Black and white promo photo of The Who
Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive

Your Family Values Are Destroying Rock & Roll

Written by: Jacqueline Warwick

The Who continue to perform “My Generation” in their 2016 tour dates, even with that line about hoping to die before they get old. And with Mick Jagger becoming a great-grandfather in 2014, rock culture really is thumbing its nose at the idea of growing old gracefully.

So if grandpas these days can be rockers, maybe our associations of rock = rebelliousness = youth have collapsed altogether. Or perhaps we have actually become accustomed to the idea that “youth” is an attitude, not a chronological stage in the human life cycle. From that point of view, a rock & roll pose of “sticking it to the man” is available to anyone, even “the man” himself.

While the spirit of rock & roll lives on in lots of teen subcultures and inspires many new bands, it’s also true that kids who grow up rocking out alongside their parents think of this music as … well, old.

If you play Metallica to your baby in the cradle, he might grow up thinking of “Enter Sandman” as a nostalgic song that brings back sweet memories of bedtime.

The recent rise in child stars who rock out note-perfect versions of Van Halen guitar solos and Keith Moon drum fills indicates that rock songs are being passed down to children by their parents. In the mid 20th century, rock & roll represented a generational break, with young people choosing music that their parents loathed. Now, in the age of baby John Bonhams and young Angus Youngs, rock music has a very different role in family values.

So a little girl who doesn’t really understand why her dad likes her to make devil’s horn fingers might go along with it anyway, just to earn his praise. Which begs the question: if rock-rebel attitude is something your parents teach you, can you ever really be a rebel? When parents are unwilling to give up on being youthful rabble rousers, they may be shutting down their children’s chance to kick against authority.

Child stars are often seen as symbols of the future, evidence that the culture and values we treasure today will endure into another generation. But when the culture they are preserving is characterized by being insubordinate, a strange tension comes into play. And as these children grow up, what kinds of adults will they be? What kinds of music, art, and culture will they create once they’ve outgrown the hand-me-down rock songs they learned from mom and dad?

Jacqueline Warwick is Associate Professor of Musicology and Director of the Fountain School of Performing Arts, Dalhousie University. She is the author of Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s and co-editor, with Allison Adrian, of Voicing Girlhood in Popular Music.