Rock This Way! You, Too, Can Be a Music Star at Fantasy Camp

Life was nagging at Hyun-Joo Park. Too many 14-hour days staring at a computer screen. Not enough time getting her 28-year-old ya-yas out. So she did what any sensible Wall Street banker would do.

Hopped a flight to Las Vegas. Joined a rock 'n' roll band. And for four days screamed herself hoarse while perfecting -- with the help of guitar hero Slash -- a respectable rendition of Guns N' Roses' Paradise City, the climax of which found her leaping off a stack of amplifiers with Axl Rose-like gusto.

"The rock 'n' roll life is the polar opposite of mine," says Park, who morphed from banker to headbanger courtesy of the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, which for a decade has granted musical mortals access to their strutting gods. "Rock stars are expected to misbehave, have sex, be crazy. Pretending to be a rock star is an escape from the mundane nature of everyday life."

As fantasies go, "rock star" continues to hog the woulda-coulda-been spotlight. Nickelback's hit Rockstar breaks it down simply: "We all just wanna be big rock stars/ And live in hilltop houses driving 15 cars."

President of the United States? Forget the gig's daily pressure -- most of us couldn't survive the first wave of photos unearthed from our funky-haired pasts.

Wealthiest American? Bill Gates is a shrewd genius and admirable altruist, but no amount of hot tech talk will get 80,000 people to scream your name.

Oscar-lauded actor? Please. Even Johnny Depp would rather be his iconic and death-defying buddy, Keith Richards.

With a new year that promises more bad economic news, continued tragedies in Iraq and a cutthroat election, folks are going to be leaning harder than ever on an escapist dream.

Cultural evidence points to rock as a salve. The Fantasy Camp plans to meet the needs of its expanding market by supplementing its $8,000 four-day sessions with $2,000 one-day camps. And with Hollywood's writers locked in a strike, don't be surprised to see more you-could-be-a-star reality shows such as Fox's just-ended The Next Great American Band.

Then there's the sizzling video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, which has racked up$300 million in sales. Running hot on its heels is Rock Band, projected to hit $200 million in sales.

And if you need to feel the real thing, outfits such as Rock Star Karaoke NYC stand ready to transform white-collar warriors "into screaming, stage-diving singers," says company founder Kelly Cooper. She says the bar-based venture -- which provides live backing musicians for would-be crooners -- has never been hotter than in the past few months. "Something about rock just transforms people."

So just what is it about punching out power chords before adoring crowds that rivets the imagination? Or is that like asking why being lavished with compliments while getting a massage on a bed of cold cash might sound appealing?

"George Thorogood once said to me, 'If anyone born after 1950 tells you they don't dream of being a rock star, they're lying,' " says David Fishof, the unlikely founder of Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, whose father was a Jewish cantor who frowned on rock. "Deep inside, everyone has this desire in them."

Fishof, calling from a noisy New York coffee shop, hands his cellphone to a friend who knows a thing or two about that exalted life.

"People look at us and say, 'They have fun. They have freedom.' And music is the last great freedom we have left," says The Who's Roger Daltrey, who has taught at the camp.

He's quick to add that his own pursuit of the rock-star dream was fueled by a drive born of his pre-Who days as a factory worker. "Believe me, this (musician's) life takes a lot of dedication," Daltrey says.

So there was never any other fantasy job looming on his career horizon? "No, I was the same as the obsessed man in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, building that mountain out of mashed potatoes," Daltrey says. "I wanted a life in music. There was no Plan B."

Most of us did take that non-rock fork in the road. But the passion for it dies hard.

"I was a singer in a band as a kid, but the conservative side took over and I got an education," says Doyle Letson, 50, of Detroit, the chief designer of the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. A few weeks ago, he mounted his comeback with a band called Homebrewed. "One woman I know said, 'I can't look at you the same way anymore.' It's wild."

For Gwen Frederick, a "fortysomething" IT specialist from Ashburn, Va., who is the drummer of an all-girl band called Wicked Jezabel, playing rock is all about "forgetting what happened at work that week. … Your day job leaves you drained of energy, but you go on stage, and that instantly changes."

