Other than a few years of classical piano as a preteen, I never learned to play music. My parents wouldn't buy me a guitar or a drum kit, I never got to sing in front of an audience (thankfully, since I can't sing), and I never had a rock band. And goddamn, I love music, and I always have.
So, when I have a kid, he (or she, or they, if it's twins) are going to be learning chords in the crib. I'm thinking that Junior should have a band together by the age of 10 or so, be hitting the road around 15 (if rehab doesn't push the schedule back too far), and go platinum by the age of 18. We'll be flying first-class and rocking the stretch Escalades everywhere we go; if the fucking Hansen brothers can do it, so can my kid(s).
Actually, that's all bullshit. I wouldn't dream of living vicariously through my kids' talent the way you hear about Joe Simpson (sperm donor for Ashlee and Jessica) and Dina Lohan (you know) doing. I find that sort of puppeteering rather nauseating, and every time I see young kids onstage, I worry about whether they're up there of their own volition or to give their parents a second chance at a dream they failed to realize.
For more insight into Phoenix's music scene, visit Brendan Joel Kelley's blog, "Ear Infection".
I think the latter situation's a shame, so when I first heard 10-year-old Jack Ripper, a mini-metal prodigy who bows down at the throne of Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne, I was curious about how much stage parenting was a factor in his development. His father Joe (who asked that I not use their last name, for the sake of Jack's privacy) seemed like a sincerely supportive parent. That's not necessarily rare, but I wanted to know more about the dynamic.
Prior to a recent show by Jack at the Alamo Saloon in Fountain Hills, where he was playing guitar with the cover band Engin Ears, I met up with Jack Ripper and his dad for pizza at Streets of New York, and gave Joe the once-over regarding stage parenting and what you do with a child prodigy.
Jack started playing guitar when he was seven, after receiving a six-string for Christmas (along with private lessons, which he continues to take to this day, currently from F5 guitarist John Davis). He played his first show at Desert Ridge Mall last August with Los Guys, jumping onstage to join them for "Johnny B. Goode."
These days, he plays out with Engin Ears, the metal band KraiseD, and occasionally with Paul "P.C." Cardone, from Los Guys and Chocolate Fountain (he doesn't book solo gigs, and rarely gets paid). Jack's repertoire is primarily '80s metal; with him being only 10 years old, it's logical that his dad influenced his taste.
When I ask Joe whether he's constantly analyzing his stage-parent-ness, he answers, "Absolutely. As a stage parent, I know what's perceived as being bad, and what might be good. I believe that my job in life is to support my kids. Do I want Jack to take advantage of his special abilities? Absolutely, but not at the expense of his friends or at the expense of being a typical kid. You still have to call Jack and ask him if he practiced today."
When I ask Jack if he ever feels pressured to practice, he answers, "Sometimes. Not usually, though, only if there's a lot of other stuff going on." But does the practicing feel rewarding? "Actually, it does," he tells me, sounding older than his 10 years.
"Jack's not playing instead of going to school," Joe elaborates. "He's not playing guitar instead of playing with his friends. We pick and choose where he plays. I try to keep him around people that will be good influences. The people he plays with seem to be great people. I've been very, very careful about who he plays with and where he plays. Playing bars tonight I won't have him sitting in the bar for an hour before he plays. I don't like him sitting there, [with] the smoke [and] everything else."
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Honestly, I think that every parent would tell a journalist that, no matter how overbearing he may really be, but in Joe's case, I believe him, because of how Jack talks about his music. This is one happy kid, who makes no reference to feeling like a dancing monkey.
"It's so much fun onstage, jumping around and having a good time up there," he tells me through his gap-toothed grin. "I just love to play in front of people. The crowd makes me better. I'll play better for the audience. They have to have a good time; that's what it's all about."
Later that evening, after we've hit up the Alamo, where he's onstage within ten minutes of our arrival, you see it in the kid's eyes, the way he thrashes his long hair to the rhythm, the way he gets off the stage with his black flying-V guitar and rocks the hell out amidst the audience. With Engin Ears, he shreds through "War Pigs," "Paranoid," and "Crazy Train," making faces with his mouth open while his dad, myself, and other family friends look on, absorbing his enthusiasm.
The telling point for me is when I ask Joe what it would take for him to pull his support of Jack's burgeoning talent and future career. He thinks for a minute and answers, "Jack right now is a very respectful, nice kid. If it changed his personality because of that, I'd pull my support. I will be watching."