Rock & Roll Camp for Girls; Tween Talent Hits the Virtual Stage

gr-book.jpgAfter a grueling jan-kan-po match last night to see if I’d land in the Haight for the Girls Rock! reprise, or on the peninsula for Dr. Susan Linn’s Case for Make-Believe book tour, I opted for the latter, as this inspiring and insightful ‘rock star academic’ always has great stories and words of wisdom. (full interview forthcoming, tomorrow)

I’m hoping to include GirlsRock! in Shaping Youth’s fall festival of must-see indie documentaries.

As promised, today I’ll post our ‘tween girl exit poll’ from GirlsRock! in S.F. opening weekend awhile back, though I really wanted to hear firsthand how they ‘put the amp in camp’ in the hopes of sending my daughter to GirlsRockCamp to get her ‘drummer’ ya-yas out, and perhaps even pick up an advance copy of their new book.

I think you’ll see that it depends on ‘where you live, where you are, and where you’re coming from’ in capturing youth reactions for this ‘rockumentary’ about girls…as comments range from “why are they so angry?” to “I can totally relate, sign me up!”

girlsrockmovieposter.jpgUnderstand that that this CA snapshot of a couple dozen teens exit-polled is simply to add to our last post of Deesha Philyaw’s feedback from PA, and a couple quotes from MN tweens on the New Moon Girl Media editorial board as a prequel to our full interview with them this week…it is by no means meant to be an inclusive review like Cinematical or even a national bellwether sampling.

Still, it’s fun to fast forward and see how this camp could play out and evolve, with a peek at this GRGR (Girls Rock, Girls Rule) site and MySpace page at the next phase of self-described, “ragin’, rantin’, snarlin’ and screamin” rockers…

music-notes.jpgThen contrast it with the poignant, lyrics-driven moodiness of these Santa Barbara teenage songbirds who started their own Vocals by Locals community…

Regardless of your own performance style preferences, both crews mirror the strongest line of the GirlsRock! experience, delivered by the ebullient Laura (Korean born, heavy metal diehard fan that my daughter kept saying reminded her of ‘Lane’ in Gilmore Girls)…

Laura shrugged,

“Why do girls think it’s so cool to have a boyfriend in a band? Start your own band!”

Yep. That’s the kind of empowerment we’re all striving for here…

guitar-amy.jpgI’m also REALLY jazzed that the GirlsRock! camp concept is NOT about musical prowess whatsoever.

Personally, I picked up the guitar as an outlet for my writing/free-form teen angst and taught myself, whereas many kids today have had instruments crammed into their lives from the get go…(yeah, that’s me at left, sunscorched from my Hawaii days, sigh).

That alone makes Girls Rock! (the camp AND the movie) worthy in my mind, as it represents the boldness of risk-taking with new ventures, slogging through self-doubt, insecurities, peer judgment, and ultimately, lettin’ ‘er rip, with unabashed candor.

Much like team sports, over-scheduled kids (or ‘the myth’ as Time Inc. says) are so age-compressed in accelerated expectations and organized, pre-slated zones that if they manage to reach middle-school without being exposed to formal ‘lessons’ they’re pretty much toast in terms of the peer/play scene of picking it up on their own. (sweeping generalization, I realize, as there are rebels that purposely ditch formal ‘lessons’ in favor of music ‘on their own terms’–um, sound familiar, mom?)

guitarman-1.jpgAnyway, “daring to deal” may not seem like a huge coping skill, but if we want to raise a nation of leaders and innovators instead of timid ‘sheeple’ and brandwashed lemmings, it seems like a very good idea to reinforce trying new things, get creative with our play, and rock out sans lack of ‘classical training’ in same, n’est ce pas?

(That’s my teen boyfriend Rick on guitar with the rockin’ out lad who shall remain nameless in the background, as he’s now a mucky muck in the state department and might not appreciate his raucous teen years revealed on the internet 😉 Ahem.) Anyway, my point is…

When belting out tunes in an unabashed, uninhibited jam session gives way to passive media intake and the marketing of ‘formal’ music training…I think there’s a big loss…

Just look at Canadian guitarist Don Ross rocking out on the guitar in this amazing YouTube piece and read the comments on his finger-picking style as some elitists hammer him for not being ‘immaculate’…ugh…This guy plays with every ounce of his being, he’s intense!

Good news is, digital media has given kids an entirely NEW global stage to emulate talent like this…gleaning feedback on their art form in most any spectrum, from video to virtual worlds and social media communities.

sungha-jung.jpgCheck out this 11-year old boy, Sungha Jung and see how he’s posted 90+ videos playing guitar on YouTube as a way to share his joy, showcase his talent, and prompt listeners everywhere to drop their jaws and even snipe about ‘whether or not it’s real.’ (It IS, btw, here’s Sungha Jung in concert in Korea!)

