School of Rock


By Paul Feinberg '85, Illustrations by P.J. Loughran

Published Jan 1, 2009 8:15 AM

Almost since the first backbeat boomed, Southern California has been a rock and roll mecca. And one of the places where the music played the loudest is UCLA, where Bruins — on campus and after graduation — made an indelible mark on rock history.

What would an all-star Bruin rock group look like? A bit mainstream rock, a bit punk, and very much like this illustration. On the bottom left, Linkin Park's Brad Delson; behind him, Greg Graffin of Bad Religion; on bass at far right, Black Flag's Kira Roessler; and fronting the band, of course, is rock god Jim Morrison of the Doors.

Can you hear it? The driving beats, the soaring voices, the explosive lyrics of life, love, loss and rebellion? It's irresistible. It's real. It's raw. It's rock 'n' roll, L.A. style.

Southern California has been an incubator for the genre since its very beginnings, and from the classic riffs of The Doors to punk rock rebels like Bad Religion, from modern metal masters like Linkin Park to the blue-eyed soul of Maroon 5, Bruins have made diverse and eclectic contributions to the rock oeuvre.

Hello, We Love You

Much has changed in rock music, but some things remain the same — like the ubiquitous presence of The Doors in American pop culture. The iconic rockers remain as relevant today as they were when they released their first album in 1967. The quartet — Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore — are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Founding members Morrison and Manzarek met while they were students at the UCLA Film School, and so it's not surprising that movies, not music, set the stage for the legendary band's unmistakable sound.

"We both had a class with legendary film director Josef von Sternberg, the director who created Marlene Dietrich, working together on such classic films as Shanghai Express, The Blue Angel, Morocco and The Devil is a Woman," Manzarek recalls. "Von Sternberg's vision of sophistication and the darker side of the human condition was perhaps the single greatest influence on the music of The Doors."

In 1991, Densmore established an endowment fund to support UCLA undergraduate students specializing in Afro-American Studies, music, the arts or other related areas. And the School of Theater, Film and Television has annually presented the Jim Morrison Film Award, whose endowment funds two substantial annual awards for film directing.

Park Place

Grammy Award-winning alternative rock band Linkin Park was actually born at UCLA, where lead guitarist Brad Delson '99 and bassist Dave Farrell '99 were roommates for three years. It was also during Delson's Bruin days, in fact, that Linkin Park first signed with a label.

Delson told UCLA Magazine in a 2006 interview that "it was during my time at UCLA that a bunch of us were performing and figured out that people really liked the music we were playing." He took away much more than a record contract from his alma mater, however — and he's given back just as much.In 2004, Delson gave close to $400,000 to establish the Delson Scholarship Fund in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, which provides undergraduate scholarships for inner-city kids.

"I tell kids all the time that although my career may be more glamorous than others, college is essential," Delson said in the interview about his efforts on behalf of underserved youth. "UCLA prepared me for the business side of music and has contributed tremendously to my success."

Punk Power

It's tempting to include Indie 103.1 radio morning personality Joe Escalante '85 with the DJs, but Escalante's true claim-to-fame is as bass player for punk rock stalwarts The Vandals. As a UCLA student in the early '80s, Escalante was part of a small but lively band of Bruin punks who attended classes during the week and shows on the weekend. The group included Greg Graffin '87, M.S. '90, founder and lead singer of Bad Religion.

Both The Vandals and Bad Religion planned their recording and touring calendars around their UCLA class schedules. "In my freshman year, the band started up and I just kind of did weekends, and in the summer we would tour," Escalante recalls. "[Graffin] was there and some guys from Youth Brigade and a couple of other punks on campus."

Escalante, who studied Viking civilization at UCLA, commuted to campus first from his native Orange County and then from Long Beach, where he lived with his dad. "I didn't get to make a lot of friends at UCLA," he says. "That's one thing I always try to tell people now, that you have to live on campus your first year at least or miss out on a lot. I was lucky. I got into the Old Norse department, a really small department, and that made a huge difference."

Graffin is now a UCLA biology professor who records and tours with the band when he isn't in the classroom. "I was really a student when I was on campus," he says of his days as an undergrad. "The arts and entertainment and culture students were all on North Campus, [but] I chose science, so I was spending my time on South Campus."

The young punker/scholar did connect with the arts in a time-honored fashion — via an on-campus job. "I had a job doing sound engineering," he remembers. "Bands would come through weekly and play shows at The Cooperage and Kerckhoff Coffee House. So I would study by day and do my sound engineering duties at night. And if I wasn't on campus, I was just rehearsing with Bad Religion."

Making Music Business

Ironically, the member of the Bruin community making perhaps the most significant current contribution to rock isn't a musician. He's Jeff Jampol, president of Jampol Artist Management, whose responsibilities include managing the present-day Doors empire. Jampol is behind a wildly popular course on the music industry at UCLA Extension called "The Music Business NOW," co-sponsored by The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc.

The course takes students through the entire process of developing and breaking in new artists, including touring, publishing, merchandising and digital marketing. It's famous for its too-many-to-list-them-all "who's who" guest speakers, as well as a diverse audience that includes UCLA Anderson School of Management students, record label employees, managers, musicians, folks who are just interested in how the music business works and even hedge-fund managers and venture capitalists.

Bands rise and bands decline, fads come and go, but the university's contribution to the music that changed a nation continues. Even now, perhaps, a young dreamer in faded jeans sits on the steps of a red-brick building before an emerald lawn on campus, plucking a guitar and daydreaming about being on stage and laying down hot licks before an audience of thousands.

It's happened before. It will surely happen again.

Because at UCLA, we rock.



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