South Sound Sidekick: Parent's Guide to Raising Rock Stars

By Volcano Staff on March 22, 2013

South Sound Sidekick series offers advice from experts living in the, well, South Sound. It posts every Friday. Today, Kevin Smyth has advice on how to raise a rock star. Smyth teaches history and English at Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup. He knows a thing or two about teenagers - especially ones that want to be rock stars. He's the father of two sons, including Patrick Galactic of the Tacoma band Death By Stars.

Kevin Smyth writes,

When my son was 3 he was already an entertainer singing and dancing on coffee tables to whatever was on MTV or the radio.  It should have been clear to me - even then - that my dream he'd earn his PhD in French medieval history from Stanford was probably illusory. Today he's 33 and playing in a local band poised for commercial success. It's been a long road pitted with potholes for him and me.  I have a few tips that might get you through those early awful years when you're ready to kill them and they're ready to kill you.

1. It's gonna be loud

If your kid's serious they'll want to practice. No, I don't just mean the crap they'll do if they take lessons; they'll want to play all the time. You'll buy 'em a quiet little practice amp, but it won't be enough. They'll rock their siblings' world when you're away. They'll literally drive the pets up the wall. The neighbors will complain. They'll want to practice with their band mates in your garage. My advice: don't surrender, negotiate. Establish some times when it's OK to practice. Have a realistic conversation about noise levels. Determine whether it's even possible for his band to practice in your neighborhood without triggering some horrible homeowner's association sanction. If it is, be sure to take a half rack of really good beer over to your neighbors and be prepared to apologize regularly for the noise. Don't make the mistake of making it so hard your rock and roller feels they can only play at somebody else's house. Keeping your options open means you can keep an eye on your future star. And get earplugs, really good earplugs.

DEATH BY STARS: Patrick galactice on the left. Photo courtesy of Facebook

2. You gotta believe

Becoming a rock star is really hard. There are a whole lotta people saying "No!" You're not good enough! You're not old enough! You don't fit in with our target audience! Your band is full of high school seniors and everyone is going off to college but you. If this is the life they've chosen, it's really tough. So when those moments happen when your kid and his buddies get those gigs, you gotta be there. Even if it's a roach-infested, smoke-impregnated dive, you have to go and show your support. Look, you went to those horrible orchestra concerts in fifth-grade didn't you? All those Saturday morning soccer games standing in the November rain, remember when you were there? These are at least as important, not only to offer confidence, but for head count. Bands only get gigs if they can bring in their peeps. You have to buy their CDs, and you persuade family members and friends to go to shows and buy CDs. But in the end it's worth it to see your kid perform, to see him adored, even if the crowds are small and it isn't Madison Square Garden. 

3. It's not your dream

This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. I teach high school history and English. My son is every bit as smart and a better writer than me. I dreamed of him getting into a great school and using his amazing mind to be, well, amazing with his first rate education. His dream was to be Thom Yorke or Gene Simmons or Kurt Cobain. We had heated arguments about all the important questions - why, when, how, you name it and the answers were never satisfactory. The more we pressed, the more strident the rebellion became. "What if you don't make it, what if you can't be a rock star, what's your back up plan?" That was my favorite question. Every time I asked it was like lighting a match near a leaking gas main. I still have scars. But the bottom line is my son has given himself a solid education about the profession of being a musician. He's taught himself to play multiple instruments; he's learned the business of band management and understands the marketplace of live music in the Puget Sound region. He's developed an outstanding work ethic. It's important to have dreams, and I'm proud that he stuck to his.

4. Be the parent, but be patient

I know what you're thinking. How could you let your kid bulldoze you? I'd never let mine get away with this. That's a fair criticism. It's critical that you act like a parent to set effective limits. Drug and alcohol use are not OK. You have to finish school. You want a new guitar, a new amp - that swell new effects box? How are you going to pay for it? Bring your budding superstar into the conversation, set some guidelines and limits you both can agree to and enforce them, with logical consequences when they cross the line. But let go of the silly things. Hair length and hair color? That's big, really? Clothing? Do you want people telling you what to wear on your own time? Offer your help to transport your rocker and his equipment. Your support will buy lots of good will. If he was playing in the Northwest Sinfonietta, or playing for a U-17 select soccer team would you say no? Expect there will be bumps along the way. Kids are kids. They make mistakes including poor choices. Hold him accountable, but don't give a death sentence. Your patience will pay dividends down the road.

Though my plan for my son was to get a really good education, my dream was always that he would have choices to do whatever he wanted to do in his life. Education can help you do that. Talent and determination can do that for you too. I always planned to attend his Stanford commencement, watch him walk up and take his diploma and scream in delight with the whole family. Last week I sat in my empty classroom and listened to the radio as his band played live on the Bob Rivers show in front a hundred thousand listeners. They never sounded better; he was living his dream and I couldn't have been more proud.

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