All music is bad, yet all music is great.


A few months ago I posted about how my kids weren’t into punk rock, despite my attempts to show them how that music had influenced me for the better.

I received comments on various social media platforms ranging from “I know what you mean,” to “I worry about the music my kids listen to.” The latter sentiment basically boiling down to, “I don’t like the music my kids listen to, and I want to guide them to music of ‘substance,’ or ‘quality.’” Meaning: “my kids listen to Katy Perry, but they should be listening to the Beatles.”

Of course they shouldn’t…or at least not if they don’t want to.

This isn’t to suggest that the music of Katy Perry is somehow more valuable than that of the Beatles, or the Kinks, or Randy Newman, or Led Zeppelin, or whatever the hell else you want to throw in there. It’s just that kids need to be kids, and find their own way to music they appreciate. If the Kinks are good, chances are they’ll find them.

When I was a kid it was “Disco sucks!” Not really. Most of it might have, but that was down to the individual. Then it was “Rap is crap!” Never mind that the morons making this proclamation were unknowingly rapping as they said it. Heavy metal was demonic, with bands ingeniously writing lyrics that somehow said “let’s party!” when played forwards, and “kill everyone in Satan’s name!” when played backwards. Didn’t happen. Grunge got a pass because somehow all that flannel and ripped denim reminded people of Neil Young, and for whatever reason that was a good thing.

There are all sorts of socio-political and cultural reasons why people argue about the value of one form of music over another. Race can play a part in it; rap music, like jazz, heralded an age where a spotlight was focussed on the social plight of black North Americans in a way that some deemed dangerous. Public Enemy using the silhouette of a black man in the crosshairs of a rifle scope as their logo was a powerful image set to a funky beat that damned The Man, despite the fact that increasingly The Man’s kids were the ones buying their albums and rapping along.

Likewise, country music reinvented itself as it absorbed and white-washed pop, becaming “New Country,” modernizing a genre often associated with the quaint and the traditional. To believe the critics, it was like a folksy wood cabin morphed into a Walmart, from gingham and dungarees to star-spangled everything through a straightening iron.

Punk was the subversive underdog, until it started filling arenas at $100 a ticket. And Lenny Kravitz got 40 seconds during the Super Bowl half time show to air-band the intro to – you guessed it – a Katy Perry song.

We often associate the quality of music with historical context. Whether a song evokes memories of a time in history or a time in your life, what that time means to you can have a bearing on how you judge the song. Unfortunately most people remember their high school years as the best of their lives. I often talk to Sloan fans about what their favourite album of ours is, and more often than not I can already tell judging by their age. Older fans will pretty much always name one of our first records, and younger fans will be less familiar with those older albums. We see it when we play shows. If we play a club, it’s usually a younger crowd and they will react strongly to newer material, stuff that has been played on the radio in recent years. When we play seated theatres, it’s usually older fans, and they will react to the older songs more strongly. There’s no reason for older fans not to know the newer stuff, and they might, but they have a fondness for the older songs, even if the band cringe at the immaturity of the writing from that time.

All music is at once worthless and vital. Songs are just chords and lyrics, generally repeating the same traditional sentiments, re-interpretted by often over-hyped, over-paid, and manufactured stars all around the world. Yet they can have an immeasurable impact on any and everyone at some point in their lives, no matter what the songs are. So it is entirely possible that a Katy Perry song can have as much resonance on a soul as a Lennon and McCartney song.

For me, despite the fact that – or maybe because – I make music for a living, I have a different relationship with it than most. “What are you listening to these days?” is something I’m asked almost every time I do an interview, and usually the answer is “Nothing really.” And it’s often true. I don’t listen to the type of music that I play and write, for the most part, in the same way that an accountant doesn’t rush home to use his calculator at the end of the day. I have spent my time learning the craft of songwriting, and found my niche, but that doesn’t mean that I am jaded, or over music. It’s just that I often want to listen to stuff that I wouldn’t make, in the same way that the accountant wants to listen to music as opposed to…people counting. That doesn’t mean that I’m a classical buff, or a fan of New Country. It just means that I see music as something of a tool, and so I don’t value it in the same way that someone who doesn’t understand the nuts and bolts of how it’s created, yet it envelops them.

Because of this relationship with music, I can see the value of even the most inane, even vilified songs. As I stated above, most pop music, when broken down, is just a basic chord structure, melody line, and lyrics. It is what the artists and producers skin it with that makes it unique, for better or worse. We see this, for instance, when a pop star covers a song deemed a classic, and the world screeches “sacrilege!”

