by Chris Parker
As a cultural phenomenon, Harry Potter has few peers. Last week, Universal Studios announced a new area dedicated to the world of J. K. Rowling’s books, scheduled to open in late 2009. The six books have sold over 300 million copies, spawned four movies, more merchandise than Bart Simpson and now, an entire wizard-based rock genre queuing up behind originators Harry and the Potters.
The pair perform dressed like the book’s titular character—in glasses, tie, oxford and sweater (but blue jeans and sneakers in a nod to rock ’n’ roll)—and play songs based around the characters from the books.
Brothers Joe and Paul DeGeorge started the Norwood, Mass., group as a lark in the summer of ’02, when the other bands they’d scheduled for their backyard DIY show didn’t show. They quickly penned seven songs in an afternoon and played for six people, beginning a journey they had no idea would extend so far.
Now they’re a week removed from their second trip to England, where the response has been rabid. “Joe got crowd-surfed three different times,” Paul says by phone from a pre-tour pizza party in a friend’s basement. “They picked him up and started passing him around. It was totally outrageous.”
This will be the fifth national summer tour, and they’ve become fixtures on the library circuit, generally avoiding bars and forging a partnership that’s proved rewarding for all involved.
“We thought, ‘this is perfect.’ There’s this age group that is so into Harry Potter and libraries have such trouble reaching out to these teenagers, and getting them to the library,” he says. “The library is perfect for us because it’s such a family-friendly space for parents to send their kids.”
He also saw it as a chance to act as an indie-rock emissary. “We have this Harry Potter generation of kids who are just starting to get into music,” DeGeorge explains. “Maybe we can open these kids’ eyes to something outside the mainstream, because we’ve kept it totally DIY. We’re real people, and hopefully people can see that and realize that music is made by actual people. You don’t have to be special or anything, all you have to do is grab an instrument.”
They’ve recorded three CDs of bouncy keyboard- and guitar-driven indie pop, whose manner and humorous sensibility recalls Jonathan Richman and They Might Be Giants. While the tunes are enjoyable enough on their own, they’re rife with inside humor, such as “Cornelius Fudge Is an Ass.” In “The Human Hosepipe,” Harry obsesses over his horrible date with Cho Chang, complaining, “You shouldn’t have brought up Cedric Diggory / Because I’d rather not talk about your dead ex-boyfriends over coffee.”
While such sentiments may seem utterly indecipherable to most muggles (i.e., non-wizards) or others unfamiliar with Rowling’s world, they’re a minority among those under 25.
Harry and the Potters have spawned a whole slew of similarly minded groups such as Draco & the Malfoys, The Hermione Crookshanks Experience and the Parselmouths to name just a few. Many, including Harry and the Potters, have contributed songs to Wizards and Muggles Rock for Social Justice, a compilation whose proceeds go to an organization (the Harry Potter Alliance) that encourages social activism.
DeGeorge has also been inspired by the book toward public service. He started an EP of the Month club comprised of Wizard Rock acts, in the manner of Sub Pop’s old Single of the Month club. The subscriptions run $50 and are limited to the first 750 members (wizardrockclub.com). They’re hoping to raise $10,000 for First Books, a nonprofit organization that provides books to kids from low-income families. “Part of what drew us to the books is the fact that they’ve inspired so many people in such a positive way,” he says.
He notes that they’re particularly excited to play the student council benefit at the University School of Nashville. They had been contacted by one of the bigger promoters in town about playing the Belcourt, but were won over by the enthusiasm of Senior Class President Ben Easton.
“I would much rather work with a kid than a real promoter,” DeGeorge says. “They’re selling tickets in advance. They ordered school banners to hang up. I just love that these kids are so pumped for us to come.”
It’s just part of a busy summer for Harry Potter, with the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix premiering July 13 and the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, coming out July 21. Harry and the Potters have a full schedule each day on top of their already packed tour schedule, plus they’ll need time to read the new book.
“We gave ourselves three days off after the book drops,” DeGeorge says. “We’ll get some reading done—probably in one day—and then we’ll probably be in the van banging away on the keytar.”
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