20 years ago: The Rolling Stones take Homer Simpson to Rock Camp

Springfield got an injection of rock star status in November. 10, 2002, when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards led an all-star cast on The Simpsons.

The episode, called “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation”, saw Homer Simpson enroll in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp run by The Rolling Stones.

Writer Mike Scully came up with the plot idea after hearing Leslie West interviewed by Howard Stern. That mountain frontman promoted a fantasy camp where participants could indulge their rock dreams alongside West, Alice Cooper, Cheap trick and other stars.

The concept triggered something in Scully, who began to imagine what Homer Simpson would look like at such an event. A script took shape but was changed when an even bigger rock band got involved.

“Originally we were going to have the guys that I’d heard on Howard Stern. We were going to be like Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick,” Scully recalled in a 2015 Q&A event. “Meanwhile, as I was writing it, we had gotten a call from the Rolling Stones’ management asking if there was any way they could perform on the show – because they were getting ready to tour the following year. So I threw out all the scenes with Cheap Trick and then it became the Stones.”

Watch Mick Jagger, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz and more on ‘The Simpsons’

The fantasy camp lineup continued to grow from there. Jagger worked with Lenny Kravitz at the time on “God Gave Me Everything”, a song planned for his 2001 solo album Goddess at the door. So Jagger recruited Kravitz to participate The Simpsons.

Tom Petty also joined the ranks of the episode, as it did Elvis Costello and Brian Setzer. Cast and crew on The Simpsons was used to working with celebrity guests but this was another level.

“It was very exciting,” Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, said later Billboard. “I mean, these people are larger than life. It’s peculiar to be in the same room with them. You start to see them as people, which I think is good, but it doesn’t take the shine off it at all. It’s still kind of like, ‘Wow, you’re Mick Jagger.’ It’s still pretty amazing.”

The Stones were keen to be on the show, but there were a few caveats. At first, Jagger and Richards requested to have separate recording sessions. “They came in separately. Mick and Keith came three weeks apart,” Scully recalled. “They didn’t want to bump into each other by accident.”

Then Richards had a demand. “Sometimes when the guest stars come in, they request certain foods, like a vegetarian spread,” Scully added. “The clause in Keith’s contract called for a fifth of vodka and a bottle of Orange Crush.”

Watch Tom Petty’s Lyrics Class on ‘The Simpsons’

“How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” boasted many memorable scenes as Homer and some of Springfield’s finest – including Barney, Otto, Apu and Chief Wiggum – learned the finer points of rock stardom from some of music’s biggest names. Kravitz taught a course on stage fashion, including the art of the “talk stop.”

Costello tried to convince people to play bass instead of guitar, only to be pushed aside by Homer, who called him a “nerd”. Meanwhile, Jagger instructed the campers in his famous dance moves, complete with the school mother’s “everybody’s naughty” finger flick.

Petty’s class was about lyrics, though Homer and his friends memorably shot down his suggestion to write “something meaningful and heartfelt.” “Rock stars are supposed to be about drinking and getting drunk and drinking it,” Homer insisted. “You just want mindless generic rock?” a frustrated Petty replied before switching from acoustic to electric guitar and delivering the following lines:

Watch the drunk girl speeding down the street(cheers from the group)
She is concerned about the state of primary schools(burp)
She likes to party, she likes to rock(cheers again)
She prays that our schools don’t run out of chalk” (boo once again)

“How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” was met with a positive response and has regularly appeared on lists of the show’s best episodes. Costello would later fondly remember the experience, joking that he “hadn’t really looked that good since I had jaundice. … Appearing in The Simpsonsof course, is probably one of the few accolades I’ll ever share with Rupert Murdoch,” Costello drollly added.

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