Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is it a Gene Thing?

I had the good fortune to attend the launch of the new ‘gallery’ added to the Beatles Story attraction in Liverpool recently. It’s a completely new exhibition housed in a stunning Mersey Ferry terminal building and features materials lent by Julian and Cynthia Lennon, who opened the gallery. It’s focused on their lives and relationship with John. While there I met Zoe Street Howe, a rock journalist and author (Typical Girls - The Story of the Slits). Zoe is researching her next book which is to explore rock’s ‘second generation’, i.e. musical off-spring like, indeed, Julian Lennon. Rather interestingly, she was with Dylan Howe, son to Yes’s Steve Howe.

Coincidently, I went to see Zappa Plays Zappa at Shepherds Bush O2 and it got me to thinking about musical scion and relationships between the generations. What’s it like living in the shadow of a famed one? I wonder if it’s a help or hindrance having a famous mom or pop in the biz? Do the kids get pushed into following in their elders footsteps (as so oft happens with other jobs)? Is musical talent in the genes, coming out what may or are rock’s annuls littered with those ‘wanna be like my dear old dad’ but just couldn’t make it? And then there’s the whole parent/child relationship thing and possible associated complexes. Julian Lennon’s relationship with his father has obviously been something of a journey from love to hate and back to love again. Abandoned, neglected, rejected. Bit difficult not ‘to make it bad, Jude’. Did it suppress or spark musical aspirations? I wonder did Julian feel forced into music or whether he actually feared following the genius that was John and might have been happier sooner had he been an architect, doctor, bus driver or something. The new exhibition offers some hints.

Dweezil Zappa is making a great job preserving his old man’s legacy. He admitted that watching his father at work was the inspiration for his being on stage. Being a FZ fan from way back (first concert 1972), I went in trepidation; please, oh please, don’t let this be some ‘tribute’ band. It wasn’t. It was definitely the Zappa gene at work. Dweezil plays like the old devil, has surrounded himself with ace musicians and allows them space to perform ( What’s more, he put on the length of show that always made a Zappa concert such astounding value and developed a Zappaesque rapport with a crowd sent literally ecstatic. And a lovely finale too; members of the audience were invited on stage, including a 12-year old kid there with his dad. Dweezil hangs his guitar from the neck of said kid and plays ‘Willie the Pimp’ over the kid’s shoulder like the kid himself was the gunslinger. If that doesn’t turn one 12-year old into a life long Zap fan then I’m only in it for the money! But I also wonder if the kid was initially forced into going by a pushy pop and could just as well have rejected the whole rock trip for the future?

But again, interesting question; how does Dweezil feel about aligning himself to his dad’s star when he has proven so capable of forging his own path? Has the shadow of the great man been too dark to come from under, or is it simply the nicest honour that a son could give his dad – preserving his memory before a tribute band ruins it?

Then there’s the practical aspects of being raised on rock ‘n’ roll. I remember reading once about Jerry Garcia’s daughter tripping at the age of 2 or some such age, having scoffed some magic mushrooms that had carelessly (we have to assume carelessly!) been left around. No rock ‘n’ roll suicide for her; she’s painter now. Imagine the mind-bending that went with the terrain being Ozzy Osbourn’s kids. I’m not sure that without their ‘leg up’ in the music biz they have the musical gene to lead them to their own fame and fortune.

Who else have we got to speculate on? There’s no ‘Son of the Stones’ is there? Other Beatle off-spring, Zac, Dani, Sean… Paul’s kids the only ones to take non-musical routes (or has one of them tried other than the family recording ‘When I’m 64’ for Macca’s eponymous birthday?). There’s Sting’s daughter and Dave Gilmour’s son both trying to make it and appearing fairly recently at the Troubadour (London’s last unspoilt beatnik haunt), and back to Steve Howe’s son Dylan who plays with the Blockheads and Wilco Johnson (two very respected combos). Steve has volunteered to be interviewed for the rock news section of this website. Look out for it in a future issue and maybe there will be some illumination into these vexing issues…

Finally, a few rock dad-related trivia questions for anyone who enjoys such:
1 Julian Lennon played and recorded on just one track with his dad. What was it and on which album?
2 What song did Steve Howe reputedly write for his new born?
3 Which musical star murdered his father?

Rock on!

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