5 Things You Learn Being A Children's Rock Star
I work at a desk in an office. I spend 7.5 hours a day (give or take) staring at a computer screen that's 30 inches from my face. I'm nearsighted. Every day I wear a button-up collared shirt. Some days I wear a suit and tie. I am the antithesis of the rock and roll lifestyle. Yet for two glorious weeks on a tour of Western Europe, I was a rock star. A children's rock star.
I was a Party Animal, a member of a rock and roll band for kids that's so not famous that Google will think you're fucking with it if you try to book it. We dressed up in costumes and danced around to prerecorded music in the general direction of children, or, to put it another way, we touched rock glory.
And while nothing can ever truly prepare you for the hardcore, take-no-prisoners, live-fast-die-young lifestyle of a kids' rocker, there were a few things that took me completely by surprise. Things like ...
You Don't Actually Have to Play an Instrument
Like every single person in Los Angeles ever, I was once an actor. And like most actors in Los Angeles, I was poor, hungry, and desperate to pay the bills. Since stripping was not an option (thank you, Irish skin ... oh, and unimpressive physique ... oh, and general weird-lookingness), I turned to the next best thing: rock and roll (for kids!). A friend of a friend of a friend had put together a show that consisted of four performers, each playing an instrument, singing, dancing, and teaching kids about basic everyday interactions, like how to be a good friend ... or some shit. Whatever, kids will like anything. Even though it was a rock band in the loosest sense of the term, it still suffered from the age-old problem of every rock band: They needed a drummer. In a freak accident that would rival Spinal Tap, the drummer had sprained his back doing a flip off of a trampoline during the show.
When I auditioned for the role, the director assured me that I would not be expected to flip off of a trampoline, which was good, because that was at the top of the list of things I was completely unable to do. The very next item on the list was "play the drums." Not a problem. Also, this character was a surfer. I am paler than a freshly laid egg on a bed of new-fallen snow. Again, not an issue. What I did have was a passable impression of Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and a keen knack for ... wait, no, that was basically it.
Despite being seemingly wrong for the part in every conceivable way, I was cast in the role. I spent a week learning the choreography and how to fake playing the drums. All of the singing was done over a prerecorded track. I learned to dance, fake drum, and fake sing all at once without poking myself in the eye while spinning my drumsticks -- just in time for a 14-day, five-country tour of Europe. Oh, and did I mention that we performed as giant anthropomorphic animals? No? It must have slipped my mind. I was a lion, of course, because lions are nature's drummers (duh). Lance was my name, and according to a bio that I had absolutely no part in writing, I liked spending my down time "working out at muscle beach or meditating in Malibu."
So. Pretty cool guy.
You Will Have Real, Actual Fans
Our first show was in Belgium near Brussels. We performed in the rec room of what amounted to a community center. We entered the "stage" from a door that led directly from a kitchen. As I waited nervously backstage among the dirty plates and day-old lasagna, I wondered, "Who could possibly be coming to see this show?" Our band, the Party Animals, was by no means a household name. This was only the fifth show the group had ever performed. Yet as I emerged from the kitchen singing to the prerecorded heavy bass line of the opening track, "It's Party Time," I was greeted by the screaming faces of a sea of children. And my God were they excited. One young girl who was no more than 6 years old was desperately trying to reach over the small crowd of children just so she could ... I don't know what ... touch us or something? It was like we were the Beatles coming off of a tour bus as rabid tweens pushed and shoved just for the chance to touch greatness. Who was I to deny this child her chance? I reached out and gave her a high-five. She fainted. Her mom promptly picked her up, took her to the back, and revived her with some apple juice.
The show went on. Every time we announced the next song in our set, the kids would scream and yell as if this was the one they had been waiting all night to hear. After we closed the show with "Rock the House," having indeed rocked the house to its fullest potential, we stayed to sign autographs. I signed "Lance the Lion" on a number of photos, programs, and other paraphernalia, wondering if the kids would be disappointed if they ever found out that the original Lance was laid up back in Los Angeles with an injury and the signature they had just acquired was a fake.
