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Father's Day Special: An Extract From How's Your Dad?
Zoë Howe , June 18th, 2010 11:18

Quietus writer Zoe Street Howe gives us an extract from her fantastic new tome How’s Your Dad? Living in the Shadow of a Rock Star Parent

One of the issues with being the child of any well-known figure is the fact that whatever you do is automatically upstaged by the fact that your parent merely exists. They might not even be there, but a healthy percentage of people, say, at your own gig will be there just to corner you at the end to say, 'How’s your dad?' in a slightly over-familiar way. The very question – 'How’s your dad?' - provided the inspiration for this book in fact: I have witnessed it being posed by well meaning strangers at my husband Dylan Howe’s own gigs. These fans would not be Dylan’s, specifically, but those of his father Steve Howe, the guitar hero from prog rock titans Yes.

My intention with this book is not just to provide an A-Z of every single famous musicians’ child in the entire world ever (that would be impossible, there are new ones popping up all the time anyway, and not just those fathered by Rod Stewart or Mick Jagger). It is more a study of a phenomenon, an attitude we have towards the children of rock stars, an opportunity to look at the preconceptions we have and why. We hear their stories, which range from the amusing to the lurid to the eye-crossingly weird, we’ll learn about their individual journeys, how they developed because of or despite their upbringing, their reflections on their birthright, their plans and hopes.

Spoken to, discussed and included are also the children of Joe Strummer, Roger Waters, Poly Styrene, Ian Dury, Alice Cooper, Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair, Jack Bruce, Jimmy Page, John Phillips, John Lennon, Alton Ellis, Quincy Jones, Martin Kemp, Dave Gahan, Joni Mitchell, the Geldofs, Woods, Osbournes, Starkeys, Zappas, Wainwright/McGarrigle, Buckley, Waterson/Carthy, Jackson, Gainsbourg, Cash, Presley, and, yes, Kenny Loggins. All of their children have their own unique stand-point, all are connected in some ways, disparate in others.

We are naturally interested in the children of our heroes, but while society may readily accept the notion of an acting dynasty, often viewing a distinguished theatrical bloodline as a guarantee of quality, to a seemingly greater extent the rock royal will, no matter what they do or don’t do, have every move scrutinised and judged with gluttonous enthusiasm by tabloid readers, gossip lovers and even contemporaries with varying levels of resentment. As Bob Geldof once observed: "Their mums and dads were famous people in a country where rock 'n 'roll is the Hollywood. Britain doesn't have a Hollywood. So the glamour is in rock, rock stars are all over the tabloids, and those kids were born into that sort of atmosphere."

So are the preconceptions fair? Not always. Are they just lazy assumptions? Not always. But where sometimes being a second-generation rock aristo can be fabulously beneficial - great schools, guaranteed popularity (when there’s a gig coming up) and an intriguing menu when you come home for tea – you also might be well-versed in the ways of touring or being in a studio because that’s just how you grew up. Or you may be so used to seeing Pop smoke a doobie that drugs aren’t too glamorous as far as you’re concerned (or you have fantastic access to drugs, and again are, therefore, hugely popular). But there are other elements that create the sort of barriers that those of us from more conventional backgrounds never need consider.

Of course, there are those who happily accept, as they whizz up the freeloading freeway, that the only reason they are famous or outwardly interesting is because of their connections, they are cool by association and are doing rather well out of it – whether simply getting stoned and watching Miss Marples all day, knowing that funny thing called rent (something to do with Monopoly?) is magically taken care of, or breezing into exclusive parties and TV work without ruffling an eyebrow. But how long can this last? What is the public’s view of this? Should it even matter?

Whenever I told anyone I was writing this book, the first question they would ask invariably included the words ‘Peaches Geldof’. Peaches wasn’t the first person I thought of when I started working on this, but I do think the way we view people like her affects how we make snap judgments about others – they must be rich, it must be easy, they must be brattish and unapproachable, they’re living off their parents. So yes, she is an important example, but there is a lot more to this subject, and the raison d’etre of the project is to try to add a bit of perspective to how we view it. It might even alter your perception of the ‘rock stars’ themselves. Or not, of course...


