"What kind of music do you like?" Haley Thompson-King asks the Rock Camp girls.There are nine of them, all under age 15, sitting in a circle at Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain. They give their answers: the obligatory Biebers, a Lady Gaga or two.
Then one girl answers "Journey."
The counselors smile and nod. "Cool!" everyone says.
I love Journey, but it took me until I was 29 to admit it. I started to love Journey at a time when it was extremely embarrassing to love Journey, when an earnest love for them would have caused alarm.
These girls didn't get the memo. Nobody told them they can't like Journey, and with any luck, nobody ever will. That's one of the reasons Girls Rock Camp exists: to save girls' music instincts from the outside pressure and self-censure out to destroy them. At Rock Camp, nothing is wrong.
Forty-five unpaid volunteers spent the last part of July and the first week in August in service of the cause. They transformed Spontaneous Celebrations into a junior feminist Valhalla. They covered all the mirrors in the building so the girls wouldn't think about their looks. They decked the walls with giant black-and-white posters of Odetta, Kathleen Hannah, Kim Gordon, and Grace Jones. They organized meals, workshops, equipment, lunchtime entertainment, raffle items, and a concert.
Together, they created a week-long day camp where 40 girls, ages eight to 15, formed bands, wrote songs, and got the confidence to play in front of a sold-out crowd at T.T. the Bear's.
Hilken Mancini, the camp's program director, sees the GRC as her legacy. "I'm 40 years old and I've never had kids; I have 50-watt Marshall amps," she said over the phone a week before camp began. "I want to build a framework for these girls."
Mancini has complete faith in the collective wisdom of the Rock Camp volunteers. "The experience and knowledge we have of punk rock and music history — it's something that can't be bought," she said. Music Director Mary Lou Lord recorded a song with Elliott Smith, and Band Manager Thalia Zedek, in addition to her solo career, fronts the insanely influential band Come.
Even though they have the chops, many of the counselors appear nervous now, as camp begins. They believe so much in what they are doing that they worry they will somehow let down the girls.
So they get to work.
'Everything is music'
An hour into the first day and it's already time to form bands. The girls are divided by age and shuttled to separate floors. Picks — girls 11 to 15 — stay in the rock room. Sticks — campers age eight to 10 — choose their bandmates upstairs. At first, most clump together in a large, hesitant throng. "What was the last song you listened to?" the counselors ask. Most don't remember.