On a quiet and dreary Sunday morning, Firestone High School honored a pair of Grammy-winning rock stars.
Drummer Pat Carney and singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach, the West Akron-bred duo and Firestone graduates better known to rock fans as the Black Keys, took a detour from their first headlining arena tour, which stops at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena on March 20.
The band’s latest album, El Camino, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 charts.
The two sneaked into their hometown Sunday morning on dual luxury tour buses to hang up their photo on the high school's Alumni Hall of Fame and to take a carefully orchestrated tour of their alma mater. A CBS network film crew and a crew filming a feature-length documentary were in tow.
“I haven't been in here in 12 years, not since my brother graduated,” Carney, Class of ’98, said, referring to younger brother Michael, also the band's longtime art designer and a Grammy winner for his work on the Brothers album.
Principal Larry Petry Jr. made a brief presentation before encouraging one of the guys to climb a ladder and step onto a display case to hang their photos right between those of astronaut Judith Resnik and entertainer Joan Ashley Fiffick.
“I’m a little worried that you've probably been up there before when you were students here,” Petry said, drawing laughs.
“Can I straighten any other pictures while I'm up here?” Auerbach, Class of ’97, asked.
While Auerbach placed the framed photo over its plaque, Carney’s mother, a former school board member, beamed with pride.
“It's just thrilling, and I'm sure that they're thrilled. They've wanted this for a long time. This would be the epitome of having made it to get up on that wall,” Mary Stormer said.
“They've had a lot of luck and hard work. It's a long way from the [defunct downtown rock club] Lime Spider. It's a long way from the hallowed halls of Firestone High. Just a couple of little nerds.”
CBS news correspondent host Anthony Mason lobbed questions at the two as Petry gave them a tour of their old stomping grounds. That core was surrounded by a bustling halo of people that included Carney's mother, brother Michael, a former teacher and neighbor, administrators, publicists and production folks.
The new inductees turned what was to be a brief ceremony and interview into an hourlong tour of empty rooms full of memories.
They visited the old in-school detention room where Carney spent some quality time, the gymnasium, their old lockers.
They stopped by the cafeteria, where Auerbach recalled the comforting lunchtime smell of cheese sauce, the library where Carney flipped through a copy of the Marine-centric Leatherneck magazine for the cryptic jargon-filled comics he and friends read during school.
They thumbed through their old yearbooks, laughing at pictures of themselves and friends. The former students even looked at their old transcripts and compared their GPAs (both in the area of 2.5).
After the tour, Carney and Auerbach signed a few album covers and took some photos before piling back into the buses so CBS could film the neighborhood and the homes where they grew up a few blocks away from each other. Then they set off for a show in Columbus Sunday night.
An air date for the CBS segment on the Black Keys has not been determined.
Petry said the Hall of Fame process begins with a nomination, followed by a vote from the teaching staff requiring a two-thirds majority before welcoming a new inductee.
“They got in by a very large margin,” Petry said.
Among the folks enjoying the Black Keys' stealth visit were Firestone Assistant Principal Robert Zupke and his wife, Lori, who was the Carney brothers’ math teacher and Auerbach's neighbor.
Lori Zupke said she always knew the boys would do well.
“We'd hear Danny's voice all the time, coming out of the basement or the attic, and it's such a rich, powerful voice. At first we thought it was a record. When we found out it was Danny, it was like, ‘Oh, my God. That's incredible,’ ” she said.
“Patrick added flavor to the classroom. He says what he wants to say. I had to draw the line sometimes, but it made class fun. So, yeah, we saw it coming, and I'm so proud of them. They worked so hard.”
Malcolm Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or email@example.com.