The Orange County Register, July 5, 2006
Rock music used to divide generations, but in many homes today it brings parents and kids together.
When Jeff Kanarek was a kid in the '60s his old man controlled the radio in the station wagon, and the soundtrack to family trips more often than not was Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
The Beatles? Elvis Presley? Rock 'n' roll?
Forget about it - different generations, different tastes, and Dad wasn't gonna go there.
Today, though, as Kanarek and his wife raise their own young kids, it's a different story altogether as the family rocks out together to everything from the Beatles to Nine Inch Nails.
"It feels great," says Kanarek, 51, of Yorba Linda. "It's another level to relate to them, which obviously I didn't have with my dad."
It's more than 50 years now since Elvis Presley got parents and teens all shook up - for very different reasons - and rock 'n' roll has been the dominant music of pop culture.
It long ago lost that element of shock that comes with the new and that can divide generations. Today it more often does quite the opposite - bringing parents and kids, even grandparents, together in their love of the classic sounds of rock, however one might define that.
"During the teens, your relationship with your children is changing, and there's not a lot of commonality on a lot of issues," says Janine Robertson, 51, of San Juan Capistrano, who raised two now-adult daughters on rock music from the past to the present.
"But when you have a love of music that you share, that's one place you can come together and share something together."
Heading out to the shed
It's summer now and soon the outdoor amphitheaters will fill with veteran rock bands from Steely Dan and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the Verizon in Irvine to the Steve Miller Band and Paul Simon at the Pacific in Costa Mesa.
Look around the audience and you'll see proof of a trend that's been on the rise in recent years - the rock show as a family affair.
"The Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tickets, I can't believe how much I spent for those," says Lisa Dunn, 46, of Rancho Santa Margarita. "But my son who's just 18 loves Neil Young, and we figured, 'Hey, let's take the family - when are we ever going to see this again?' "
Her experience is typical of the way families are raised on rock today. As a teenager in the '70s, Dunn loved all the big acts of the day: Pink Floyd, Aerosmith and Styx are among her personal faves.
Her husband, Mike Dunn, is 60 and has an even longer love of rock music, so when Ryan, 18, and Kevin, 15, were little, the music they heard was what their parents wanted to play.
"When they were growing up they were kind of at my mercy," Lisa Dunn says. "I kind of got out of it when they were little - you just do the Kidz Bop stuff or whatever - but there came the day when I said, 'You know what, I'm turning KROQ back on!' "
And so the kids learned to listen to Mom's music on their trips around town in the car.
"The first song I ever remember all of us listening to in the car, and all of us getting into, is Offspring's 'Keep 'Em Separated,' and it's just been the theme song to our family.
"They really just liked the energy of the song, and I'm a big Offspring fan. To this day, I hear it on the radio and I think of the kids."
Ashley Laakso of Mission Viejo knows this story from the other side - now 21, she was raised by Aerosmith-loving parents, and grew up with Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and the rest of boys blaring on the stereo.
"I was only 9 and my brother and sister were even younger, and all of us knew every single word on the 'Get a Grip' album," Laakso says. "Even though my mom, if we were in the car, would have to turn down the volume if there was a bad word."
The video for "Angel" left an indelible impression - it remains her favorite song - and her first big concert was an Aerosmith show when she was 12.
"I vaguely remember it," she says. "I was probably one of the youngest people there. I just remember thinking, 'Wow!' "
Nine years later, she's noticed a lot more families at the concerts she's attended with her parents and siblings, everything from No Doubt to Garbage to an upcoming show by the Go-Go's at the Greek Theatre.
"When you talk about the generational thing, I feel like maybe my parents' parents couldn't really relate to their music, because it was rock 'n' roll," Laakso says. "Now, it's so cool. We even influence them - I got my mom and dad into Weezer, and my mom just bought the AFI CD."
Sticking with the classics
For every kid who turns her mom on to AFI and Weezer, and for every parent who lists Nine Inch Nails as a fave - and strangely, in our small survey both 51-year-olds Kanarek and Robertson did - families typically find their common ground in the meat and potatoes of classic rock of the '60s and '70s.
It's not unusual to hear the same names on the family play lists. Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones all rate highly.
