Family Affair - musical parents and children
- Thomas Meek
- 24 July 2009
A journey through the sons and daughters of popular music
Living up to a world famous parent is probably not the easiest way to grow up – just look at what happened to Luke Skywalker (though that was more 'galaxy' than 'world'). Mastering the Force and battling evil across the galaxy is nothing compared to what Julian Lennon must have gone through though. With a Beatle as a father, any career path that Lennon Jr. chose to take was going to be scrutinised by a world obsessed with the name. It took a brave man to follow in his father's footsteps and pick up a guitar.
Unlike the acting profession, where the likes of Angelina Jolie, Kate Hudson and Jamie Lee Curtis have outshone their parents in many respects, the idea of a child taking up the family trade in music is traditionally one that the critics, and the public, just can't seem to get their head around. They can become fashion designers, models or vacuous reality TV stars with relative ease, but most attempts in the audio field are shot down, either exposed as cynical cash-ins (Kelly Osbourne?), or mourned as failed expectations.
Julian, and his half-brother Sean Lennon, verge on the latter, both admirably carrying on the Lennon name over several solo albums and tours. But despite Sean's success in the film-scoring business, and Julian's well-received debut, Valotte, their impact has never come close to their father's.
That's something that can't be said for Miley Cyrus though, who is one of the few to truly stand out from the shadow of a famous parent. Compared to her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, the world's most terrifying teen not only has an achy breaky heart (as her recent Twittering after her break-up with boyfriend Justin Gaston showed - "Tears are words the heart can't express" being one of her more profound updates), but is at the head of an empire set to take over the world, 12-year-old girl by 12-year-old girl. Darth would have been proud of this one.
Cyrus' success comes from the the awesome marketing power of Disney, and establishing herself first as the eponymous secret pop-superstar on Hannah Montana – carving her own identity away from music, and bewitching children with bright colours, sequined jeans and inane, yet catchy tunes.
There are other ways to do it though, with both Rufus and Martha Wainwright choosing the route of creating properly good music, with emotion and everything, just like their father, Loudon Wainwright III. Though Rufus probably has the sequined jeans too actually.
An equally celebrated, songwriter whose talent found its place in his genes was Jeff Buckley. Though they met only once when Buckley was eight, he and his estranged father, Tim, shared a voice and a talent in making simple songs sound spectacular, as well as, ultimately, an early death.
A closer relationship can be found between Frank and Nancy Sinatra, whose father/daughter bond was rather inappropriately forgotten it seems on duet 'Something Stupid'. Both had obvious success though, with Frank's legendary status assured in the history books, and Nancy's album with Lee Hazlewood one of the finest works of the 60s.
Fine works of the 60s also include pretty much anything by Jimmy Webb, the man behind 'Galveston' and 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix', whose sons have found success as The Webb Brothers. You can even see all three generations of Webbs perform in November at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh, with Jimmy's former Baptist minister father, Bob, joining Jimmy and his sons onstage.
Moving on from the obvious ones though, and we find family ties close to home, with Ally and Michael Palmer showing their guitar skills in great Scottish bands of the past and present. Son, Michael, is just about to embark on a tour of the US with We Were Promised Jetpacks, and you can be sure part of that is down to dad, Ally, and his recently reformed TV21, whose punk rock days 30 years ago are the stuff of undergound Edinburgh legend.
Other less heralded relationships include that of Battles man, Tyondai Braxton, and his father, the esteemed jazz saxophonist, Anthony Braxton, with both taking the limits of their respective genres to the extreme.
One man who didn't quite manage that was Alvin Stardust, whose now maligned glam-rock doesn't seem to have hampered the cutting edge DJ work of his son, Adam F.
The work of classical violinist, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, too bares little resemblance to subsequent generations of the family, with his grandsons now part of Paris electroclash outfit, The Black Milk. The Menuhin blood may be a bit more of a valuable commodity than Stardust though.
Damon Albarn and Norah Jones can probably be proud of their respected fathers too, with both playing key parts in the 1960s counter-culture. Damon's dad, Keith, was host of BBC's Late-Night Line-Up and manager of jazz/rock band Soft Machine, while Jones' dad is Ravi Shankar, the classical indian composer so enamoured by George Harrison.
Emulating a parent in any field is a tough ask. But in a creative industry, where the media plays such a huge role, the cynics and the critics will make every step even harder. When music's in the blood though, it's often the inevitable conclusion. And who could blame Julian for wanting to be like his dad? We all do, right?