Father's Day is as good a time for confessions as any, so here’s mine: I’ve thrown around the term "dad rock" in music writing, and I’m still not entirely sure what it means. I don’t think anyone is. Sometimes it’s a blanket term for tired classic rock staples, sometimes it’s a derogatory critics’ slur for schlocky new releases, and sometimes it seems like the term was exclusively manufactured to describe Wilco and its increasingly graying fanbase. Jeff Tweedy has even embraced the term in recent years, and when he resurfaces in the fall with a "solo album" involving his son Spencer on drums, I fear we will enter a new era of dad rock—a dadpocalypse—and still be no closer to parsing its meaning.
What do young dads think of dad rock compared to those old enough to have been at Woodstock? Is the link between listening to dad rock and wearing Crocs one of causation or correlation? Is there (or will there soon be) such a thing as "dad rap?" And, most importantly, can you be a dad rocker if you don’t listen to Wilco?
These are the perpetual mysteries of our modern age. I sought to untangle them.
In a search for enlightenment, I interviewed nearly two dozen rocker dads about the term, their own tastes, and whether or not they wear Crocs. Curiously, many of the younger dads were more comfortable saying that they listen to dad rock, while older dads were more defensive about it, despite pledging allegiance to some of the daddiest classic rock dinosaurs in the history of dads. These dads ranged in age from 28 to 62 and live all over the country. Some are friends and coworkers of my own dad (hence a few references to "your father"). Some are music writers I know from other sites I’ve written for. Some are total strangers who replied to my Twitter call for dads. One of them was my own dad, but he gave boring one-sentence answers, probably because it was late at night and he was tired, so I cut it. Sorry, Dad, I still love you.
Without further adieu, here’s the Dad Data ("Dada") on Dad Rock:
Lives in: Chappaqua, New York.
Last album purchased: "Like an iTunes purchase? Let me go to iTunes and figure that out. I recently added—oh, I was missing a song. I filled in an old Lynyrd Skynyrd song, 'What’s Your Name.'"
Last concert: "Last concert I saw was at the Final Four in Dallas. Springsteen."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "I own Crocs. I wear them when I’m operating."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "No. Jeff who? Oh, I do know Wilco because your father gave me Wilco to listen to."
Heard the term "dad rock" before? "Yeah. It’s like what dads listen to."
Thoughts on the term: "It’s like us listening to our old standard albums from the 60s and 70s. It perhaps has some negative connotations because it may lead others to believe we’re sort of stuck in that time warp. The funny thing is, as kids get older, our kids start listening to that music more and more. If I told my kids to listen to Springsteen 10 years ago, they’d look at me like I’m foreign. But now they’ll listen to that. It doesn’t mean I’m stuck in that time warp because I certainly like listening to contemporary music also. I recently downloaded Coldplay."
Is it a fair term? "I think it’s a fair term. I think it refers to a great era in music… Are people going to listen to rap when they’re parents and their kids are in their 20s? I’m not so sure about that."
Lives in: Chicago suburbs.
Last album purchased: "Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails. I bought it on iTunes and also had the CD shipped to me."
Last concert: "Nine Inch Nails."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "I own a pair of Crocs. I wear them when we go to the pool."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "I didn’t know there was an album coming out in the fall, but knowing that there is now, yes I am!"
Heard the term "dad rock" before? "No, I have not. I would take it to mean probably rock music from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s."
Does he think his music is dad rock? "If that’s the characterization, then yes, it’s pretty much exactly what I listen to. The primary music I listen to would be bands that saw a lot of their heyday in the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s. Anything from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to Metallica and Nine Inch Nails. I don’t get into a lot of the newer stuff. I’m loving the fact that you’ve got bands like Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden touring again. I’ve been going to a little more concerts than I have in a while."
Lives in: Agoura Hills, California.
Last album purchased: "One of the old albums I didn’t have converted over. I think it was Soundgarden, Superunknown."
Last concert: "I went to a festival last summer in Ohio. Soundgarden, they were headlining. It was Alice in Chains and Soundgarden."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "You’re cracking me up. I own Crocs. I haven’t worn them in a couple of years. My son still wears them."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "I’ve heard of Wilco. I don’t know anything about that music. That’s not my thing."
Heard the term "dad rock" before? "No, I actually haven’t. I’m imagining it’s like classic rock."
Thoughts on the term: "It certainly doesn’t apply to me. When I hear ‘dad rock,’ it just sounds like kids making fun of their dads for old music that they listened to back in the day. I guess I probably listen to the music they’re referring to, but I think I’m probably more hard rock and edgier."