"If you ever have another baby, I’ll shoot my dick off." Bob Geldof to Paula Yates during a particularly operatic family car journey.

"What was your childhood like?" This is almost without fail the question most frequently asked to those discussed in this book. This tends to be followed by, "What’s it like having (fill in the blank) as a father/mother?" Which is an odd enquiry, because it isn’t as if they have any other points of reference to compare Mum or Dad with. They didn’t win a reality TV competition to spend a chunk of their childhood with a rock star before returning to their own ‘normal’ lives.

To the rest of us these rather nebulous questions seem quite fair, and they promise potentially intriguing answers. The response tends to be: "My childhood was normal!" Don’t always believe everything you hear… One of the issues with this situation is that you can feel awkward about your background if you feel it was more privileged supposedly, than anyone else’s. It takes time to be honest even with oneself.

We all know normality is a relative concept. Some people’s upbringing really was normal, while others' were completely peculiar. But families are still families and it shouldn’t astonish us when rock stars behave like parents just because that doesn’t fit in with our two-dimensional image of them. Keith Richards, the consummate rock pirate, always insisted on tucking his son Marlon in and reading him a story regardless of what carnage was occurring beyond the bedroom door. Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain loved nothing more than bathing their baby girl Frances Bean while Kurt talked in a Donald Duck voice and dive-bombed rubber duckies. Elvis Presley was a kind, fun-loving dad, performing puppet shows for Lisa Marie and singing her to sleep. (He became rather grumpy when his daughter asked for Elton John records for Christmas though, as opposed to one of his own.)

Because the first question is such a sprawling one, it’s going to take a few chapters to really cover the answers. This chapter will serve as a starting point. There are many components (apologies if they sound like a bill of 'reefer madness' style B-movies): crazy nannies, awkward school-days, tour-bus tribulations, music by osmosis, drug-related disasters, mad roadie mentors and … the last thing you would expect, growing up quietly in the suburbs, doing jigsaws and walking the dogs.

"But you don’t want to hear about that… you want some rock," grins Callum Adamson, (musician and son of Big Country star Stuart Adamson.) Yes, Callum, we’re not ashamed to admit it. That’s why people ask in the first place. They want to hear about a life that’s totally different to theirs. The truth is sometimes less spectacular and bizarre than what we assume, but not always. (Legend has it that the only time Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann came close to throwing a TV out of a window was when his son Justin refused to come to the dinner table until the Generation Game had finished.)

Ronnie Wood’s son Jesse was literally born into a party. It was Hallowe’en, it was 1976, it was Malibu, and there were some serious festivities going on chez Wood. What’s that screaming noise? Probably just some crazy trick-or-treaters. Or, of course, it might be my wife in labour with my first child. Anyway, who’s for apple-bobbing?

"I said to her, 'I’ll be downstairs with our guests, just yell when it gets really bad,'" said Ronnie to his first wife, Krissie, as she shrieked in agony upstairs. Thanks dear. Have I told you lately what a wonderful husband you are? Oh, you’re already downstairs doing the conga with Diana Ross.

"She stayed upstairs to deal with the pain," he continues in his autobiography Ronnie, "I kept partying because I didn’t want to be rude to a house full of people. Someone knocked on the door. She shouted, 'I’m gonna have the baby!' I said, 'Hang on a minute…'."

Fortunately the guest at the door was Neil Young’s roadie Sandy Castle. He drove a white ambulance for fun, but now it was going to be used for its original purpose. Not before they’d dropped off some pals at various locations first of course. The contractions might have been increasing in regularity but that didn’t change the fact that there were some celebs on board needing lifts to other parties at other beach houses.

