The Boy Who Rocked

6 minute read
Lev Grossman

On June 22, 2002, Joe Degeorge had a barbecue in his backyard. He was 15 at the time and living with his parents in Norwood, Mass. Joe had arranged for a couple of bands to play, but they bailed, and he needed entertainment. There are people who at that point would have jacked an iPod into the sound system and called it a party. But this Joe did not do.

He and his brother Paul, who’s eight years older, were Harry Potter fans. In fact Paul had always thought the characters from Harry Potter would make a great band: Ron on guitar, Hermione on bass, Hagrid on drums (natch) and Harry up front. “We’d kind of been talking about the idea but never done anything,” Paul remembers. Joe and Paul proceeded to become this band. In one day, the brothers wrote, rehearsed and performed six songs about life at Hogwarts. The set list included “Platform 9 and ¾” and “Wizard Chess.” To solve the personnel issues, or possibly compound them, both brothers appeared as Harry. “We high-fived at the end of the day,” Paul says, “and said, ‘All right, we’re Harry and the Potters.'”

(See pictures of people around the world preparing for the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.)

The DeGeorges didn’t realize it, but they had just invented a new kind of music. It’s now known as wizard rock, or sometimes just “wrock.” Wizard rock is pretty much what it sounds like: rock ‘n’ roll inspired by and set in the universe of Harry Potter. Seven years after that fateful barbecue, there are dozens of wizard-rock bands: the Remus Lupins, Tonks and the Aurors, the Whomping Willows, the Moaning Myrtles, DJ Luna Lovegood, Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls. Evil characters can rock too: Draco and the Malfoys and the Parselmouths are mainstays of the scene. Wizard rockers dress like Hogwarts students. They play at conventions and clubs and wizard-rock festivals. There is a Wizard Rock EP of the Month Club.

(Watch TIME’s video “Harry and the Potters Will Wizard Rock You.”)

Wizard rock is just one aspect of a subtle transformation that’s taking place in the world of Harry Potter fandom. Two years after the last book was released, it’s still going strong, and it’s showing signs of taking on a life of its own as a cultural movement in its own right. Potter fan fiction continues to flow onto the Net, extending the Potterverse out toward the horizon in all directions, with the blessing of J.K. Rowling. There are two Harry Potter conventions this year, LeakyCon in Boston in May and Azkatraz in San Francisco in July (following the release of the sixth movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, on July 15). Paul serves on the board of directors of the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), an activist group founded to promote the ideals and values of the Harry Potter books in the real world. Under the motto “What Would Dumbledore Do?” the HPA works to draw attention to social problems like the conflict in Darfur.

Some important things for the nonfan to understand about wizard rock: The songs can be funny, but wizard rock is not a joke. It’s not a stunt. It’s not for little kids, or not just for them. It is exactly as advertised: music about Harry Potter for people who think Harry Potter is awesome.

Read “Values Learned Through Wizard Rock.”

Visit for the latest reviews of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

There are a lot of those people. To date, Paul and Joe have played more than 500 shows in 49 states. (Give it up, Hawaii!) Paul (on guitar) and Joe (keyboards) dress in white shirts and orange-and-red-striped Gryffindor ties. They have a rotating cast of drummers, Ã la Spinal Tap, and are occasionally joined onstage by the giant squid that lives in the Hogwarts lake. Their hits include “Save Ginny Weasley,” “Voldemort Can’t Stop the Rock!” and “The Weapon We Have Is Love”:

I’m glad we’ve got our army
And we’re gonna take down the dark lord’s crew
The Death Eaters will all be running from me
And you, and you, and you, and you, and you …

The themes of their music are the themes of the books: love and friendship, angst and struggle. “We think, What does Harry Potter go through?” Paul says. “If I was a teenager, and I was going through this, what kind of songs would I be writing? So when Harry’s love life goes sour after a date with Cho Chang, you write a song about that. Or he discovers this awesome potions book with all these secrets in it, and he’s totally pumped. You write a song about that.”

Harry and the Potters’ abiding aesthetic is punk rock: technical polish and production values take a backseat to raw volume and raw emotion. “It can be poorly recorded and sloppily performed as anything,” Paul says. “It’s all about investing yourself in it.” This DIY attitude is an integral part of what makes wizard rock spread. It’s the musical equivalent of fan fiction: fans hear about the band or see it live, and they don’t want to just listen; they want to play. “There’s a quote about the Velvet Underground,” Paul says. “Nobody ever bought their records, but for every 10 people who saw them play, four of them started a band. It’s almost like that with us.”

Not all wrock is punk wrock. There’s plenty of stylistic diversity in the scene, which ranges from the electric girl pop of the Parselmouths to the darkly gleaming hip-hop of Swish and Flick. But if you’re trying to get your head around wizard rock, punk is a good place to start. Like punk, this is a subculture in which the fundamental poles of popular culture, cool and uncool, have no meaning. Nerds tend to be very comfortable with powerful, unironized emotion–Harry and the Potters’ 2008 tour was titled Unlimited Enthusiasm. As the poet said, they’re too busy singing to put anybody down.

Though after seven years on the road, the DeGeorge brothers are starting to slow down. “We’ve kind of come to a place where we used to be playing 120 shows a year. Now we’re playing 15 to 20,” Paul says. After all, he’s 30 now, and he’s done far more than he ever thought he would. “Our beginnings were so inauspicious, playing in a shed in our parents’ backyard. All of our early shows were in bookstores and libraries. And that was all we ever wanted from it, you know? The chance to play a loud rock-‘n’-roll show in a library.” Mischief managed.

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