So what’s dad rock, then? "I’m thinking boring rock and roll. To me, that would be something like Dave Matthews Band. Blues Traveler. That I would consider boring dad rock. I know what I listen to, and I listen to hard rock. The music I listen to mostly is Metallica, Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains, Van Halen, Megadeth."
Lives in: Duluth, Minnesota.
Children: "One daughter, 10 months old."
Last album purchased: "I was a music writer, [so] I get them sent to me for free. Probably the last thing I bought was Bon Iver’s Bon Iver on vinyl."
Last concert: "Probably Pitchfork Fest 2012."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "No, but I do own Sperry boat shoes."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "Probably not. I’ve given up on Jeff Tweedy since A Ghost Is Born. It was just a really boring record to me. I’m not into dad rock yet!"
Ever heard the term "dad rock" before? "Of course. It’s always been sort of tied to Wilco and these AOR-type bands that are modern but still sort of conjure up an image of what dads might be listening to in the 70s. Iron & Wine records got the same sort of label slapped on them. It’s unfair in some ways. I get where the general gist comes from. You’re nostalgic in a very specific way that’s relatively inoffensive, but, still, you could sort of call it experimental within the confines of an alternative rock structure."
Does he listen to dad rock? "Probably. I like those old Iron & Wine records, and I like early Wilco. What I listen to a lot of is pop music and Top 40 pop, which sort of became my niche when I was writing."
Has his music changed since becoming a dad in 2013? "The music I listen to on speakers has changed. I don’t play Tim Hecker for my daughter. I don’t play Deafheaven over speakers. I put on headphones because I know that’s going to make her cry. I don’t listen to Swans. My daughter really likes the Chvrches record for some reason."
Does he want to "educate" her on music? "I would like to when she gets older. One thing I really appreciated with my dad is he never really forced any of his hobbies or interests on me, but when I showed interest he would sort of bring me up with the thing I was interested in."
Thoughts on the future of dad rock: "I think in the coming generation, it’s not going to be dad rock. It’s going to be dad rap. I’m thinking stuff like De La Soul, anything you can hear on The Current, which is the indie station out of Minneapolis. All that early 90s feel-good-vibe rap. That will become a new sort of dad rock within the next 10 or so years."
Lives in: Long Island, New York.
Last album purchased: "I don’t know what the title was, but it was Jack Johnson."
Last concert: "Colin James Hay at Town Hall in New York City. He was the lead singer of Men at Work a long time ago."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "I do own a pair of Crocs."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "No, I’m not familiar with it. But I tend to listen to more Pandora and the radio than I do to anything I’ve got in collection anymore."
Ever heard the term "dad rock" before? "No. It probably means that when [my kids] get in the car with me, it’s the music I’m listening to that they’re not interested in. But honestly, I listen to such an eclectic mix—everything from the newest thing that’s out to 1940s music. I’ll listen to anything from John Legend to techno-rock. I’ll listen to Coldplay."
Is it a fair term? "I don’t find it offensive. I just find it to be dismissive. If you look at a lot of current music, it’s not that its roots are in what could be considered dad rock. A lot of it’s just similar. I think that the last great revolution in music happened in the mix-60s, and everything has evolved off of that. But it keeps going back to its roots. And I think that’s great."
So does he listen to dad rock? "My music is really determined based on the situation I’m in. If I’m driving to the beach with the top down, I’m going to be listening to anything from metal to alternative rock, the hair bands of the 80s. I’ll be listening to AC/DC, or I’ll be listening to Doobie Brothers. But if I’m sitting on the beach and I want to take a nap, I might listen to standards from the 50s or 60s or the Sinatra era."
Doug [doesn’t want last name used]
Lives in: Westport, Connecticut.
Last album purchased: "I really have not a clue. I download so much free crap. Probably some type of Dead song."
Last concert: "Bob Weir and RatDog. Then the week before, Phil & Friends. Before that I was at Jazz Fest. I saw Bruce."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "I definitely have Crocs. I just bought my first pair of Converse since 1977."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "Generally not, but the lead guitarist [from Wilco] played with RatDog, and he was phenomenal. I think I might now because he played so well."
Ever heard the term "dad rock" before? "I’ve heard it briefly. It’s about us whacko dads and our 60s and 70s music."
Does he listen to dad rock? "I would definitely think so. I don’t listen to any new music for the most part. The majority of my music is Grateful Dead or Grateful Dead variations, like Phil & Friends. Mostly Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, and Springsteen."
Thoughts on the term? "I think it’s good stuff. Anything that promotes music is good."
Lives in: Outside of Rochester, New York.
Last album purchased: "I think it was probably the new War on Drugs record. Either that or the new Afghan Whigs."