Home-life at the Woods' could be extreme, not least because of the abundance of class A drugs and strung-out people who frequented the house. Jamie and Leah, Ronnie’s children with second wife Jo, once dashed into the living room to see a handsome, familiar-looking man lying in a wasted heap on the sofa. They stared for a while trying to work out who it was. And then they realised. It was Christopher Reeve, "out of his brain," chortles Ronnie. "(Jamie) came running to us, crying, 'You destroyed Superman!'"

Frank Zappa, conversely, claimed not to have taken drugs, which might come as a surprise to some. But that didn’t mean that life chez Zappa wasn’t a big bowl of weird.

"Dinner might be pancakes, breakfast might be stroganoff…" Ahmet Zappa, writer and third child of Frank, reminisced in an interview. This wasn’t purely an attempt at being continually subversive on Mummy and Daddy Zappa’s part (actually the Zappas insisted their kids call them 'Frank' and 'Gail'.) It was more that the parents would work all night, and so dinner would be breakfast and vice versa. Gail, according to Frank, didn’t put much importance on cooking, which meant Frank might be seen serving up fried spaghetti for breakfast, or nibbling empty hot-dog buns for dinner whenever he emerged, blinking like a mole, from his studio.

The most important thing in this household was to respect the fact that everything had to revolve around the patriarch. For all of his unconventional, free-thinking conduct, he ran his house with full-blown Italian machismo and he had to have his way. This only shifted slightly when his kids became older and more independent.

"It’s like a dude ranch," Frank would grumble. "The house is like a teenage hotel, featuring our four kids and all their friends. I work in the middle of the night so, when I get hungry, I wind up digging in drawers to find something a teenager would refuse to eat."

(Elvis Presley had similar issues as he would also be up all night with insomnia. Fortunately he avoided the culinary issues suffered by Zappa because he had a full staff of day and night chefs on tenterhooks for whenever he might demand a pound of bacon or some deep fried sandwiches.)

I wouldn’t feel too sorry for Zappa. This is a man who refused to join his brood for family meals – even at Christmas and Thanksgiving – because he deemed such activities as symptomatic of "the worst aspects of typical familyism. It glorifies involuntary homogenisation."

"I hate sitting around acting traditional to amuse the 'little folks who happen to be genetically derived from larger folks who buy them sportswear' enduring a family meal," wrote Frank, "during which I might be required to participate in some mind-numbing family discussion. I eat, and get the fuck out of there as fast as I can." Love you too, Daddy! Oops, I mean Frank.

His tongue was often in his cheek, but this doesn’t change the reality that his eldest daughter Moon, then 13, put a note under his studio door, introducing herself – 'I’m 13 years old. My name is Moon. Up until now I have been trying to stay out of your way…' - before asking if she could sing on his next album in an attempt to get his attention. (This culminated – eventually – in the production of Zappa’s hit 'Valley Girl'.)

While Frank might not have been emotionally very present during their childhood, his kids certainly remember plenty of other people around, aside from the 'nannies' who we meet in a later chapter, there are tales of pungent old hippies staggering around naked among the children’s toys, and melting their crayons to make candles. In Barry Miles' Frank Zappa biography, Moon remembers a visitor who had drilled a hole through his nose in order to whistle through it. Simple pleasures.

As a child, to be approached as if one is simply a person who happens to be short can be a fun way to grow up, but in some cases, it can be an excuse to get the children out of the way. "He always had this thing 'Every man for himself.' That’s what he always used to say," remembers Jazz Domino Holly of her late father Joe Strummer. "We’d go to Glastonbury and I’d be about 13, and he’d say, 'Right, it’s every man for himself now, do you realise that?' So I’d have to look after myself. He’d slip me £20 and I’d go off, and usually I’d find my grandmother who was a hippie, she was always there.

"He’d invite weird crusties to come and sleep in my tent, things like that. That was him being his own free-wheeling personality but it used to frustrate me, you know, 'be a dad!' But he wasn’t and that was something I had to realise.

