School of Rock: Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp

A woman over 40 attends rock and roll fantasy camp

By Katherine Lanpher

Are You Experienced?
As the day rolls on and people clamber to the stage, you can see them leaving the safe confines of whatever identity they have at home — attorney, doctor, rabbi, corrections officer — and heading into much more vulnerable territory.
Tina Beattie, 48, is an international investment banker based in London, and camp is a recreational stop on a business trip that will take her to 12 cities in 12 countries. We quickly bond over our shared anxiety — and numerous trips to the loo.
As a child growing up in Tasmania, her voice was so good that a talent agent showed up at her high school musical. But Beattie, the first in her family to attend college, launched herself into the world of finance instead. These days, she sings only in the shower.
She wants to do a ballad, but all we’ve heard today are standards from the rock canon: "Purple Haze," "Wild Thing," "Jumpin’ Jack Flash." I still vote for the ballad. If she does that, maybe I won’t sound so stupid singing "Makin’ Whoopee," a 1928 chestnut made popular again by Michelle Pfeiffer when she sang it draped over a piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys. (The only other song I know all the lyrics to is the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies.)
The majority of campers are men, but more women are showing up. Karen Adams-Dimery, 46, an artist and mother from Atlanta, is back for her second camp. "I’m just a middle-aged chick in crisis mode," she tells me. "Rock ‘n’ roll is part of my life."
I look up and Beattie is onstage. When she opens her mouth to pull off a sultry rendition of "Oh! Darling" by the Beatles, the hair on my arms stands up. This slender woman has a throaty voice that sounds like she sang on the soundtrack for The Commitments.
"When you told me you didn’t need me anymore," she sings with a slight growl, "well you know I nearly broke down and died."
We’re on our feet, whooping and hollering for more. Beattie’s brought down the house.
A few hours later, I get onstage and squint at the coaches. "This will be a little change of pace," I promise them. I shut my eyes and try to forget that I’m wearing a sweater set and bifocals. Instead, I’m Sophie Tucker, the red-hot mama of vaudeville who sang that life begins at 40.
Another bride, another June,
Another sunny honeymoon.
Another season, another reason
For makin’ whoopee.
Maybe the coaches have heard one too many versions of "Sister Christian," because when I’m done, some of them are standing, laughing and clapping. Even better, I can see my new girlfriends. Beattie is on her feet, Beeson and her husband are waving, and my sister chick in crisis, Adams-Dimery, is taping me with a video camera.
Sophie Tucker was right. But life is also pretty good at 46.
In The Name Of Rock ‘N’ Roll
I’m a bad, bad woman, and I am singing to the man who done me wrong, our faces inches apart as guitars wail behind us.
Good morning, bandmates!
I’m normally working on my second cup of tea at this hour. Today, I’m singing to a 50-year-old nurse named Ken Cayea, who lives with his family outside Woodstock, New York. He’s just one of the 10 men standing with me in front of our band counselor, Kip Winger, who decides a blues workout for our first rehearsal will help us get acquainted.
Winger, 45, got his start playing bass for Alice Cooper and then led his own band, Winger, to a string of MTV hits. He has less than four days to get us in shape to perform with Daltrey at the House of Blues. And we have to name our band.
"You always think it’s easy to come up with a name," Winger tells us, "until you have to do it."
As we throw out suggestions — Jinx, Train Wreck, Back of the Bus — Winger starts telling a story about being on the road. Let’s just say it involved a concert in front of 9,000 drunken fans and one guy who decided to send a greeting of expectorant toward Winger. He is describing what the glob of phlegm looked like when I hold up my hand. "Don’t," I beg. "I have this trigger gag reflex." The guys look at one another and grin.
I have just named the band: Gag Reflex.

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