Young rocker hopes to save the world

Like many artists, Alex Pfeifer-Rosenblum looks back on the first song he wrote and is a little embarrassed by it. It just doesn't measure up to his later work.

The difference between Pfeifer-Rosenblum and other artists is that the look back isn't a long one. Pfeifer-Rosenblum turned 10 in July. He wrote his first song when he was 6.

Since then, the El Cerrito fifth-grader has written songs about saving the earth, the tranquillity of the desert and peace. With Alex on guitar and 12-year-old sister Rebecca on the drums, the two perform as Dragon and Crash, a name they invented about five years ago.

For the past four years, they have been featured performers at the Solano Stroll in Albany and Berkeley, where they will play on Sunday. They also have done gigs at other East Bay events, opening for Rebecca's Riot, another local singing group, and performing at Berkeley's Kehilla Community Synagogue, where their family belongs.

Next May, Alex may even be the cantor at his sister's bat mitzvah. Pfeifer-Rosenblum is a bit of a phenomenon.

He first encountered a guitar when he was 2 while attending a camp with his family.

"When he was 2, one of the counselors played the guitar and Alex followed him around all over camp," says Pfeifer-Rosenblum's mother, Gyl (pronounced Jill) Rosenblum.

When the family returned home, they bought Alex a plastic toy guitar at Toys R Us. Alex remembers it was either red or orange.

"He never put it down," says Rosenblum. About two years later, Alex got his first real guitar. "He immediately picked it up and started playing songs. It was scary."

Alex's godmother Eve Decker, a guitar player herself, took Alex on as a student.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

One of Alex's first successes was "Honor the Earth," inspired by an Indigo Girls concert.

"In the opening act, there was a person talking about honoring the earth and making sure to take good care of it," says Alex. "She was saying you could make a list of how many ways you could improve it."

Alex went home and made a list that included recycling, planting trees, conserving water and riding a bicycle instead of driving a car. He put his list to music and called it "Honor the Earth." It became the camp song at the Pfeifer-Rosenblums' family camp. The song also inspired Alex's classmates at Castro Elementary School in El Cerrito to create a mosaic mural dedicated to saving the earth.

"Every student made one tile," says Alex. "The mayor came and I played that song for her."

Later he was invited to perform "Honor the Earth" for the El Cerrito City Council.

Last year when Alex and Rebecca performed at the Solano Stroll, they were approached by agents offering to represent them. Rosenblum turned the offers down.

"He'll be able to do that in due time," she says. "Now I really want him to be a kid, and sometimes that's difficult because what he really loves to do is perform."

Rosenblum describes Alex's talent as something that "just comes through him."

"It's really a blessing," she says. "The hardest part for us is wanting him to grow up and be a regular kid."

But Alex isn't a "regular kid." Except for the fact that his voice hasn't changed, Alex doesn't sound like an average 10-year-old. He speaks precisely and thoughtfully. He describes his music as folk-rock and names Paul Simon, Sarah McLachlan and Bonnie Raitt as some of his favorite artists.

His songs deal with subjects that most pre-pubescent boys don't even think about. Like the peacefulness of the desert, which he describes in "Coyote Calls," a song written after a trip to Death Valley, or "Hear Me Now," a prayer for peace.

Rosenblum is a bit flummoxed by Alex's talent since neither she nor her partner Karen Pfeifer are the least bit musically inclined.

"It's nothing I've taught him or anyone else in our family," says Rosenblum. "I've really had to rely on good friends and other people who know about music to educate him."

According to Rosenblum, one of those people is Rosalind Glazer, one-time cantorial soloist at Berkeley's Kehilla Community Synagogue and now a rabbinical student.

"She had a great influence on him in terms of learning Jewish music and music for prayer and chanting," says Rosenblum. "She taught him Jewish songs on the guitar. He played last year at the High Holidays."

Inspired to learn Hebrew, Alex went to Afikomen, bought several books and began teaching himself the language. When it came time to start Hebrew school, Alex had to choose between that or continuing with the Piedmont Boys' Choir, a decision his mother left to him.

Alex chose Hebrew school.

Alex is no traditionalist when it comes to writing music.

"Sometimes I'll have a sad fast [song] or a slow happy one," he says. "When I try to write a song, I usually do the music first. I think the words are easier for me to write than the guitar part. Sometimes I ask for help from my guitar teacher."

Sometimes he hears the melody in his head, other times he makes it up.

Although Alex loves performing, he admits to a little nervousness.

"Sometimes if I'm performing in a real big place, I get nervous," he says. "I always get a little nervous. But it feels really good to be performing."

As for his life goals, there are no surprises there. Alex hopes to be a professional musician and composer.

And in case anyone is wondering about the off-stage relationship between this brother-and-sister team, it's a very close one according to Rosenblum. But it still has some of the characteristics of all sibling interactions.

"Every once in a while we have an argument [like about] what songs we want to do for a concert," says Alex. "We fight about other things, but we don't fight a lot."