A windblown bar on a desolate corner in deepest Red Hook seems like an ideal place for New York’s next big rock scene to be germinating—until you notice all the Subarus and Volvos parked on the street. Inside, the Liberty Heights Tap Room looks as if it’s half rocker bar, half unaccredited day-care facility. Pint-size kids in pint-size rock T-shirts dart maniacally underfoot. Long-haired teens in vintage rock tees chomp on pizza, while gently graying adults drink beer and worry aloud that they’ll be sorry for it later.
Onstage, a local power trio called Care Bears on Fire is barking out one of its raucous original numbers that perfectly encapsulates the age-old, anti-authoritarian, fuck-off spirit of punk rock.
“Don’t tell me what to do, what to wear, what to say / Don’t wanna follow rules, gonna do it my way / I’ve got a brain, I can think for myself / I don’t wanna be like everybody else / Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na / Don’t wanna be like everybody else ... ”
The band members are 10 and 11 years old. And the authority figures in question—their parents—are pumping their fists and singing along.
Welcome to the age of the rocker mom. Kids who might otherwise have their parents ferry them to the soccer field are now being enthusiastically chaperoned to dive bars. Rock, once the realm of outcasts and dangerously attractive miscreants, is practically a curriculum choice. In Park Slope, after-school classes are offered at private and public schools, and Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (an offshoot of Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon) is in its second year. On the syllabus are the classics: Ramones and Clash and Pixies songs that youngish parents revere, and that their offspring have been hearing since birth.
Rather than being cause for rebellion, grown-ups are rock mentors. Several, in the great tradition of Jack Black, have even become coaches, teaching teens and tweens the rudiments of rocking that normally take several alienated years to fumble through. Nowadays, punk isn’t just sanctioned by parents and school teachers; it’s good, clean fun.
The Care Bears—singer-guitarist Sophie Kasakove, 11, bassist-singer Lucio Westmoreland, 11, and drummer-singer Isadora “Izzy” Schappell-Spillman, 10, all classmates at Park Slope’s Berkeley Carroll School—couldn’t be better poster children for this burgeoning movement if they’d been carefully pre-auditioned for a reality show. They wear standard rocker gear—jeans, Converse All-Stars, Black Sabbath T-shirts—but they’re also polite overachieving kids, cramming in band practice between art class, homework, and Hebrew school.
“Izzy didn’t want to be on the soccer team, didn’t want to play field hockey, didn’t want to be on any team,” her mom, Elissa Schappell, says of the girl who co-wrote the lyrics to “Don’t Wanna Be Like Everybody Else” and who pounds her drums with startling ferocity. “And suddenly, her friends wanted to play music. From the very beginning, all we’ve ever thought is that this is a chance for Izzy to have playdates with kids who share the same interests.”
“It’s not like soccer,” Izzy says. “It’s more of a thing kids choose instead of a pushed thing.”
The band began life as Nada Clue in 2004 after Sophie and Lucio had taken a music course at Berkeley Carroll’s creative-arts camp and Izzy had attended Rock Camp for Girls (her family spends a lot of time in Portland, where Tin House, the literary magazine her parents co-founded, is based). One day, Sophie recalls, she and her friend Lyle Kokiko “decided we wanted to be in a band, so we each chose people and he chose Lucio ... ”
“And you chose moi,” Izzy finishes. “I met Sophie in third grade, and I got to know Lucio in the band.”
Elissa gently points out that the three were in the same kindergarten class.
“I didn’t really hang out with boys then,” Izzy says. “That was my princess-dress phase.”
After about a year, Lyle left the band over “musical differences” (but they’re all still friends). Since he’d suggested the name Nada Clue, Izzy proposed changing it to Care Bear Death Battle, after a family joke about the nauseatingly adorable toys’ becoming evil. That soon evolved into Care Bears on Fire.
“We wanted something sweet and fuzzy, because that’s what people think when they think of a kid band—and we wanted something super-anti-that, too,” Izzy explains.
As the band’s chops improved—they’re not prodigies, but they rock with impressive skill for their age—their gigging schedule picked up. Last school year, they wowed their peers at two Berkeley Carroll variety shows. Then in April, they played at Southpaw in Park Slope, which like the Tap Room hosts regular teen-rock shows. Fandom was quick to find them. “After the first [Berkeley Carroll] gig, I was like, ‘I need to go play ball,’ ’cuz you get so hyped up for the gig,” Izzy recalls. “And these kids in our grade asked for our autographs and I was like, ‘What do I do?’ It was weird.”