Rock School (Channel 4, Fridays at 9.30pm) is undoubtedly one of the worst things I have seen on TV for a very long time. Why is it so bad? Let me count the ways.
It pretends that Gene Simmons, the exhumed rock star personality who is the centre of the show, is a musician and a teacher when he really isn’t either. He has no interest in teaching anything, or in managing any sort of learning. It’s almost as if he remembered the bad bits of the classroom situation (teacher favouritism, boring lessons that go nowhere) and consciously decided to recreate them.
More seriously, he isn’t much of a musician, as is evidenced by the pathetic showing he puts up when he tries to play solo to a small audience of local community worthies – my fourteen year-old would really have done a lot better.
The show also pretends that Kiss, in which Simmons plays, is a great rock band, when it knows that Kiss are at best also-rans. If Kiss were really any good, why doesn’t the show play any of their songs? Instead it’s punctuated with lots of good tracks by David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and Hendrix. For this we must be grateful, but it makes it plain that the producers, like everyone else, know that Kiss are crap.
The show is set in Christ’s Hospital school, just about the only secondary school in the country where it stands a chance of presenting rock music as some sort of subversive influence. The school has all sorts of bizarre Hogwarts-like touches, including the long blue coats that the students wear as uniforms. This lends some shred of credibility to the show’s main premise – that rock is going to provide some ‘real life’ to a conservative backwater.
Even so, it’s pretty obvious that it both staff and students are actually quite open to rock music – the headmistress pops in every so often to see how Simmons’ lessons are going, though some of her occasional remarks suggest that she, too, knows that there are better rock bands than Kiss. The kids are actually much better musicians, and much more rounded in their perspective on music, than the show’s star.
Simmons, and the programme, imply that rock is about rebellion – even though most grown-ups understand that it is a very mainstream part of the entertainment industry. Simmons is rebellious only in the sense that not tidying your bedroom is a protest against authority. When the ‘stultifying atmosphere’ of the school and its community become too claustrophobic for him, he escapes – not to go to a music club, or to hang out with real musicians, but to go to a lap-dancing club. Perhaps next week we’ll see him buying a wank-mag too, to underline just how much of a dangerous rebel he really is.