In the early aughts, my dad discovered, completely by accident, that a British punk band had named itself after him.
At the time of his discovery, they had been around long enough to get reviews from as far away as Brazil. “Like a bus filled with cheetahs crashing into a machete factory,” wrote one enthusiastic reviewer about their music.
And that wasn’t all. There was a MySpace page, tour dates, and a website.
At first blush, S. Rock Levinson, my dad, seemed an unlikely candidate for punk rock identity theft.
He’s a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado Medical Center, where he studies ion channels, and his faculty webpage features a lengthy description of his research, dozens of academic publications, and a serious, bespectacled photo of him looking away from the camera. A tiny animated image of ion channels is the only hint of his (dorky) sense of humor.
He had stumbled across S. Rock Levinson, the band, while Googling himself, and was perplexed, bemused, and finally, worried. What if these guys were neo-Nazis? He had to track them down.
A reply from the lead singer came via email. Yes, they had adopted his name for their band. They found it hilarious! And catchy! No, they weren’t neo-Nazis; they mostly sang about their girlfriends. Would he like some posters?
Yes, he would.
Although on the surface my dad appears to be your standard nerdy scientist, white tennis shoes included, he’s also a punk rock enthusiast who plays guitar on the weekends. How many people have had the vicarious pleasure of watching someone live out an alternate version of themselves, whether online or onstage? This was a dream–one that my dad didn’t even know he had–come true.
– Rock Levinson et. al, Interaction of Muscle and Brain Sodium Channel
“Like a terrorist is on my back
brewing up a plan of attack
I bet you’re getting ready to whack
When the city gets black I gotta lay on my back, on my back.”
– S. Rock Levinson, “Spitting in Italy”
He and “the lads,” as he fondly called them, corresponded frequently.
They referred to him as “Our father,” linking to his faculty page from their website. When they passed through Denver on tour, they stayed in my parents’ basement and visited my dad’s lab, where they were photographed wearing lab coats and holding monkey brains.
I saw them play live once at the Knitting Factory in New York, an experience that put me into a state of cognitive dissonance.
Here they were: S. Rock Levinson, the punk band tearing up the stage with songs like “Dr. Levinson’s Lament” and “Spitting in Italy,” while at home on the couch somewhere in Denver, the real S. Rock Levinson was probably in his sweatpants with the cat on his lap, watching a documentary about World War II.
Like all dreams, though, this one too had to end. A few years ago, the band parted ways. My dad took it in stride: the great thing about a band taking your name is that even when they break up, you haven’t lost anything. In fact, you’ve just gained a great story. To this day, S. Rock Levinson’s music is still the first thing that comes up when you Google my dad.
Which suits him just fine.