There are many variations on the road to rock ’n’ roll success, and as any high school guitar slinger will attest, that road rarely involves higher education.
But sometimes it does.
Kiss rock band guitarist Tommy Thayer, 57, was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Pacific University in Oregon last month. Thayer, a resident of Lake Sherwood, grew up in Beaverton, Ore., which is a short distance from the university in Forest Grove. He’s served on Pacific’s board of trustees since 2005 and said that being recognized by the school was an honor.
“It’s something I never really would imagine (would happen), to be honest with you, because I didn’t go to college,” Thayer said. “I went a different direction and started pursuing my music career professionally not long after I got out of high school because I moved to Los Angeles in 1983 with (my band) Black ’n Blue. It all worked out pretty well. It’s been great to be able to circle back and be involved in the university.”
Thayer was asked to join the board after his father, James Thayer, recommended him for the job. Tommy Thayer said his father, who is 96 and a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, is a prominent figure in Portland, Ore., which is also close to Pacific University. The elder Thayer, who received an honorary doctorate from the university in 2009, was asked to join the board, and he recommended his son instead.
“I didn’t understand why they would want me to be on the board in the first place,” Tommy Thayer said.
“I was definitely intimidated and a little uncomfortable because you’re (working with) people that are kind of the pillars of society, a lot of higher ups at the university, a lot of very academic-minded people that are real sharp and, like I said, people that are on top of their different professions are involved.”
Thayer said that despite his initial concern, he found that his experience with the band Kiss gave him keen insights into how he could help the school.
“I’m coming from a place that most all of these people aren’t coming from, which is kind of a bigger scale, media and profile awareness and marketing, really on a big scale, because Kiss is really a marketing machine,” Thayer said.
“I’ve learned a lot just being in that environment for so long, in a huge band like that, that has worldwide recognition.”
As part of the award, he was asked to give the commencement speech to the university’s graduating class. Thayer said that being a musician who has performed hundreds of shows has, of course, helped him remain comfortable in front of crowds, but, he said, making a speech and giving a rock concert are two different animals entirely
“It’s all a performance, honestly, but on the other hand, getting up and making a speech, as most people know, it can be very nerve-wracking in a lot of ways,”
So what words of wisdom did he have to offer?
“I said in the speech, ‘A lot of people ask me what’s the key to success. There’s a lot of things that are important to being successful, but the most important thing of all is perseverance and persistence, and not giving up or getting discouraged or doubting the situation or yourself too much.’”