You Will Live the Rock and Roll Lifestyle ... Sort Of
After the show, I thought the whole thing must have been an anomaly. Fans? In Belgium? Clearly we had just accidentally found kids so deprived of any and all entertainment that seeing four people wearing colored wigs and fabric tails blew their minds. I was wrong. Every show was like the first, and each was bigger than the last. No big deal, we were pros. Rock and roll was in our blood. We worked the crowd. We knew exactly when to "high-five," when to "down-low," and when to "too slow."
The kids ate it up.
After a while, I started to believe in the myth. How could I not? A performance in Germany had a "Lance" fan section, a group of tweens so enamored with a surfing lion that mine was the only autograph they requested after the show. We spent the evenings carousing and drinking. We rode from town to town on a double-decker party bus with satellite TV and a bar. I stopped in Amsterdam, participated in local legalities at a coffee shop, then again at a bar, then on someone's lawn. I then spent an hour watching an organ grinder on a boat on the canals play music for pocket change. It was the most beautiful song I've ever forgotten.
We were young, famous (among the 6- to 12-year-old demographic), and reckless. We drank with the locals in Brussels. Hooked up with bartenders in Stavenger, Norway. Then we performed on a 25-foot elevated stage for a pit of screaming children (and their mothers) in Ansbach, Germany. We even picked fights with soldiers at Ramstein Air Base. And by "picked fights," I mean quietly acquiesced when a group of enlisted stole our taxicab. But the retorts I came up with six weeks later were excoriating.
Every minute we weren't performing, we were partying. But we did it all on a kindergartner's schedule. Since our shows were for kids, they were usually in the afternoon or early evening. That meant the partying got started around 6:00 p.m. and we were safely tucked in by midnight (1:00 a.m. at the latest, Mom, jeez). We were golden gods.
It wasn't until our final night in the sleepy resort town of Garmisch, Germany, that we were reminded what real partying was. After the show, we went to a nearby dance club where the locals gave us a lesson in staying up all night drinking and performing highly aerobic dance moves to techno music all while smoking your way through that evening's third pack of cigarettes. Needless to say, there was a dance-off. We'll call it a draw.
You'll Get Old and Jaded (Much Faster)
When it was all over, we had performed 12 shows in 14 days, traveled through five countries, and ruined three livers. We flew from Munich to LA hungover and exhausted, but whatever, man, it was all about the music (that we, again, never actually played). Once we were back in LA, I tried to return to normal life, but how do you go back to your day job after that? You can't, man, you just can't. How do you explain to the cute receptionist at your office that you know what it's like to hear your name chanted by hundreds of screaming fans? Especially when it wasn't exactly your name they were chanting but the name of the surfing lion you embodied. That's just confusing, man. That shit's hard to articulate.
Back stateside, I performed two more shows with the Party Animals, but the magic just wasn't there. The American kids didn't ask for our autographs. They had never heard of us. They could see on their iPhones that I clearly wasn't the real "Lance" from the website and that fake "Lance" autographs didn't do well on eBay.
During my last show with the band, the power went out and the prerecorded track that we were singing and playing to went silent. We stood there, not really knowing what to do. The lead singer announced to the audience that Lance would play a drum solo because drums can rock without electricity! I said something like "I don't know, bro, maybe we should just wait it out ..." trying to communicate telepathically not only that I am completely unable to play the drums (just like he can't really play the guitar), but that all my drum heads were muted anyway. Eventually the power came back. But instead of picking up where we left off, we backtracked and performed from the beginning of the song. It sounded exactly the same as the first time through. The kids hardly looked up from their iPhones.
After the show, I cleaned off my heavy lion makeup and hung up my board shorts and tail for the last time. That was it for me; I was just too jaded. My run with the Party Animals spanned just three months. The band continued performing, though. They have a new cast now that I think sings live and actually plays their instruments. They're on their fifth drummer. We still get the old gang together every year around Christmas to reminisce. Sometimes I think about taking drum lessons, but I never do.
You'll Never Show Anyone the Photos
Unless they ask (and you're drunk). Or if you're writing an article for Cracked. Then you'll show everyone.
Daniel Campagna sure doesn't tweet much, but my god he's on the internet all the time. Just all the time. Lurking and shit.
The Party Animals perform regularly, touring around the U.S. and internationally. Their live show is currently in development for television.
For more on past glory, check out The 7 Most WTF Post-Fame Celebrity Careers and 7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy (An Insider's Perspective).