Let There Be Rock

I spent fifteen years after high school pretending Led Zeppelin sucked. I was apparently too cool for Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Something happened to me when I went off to college – well, a lot of things happened to me when I went off to college, but the most egregious was that I stopped rocking my a*s off. Not that I was ever in a band or anything. The closest I came to actual shredding was air-guitaring to “Whole Lotta Rosie” with my Arthur Ashe tennis racket in the paneled family room of our house in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. But college messed me up. Suddenly, music, like the books I pretended to read (waddup, Günter Grass?!) under trees on the quad, had become social currency, a signifier of intellectual heft. Suddenly, I was into the Cure and the Cocteau Twins, 10,000 Maniacs, and a moody Scottish troubador who called himself Lloyd Cole. I took long hangover naps to the gentle strains of Talk Talk. I DJ’d a radio show and inflicted Jesus Jones on the poor souls of Western Massachusetts, whose only crime was turning on their radios on Saturday morning, hoping to hear music. By the time I graduated, I was afloat in a warm bath of ambience and interesting lyrics.

A brief history of my descent, from there: In the late nineties, Jenny and I got married, and in the inevitable process of accommodation and compromise, my musical tastes changed again — Lucinda Williams, Matthew Sweet, Norah (gulp) Jones, Sheryl (double gulp) Crow, Ryan Adams, and many others I’ve no doubt repressed – and the soundtrack of my life down-shifted into what I call Music Couples Can Cook To. Then came kids, and I’ll spare you the grisly account of how my iPod was violated over the five year period that my kids were becoming sentient beings, but let’s just say that I know a few songs by Laurie Berkner. If we ventured outside of kid music during these years, it was into territory that felt family-friendly and safe yet still adult, that – if deployed in a car traveling at 60 mph – could lull a cranky child to sleep. In other words, we’d moved into the Music That Won’t Ruin Dinner Parties phase of life. This was thoughtful, smart stuff, sung by dudes in skinny jeans; this was literature set to music. And I participated, suffering through Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Andrew Bird, Jenny Lewis, Jeff Tweedy (solo), Neko Case, Elvis Perkins, and…holy crap, I nearly fell asleep just typing that list.

Then, in 2006, I was saved.

One day at work, a friend handed me a copy of the newly-remastered Live at the Fillmore East by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I put it on at my desk, and in the course of the COMPLETELY BRAIN-MELTING SIXTEEN MINUTE AND NINE SECOND VERSION of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that ensued, something powerful rose up from the depths. It was like having spent ten years watching decent high schoolers play pepper, and then going to batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Oh, right. So THIS is how it’s done. The shock of recognition, the glimpse of your old, pre-kid, pre-married, less Starbucks-y self: that stuff is for real. I don’t want to overstate things, but something awoke within me that day, some long-lost part of the old me who enjoyed a gratuitous guitar solo and didn’t feel like wearing a scarf or being bummed out. Interesting lyrics are interesting, but I’m borderline middle-aged, with a full-time job and two daughters and a gray crossover vehicle, and I could use something more than interesting. Down the rabbit hole I went, digging up old CDs, trolling youtube for jams, burning tons of Stones and James Brown and Led Zeppelin , ditching the singer-songwriters and diving deep into anything that sounded good loud, from the three-guitar onslaught of The Drive-By Truckers to Jack White to “Check Your Head”-era Beasties to My Morning Jacket to The Jam to, yes, Duane F’ing Allman. And here’s the thing: For the most part, the kids came right along with me. I started playing this stuff in the car, on the way to soccer games and playdates – and with rare exceptions (see: Burma, Mission Of), I heard very few complaints. Instead, I heard, when the song ended: “Again.” Instead, I saw, in the rear view mirror, during those first thirty seconds of “Custard Pie”: Abby, her window down and her hair blowing back, doing her guitar face. She couldn’t have looked happier. Because kids, instinctively, know what feels good. Don’t believe me? Put on some Mason Jennings, and then put on “Hotel Yorba,” and turn it up. See what sticks. — Andy

Rock & Roll Illustration by Phoebe.

