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Rocking the roof off Gryffindor

Harry Potter isn't just for bestselling books and blockbuster movies. Wizard rock is a genre inspired entirely by the boy wizard.

July 17, 2007|Joshua Zumbrun and Sonya Geis | Washington Post

Paul DeGeorge loves Harry Potter. Well, everybody loves Harry. But Paul DeGeorge loves him so much that he started writing songs about Harry Potter. So much that he started writing songs as Harry Potter. And named his band Harry and the Potters. And dressed like Harry Potter. And, when the Norwood, Mass.-based Harry and the Potters got popular two years ago, quit his job as a chemical engineer to devote himself to the band.

And Paul DeGeorge is not alone.

The little band that DeGeorge, 28, founded in 2002 with his brother Joe, 20, has since taken over both of their lives and helped launch a genre of music known as wizard rock. As anticipation grows for the release of the seventh and (sob!) final book ("Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," for those of you hiding from the Harry hype), wizard rock is at the height of its popularity. Half a dozen bands are touring the country; a couple hundred have songs on MySpace and are self-producing EPs or albums and waiting to see how it all ends.

As Harry Potter has evolved from book series to movies to breathless blog juice to social phenomenon, it's inevitable that all the buzz needs a backbeat, an anthem, a soundtrack.

So, in the intensely social world of Harry Potter, when Matt Maggiacomo of Providence, R.I., invited Harry and the Potters to perform at a house party, there was much love in the room. When he invited them back the next year, April 2005, the crowd was bigger. Then Maggiacomo's friends Brian Ross and Bradley Mehlenbacher decided to open for the Potters by dressing up as Harry's nemesis, performing as Draco and the Malfoys. Maggiacomo joined the action by penning a few songs as the Whomping Willows, a nod to a magical tree that attacks people.

Other odes to Harry had cropped up: In 2000 the L.A.-based pop-punk band Switchblade Kittens penned an "Ode to Harry." Five year later, Alex Carpenter of the Remus Lupins posted a song about Severus Snape on MySpace, and discovered the online network that is wizard rock when hundreds of fans found him on the site.

At Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., on Friday, Draco and the Malfoys and Harry and the Potters will perform for an audience -- the Harvard Square Business Assn. anticipates 10,000 to 20,000 people -- celebrating the midnight release of the final book. That's an enormous audience for this type of niche band. Then they'll join the fans queuing up to buy the tome and read the final 784 pages of Harry's adventures.

The frenzy over Book 7 has propelled wizard rock to these heights. The bands have tens of thousands of friends on MySpace, with Harry and the Potters approaching 100,000. Maggiacomo has released two CDs. Draco and the Malfoys just finished their second CD, and later this month will join Harry and the Potters on a tour of the East Coast, the Midwest and Ontario. Other bands, including the L.A.-based Remus Lupins and the Seattle-based Parselmouths, are on tour.

So what's the difference between those who rock as wizards and your garden-variety, non-thematically-inclined bands?

"I played for 16 years where people show up and the cool thing to do is stand there against the wall with your arms crossed and look down your nose at the band," says Ross, 32, of his past life in indie-rock bands. "But with wizard rock, we're all fans of Harry Potter. That gives us a common ground to start from. There's an atmosphere where everyone wants to show up and have a good time."

A love of rocking and Rowling is the only requirement. Although most bands have a punk-rock influence, the genre has spawned sounds as varied as the Parselmouth's techno-influenced "Voldemort Fangirl" and the Remus Lupins' acoustic, lighters-in-the-air-style ballad "Remember Cedric."

But Wizard rock is a bit like Puff the Magic Dragon; Harry is growing up too fast. In five years, will wizard rock be anything but a footnote in this literary pop-culture phenomenon?

For the most part, the future does not weigh heavily on the wizard rockers. They live for today, for the rock -- but for the love and the literacy too.

"If we can make the library a cool place to hang out for the summer, I think we're doing something right," says Carpenter, 24, frontman of the Remus Lupins, on the phone from Idaho. He's in the midst of a 32-state, 56-show summer tour that won't make him rich, but will pay for itself.

"I'd had this lifelong fascination with wizards. And reading," Ross says. "So to have a book come out and then this music that got kids to read and is about wizards? It's the greatest."

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