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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Is Dad Rock, Exactly? One Dad's Opinion

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2011 at 9:38 AM

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4.) After the turn of the century, the term began surfacing in American publications: Spin, Stylus, PopMatters, Pitchfork. However, it was deliberately refashioned. The negative connotation lightened. Artists who embraced nostalgia were no longer cloying, but retrogressive. Familiarity was welcomed in an uncertain, post-9/11 world. The reason for the transformation was obvious: The post-Boomers who made up the core of the anti-dad-rock brigade were becoming dads themselves. And they were discovering that artists such as the National, Wilco, and the Gaslight Anthem provided the consummate soundtrack to quietly ruminating on the lassitude of middle age ... while changing an extrashitty diaper.

5.) The more achingly hip you imagine yourself to be, the more harsh your dad rock fate (and rightfully so). At a recent Feelies gig, my friend Tim and I made bad jokes about the several hundred fiftysomethings in attendance, as well as the particularly wizened members of the band. "Glenn Mercer is wearing sunglasses because he has cataracts." "They're not checking licenses at the door, they're checking AARP cards." "We're at a show and no one is live tweeting it; this feels so 2005." Suddenly we understood just how portentous the night was: Those graybeards in the crowd will be us in 20 years. Fate was pointing and laughing at us. (And actually, the Feelies did as well; their setlist was dominated by the slack, sit-on-a-stool folk rock of their post-Crazy Rhythms catalog -- we wanted selections with a bit more pep.) Our heads down, we trudged home to our easy chairs and fell asleep with the newspaper.

6.) The term "dad rock" holds some implicit and deceitful assumptions about fatherhood. To borrow adjectives from reviews of dad rock-labeled artists, being a father means you are passive, domesticated, mellow, normal. I've also seen the phrase "soft cock" bandied about, as in "soft cock dad rock." The suggestion is that these artists are creating music that's overwhelmingly asexual. It's a standard defense mechanism, of course. Nobody wants to think about dads getting their leather stretched.

7.) So now a counterstroke: Fathers rejecting adulthood. There's nothing new about extended adolescence; growing up has always been an unsavory proposition. However, over the past few years it's become a separate subculture complete with its own statutes, spaces, and style points. Christopher Noxon dubbed these individuals "rejuveniles." Neal Pollack prefers "alternadads." In a 2006 New York piece, Adam Sternbergh unveiled the term "grups." So what does it all mean? For some, the generation gap is disappearing. On the surface, the movement appears rooted in surrendering to immaturity, but in essence it's about maintaining the passion associated with youth. So thirty- and fortysomethings adopt the fashion trends and pop music of individuals half their age. It means dad no longer looks like Bill Evans and mom no longer looks like Blossom Dearie. It means owners of trendy urban bars are reversing their decisions to ban strollers because too many grups -- er, parents are getting pissy. It means your 11-year-old son can dig Joy Division.

So there you have it. Dad rock as best as one father can decipher it. What I've learned: Although being a dad particularly rocks, obsessing over generational divides and shifts is a bit exhausting. Besides, a little conflict is not a bad thing. At the very least, it allows me to direct the occasional Bill Cosby-like tirade at the kids whenever the music gets too loud. Just to keep 'em on their toes.


Dad Rock is a column in which Ryan Foley attempts to look at pop music and pop culture from the precipice of middle age. If he ultimately leaps, it's because tiny hands ruined his Galaxie 500 vinyl. Accusations that he's raising five insufferable hipster children can be sent to

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Ryan Foley


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