Several of the campaigns he masterminded are shown, including that infamous tag “I’m going to Disneyland” that became such a Super Bowl staple.
But a camp is nothing without campers, and thus “Rock Camp” also focuses the civilians who want to play rock god for a weekend. Among them are a female executive from New Jersey, whose house has perhaps more KISS ephemera than Gene Simmons’s (who, unsurprisingly, appears in “Rock Camp” as a talking head). Another is a drummer who could have made it to the big times had life not taken an unexpected turn, or two. And still another is a businessman with a special needs-son he dreams of bringing to Fantasy Camp so two generations can play together with their shared heroes.
Ah, but these “campers” are not poseurs: All of the documentary’s civilian subjects possess genuine talent and, in a more just universe, perhaps would be household words by now. And, let’s be frank, these weekend rockers can afford an experience like Fantasy Camp, whose price tag starts at several thousand dollars and goes from there. There’s nothing egalitarian about the camp: Those who can afford it can afford it. But Fishof is a businessman, and rock is a business.
The economics of getting to camp aside, what the weekend rockers all share is a passion for rock that hooked them in adolescence and never let go. Even now, as parents and grandparents, they will “pay anything to roll the dice” with Paul Stanley, Brian Wilson, Lita Ford or any number of their heroes just once. Doubtless these professionals deal with campers who have no business whatsoever being anywhere near a guitar, but their joy in “Rock Camp” is genuine as they coach talented Joe Publics to thrash out to “Strutter” or “Black Dog” with the big kids.
“Rock Camp” is a fun, positive documentary. What it perhaps lacks in depth or dramatic heft it makes up for in passion and an overriding sense of joy, both for the famous rockers and those they make feel like royalty, if only for a weekend.
We know, it’s only rock n’ roll, but still we like it.
In select theaters January 15th