Photo By: Courtesy of Doctor Noize
Although Cory Cullinan’s idyllic Los Altos childhood was interrupted by tragic events, the 42-year-old came out smiling.
Now known as Doctor Noize, the former Pinewood School music teacher and soccer coach indulges his passion – teaching children how to appreciate music in a zany way.
His two books – “The Ballad of Phineas McBoof” (Pictoria Books, 2008) and “The Return of Phineas McBoof” (Doctor Noize Inc., 2011) – and CDs are jam-packed with crazy characters, including Phineas, a cheeky monkey.
“It’s a story about McBoof – based on Paul McCartney – and his International Band of Misunderstood Geniuses,” said Cullinan from his home in Colorado, as his two daughters, Sidney Grace, 9, and Riley Max, 7, made noise in the background. “What the band has in common is their openness to trying all kinds of music.”
It’s hard to get more excited about music than Doctor Noize.
This is a man on a mission – to help youngsters discover their “song of life” and have the courage to share it, he said.
His work is particularly poignant to him, because his brother, Tracey, a computer genius who passed away from brain cancer at 18, taught him the importance of living life to the fullest. They both attended Los Altos High, and Cory, who was student body president, graduated in 1988.
“It was an amazing thing for me to observe,” Cullinan said of his brother’s illness. “Steve Jobs came to visit him twice, he was interviewed by Jane Pauley because he had started his own computer company.”
Jobs took both boys on a tour of Next Inc., Cullinan recalled.
“I was into soccer, so it didn’t mean much to me, but for Tracey, it was like visiting with Joe Montana,” he said.
Realizing that his brother had already put his mark on the planet by the time he received his cancer diagnosis, Cullinan determined that it was important to have a purpose to one’s life.
“Plus, I had every opportunity anyone could hope for,” he said.
Cullinan’s roots in the community run deep. His father, Terrence, was on the Los Altos City Council and served a stint as mayor. His mother, Leola, was active in the PTA.
Cullinan said his wife, Janette, who voices Backbone the Octopus on his recordings, reminds him of his brother because of her strength in facing life’s obstacles. Legally blind, Janette has worked her way up in the business world of learning design and has been a singer her entire life.
“I knew she would inspire our children,” he said. “Plus, she’s cute – the bomb. She’s the backbone of my life.”
He conducts his concerts interactively, encouraging children to get up on stage. Cullinan sings and plays keyboards, kazoo, guitar, saxophone and percussion.
SiriusXM Live Kids’ Radio has played “The Ballad of Phineas McBoof” several times, and he’s notched a number of top 10 hits on the station. Early on, Dr. Toy named the album a “Best Product,” and it’s also received a Parents’ Choice award.
Don’t quit your day job
Not too bad for a Stanford University classical music and political science major.
“I had as few practical skills when I got out as a guy could get,” joked Cullinan, who nonetheless concentrated on releasing his first album, “My Oyster,” after he graduated from college.
Although he said he didn’t come “even close to making a living” with his music, it was used in the Brad Pitt film score for “Spy Game” and on television shows.
Needing a day job, Cullinan called on Pinewood School, which didn’t have a music department at the time. His Music History class became quite popular with students, and the choir he directed produced eight CDs.
“We would write and record songs, then buy more toys for the recording studio, which was really my classroom,” he said.
In Music History, Cullinan prided himself on creating a challenging environment and appealing to sophisticated tastes.
“I don’t do three-chord Barney music,” he said.
In fact, listening to his daughter’s Saturday-morning cartoons inspired him to continue making Doctor Noize records.
His partner, Coert Voorhees, who was an English teacher at Pinewood, convinced him to collaborate on a grammar CD, the newly released 21-track “Grammaropolis,” which includes tunes about how the band spent its summer vacation. Voorhees plays the stuffy mayor of Grammar-opolis, and Doctor Noize defends Slang, an unorthodox – but more creative element – who’s a “word artist,” according to Cullinan.
One funny bit on “Grammar-opolis” showcases a radio program in which Gabby Verbose – a parody of Terry Gross of National Public Radio – interviews the mayor, Slang and Doctor Noize. Placido Flamingo, played by opera star Nathan Gunn, makes an appearance on the CD.
While “Grammaroplis” features a lot of fun wordplay, it’s also educational, clarifying nouns, proper nouns, verbs and adjectives for young learners.
Doctor Noize recently created the iPhone game app Bananas! based on his hit song “Banana” from the McBoof album. It’s been downloaded in 25 countries through the Apple iTunes store.
Next up is his “Phineas McBoof Crashes the Symphony” CD, due May 17. Gunn will once again play Placido Flamingo.
“What I want to do is expose kids to symphonic music – to smart concepts at a younger age,” Cullinan said.
Doctor Noize has scheduled a “Triple Release Party” to celebrate the debuts of “Grammaropolis” and his “Return of Phineas McBoof” book and CD 3:30 p.m. April 1 at Cubberley Community Theatre, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $10.
For tickets and more information, visit www.doctornoize.com.