If there's one common misperception about the rock 'n' roll life, it's about the notion of work, says Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

"What lures us to the rock fantasy is the powerful human desire to be loved and admired," Kramer says. "But the public never sees what it takes to master an instrument, to write songs, to perform in the studio and live. Just know that between 1960 and 1964, The Beatles barely had a day off."

But one life coach is counting on the fact that people have a healthy regard for the effort that goes into creating that rock star persona.

"Rock stars epitomize the notion of walking your own path toward a dream," says John Battaglia, a former image consultant to the likes of Usher and Beyoncé who now runs "I don't use rock as a metaphor. At their core, rock stars strive to live a life in which they don't settle."

Rock stars also enjoy a rush that comes with getting instant, aural feedback. "There is just nothing like you being you, and having people respond to that," says Ryan Lesser, who toured with a band before becoming an art director at video game company Harmonix. He helped design Guitar Hero II and, more recently, Rock Band.

"As an art form, rock really lets you express yourself physically, emotionally and musically," he says. "The fantasy stays with people because (we're) introduced to it at an impressionable age."

Carter Oosterhouse remembers the first rock tune that made an impression on him. "It was a Quiet Riot song," says the hot-enough-to-be-a-rock-star host of HGTV's Carter Can. Ads for the show feature Oosterhouse saying that as a kid he wanted to be a rock star, then grabbed a hammer instead of a guitar. "The lyric said, 'Love's a bitch,' but I thought it was 'Love's a fish.' Whatever. I was hooked."

But the guitar never became his companion. "Wasn't any good," he says with a sigh. Today, he contents himself with "playing Guitar Hero III with my girlfriend until 2 a.m."

And what if the Rock Fairy offered up a trade, TV show for stage chops? Oosterhouse laughs. "I would take it in a heartbeat."

Such talk makes Slash smile.

"I suppose what they're responding to is the rebelliousness, the free-form creativity, and, well, yeah, the lifestyle," says the man whose eponymous autobiography reads like a rock star decadence how-to manual. "But not everyone really wants to live our lives. They just want a chance to touch it."

Slash's appearance at November's Las Vegas rock camp was his first. He enjoyed convening with people whose passion for rock reminded him of his own once-innocent love of the genre. And he also appreciated the chance "to kill the myth of the inaccessible, idiosyncratic rock star."

If you're wondering who was there benefiting from Slash's Les Paul tutelage, consider that those seeking out the rock 'n' roll fantasy can't really be pigeonholed.

There was 15-year-old Michelle Blanchard, guitarist in a recently disbanded Las Vegas band called Restore the Innocence. Her parents enrolled her "to see if she has what it really takes, and for her to see if she wants to work as hard as it takes to make it," says Blanchard's rock-loving mother, Rhonda, 49.

Says Michelle: "I'd like to make rock music my career, because it's something I love. It's better than taking a job that's crap."

At the other end of the age spectrum is Ed Oates, 60, who didn't exactly have a cruddy career. He was a co-founder of a little software company called Oracle. But he still has wistful memories of a youth filled with rock revelry.

"So many guys my age grew up with rock, grew up even playing rock, but wound up taking different avenues in life, always wondering 'What would it have been like?' " says Oates, who has convened a group of college-era friends into a garage band called Choc'd.

Oates says the camps provide those with a rock jones with both an adrenaline rush and a targeted mission: form a band with fellow campers. If you think that sounds like a corporate retreat, so does Oates: He has invested in the camp company with an aim toward pushing it into that market.

If Hyon-Joo Park gets wind of that news, she is likely to deem it a major bummer.

Sure, Park came to Vegas to blow her lungs out on rock anthems, which her YouTube-posted performance reveals she did admirably.

But what she really wanted was for her hero, Slash, that wicked cross between Cousin Itt and the Mad Hatter, to be, well, Slash.

"He was so down-to-earth. So nice. So ordinary," Park says.

"I was, like, 'Stop it already, dude. Break a bottle or something.' "