A Thousand or so Words on “Dad Rock” and the Old Punks

I read a fairly interesting piece on the Telegraph website the other week about how “dad rock” records are keeping the record industry solvent over the Christmas period, citing the new Pink Floyd, Queen, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC releases as evidence that we flock to “stocking-filling box sets, repackaged classics and new albums from vintage artists” for the holidays. That’s an interesting discussion of its own, but for me it once again raised the question of what exactly “dad rock” is. What I am aware of is the blatant belief, at least on the Internet, that it is somehow a negative thing that we should generally be ashamed of, from this “confession” from a fan of the genre to this condescending Flavorwire list which proclaims in its Google search listing that “dad rock” is “not all terrible”, the assumption presumably being that most of it is.

So what is “dad rock”? Music that dads listen to, so the most simple interpretation goes, but from what I gather there isn’t any one meaning everyone agrees to. Is it a matter of age? The older the lamer? By mere chronology that would make the Clash only slightly less lame than the Eagles, two bands who released their quintessential works within about a couple of years of each other. Let’s say you’re a man who was twenty years old when he bought New Order’s second album, Power, Corruption & Lies, back in 1983. That would make you fifty-one years old in 2014 and very likely a father of at least one child, themselves possibly in or entering their twenties. Does that make New Order a “cringeworthy” dad rock band? Or is it not that simple? No, it never could be, could it?

“Dad rock”, as a term, has only two concrete parameters we can work with and they’re both nebulous to an insane degree: it can’t just be “music that your dad likes” because that could be anything – my dad likes Gregorian chant music, among other things; while the yearly Rock and Roll Hall of Fame debate proves that we aren’t even permitted a neat definition of “rock” anymore. The tidiest understanding I can fathom is that “dad rock” refers to a specific genre of melodic “classic” rock music dating from the Sixties to the early- to mid-Seventies, conveniently right up to the punk explosion that occurred shortly thereafter. In some cases it also pertains to the heavier rock and metal artists and scenes of the Eighties like NWOBHM, thrash and glam metal, conveniently right after the punk explosion had burned itself out. Sensing a trend?

For me, at least part of the issue is rooted in something that one of my favourite bloggers, Tim Hall, has been getting at for some time now: the old punks have, from prominent and “influential positions in the media,” been perpetuating for decades, whether consciously so or otherwise, a “Year Zero” notion which posits that punk rock was a necessary wiping of the slate that brought music back to a point of common sense after the grandiosity and pretension of prog rock. Having not been alive in the late Seventies you may consider me out of a position to challenge this (although we’re gradually running out of people who can), but the assumption that the simplicity of punk was somehow more genuine and worthwhile than the complexity and elaborate nature of prog has always been a weird one to me.

It’s also a pretty poisonous mentality that still leads to artists like Within Temptation – a group whose symphonic metal music can sell out Wembley despite minimal mainstream coverage – getting backhanded compliments like “complete hokum” and a “corny potboiler of a band.” With this example in particular you can tell the critic did in fact enjoy the concert but forced herself to adopt this cynical distance between her and the music, as if she couldn’t allow herself to be seen enjoying something so elaborate and bombastic for fear of opening herself up to mockery and judgement (a wall I personally doubt she would have put up had it been a Foals gig). Perhaps it’s simply a passionate response based on my own affection for “dad rock” – after all, I got into music by rooting through my dad’s old CDs – but that’s what the name really is to me: a straw-man hoisted up by elitist old punks who want an easy stick with which to beat the music they want you to believe they eradicated – in their minds they’ve been running a victory lap for nearly forty years now.

It’s hysterical when you consider that one of the icons of punk, John Lydon, eventually went on to form Public Image Ltd., a group whose music was often as complex and difficult as the prog records he supposedly made redundant. What was post-punk, really, but a progressive response to the limiting simplicity of punk? Perhaps the mentality will backfire on them and the late Eighties/early Nineties grunge bands, whose music was fashioned to an extent on the old classic rock records, may be considered “dad rock” in years to come? Heck, the Foo Fighters are still making Seventies-indebted rock music to this day. Personally I’d like to think that the consensus will change once all the old punks have died off, but the likelihood is that all the younger bloggers and writers who bought into the myth themselves will keep on selling it to the next generation, and so on. At what point does the buck stop? I suppose at a point when we as a culture can acknowledge the merits of all styles and scenes of music without resorting to petty, tribalistic arguments over which artist or genre is “cooler” than another.

So never, then.

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