Pick any cover song you wish, from the Beatles to U2 or the theme from Mission Impossible…this boy’s got talent up the wazoo. (even using his own hands as R&B percussion like a one-man, rockin’ band!)

emily.jpgThen there’s this dynamic duo of tween sisters entertaining themselves by belting out cover tunes in their bedroom and learning harmony. (reminds me of myself in pre-self-conscious days; ironically my voice is getting stronger and clearer again in midlife; hopefully GirlsRock camps will keep girls from ‘losing it in between’)

fiona.jpg Fiona and Emily have posted tons of YouTube clips of them having fun as “Fiomily” and narry a trace of ‘wannabe web celeb’ style.


Maybe they secretly want to be ‘discovered’ and get an agent in viral ‘internet people’ style, like Tay Zonday’s deep baritone in Chocolate Rain (he now has ‘playtay’ tees and gone a bit commercial like the NumaNuma guy…but if so, they’re sure foolin’ me, as they look like they’re just having fun and enjoying their ’15 minutes of fame’…

Seems like “kids helping kids” see that media can be a distribution channel for passions, with music as merely one of the high notes, along with comments and feedback.

To me, this peer to peer applause in ‘I can do it too’ mode helps kids ‘find and follow’ their own authentic voice far beyond any canned robotic recital of automaton kids pounding out their rote mastery of a given piece of sheet music…

santana.jpgI don’t care how good the kids get with ‘practice makes perfect’ prattle.

If the passion’s not there, meh.

As Santana would say, “Give me your heart, make it real, or just fergeddabowdit!”

That’s why I love the internet as a medium to level the playing field, and camp ideas like GirlsRock to juice up human potential that may never have even had the chance to be revealed.

amelia-gr.jpgSo…Take School of Rock, blend it with the intensity of a reality show, toss in some unlikely creative energy (like one of guitar-chompin’ Amelia’s songs at left, “How to tune a taco”) and voilà …

You’ve got an amped up showcase of how a camp can literally change girls’ lives into the “Little Engine That Could” in all aspects…far beyond getting over stage-fright and handling peer annoyances.

In fact, that’s the number one take-away that the tween/teen exit poll viewers shared with me…

littleenginethatcould.jpgMany teens said the film showed more about ‘coping’ skills and group dynamics than rock-n-roll. Okay, they didn’t always use those exact words…they said things like this:

Awesome film, but a few of those girls could use anger management classes.”

“I love the way they showed the girls putting up with each other.”

“The two youngest ones made me nuts.”

“In school we have people that ‘act out’ like this, and they get punished. Here they showed it as a positive. I’m not sure how real that is.”

“In ANY kind of group, some of those girls would be a total pain.”

“I get that the film is about ‘finding your voice’ and all that but I would’ve wanted to strangle some of those voices if I went to a camp like that.”

“omg, I wanted to smack some of those girls!

So you see, this is where the essence of well-written adult reviews (like this one by S.F. Weekly reporter Jennifer Maerz) captured the ‘spillage’ and angst of pent up teen emotion so incredibly well, yet it gets lost in the pragmatics of the girls themselves…Those who:

“Really liked the film, but didn’t see why there weren’t more ‘normal’ girls in it.’

Translation? They loved it, but didn’t always ‘see themselves’ or ‘relate.’

There’s irony here, since much of this film is about girls finding (and ‘raising’) their voices…so maybe the voices that were raised were a disconnect compared to ‘normal’ teen girl angst? I dunno…but it was a theme that the teens echoed many times over…

girls-rock-visual.jpgAgain, as a writer/producer, I’d have to defend the creators by reminding of the limited time to get into a storyline of characters to follow, much less any sophistication of market segmentation or regional draw from various ‘camps’ across the country.

This was the Portland camp, period.

And it ‘is what it is’ (as any good existentialist will tell you, the truths are self-revealing, and fabrication would’ve been irresponsible, altering the experiences of the girls)

Is it necessarily ALL of the Girls Rock camps?

No, but perhaps it represents something bigger, as Maerz said,

guitars1.jpg “The weeklong program teaches girls not only the basics of singing and playing instruments, but it also, in the words of San Francisco filmmakers Arne Johnson and Shane King, “gives them the tools to do everything in life that they want to.”

That breaks down into workshops ranging from self-defense to body image. “The camp skillfully peels off the things that make the girls feel trapped,” Johnson explains.

“It’s not like they were supposed to discover Jesus there; they were supposed to ‘spill.'” —“Spill” is a word that comes up often in my conversation with the filmmakers at King’s Bayview apartment.

By focusing on the raw sentiments (“spillage”) of campers, Girls Rock! is an intelligent – and, more importantly, entertaining – look at how girls fight self-imposed stereotypes in very different ways than boys do.”