Britney Spears covering the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” is an example. It’s the same lyrics, chords, and melody as the original, but it does not evoke the same reaction. It is how Spears and her producers present the song that makes it horrible. Mind you, the original isn’t that great either, but you get the idea. So to criticize one artist over another, while being perfectly understandable, is generally all about personal taste. And personal taste, while perhaps pliable, is something that your kids should be allowed to develop for themselves. Exposing them to music you like is fine, but restricting or discouraging them from listening to what they like doesn’t steer them towards anything but resentment, and ultimately to second guess things that they enjoy.

So when my kids ask me to turn on one of the many radio stations that I can’t stand, I don’t worry about what it is that they are listening to, I’m just glad that they want to listen at all. They will decide what they like or don’t like as they grow, as I did, as everyone does.

Help! My kids hate punk rock!!

Convulsions circa 1987

(That’s me on the far left)

Help! My kids hate punk rock…

To be fair, this statement could apply to anything from my youth that my kids blatantly refuse to appreciate.

A little background: When I was in late high school, say 16-years-old (1985-6), I discovered punk rock.

I had been an avid music listener since I was young. My father had played in rock and R&B bands (think James Brown, not Whitney Houston) in the 60s and early 70s, so music had always been in my life.

When I was in my mid-teens, I started playing guitar, abandoned it, and then went back to it again. I fell in love with hard rock music, fashionable at the time, because it was generally guitar-based, and that was what I was all about.

After a brief stint in a metal cover band with some friends, I started to branch out, playing with other people from my high school who turned me on to bands I had heard of, but never heard. While punk rock wasn’t new to the world, it was a brave new sound to me, and I embraced its aggression, speed, and volume. Plus it was really easy to play and write, and you could have messed up hair and clothes.

So it became a part of my aesthetic, and would stay with me in one form or other my whole life. Sure, as I got older I eschewed the hair or the clothes a bit, depending on my mood at the time, but the idea of doing what you really wanted to do, even if that wasn’t necessarily the safe route, and you had to create it all yourself to be who you wanted to be, stayed with me. Maybe that’s born of Western middle-class entitlement, but I wouldn’t have joined Sloan, gone on tour, and be who I am today without punk rock.

Now, given that a form of music would have such a positive impact on my life, you would think that I might want to show my kids that. They might be curious as to why or how I came to be who I am. Maybe there is something that would attract them, a message or an energy in the music that would exhilarate them. Maybe they would want to pick up a guitar and start their own punk rock band. So I decided to sit them down and play them some songs that were important to me, and catalogue their reactions.

I thought I’d start with Washington D.C.’s seminal hardcore band Minor Threat. Touting a straight-edge aesthetic (no booze, no drugs, no casual sex), I figured they were the most kid-appropriate band to play.

“Out of Step”

The fact that singer Ian MacKaye uses the word fuck twice in the first 10 seconds (admittedly I forgot about that) didn’t go unnoticed.

Marshall (10): “Weird. Really loud, and heavy metal music with people yelling.”

Me: “But it’s punk rock music.”

Marshall: “Ok, but it sounds like those heavy metal bands.” Which heavy metal bands he was referring to I don’t know, but…

Ivy (7): “Yeah, it sounds like heavy metal.”

Me: “But it’s not heavy metal, it’s punk rock.”

Ivy: “Yeah, but heavy metal.”

Ok. Moving on, I decided to go with more “classic” punk, The Ramones. I had a bit of an issue with The Ramones when I was a teenager. Since they were from mid-’70s New York, and lumped in with other “punks” like Blondie and Talking Heads (neither being remotely punk), I often ignored them. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I fully grasped their importance.

“Blitzkrieg Bop”

Marshall: “Sounds really cheerful, until they start singing.”

Ivy: “I think that it was better than the other one. But it’s still really loud.”

Me: “And you don’t like the loud?”

Ivy (ignoring me): “But it’s good music, but it’s really like…BOOM!!” She then erupts into laughter claiming that the Taylor Swift video on the muted TV goes perfectly with “Blitzkrieg Bop.” I don’t agree, but keep it to myself.

The Clash were next, but only because there was a Clash tape, London Calling, in my son’s room when he was a baby, and I used to play it when trying to get him to nap. Such is my opinion of The Clash: music so boring, kids might nap to it. Not a fan, but they might like it…

“London Calling”

Marshall: “It doesn’t sound like punk rock, it sounds like the radio music you and Laurel (step-mom) always try to listen to.”

