The article below just appeared in the Boston Globe, written by Ty Burr, and it’s about how some young people are coming to appreciate the music of their elders, which they call “dad rock”. Oy!
One of the more satisfying cheap thrills that comes with getting old is watching the discombobulated expression on someone young when they realize something they’ve dismissed as hopelessly parental is actually something rather . . . good.
Translation: Today’s sermon will be on Steely Dan and the vicissitudes of dad rock.
It’s prompted in part by a June 18 New York Times article in which writer Lindsay Zoladz admitted with a degree of chagrin that the music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, long derided from her back-seat position on family car rides, has in her early 30s taken up permanent residence in her headphones.
Wrote Zoladz, “My recent embrace of Steely Dan has helped me settle into a newfound level of self-acceptance. I am a discerning, feminist-minded millennial woman. I also love dad rock.’’
Here’s Zoladz’s article:
Back at the Globe, Burr first pushes back at the demeaning term “dad rock” (why not “mom rock”?), and then goes on to explain why the Dan are so great. I’ll skip the second part, and give my own brief take. The argot:
But, first, a word about “dad rock,’’ a term coined (as the Times article points out) in a 2007 Pitchfork review of a Wilco album. The phrase is, of course, profoundly insulting while remaining absolutely undeniable, the end result of generations of boomers and Gen Xers treating the music of their youth as catechism for their children. Apostasy is guaranteed.
Dad rock takes its place next to dad jeans and dad jokes as an endearing diminution — you’re corny as hell, old man, but I guess we’ll keep you — but what kind of music actually qualifies? In practice, it’s whatever you play to your kids as important cultural education (disguised as fun) until they retaliate by going over to K-pop, Katy Perry, or industrial death metal. In theory, it’s all the classic rawk from your adolescence that you now hear in Starbucks and the aisles of Whole Foods. More damage has been done to Van Morrison’s career by the overplaying of “Moondance’’ than by his worst-charting album.
The Beatles don’t count as dad rock, because they’re foundational — a bouncy pop bedrock best introduced early. But the Stones, the Who, and (sob) the Kinks qualify. So does Springsteen, which I know is tough for a lot of you. So do the laid-back LA rockers of the 1970s — the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne — and Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Marshall Tucker Band. The prog rock that was so rad in 1974: Yes and ELP and all the rest? Don’t even try. My personal induction into the dad rock hall of shame came when a group of my guy friends and I started singing Jethro Tull’s album-long “Thick as a Brick’’ at a barbecue — and we knew every word.
I’m not sure what Burr means by “foundational,” because if you’re talking about the roots of rock, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis were also foundational, but surely they’d be classified as “dad rock”. Like the Dan, the Beatles were sui generis—though the Beatles began heavily influenced by the rock of the late Fifties and early Sixties. Both bands developed their own style that, well, didn’t reflect earlier influences nearly as heavily as other groups. I mean, “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Blackbird”—where did they come from? I’d also disagree that Fleetwood Mac and the Allman Brothers were dad rock: they were great bands that can still be appreciated not as a marker of your youth, but as great music on its own, just as we can appreciate Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and Charlie Parker. Are Parker, Basie, Ellington, and Billie Holiday “dad jazz”? I don’t think so. And that’s where Burr goes wrong:
I could go on; the point is that the process is a natural state of evolution. No growing person can develop their own taste until they overthrow their parents’ tastes, which means cherry-picking selected parental pop while making independent forays into their generation’s musical present and a self-curated past. Such rejection has gotta hurt, but it opens the floodgates for the tide to come the other way. My 20-something daughters send me their playlists now, and they’re fantastic. And you know who turns up on them a fair amount?
Perhaps my beef arises because this view doesn’t reflect my own musical journey. When I was a kid, I listened to my parents’ LPs, including Sinatra, the great Broadway musicals like Oklahoma and My Fair Lady, and White Folks’ Jazz: Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, et al.: the music my parents danced to, live, at Penn State dances. And I still love that music. I never overthrew my parents’ taste, but simply added to it my own tastes beginning when rock took off when I was about five years old. That’s when I first heard “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, often regarded as the first true rock song.
I’ve always said—and I stand by this still, and have defended it with examples—that somebody had to grow up during rock’s halcyon days, and those lucky people happened to be me and my contemporaries. For as I was finishing high school, the Beatles were surging, along with the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Santana (NOT dad rock), Janis Joplin, and so on ad infinitum. You’d have to be pretty tone deaf, or lack taste, to say that today’s rock and pop music is just as good as the music of that era. (I can hear blood pressures rising!). Well, somebody had to say it, and I did.
In my view (this is a theory that is mine) most art forms describe a flattened parabola. Classical music began reaching its apogee with Bach and Beethoven, and has gone downhill ever since Stravinsky. Painting, too, is now debased, so that visits to art galleries are dutiful rather than exciting. And as for opera, well, let’s not talk about it. (I shouldn’t have to say here that all tastes are subjective, and that I’ll get angry responses by people who say that classical-music adepts, for instance, find much to admire in the modern genre. But if that’s the case, why do symphony orchestras still present “the greats”, throwing in a little classical modern music to try to get people interested in newer stuff?)
And so rock further declines, and perhaps some day will give way to another genre of music. As for me, I do try to listen to good rock music—and yes, there’s some—but I never hear anything as good as the music that enveloped me when I was a teenager. Further, well into my forties, I developed a love for “real” jazz, the jazz of black people, beginning with Louis Armstrong and extending through Ellington and Basie to Parker, Gillespie, and John Coltrane. I have no truck for contemporary jazz, so I guess I like “Dad Jazz,” except that a). my dad didn’t listen to black people’s jazz, and b). jazz is pretty much moribund.
Now that I’ve angered many, I’ll just add that Steely Dan is great because their music is complex—the first real rock that was inextricably bound up with jazz. The more you hear it, the more you’re attracted (if you have taste). It bears repeated listening, and each time you listen you hear something more. Here are ten reasons why the Dan is not “dad music (click on the song to hear it on YouTube):
1.) Dr. Wu
2.) My Old School (fabulous ending)
3.) Only a Fool Would Say That
4.) Haitian Divorce
5.) Deacon Blues
6.) Kid Charlemagne
7.) Midnite Cruiser
8.) Dirty Work
9.) Bad Sneakers (one of my favorite, with a great guitar solo), link below
Have a listen to this, particularly the off-tempo break starting at 1:55, and tell me this is “Dad rock”. (As for what the words mean, that’s your guess.)
The Dan: Becker and Fagen:
I’ll close by thanking my old friend Tim for the article (I’m not sure whether he’s a Dan fan), and for suggesting the last of the “unappreciated groups” I’ve put below. And here they are: fantastic groups or musicians (not “dad music”) that I consider underappreciated:
- Laura Nyro
- Buffalo Springfield (CSN and CSN&Y are pretty well appreciated)
- Blood, Sweat, and Tears (only the “Child is Father to the Man” album)
- That Allman Brothers (pretty well appreciated, but not nearly as much as they should be)
- The Band (pretty well appreciated again, but not enough)
- Tim’s suggestion: Gordon Lightfoot (I recommend only his first album, Lightfoot!, which is a masterpiece; it’s not rock but folk/country).