STRAIGHT PEOPLE WE LOVE —
JACK BLACK remembers his gay brother, Howard Siegel — Devo’s ‘Whip It’ engineer
BY DANIEL KUSNER
As intense as John Belushi on Ritalin, Jack Black is the last person you’d recommend to supervise a classroom of minors. But in the box-office hit “School of Rock,” Black gives a career-defining performance as Dewey Finn — a heavy-metal slacker who poses as a substitute teacher at a prestigious grammar school.
With a classroom of impressionable young minds, Dewey recruits the students to be a part of his rock ’n’ roll empire for a Battle of the Bands competition. With such a corny premise, "School of Rock" could have sucked harder than "From Justin to Kelly."
But with a script by queer scribe Mike White ("Chuck & Buck"), directed by Texas’ indie-cineaste Richard Linklater ("Dazed and Confused") and starring the rowdy scene-chewing dynamo Black, "School of Rock" is a funny films for kids, in the tradition of "Bad News Bears" and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
Still trapped in adolescence, Black fit right in with the actors who played his pupils.
Although no one really talks about it, most elementary school teachers have very perceptive gaydars. While the students are chosen to be backup singers, guitarists, the rhythm section and stage technicians, the head-banging instructor selects Billy (Brian Falduto) — a finicky and lisping youngster — to be the band’s stylist.
“We called him 'Fancypants,'” Black laughs.
“Hey, the script called for a gay kid. And I don’t think he was necessarily flamboyant. But Brian wasn’t acting — that wasn’t some crazy voice he was putting on.”
Some may question stereotypes regarding gay 10-year-olds who are fond of sequins, but in "School of Rock," the other kids don’t tease the future "Queer Eye" cast member. Filmgoers may consider comparing "School of Rock" with the touching French comedy "Ma Vie en Rose."
A famous “School of Rock” scene shows Black at a blackboard, diagramming the history of rock ’n’ roll.
In a recent interview in Dallas, Black similarly acted out two teenagers discussing the shock and denial of Freddie Mercury’s sexual identity.
“Like Freddie Mercury’s not gay. That dude rocks.”
“But they’re called, Queen, man.”
“No, man. They’re not talking about that kind of queen. They’re talking about the Queen of England.”
“Okay, but check out his costumes, man.”
“Nah, man. Those are rock-stumes.”
As Black shifts out of his inner-dialogue he adds, “I’m not a scientist of social change. But I assume that the people who loved Queen so much — the ones who were homophobic… The fact that Freddie Mercury was gay might have eventually opened their minds.”
Jack Black didn’t have do go through the same sexuality awakening. For him, the visceral power of hardcore music and unabashed queer rockers go together like biscuits and gravy.
The first concert he attended was Devo in Santa Monica. Black went the show with his older half-brother, Howard Siegel, who worked as an engineer on Devo’s third album.
“My brother Howard was gay. And he died of AIDS 10 years ago. I don’t have a single drop of homophobia in my body,” he says.
“It makes me mad when I hear someone say ‘fag.’ I think it’s just as bad as the N word, which is weird. Because there’s so much homophobia in hip-hop. What s that about? Isn’t everybody in the same boat? Isn’t racism the same as homophobia?"
Rock on, Jack Black!
Daniel Kusner’s “Straight People We Love” column appears the fourth Friday of each month.
Qtexas: SEPT. 24, 2003.