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Have you seen the documentary “It Might Get Loud”? It’s a look at guitars, rock history, and music, through interviews (and a jam session!) with Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page. HIGHLY enjoyable. Even potentially safe for a wee rock fan.

Tom H.

Great post, Andy! We’ve been finding that the Tedeschi Trucks Band rocks everyone’s socks off – Revelator is their latest, greatest album.


The language factor is what gets us. Love The Beastie Boys, esp. Check Your Head, but it’s the f-bomb that keeps it solely on the iPod shuffle we use exclusively for working out… with headphones. Same goes for Rage Against the Machine, although, really, who am I kidding? It’s not for nothin’ that a good friend said of Rage: “I don’t know what the f*** that guy is saying, but whatever it is, it’s right on!”

Some older stuff from The Frames (esp. Fitzcarraldo and Dance the Devil) have been great discoveries to fill the “I want good music that rocks, but that doesn’t teach the kids words I don’t want them using around their grandparents” void. There’re only a few lyrics I have to remember to talk loudly over in the car.

One of our family’s whole family sing along albums is Cake’s Comfort Eagle. And Los Lobos’ Colossal Head and The Town and The City are big faves, too.


No way! During all those dreary winter nights in Garman, I was sure I was the only guy at Amherst listening to Lloyd Cole.


Our kids are subjected to more Green Day than should be legal. Explicit lyrics and all. And when my little one was 2.5 and we tossed the ipad into his crib on a hungover Saturday morning he had found the music app and started cranking it himself. We smiled and rolled over.


Elsewise — yes, I saw that, and loved that. Loved that moment when Jimmy Page was air-guitaring to “Rumble” and basically turned into a kid again: fantastic.


Some of my favorite childhood memories are of driving up north, head in my dad’s lap under the steering wheel and feet on my mom, rocking out with my dad’s classic tunes. I knew almost every word on Eric Clapton’s Crossroads before I was in first grade. I listen to all kinds of stuff now, but The Doors, Jimi and CCR still hold special places in my shuffle rotation, and I always attribute my love of music to the awesome stuff my parents exposed me to when I was younger.


we named our son hendrix. while i hate to admit it i don’t mind some of the music that won’t ruin dinner parties. my fiance, mike, can’t stand it. he can often be found playing led zepplin and jimmy hendrix youtube videos for our son.
the kid loves it, but also would only sleep to andrew bird’s armchair acpocrypha from 4 -9 months of age. which is why mike says andrew bird makes music for babies.
let’s hope hendrix gets his father’s taste in music because let’s face it. . .it rocks way more. great post, andy.


Great post! Our 19-month old daughter is now into James Brown, and will even mimic his growling screams. She likes the Black Keys too – really, anything with a solid beat!


i love “hotel yorba” and led zeppelin, but i’m unabashedly in love with andrew bird, neko case, and m. ward. just because they have amazingly thoughtful lyrics doesn’t mean they can’t rock a little bit, too. 🙂


I feel so happy when my 7 y.o. asks to hear “Testify” by Parliament a second time. Then, when she asks to hear Kidzbop 18 for the thousandth time, I want to jam a chopstick in my ear.


A friend passed this blog post on to me and I loved it. I’m with Jo re M Ward, Neko, Andrew Bird (though I had to LOL at Anna’s riff on Bird). I’m guessing most of us like a lot of different stuff. We’re just living more complicated lives, so it’s not always easy to get in the mood to cook and get the Led out. Not that I haven’t done that. It just tends to be when I’m cooking on my own. Also, um, let’s just say adult beverages can be a factor in what goes into the rotation and how much air guitar gets played. 😉


Our kid has always been partial to funk – kept the crying-in-the-car to a minimum when she was a baby, discovered by accident thanks to the Twin Cities awesome The Current radio station.