"Dad had a lot of hangers on. He obviously enjoyed hanging out with them but I didn’t want to hang out with them. I was already at that stage where I was a bit pissed off with my dad, the teenage thing, 'I don’t give a shit, I just want to step out of your shadow a bit'.

"I remember getting frustrated with Dad sometimes because he was like an overgrown child, he was all about having fun all the time! There were definitely times I felt I was looking after my dad in a way. I wonder if that’s why now I like having order, I find chaos a bit stressful."

The other side of this, however, is that now Jazz doesn’t feel compelled to stick up for him quite as much as she might have done. "That 'every man for himself' thing, I picked up on that too. People are going to say that he did stupid things, which I’m sure he has, and that’s his problem! My sister is more protective over his image but she was the baby, she had a different experience."

One person who fiercely defends her late father is Rosanne Cash. Rosanne, herself a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, has understandably nominated herself as the guardian of the memory of the Man in Black. She was inevitably wary of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line ("I don't have a need to see the Hollywood version of my father's drug addiction and my parents' breakup,") but she was furious, with justification, to discover the Republican party had chosen Johnny Cash as a mascot.

Country star John Rich had appeared at a rally for the Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008, reportedly declaring, "Somebody's got to walk the line in the country. I'm sure Johnny Cash would have been a John McCain supporter if he was still around." Presumptuous was not the word.

Rosanne Cash responded on her website: "It is appalling that people still want to invoke my father's name, five years after his death, to ascribe beliefs, ideals, values and loyalties to him that cannot possibly be determined..."

A protective stance does seem common particularly amid the daughters of rock stars, but often the party under scrutiny or attack is so accustomed to the questionable attentions fame can bring that they are rather less bothered about it than their loved ones. When The Osbournes became a hit for MTV in the 1990s, Ozzy’s children were apoplectic when they saw how their father was being portrayed, thanks to careful editing and, well, Ozzy being Ozzy.

"He’s like a laughing stock," fumed Ozzy’s eldest daughter Aimee in the Osbournes’ book Ordinary People. "After all his years of hard work and touring, this is how he’s being remembered and appreciated."

And Ozzy’s take? "I’m in show business, man. What’s the fucking problem?"

Right, it’s time to mop up things up with something nice, wholesome and preferably vegetarian. Namely, Sir Paul McCartney. Whatever your feelings on the Beatle, he and his soul-mate Linda were protective, supportive and unlikely to herald your arrival with a song about how there’s now some sprog in the way. (See Loudon Wainwright’s: 'Be Careful, There’s A Baby In The House' and 'Rufus Is A Tit Man' for details.)

I imagine it also helped to strengthen the foundations of this family that Paul was so keen to keep Linda by his side. Rumours abound that the reason they barely spent a night apart was because Linda didn’t trust him, but I like to think he’d moved on from the philandering stage of his life. It was his idea for Linda to plonk away on a keyboard in Wings. She refused but he insisted. The babies would often go on tour with them. It was a beautiful thing.

Within their unique situation, Paul and Linda went to great pains to ensure their kids were polite, hardworking and didn’t take advantage of their unusual status. In fact, it’s hard to know when they even became aware of their unusual status. Stella admits it took her a while to even realise her dad was a Beatle. As a little girl she once said, 'Daddy? Are you Paul McCartney?' to which he replied, 'Yes. But I’m just daddy really.' There was no question as to where his priorities lay. He was daddy really.

And where even famous dads can embarrass their kids - he may be responsible for the 'Frog Chorus' (which I personally rather liked when I was small, to be fair) - I think Lennon came up with a bit of a world beater, if you’ll forgive the choice of words, in 1969. Julian was six years old, but at an age when most six-year-olds are being filmed frolicking about in the snow, or being cute in a paddling pool, John preferred to turn the camera on himself, making and exhibiting a film of his penis achieving erection. 'Oh Daaad….' You might cringe when your family bring out the old home movies, but that should put things in perspective…

How's Your Dad: Living In The Shadow Of A Rock Star Parent is available from Amazon now and in bookshops from July 7th.