Me: “You mean before you guys whine so much we eventually put on the station you want?”

Marshall: “Yeah. Like that.”

I was going to play a Sex Pistols song, but the name of the band itself elicited such a chorus of snickers and elbowing back and forth that I gave up before I even cued a song up. Keep in mind, these are two kids who can’t keep a straight face when I tell them I’m going to Regina. This also meant that Circle Jerks, Millions of Dead Cops, Dead Kennedys, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Dayglo Abortions, Suicidal Tendencies, and our neighbours Fucked Up were off the (turn) table as well.

Eventually I played them a bunch of hardcore punk songs that Sloan has released, some original, some covers, which they were more into, although mainly because they could have a good laugh at their dear old dad screaming his head off at someone other than themselves.

Ivy (laughing hysterically): “It sounds like Daddy’s angry!” Not sure why me being angry is something to laugh so hard at, although it would explain why I have very little control over anything that goes on in my own home.

Finally, because of the name of my blog, I played them a tune by the Rastafarian punk legends Bad Brains. Did not go over well.

“I Against I”

Ivy: “It sounds like heavy metal.”

Head firmly in my hands, I almost start weeping in frustration. Of course, she’s kind of right; there is a fine line at times between metal and punk, as there can be between many types of music. Genres blend, and that’s how music moves forward, for better or worse. I’m not sure if this means she has a better grasp on different styles of music than I thought, or a better grasp on how to drive me crazy.

What am I to glean from this experiment? Am I doomed to be the uncool dad, despite the fact that I’m pretty much the coolest dad there could be? Is it natural for kids to even think their parents are cool? Perhaps it’s dangerous. How do we move forward as a species unless we rebel against what came before us? Actually, that sounds like a lyric I would have written in one of my punk bands in 1987.

Dad Brains: From the Brains of a Dad


“I’m pregnant!”

I am not an early riser. So, hearing this bit of info a few months ago at 6 am was met with equal parts surprise and confusion.

“Oh. Are you indeed?” Gulp.

To be fair, it wasn’t actually a complete surprise. We had been “trying,” except, to my recollection, we had only tried once. But there it was, a line on a stick, and a whole new chapter in my life.

A little back story here: I am a professional musician, having played guitar, sung, written, and produced music for Canadian power-pop icons (not my words) Sloan since 1991. I have also written music blogs, entertainment news, opinion pieces, and parenting advice. I have two children, a 10-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, from a previous marriage, and have just found out recently that I am having a third child, a girl. Oh yeah, I’m 45.

My wife is 15 years younger than me, and very good with kids. In fact, when I first met her 6 or 7 years ago (whose counting…well aside from her, of course), she was very keen to talk about her young nieces. After we moved in together, and my kids started spending more and more time with her, she quickly eased into their lives, and now we have a great blended family, where they refer to her as their step-mother, and she has become an active part in every aspect of their lives.

We get along great with their mother, and with 50/50 custody, the kids spend ½ the week (Monday, Tuesday, Friday nights, and Saturday afternoons) with us, and the rest (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday nights, and all day Sunday) with her. It can be complicated at times, but everyone has worked hard to make things happy and healthy for the children.

Now the balance is going to change a bit, as the new baby won’t be moving back and forth between the two homes. It will be something new for all of us, and a transition that we will have to navigate carefully so that everyone feels included and happy.

This is all well and good, but, as I said, I just turned 45. Having a baby at this point in my life, with two kids already milling about, wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but there is a certain degree of the unknown that can keep you up at night, staring into the darkness, calculating a decade or so more of daycare costs, high-chairs, strollers, car seats, clothes, food, water, and…air – because by the time this one hits 10, I’m sure we’ll be paying for that too. Thanks a lot Obama.

Nevertheless, life keeps moving forward, one day at a time. I had the same fears before my son was born, and before my daughter, and so far I haven’t had to sell even one of them. Plus, pretty soon I can send my son out to sell encyclopedias, or newspapers, or oranges, or whatever. I was 15 when I got my first job, and since they grow up so much faster these days, my math seems on point.

So, I have decided to chronicle my life as a new/old dad. Since I have written extensively about most other aspects of the entertainment world, and make rock music for a living, I’ll throw a bunch of stuff about all of that in there as well. Please enjoy, and comment when you feel like it.