I live my life like I wasn’t invited

14 Dec

My older daughter and I were happily ensconced in the balcony at the Fillmore this past weekend at the Wilco concert. We both really enjoyed it, although initially she was disappointed with the seat location, having expected that general admission meant standing on the main floor within sweating distance of the band. As for me, I was thrilled. Not only would I be able to sit down instead of being shoved against the barricades for four hours, but I’d also be able to enjoy the concert with my daughter at my side rather than losing each other in the flow of the crowd. As an added bonus, I could also put my jacket on my seat and save the $4 coat check.

Jeff Tweedy's got to plow the back forty after the show

Wilco’s music has been labeled by a few critics as “dad rock.” In case you have any doubt, it’s not a compliment. Urban Dictionary has four definitions of the term, all of them pointing to the painful unhipness of fathers where musicology is concerned. There is also a distaff term:  “mom rock” is “a genre of rock music that appeals to thirty- and forty-something Caucasian women, many of whom have children. Examples include Bon Jovi, Nickelback, and Los Lonely Boys.”

This reflects a bitter truth that is as old as rock and roll itself: parents are congenitally unable to be cool, therefore any band or song we like is uncool by definition. If a parent accidentally stumbles on  a cool band or song and professes to like it, its coolness dissipates like frost on a car hood. (Adele, you’ve been warned.)

Yet every parent believes he or she is the exception to the rule and will do anything to prove it. They will provide tutorials for their teenagers on how to handle vinyl now that LPs are back into vogue. They will petition to have Nickelback sent back to Canada rather than play at halftime at the Lions’ Thanksgiving game. They will attend a Wilco concert and text pithy Wilco lyrics to appear on the screen above the stage to prove they know their stuff and deserve to be there. Attention must be paid!

Then the illusion of our collective cool is broken by a lady in her forties in Tina Fey glasses and scrunchy hat who danced like no one was watching (although a couple hundred people behind her had no choice)—a gooney shadow puppet against the wall of lights who blocked my view of half the band for half the night. We just cannot escape who we are, can we?

Wilco’s lead singer Jeff Tweedy is doing his best to make the dad rock moniker represent something noble and misunderstood, per his Men’s Journal interview:

When people say dad rock, they actually just mean rock … when people hear something that makes them think, “This is derived from some sort of continuation of the rock ethos,” it gets labeled dad rock. And, to me, those people are misguided. I don’t find anything undignified about being a dad or being rocking, you know?

Wilco has kept moving forward rather than becoming an ossified version of their younger selves. The band has evolved in interesting ways, moving from their country-steeped first albums through the Radiohead-inflected aural wall of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the loneliness and warmth of Sky Blue Sky to the present. Their most recent album, The Whole Love, plays like a Greatest Hits of their previous work, which is a compliment. It has the winsomeness of “Walken,” the density of “Ashes of American Flags” and the Beatles influence of “You Never Know.” It’s pretty hip stuff, not gooney in the least.

Here, try out “Born Alone” to see what I mean:

Not bad for a dad, in my opinion.

(That never-ending chord is a Shepard tone, an audio trick the Beatles used at the end of “I Am the Walrus.” Be sure to tell your kids so they have even more reasons to roll their eyes.)

See you on the flip side …

10 Responses to “I live my life like I wasn’t invited”

  1. Philip Sherman December 15, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    Very nicely written, Lisa.

    • lpon45 December 15, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

      Thanks so much, Philip – given your own great work this means a lot!

  2. vdafilms December 15, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Your blog gets better and better. Loved this prose: “If a parent accidentally stumbles on a cool band or song and professes to like it, its coolness dissipates like frost on a car hood. ”
    Thanks for sharing Lisa!

    • lpon45 December 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

      Thanks for the compliment, Kat! I’m glad it strikes a chord.

  3. Julia Fuller December 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    I always see a bit of myself if your reflections. I have been guilty of singing and dancing along to “prove I know my stuff and deserve to be there” – but how true that “we just can’t escape who we are”. Very insightful and a joy to read – Rock On!

    • lpon45 December 16, 2011 at 12:43 am #

      You have a lot more street cred than you give yourself credit for, Julia!

  4. SurfinSteve December 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    ossified version – I resemble that statement. 🙂
    Great article, felt like I went

    • lpon45 December 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

      Glad to bring you along, Steve! (And you’re not ossified … you’re awesome-fied!)

  5. Jason Wendleton May 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    First off, I first realized I was getting old when I starting sitting in the balcony rather than stand at the foot of the stage…so I know where you are coming from.

    As far as the “Dad Rock” thing, I think I always called it “Mom Rock.” I still remember the first time my Mom told me about this “great new band called Kings of Leon” and remember thinking “well they’re not cool anymore.” It’s just the nature of trends–by the time good stuff reaches the masses it’s no longer trendy.

    Great article.


  1. A Mom’s Guide to Dad Rock | LP on 45 - June 12, 2013

    […] Dad Rock often rears its balding head on the third Sunday in June. I’ve covered that topic before, but in case you haven’t committed that post to memory, the term essentially has two […]

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