Last concert: "I have been going to a lot less shows. I’m thinking it was probably Richard Thompson in about 2006."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "Neither. Never would. I used to have a pair of Teva sandals that I liked a lot, but then we got a dog and the dog would eat any shoe that wasn’t put away. I may be a dad, but I still have some pride."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "That’s the one where he’s in a band with his kid now? It sounds like an interesting idea. I’ve never been a huge Wilco fan, to be honest with you. But I think it’s interesting when fathers and sons make music together."
Ever heard the term "dad rock" before? "Oh yeah. Generally referring to the sort of classic rock that the stereotypical dad with the minivan will have cranking and be embarrassing their kids with. I do listen to my share of classic rock, along with everything else."
Is it a derogatory term? "When I’ve heard it used, it’s kind of a term of disparagement but also a term of affection. Every kid is a little bit embarrassed by their father. If your feelings are easily hurt and you have a need to be the coolest guy in the room, you shouldn’t be a dad. We talk about dad rock the way we talk about dad jokes. There’s something about being a dad that makes you want to make terrible puns all the time."
But… why? "As a father, you lose a lot of free time. A lot of time you would spend searching down new music and going to shows goes away. Sticking to the tried-and-true becomes the path of least resistance."
Do his kids like dad rock? "My oldest kid is a big fan of Japanese animation. Right now she’s watching an anime series that uses the song ‘Roundabout’ by Yes. She’s on a big Yes bug now. For me, that was something I’d kind of written off. Here’s my kid, age 17, going back to progressive rock that I thought was old hat at the time. It’s interesting, the way different generations relate to music because of the long tail. Nothing goes away anymore."
Lives in: Norwalk, Connecticut.
Children: Three sons.
Last album purchased: "I think I just bought [the new album by] Ought."
Last concert: "I went to see a blues guy named Albert Cummings at Fairfield Theater."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "I do not own Crocs and would never own Crocs. I run, but I wear regular running shoes."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "I’ll give it a listen on Spotify and see."
Ever heard the term "dad rock" before? "Yeah. I’ve never been a huge fan of even the term ‘rock.’ Attach ‘dad’ to it and it really seems geriatric right away. I think the term ‘dad rock’ really is about musicians aiming for a market that is made up of dads, made up of older men that are probably past their rock and roll. I’m not a big fan of the term. I’ve heard it attached to Wilco, which is a band I liked more maybe seven or eight years ago. They’ve lost a little bit of an edge, too."
Does he listen to dad rock? "I do listen to some blues stuff. Especially if it’s blues played by white players, I think that fits in the category of dad rock. [But] most music I listen to doesn’t fit in that category. I listen to a lot of jazz, avant-garde jazz. The last really great show that I went to was a band called METZ. Absolutely blew the top of my head off. It’s monstrous."
Favorite bands? "I’m going to date myself, but the bands I like are probably ones that impacted me when I was younger. So Pavement, Sonic Youth, Pixies."
Lives in: Toledo, Ohio.
Children: Three stepchildren.
Last album purchased: "I got a bunch of records at a garage sale a little while back. The last new record I purchased was Dirty Projectors."
Last concert: "Oh, it’s been a long time. Was it Drive-By Truckers and Hold Steady?"
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "Toe shoes? I don’t have Crocs. I can definitely say that."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? (laughs) "Um, I hadn’t heard about it actually. I’m not not interested. I’ll probably give it a listen."
Ever heard the term "dad rock" before? Yes, I have. You know I write for PopMatters, so when you pay attention to what’s going on in music… I’ve heard it used to describe everything from Wilco, of course, to Tom Petty or even Phil Collins, so I guess it depends on who your dad is."
Thoughts on the term: "I think they’re usually referring to something used to be cool or cutting-edge but now seems very nonoffensive, trustworthy rock and roll. Something you can play in the car with your kids. This is something that guys who are a bit past it think is cool. ‘It’s still cool that I like Wilco, right? Or it’s still cool that I like Phil Collins, right, kids?’"
Does he listen to dad rock? "I don’t really think about it that way, but I guess if someone were to look through my CDs, they’d say, yeah, I’ve got some stuff in there. I’ve got enough Bruce Springsteen to choke a horse. I think they might be surprised by the breadth of my collection. I try to listen to new stuff as much as I can."
Lives in: Yellow Springs, Ohio. ("It’s a really great little village. Very Bohemian.")
Last album purchased: "Chvrches’ album. I did buy it on CD."