Somehow she then turned into a kid who would like to play the accordion, the ukulele, or the bagpipes. (We bought the uke.)


Hilarious. I sing Sweet Child Of Mine and The Gambler to my 3 and 2 year olds to sleep. They love it.

Also Chantilly Lace by Big Bopper


As I watched a 60 year old Sting (that’s right 60) being interviewed today on Morning Joe, I was immediately launched back into my dorm room circa 1983. Seriously, The Police, talk about awesome music.

I am with you Andy, get the kids hooked early on good music. We are hard core Springsteen fans here. I play “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” for my kids. By sheer osmosis they are starting to like/know his music….ahhh!


My fifth grader just convinced his classmates to call themselves The Woodstocks and that wasn’t the Peanuts character. We’re proud. 🙂

And thanks for the heads up on Hotel Yorba. I hadn’t ever listened to it — wow.


For those of you looking for great music in Westchester try 107.1 FM, The Peak (or stream it at 1071thepeak.com). They play a lot of what you mention above.

It is the only station my 5-year-old and I listen to both in the car and at home.

Full disclosure, I happen to be the Program Director’s wife, but even if I weren’t, my 5-year-old and I would still listen constantly. Although we probably wouldn’t call into the station as much when we like certain songs 🙂


Love this post. My trajectory was this
Depeche Mode, Flock of Seagulls , (loved Llyold Cole), etc etc. High School- we were British Isle’rs so this was relatively mainstream
college was Jethro Tull, Donovan and yes Neil Young.
Cleaning the apartment with the windows open singing at the top of voice Janice Joplin.
ipod showed severe schizophrenia. And yes,Guns and Roses turned up.
Now, I am introducing my kids to Queen. Queen, my 10 year old self has returned.


This is a fantastic post. Well said on so many levels. The funny thing is that I love all the music you trash. But your perspective is gold and your writing spot-on.


how could you possibly have spent any time in Amherst, Mass., and *not* listened the sh*t out of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere?

On the Adult Dinner Party tip: Did Rick Rubin make something like four albums of tepid covers by Johnny Cash, and was I really chump enough to buy all four of them?


654: I have no excuses, only regrets. And come on: Johnny Cash doing Neil Diamond is good! All these suggestions are great, so I will begin loading the iPod. Thanks.

Kristina P-M

We salute you Andy! I absolutely can relate, I am an AC DC fan and my husband totally does not get it, though I have to say supportive of my obsession. I oft expose my 6 year old daughter to what he terms not so jokingly, as get wasted, misogynistic and lewd music. Ahem, ok agreed but hey at least she will have exposure to range of music as he listens to Depeche and other what I term techno 80’s music…really do we have to cater to our children constantly by playing mind numbing children’s music? I think not.


Love this post, Andy. And, Chris, your Onion link above is great. Seemed eerily familiar-at an early age my Dad taught me and my brother to be rock and blues kids. He wanted to save us from bad music (listening to bad music in high school was my form of rebellion against him). At 12 I named my hamster Albert in honor of Albert King who died the day I got him. I was a little weird, but Andy’s right, kids know what’s good!


I can’t really argue your point, however throwing a bird and m Jennings under the bus is too much for me. Depends on what your in the mood for doesn’t it?


Rock n Roll is king at our house. Or should I say Queen since the 5 year old has mastered the Freddy Mercury poses when singing along to his favorite band. Early on I found out the only way to soothe my crying daughter was a little Ramones or even some Henry Rollins. We are all enjoying reading Louie Licks and the Wicked Snakes together- a book about a Rock n Roll kid.


This post brings up a wonderful memory: We were home on a rainy weekday afternoon, Led’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was playing (a bit loudly) and I turn to catch my 2 year old head-banging. She’s 7 now and still has awesome taste in music – rock and blues all the way. I hope it carries her through the tween Beiber-type music phase!


Hahaaaa!!! I love your writing. Period! That made me guffaw. I must be the last person to have read this post (only 3 years later). So honest.