And for those for whom classic rock is their passion and their business, there's a good, if admittedly biased reason: The classics are just better than the disposable chart hits of today.
"As kids grow up, whatever music the parents are listening to, that's the kids' music for a while, too," says Uncle Joe Benson, a disc jockey on classic rock station KLOS-FM/95.5. "And then at a certain point in time, kids like to rebel with the music they like, that their parents don't.
"But what we've seen in the last 10 years or so, so much of the current stuff is so shallow, and the kids see that," Benson says.
"And so what many kids are doing, they're going back to the music that was the source � stuff that was being done for the first time, in such a burst of creative energy, in the late '60s, early '70s."
And so the rock of the parents remains the rock of the kids, and crowds at the concerts for everyone from the Steve Miller Band to Rush to Paul McCartney gets more familial.
"I don't ever remember seeing kids at a Led Zeppelin concert - not anyone who didn't have a driver's license," says Benson, who has a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old at home.
"Now a lot of us middle-age fathers want to take our kids along."
And the kids seem eager to come. Rolling Stone reported this year that youths 13 to 17 years old bought 20 percent of all Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd albums sold from 2002 to 2005, and almost that big a chunk of Jimi Hendrix and Queen discs.
Bill Sagan, who launched an online rock memorabilia business three years ago, says visitors to Wolfgangsvault.com are typically either in their 50s and 60s or in their teens and 20s - both there to celebrate the music of their youth, even though their ages are decades apart.
"You see great interest on the part of seemingly parents and children, wanting to listen to the music and wanting to buy a piece of the music," says Sagan, whose San Francisco-based business was created out of the vast archives of legendary concert promoter Bill Graham.
"I think a lot of it has to do with - and this is a personal bias on my part - that the music was better," Sagan says. "I think that music will survive 100 years, and I don't think a lot of the current music will."
Some will, of course, and Sagan says a concert by Ben Harper - whose playing echoes older styles - at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley last year serves as an example of the way good music will always be embraced by fans of all ages.
"When you started looking around the theater there, it almost seemed like it was an outing of parents and children," he says of a night when old-guard guitar god Carlos Santana was a surprise guest.
"I don't want to make it sound like it was Wally and June Cleaver - it's not 'Leave It Beaver' time. But I see that a ton now."
An eternal sound
The classic rockers created a sound that many of us love, so it only seems natural that the family affair with the music, be it recorded or in concert, will continue for generations to come.
Mary Roll of Newport Coast, who's "old enough they were playing 'Hey Jude' at my junior high dances," has witnessed firsthand the almost instinctual appeal of old-school rock 'n' roll to her 5-year-old son, Gabriel Hansen.
"I remember when he was really little, 2 or 3, in the car seat, and I'm listening to a rock station that's playing (Queen's) 'We Will Rock You,' " Roll says. "From the rear car seat, fiercely pounded out on chubby little hands - 'Thump, thump, clap! Thump, thump, clap! We will, we will WOK YOU!' "
From there, the boy became as obsessed as most kids are with dinosaurs or dolls, asking his mother incessantly who was that on the radio and what was the name of that song.
Weekend nights spent at the Barnes & Noble listening stations led him to pick out more music he liked - Jimi Hendrix, the Steve Miller Band, the Rolling Stones - and soon their CDs had crowded out the lullabies and kiddy songs in his room.
Rolls says she's mystified where he got it - her tastes run toward the softer stuff of that era, such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. She'd never really listened to Led Zeppelin before Gabriel got her going. Now she counts the band as a favorite, too.
There are, though, some problems with the wee one loving the grown-up music, she says. The lyrics are starting to provoke little-kid questions, and she's still not sure how to handle that.
"He loves the Aerosmith song 'Shut Up and Dance' because 'shut up' is a bad word and he's not allowed to say shut up," Roll says. "And you know, shut up isn't the worst word Aerosmith sings."
But then you look at the joy the music brings her and Gabriel, and you look at how absolutely adorable he looked last Halloween, dressed up for kindergarten as Gene Simmons of Kiss, and how can you say no?
"It was wonderful," she says. "All the parents thought it was a hoot, and the kids didn't understand. But he had the whole attitude thing, and he's very proud of that.
"He's just got it in his soul."
By Peter Larsen
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