Last concert: "I didn’t get to see Diarrhea Planet last night because it was really rainy, and I didn’t want to drive. Last concert I went to [was] probably a Yo La Tengo show."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "No. Definitely not. Definitely not."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "Yeah. I like the older incarnations of Wilco better. But I have a friend who just saw him last night in DC. I’d probably get that album."
Ever heard the term dad rock? "No, I don’t think so. I’ve read about punk guys being dads now and stuff like that. When I think of dad rock, I think about when I listen to classic rock."
So does he listen to dad rock? "Oh yeah, probably."
Does he have a favorite band? "Yo La Tengo’s been probably my favorite band for 20 years now. First heard them in late ‘93. I see them every tour possible. I’m going to be in Europe and they’re playing in Barcelona and I would really like to fly to Barcelona, but I can’t. Although I tweeted to them…"
Has his music taste changed after becoming a dad? "I don’t get to as many shows as I’d like after I became a dad. I try to turn on my kids to new stuff if possible. But I try not to be overbearing about it. My son doesn’t like my music very much. (laughs) Although we all agree on the Chvrches album. It’s like perfect for my family."
Age: 59. ("Probably for a 59-year-old, I see more concerts than most. I probably see 10 a year.")
Lives in: Westchester, New York.
Last album purchased: "Been so long since I bought a CD. Maybe the most recent Springsteen album."
Last concert: "Last concert I went to was Springsteen. I’m seeing a concert next week—Elvis Costello. I don’t want to go to The Garden, I don’t want to go to stadiums. I want to go to the smaller venues."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "I’ve had Crocs. But I wear clogs. They’re open-backed shoes that are very comfortable."
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "A little bit. And that’s thanks to you and your father. From time to time your dad will give me CDs and say, 'this is what my kids listen to.' So yeah, I’m open. I’ll listen to [son] Jake’s rap music. I just don’t like [daughter] Erica’s bubblegum music."
Ever heard the term "dad rock" before? "I never heard of that. Dad rock is probably music that we listen to from our generation. It’s probably music from the 60s and 70s."
Does he listen to dad rock? "If that’s what it means, I guess so. I’m not listening to all the stuff from the 60s and 70s, but I still like to see Elvis Costello, and I still like to see Steely Dan every year. And I like to see The Allman Brothers, and I like to see The Dead. I don’t think that that’s dad rock. If you’re talking about the Doobie Brothers or Michael McDonald—we call it ‘chick music,’ but I guess that would be what you call dad rock."
Thoughts on the state of dad rock: "I think that the good music will go on forever. I think our generation and even the next one will listen to Springsteen and will listen to The Beatles and will listen to the really good stuff. The other day I was sitting here and I put on a Dylan station and I heard 'The Times They Are a-Changin'' and I tried to get Jake to listen. But of course he didn’t relate to it. Maybe Dylan isn’t quite in with what your generation listens to."
Lives in: Pelham, New York.
Last album purchased: "I have a subscription to Spotify, does that count? The last thing I bought was a piece of jazz from a local artist in Hudson, New York that my sister-in-law recommended."
Last concert: "Wow, that’s a stumper. I haven’t gone to a lot of concerts since the boys were born. Oh, you know what it was? It was the Hudson Clearwater Festival. It was a whole bunch of different artists, from Pete Seeger to the Indigo Girls."
Does he own toe shoes or Crocs? "I do own Crocs. What are toe shoes?"
Excited for Jeff Tweedy’s solo album? "Yeah! I’d be curious. I’ve been following Jeff Tweedy since Uncle Tupelo. I was just listening to the last album on Spotify last Wednesday at the office."
Ever heard the term "dad rock" before? "No, I haven’t. I don’t know if it’s mom rock, but I know there’s a woman here in Westchester and she was doing 'mom rock festivals.'"
What he thinks the term means: "For me, being a dad doesn’t drive me to different music. I still explore new music and listen to music that I enjoy. If anything, I might listen to more of the classics from my generation with the kids than I would if it was just me. I want to expose them to it. For nine-year-old boys, where it’s appropriate, I’ll play something that’s a little easier to digest and memorable. Started with The Ramones, and that was real easy for them to pick up on the melody and verse and bop along. We were just listening to Black Country Communion. They were doing "No Quarter" by Led Zeppelin, and I’m trying to educate them, so of course I played Zeppelin for them. I want to make sure they’re exposed to Led Zeppelin, but I probably wouldn’t be listening to it now, having been overexposed to it."
Does he listen to dad rock? "I would not like to think of the music I listen to as dad rock. I’m being influenced by more than just the fact that I’m a dad."
The author with his dad
Zach Schonfeld can't wait to be a dad. He's on Twitter - @zzzzaaaacccchhh
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