Dec 282013

For the last few years I’ve been picking away at a memoir, of sorts, on my formative life and musical experiences. For my own edification above all else, as well as a possible guidebook to help my sons understand why their dad is weird, I am examining how these experiences and the sounds swirling around me worked together to “save me” from the hazards of childhood, to set me on the path of becoming the man and rock nerd I am today. Suburban kid‘s excellent Dad Rock thread inspired me to share a current draft of an opening chapter, some of which you may have seen or heard in earlier stages of development.


My first music-playing device was a plastic, olive-green record player that was pleasingly textured on the outside, like stucco, nubby upholstery, or Naugahyde. Flip up the top and the plastic was beige—also textured, to better pick up smudges from my dirty hands. The turntable itself was brown, with a brown rubber mat to soften the blow of singles released from the multi-45 stem. I can’t remember for sure if the arm was brown or beige, but I remember my shaky hands were always challenged by lifting the arm and dropping the needle onto a specific album track. My beat-to-hell childhood 45s, these days crammed into my original orange vinyl box along with other singles picked up through the years, can attest to this challenge. The cord was a brown 2-pronged affair. I experienced my first electric shock on that cord when I left one of my shaky fingers slipped between the prongs as I plugged it in. Ouch!

I used that record player from the age of 4 or 5, playing “She Loves You” over and over, singing along with my speech-impeded “l” sounds (ie, She wuvs you…), through about age 15, when I’d long mastered consonant sounds. My uncle gave me my first stack of LPs as well as a box of 45s. The LPs included Steppenwolf Live, with that snarling wolf on the cover and Santana’s first album, with its sketch of a roaring lion that contained hidden figures and each Carlos Santana guitar solo deliberately articulated with a long, bended note, played high on the neck. He gave me The Band’s second album, which to this day is one of my Top 5 favorite albums ever, and about a half dozen Beatles records, including early ones through their then-recent psychedelic period, Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour. A year or two later I got Let It Be and the Beatles Again singles collection, the one with them dourly dressed in black and standing in front of a big door. I didn’t know “singles collection” from “proper” release, and thought nothing of the stylistic and sonic differences between “I Should Have Known Better” and the scorching single version of “Revolution.” The band members looked their coolest in the mustachioed, sideburned photos of their psychedelic years, so I “updated” my early Beatles’ albums, drawing the appropriate whiskers on the lads and the distinctive granny glasses on John.


Dad Rock

 Posted by
Dec 262013


Dad Rock.

“Dad Rock” is a term for all that old ’60s and ’70s music that today’s dads listen to. I’ve seen references to it online, heard my kids mention it, and I’ve even tuned into a radio show called Dad Rock. Understanding the demographic of this site, I think it’s fair to say many of us have Dads that are from the pre-rock era. That’s the case for me, too, but that didn’t mean we didn’t have any rock(ish) records in the family record collection when I was a kid.

My parents were in college when rock and roll emerged, and were graduates when it was only a couple of years old. To them, rock and roll was teen music, utterly beneath them. In the 1950s, the median age for getting married was 20 for women and 23 for men; if you were in your 20s, it’s safe to say you identified as a grown-up.

My dad was an amateur musician and was in charge of entertainment on his army base in Germany, but he never ran into Elvis (who was there at roughly the same time). In 1977, he and my mom were dragged by another couple to go see Elvis on what would be his last tour; they attended ironically and the performance simply confirmed their long-held biases.

But they had been liberal young parents in the ’60s. We had a Pete Seeger record stuck in among the jazz, classical, light opera, and show tunes albums. And they were not completely closed off from the pop culture. Indeed, I think they tried to like rock at some point in the late ’60s or early ’70s, but didn’t get too far.

What rock or pop-rock records did your parents have? Here’s about all we had:

  • Simon and Garfunkel – the one with Mrs. Robinson (Bookends?)
  • The Hair soundtrack
  • Tommy by the Who

I think my dad, despite not really getting rock (I remember one conversation I had with him where he had no clue who Chuck Berry was) respected the Who’s crack at making an opera. He never listened to the album much, but he liked owning it and I believe he went to see the movie version, and possibly the stage show.

Dad turned 80 the other day. We got him tickets to Madame Butterfly.


More on Dad Rock

 Posted by
Jan 052011

My sister got me one of those nifty USB record players for Christmas, so I can burn all my vinyl to iTunes. Last night, I loaded up Rockpile‘s Seconds of Pleasure and NRBQ‘s At Yankee Stadium, and I got to thinking about certain musical values (as the Mod might say) that we highlight on this blog which are no longer au courant. And I got to thinking about Dad Rock again. So I’ll just flat-out ask this: Is Dad Rock basically anything that swings?


Dad Rock

 Posted by
Aug 062010

Why does the term “Dad Rock” bother me so much? Malcolm McClaren is dead, Bill Wyman is his own grandpa. Rap has sustained for over 30 years, rock for over 60. The surviving original rebels have traded whiskey for tea and weed for Metamucil. They can’t play in this young man’s game, even if they invented it. Let’s face it: “Dad Rock” is code for, “you are old, uncool and your music is lame.” You don’t need to have kids to like “Dad Rock,” it just means that you are bland and safe… like a dad.

I think the first time I saw the phrase was in a review for Wilco‘s Sky Blue Sky and it struck me as a way of saying that the quality of the music wasn’t the issue, rather it was a lack of cutting edges that left it milquetoast, nothing that would upset daddy’s delicate old heart. Yesterday I saw the phrase attached to the new Arcade Fire album, and that felt like crossing a line. Sure, they were cool a few years ago, but now they are filling up the seats of Madison Square Garden. With dads. Playing, “City With No Children.”

A quick web search reveals sketchy opinions that “Dad Rock” is either music of the ’60s and ’70s that baby boomers listen to exclusively, or that it is bands such as Coldplay, U2 and Wilco, or even just selected songs. Or maybe it’s a few more notches down the ladder of hipness – Phil Collins, solo Sting, Steely Dan. To an extent, it’s not that different from “Yacht Rock,” but without the cocaine and soft-rock overtones. But these goalposts are moving too easily, and who decides where they go?

Of course, we’d like to think that wisdom comes with age. Those kids will regret those M.I.A. albums, just like I regret, well, I regret…. My best friend in high school was embarrassed by his father’s fanatical fandom of Leonard Cohen. Cohen toured, the whole family went, my friend missed a big party. When asked why our friend wasn’t at the party, and told why, another friend said, “I wish my dad were that cool!” and I experienced a shift in perspective.

If I have any goal at all with this post, it is to ask the simple question: What do you think “Dad Rock” is? Does it actually exist? If it does, what are its defining characteristics? Or is “Dad Rock” simply a bracket that moves through time, a continuous parade of young people having the label applied to them and their favorite bands, when the inevitable grey hairs sprout? Like an animal urinating to claim its turf, does a dad’s appreciation of any music automatically categorize it as “Dad Rock?” Does a dad’s enjoyment of music ruin it for everybody else? It almost seems absurd to ask these questions, but I think they should be asked.


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