She goes on to talk about the core conflicts of the characters and society’s expectations of girls in general, and the benefit of seeing these gender dynamics without the veils of intellectual Ivory Tower analysis. Maerz writes:

girls-rock-campgroup.jpg“…You’re listening to rudimentary rock ‘n’ roll and watching kids bash out songs on their instruments while bashing out emotional issues with their bandmates.

The girls are open and sharp and funny. When they hit snags (like being scared to make a lot of noise, something the counselors say girls aren’t always comfortable doing) a little lesson in breaking down stereotypes follows.

“There’s something about rock ‘n’ roll that’s really liberating in a way that’s not ideological,” Johnson says. “It’s not like they’re there fighting for women’s rights. [The camp] just directly addresses what for a lot of girls feels like an impossibility – to be uncontained.” This concept is additionally threaded into a mix of fly-on-the-wall filming as the girls form their bands and write an original song, and in the confessional moments they spend talking to the camera alone in their bedrooms.”

drummer.jpgI also liked this snippet in the S.F. Chronicle review that spoke about the over-arching difference between rockers ‘then and now,’ as a disturbing thesis and shift in the pop cultural zeitgeist toward toxic trends.

“…The great female rockers of the 1990s were replaced by Britney Spears clones and American Idol winners, who offer an inaccurate and sometimes destructive idea of what it means to be a girl.

Each segment of the documentary is framed by more statistics and factoids, which reinforce the point that the world could use a few less Hiltons and Richies in the media spotlight, in favor of more Sleaters and Kinneys.”

Yowza. I’ll say. They’re far-outnumbered.

In fact, I often hear, “Is she still alive?” or “How old is she?” whenever I play tunes in the car from rockers that can really belt it out…Like Melissa Etheridge, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Grace Slick, Patti Smith, you name it.

I mean, seriously, for every “Pink” there’s about a dozen ‘poptarts’ striving for the charts …so where’s the balance?

Ok, I promised this would be the girls review, not mine.

Here’s a representative sampling from the compilation of comments that seemed to lump into ‘repeat themes’…Over two dozen teens polled…

I’ll include a links list of various reviews and snippets and trailers and blog accounts so you can make up your own mind, but clearly, in the S.F. tween/teen exit poll crowd, it was a universal thumbs up, with 9 out of 10 kids each round saying they really enjoyed the movie and would ‘absolutely’ want to try a camp like that.

Q: “Who could you relate to the most as a character?

laura-gr.jpg “Laura, (at left) absolutely…It was so sad when she said, “I just accept that I hate myself…I feel like that sometimes.”

“It’s hard to believe anyone as outgoing and friendly as Laura could be so down on themselves…”

“I didn’t ‘relate’ to any of them. But I understood all of them.”

“I liked Misty, because she was real and put it right out there. Laura too, but she was always trying too hard…If I were at that camp, I would’ve said ‘shut up’ a lot, because Palace AND Amelia were like, SO annoying…Those girls really stressed me out.”

palace.jpg“My sister is SO much like Palace (at left)…she goes from brat to sweetie just like that.” (snaps)

“Underneath anger is pain. Always. I can relate to that more than I can to any individual girl in the film.”

“I guess I’d pick Amelia, because she’s so intense and misunderstood. She can get on your nerves, but it’s her energy…she’s just off the hook. People tell me I’m hyper like that too…Everyone always says to ‘calm down’ but I don’t want to! And I don’t HAVE to!”

“They were all great, Palace was SO bold; she was amazing; but it seemed like they chose girls that were extreme…There were lots of girls at the camp in the background I would’ve wanted to hear from that I could probably relate to more directly.”

It was interesting to me that the tolerance quotient was sorely lacking among some of the labels and adjectives spilling from kids who shunned the antics of the two younger preteens, Palace and Amelia.

The large majority of this handful of polled kids used words like ‘obnoxious, loud, brats, divas, misfits, spoiled, ‘OOC’ (out of control) etc.

Even though these strong-willed independent characters alternated between domination of peers and being bullied and excluded by same, it seemed like the girls we asked felt a bit alienated by their freedom of expression impacting the group. (again, ironic, since the film is all about freeing one’s voice, but I could almost hear the ‘been there, done that’ element in their voices easily stemming from school scenarios where the kids that get the most attention are those ‘acting out’—I’ve seen this myself in our counter-marketing sessions with kids time & again)

mistypreview.jpgAnother interesting global reaction that occurred many times over involved the character Misty, (the ‘troubled teen’ who had an edge to her past and her persona, at left)

Interestingly enough, several of the girls mentioned her LOOKS first, ‘the pretty one’ or ‘the one with the long hair’ or ‘the one with the jewelry’ —an irony given the film’s theme of giving voice to inner (vs. outer) beauty.

They also seemed the most curious about her…(which again, I’m projecting here, but could be developmentally akin to that ‘take a walk on the wild side’ allure of tween testing modality)

Shaping Youth: “What were your most and least favorite parts of the film?”

