I Am My Father’s Son
For all the jibber-jabber that takes place about how American moral bankruptcy is made manifest in our cultural products, about how hip-hop is trash and metal is evil and how Hollywood is coercive and corrosive, it sure would be refreshing to hear more stories about what a good dad rock-n-roll can be. There is no shortage of positive examples of paternal guidance, valuable lessons about masculinity, and other “dad” lessons available to the youth of today if they simply turn to the wise and insightful catalogs of Minor Threat, John Doe, The Replacements, and The Kinks, among others.
Fatherless boys can glean the importance of standing up for yourself and for others in the face of injustice by spending some time with a Woody Guthrie album. Troubled teens can find sympathetic voices and a call to defy expectations embedded in a Suicidal Tendencies “7. Girls can learn how they should demand nothing less than equality and respect by picking up what is laid down on a Talib Kweli jam (and boys can see what a respectful man looks like in action); and young romantics can learn the value of poetry and longing and loving in abandon from a thorough shakedown of Van Morrison‘s Astral Weeks.
Everything we need to know about becoming decent folks is right there stuffed in with the jazz vinyl and the comedy discs at our local record store, and we are at a point in the evolution of recorded music where we have a pretty good genealogical record of rock dads, pointing back to their forefathers, the bluesmen and the gospel singers, the jazz improvisers and the vaudevillians, further back to the dudes who imparted to them their core values, back to the dawn of pop music and further still.
Here’s Chuck D talking about how Stax/Motown artists became his “aunts and uncles”:
What if we taught social behavior with a thorough and thoughtful diet of pop music in our public schools? And what of these children of rock, what might they look like? Well, let’s have a listen to one such example, Chicago trio Material Issue. Here is what is wrought from three boys on a steady diet of Cheap Trick riffs, Lou Reed snark, the hopeless romanticism of Paul Westerberg, and the hip-shaking jangle of The Animals.
Material Issue wore their influences proudly on the sleeves of their tight fitting striped shirts, like reverent children following in their fathers footsteps. Their musical aesthetic bore subtle mod affectations, a British sheen, and they clearly graduated with high marks from The Velvet Underground Institute For Writing A Shit-Ton Of Songs Bearing Girls’ Names As Titles. As a trio, their sound was rhythmic and punchy, with singer Jim Ellison’s guitar work caught somewhere between a rave-up rockabilly sound and cascading, overdriven arpeggios. Lyrically, Material Issue did not set out to re-invent the wheel, and whereas most of their songs plied well-worn themes of girls and heartbreak, they did so concisely and, in some cases, brilliantly.
Material Issue’s debut album, 1991′s International Pop Overthrow, is thick with just such brilliant moments, these children of rock doin’ their daddy proud. There are songs on this record that dangerously approach truth, songs that fumble towards grace, simple tales told with nothing more than three chords and a direct voice. The first song on the album, “Valerie Loves Me”. is about as close to power-pop perfection as anyone has come.
Of course, like many who came before them and many who have come since, Material Issue suffered from the ol’ Record Label Runaround and never achieved the recognition that they wanted or deserved. Through the lens of history, they appear as nothing more than a brief flash in the early-90′s alterna-rock explosion. Having said that, the fans they made during that time are fans they’ve kept, and they maintain iconic status for those they touched. The music has aged well, and now, for those who find it, it can impart it’s own lessons, like a worried father in a leather jacket.
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Material Issue – International Pop Overthrow
1. Valerie Loves Me
3. Renee Remains The Same
4. This Letter
5. Out Right Now
7. Chance Of A Lifetime
8. International Pop Overthrow
9. Very First Lie
11. There Was A Few
12. This Far Before
13. A Very Good Idea
14. Li’l Christine
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- Music Review: Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (seattlepi.com)
- Books: Listening to Van Morrison… (sluggerotoole.com)