Most Favorite:

“Overcoming fears. All kinds.”

“They didn’t turn it into a Hannah Montana wannabe flick.”

“I liked the way they used the graphics to break up the storyline…the facts and stats made me feel real. It’s not my imagination that I feel like **** about myself half the time…other girls do too!”

“I liked Laura at the end feeling good about herself…that made it for me. It was so emotional. She’s so cool…”

“I think I could make a film like that with my friends! I just might! ”

“The ending concert…on stage, live. Wow. I can’t even BEGIN to imagine what that would be like in front of that big of a crowd. Awesome.”

“My mom always says not to be so dramatic. These girls got to be as dramatic as they wanted!”

“I like the way they didn’t try to solve everything, they just let the cameras roll.”

“It was raw and real…like YouTube or MySpace not TV or a movie.”

“The adults weren’t the main actors. The kids were the stars.”

Least Favorite:

“That part where the girls have to pick a band was soooooo stressful.”

“I think they were trying to say that emotion is a good thing, but to me it came off as angry a lot.”

“I don’t think I’d do well there…That scene where they had to line up in front of their favorite music was like getting picked for a team…it made my stomach sick. Total butterflies. I’d HATE that in a camp that was supposed to be ‘fun.’

“I liked all of it, but there wasn’t much diversity…I didn’t really see myself in ANY of the girls, but I really liked the message…GirlsRock!”

“Not enough time to tell the stories…they need a sequel.”

And here are a couple of prequel responses to our New Moon Girls Media editorial board interview coming up this week, when I asked,

“Have you seen the new documentary “Girls Rock”?

If so, what did you think of it?”

Sarah Jane, 14 said, “Yes! I saw it at the True/False film festival and it was SO cool to ask the director questions! I really enjoyed the movie, and I think the camp is doing a good thing, but I wouldn’t want to go there. It seems to be more focused on girls with “problems” than the actual music. Which is necessary for some girls, I know, but I feel like I have a pretty good self esteem :)”

And Jessie, 13 said, “Sadly, I have not watched, “Girls Rock” but because you told me about it I am going to watch it as soon as possible, thanks!”

Well, there you have it…the power of media influence and the ability to evoke different responses from a WIDE array of girls across the country, depending on ‘where they’re coming from’ both literally, and figuratively.

Rock on, ladies. (And gents like Sungha Jung!) Truly hope that it is your passion rather than your parents, that drive you. Stay real.

Visual Credits: ‘Amelia biting guitar’ & Palace by Nicole Weingart as seen in the S.F. Weekly, guitar line-up Chronicle Books, individual photos of the Girls Rock cast via Shadow Distribution, tween photo of girls rockin’ out: The Pink Slips by Rocco Kasby shows girls at the Willie Mae Rock Camp in NYC, YouTube photos of Fiomily and Sungha Jung via their respective sites.

Related Resources:

ASCAP: Music Creator Conference 2008

MetaCritic Reviews (compilation)

SFGate: Girls Let it All Out At Rock Camp

SF Weekly: Girls Rock Hits Nerves of the Teen Psyche Variety

Girls Rock Camp MySpace Page/Oregon

BMI News/SXSW Showcase: Girls Rock

Insomniac Press: Pop Montreal Girls Rock!

BuzzSugar Review, Empowering if Heavy Handed

Sleater-Kinney/MySpace and NPR Music/Sleater-Kinney in concert

Epitonic/Cutting Edge Music

Time Magazine: The Overscheduled Child Myth

Bay Area Girls Rock Camp

ABC News Nightline Story: Girls Rock

We Put the Amp in Camp: Chronicle Books Blog



  1. Now, see? You are making me want to see this movie again!!

    Amy, thanks, as always, for such thoughtful posts, chock full of good stuff!

  2. heehe…I’ll betcha we all will ‘see’ from a diff. lens each time, too! (adults AND kids) depending on the ages/stages of our child. 😉 It’s worth seeing again from the nuances alone…and I’m hoping we can ‘host it’ as part of our fall film fest for sure…

    p.s. Oh, speaking of thoughtful posts, check out THIS one which I’d heard about in Madison/Vine & Izzy Neis reacted to here: Talk about ‘Camp Rock’ commercialization ‘coming like an onslaught’…when Disney does it…well…’here it comes’…

  3. Amy,
    Thanks for the coverage of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camps for Girls. I’m the publicist for the Chronicle book, email me so that I can get you a copy of the book.

  4. Is it even out yet? Last I checked it was in pre-order stage…?

    I’d love to check it out though, the concept is key and really opens up a lot of issues. Hope you’re not deluged with the Disney Camp Rock bit tho…that’ll be an ‘onslaught’ as Izzy would say (above) 😉

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge