Saturday, May 13, 2006


She rocks, she rolls, she's, uh, your mom?

With titles like 'I Hate My (expletive) Family,' Mom rock gets some credibility

Special to The Globe and Mail

MAY 13, 2006 -- Rock music has been about many things. Sex, politics, more beer. But "self empowerment"? Never. Until that is, the birth of "mom rock." As a genre, mom rock is very much about such things: empowerment, self- expression, creative voices of mothers. Still, it's a remarkably earnest-free zone. Its bands have names like HRT, Housewives on Prozac, the Mydols and Placenta, and their song titles run to the wackily domestic -- Eat Your Damn Spaghetti, Born to Iron or Pick Up Your Socks.

Although hounding kids to clean up and eat their meals when served is a preoccupation of parents everywhere, the majority of mom rockers hail from the suburbs. Some even embrace the image. Take for example the Mydols, whose slogan is "rockin' soccer moms." Others send it up -- mom-rocker Lynda Kraar does a countrified number called Suburban White in a White Suburban, satirizing the clich├ęs of privileged suburban motherhood. And like all bands recently hatched in garages and family rooms, mom-rockers tend to the jam-band sound of the freshly initiated, whether they're punky, pop or hard rockin.' The music is usually wildly enthusiastic, often giddily amateurish, and occasionally quite good.

Mom rock became a bona fide movement courtesy of Mamapalooza, an event first held in New York in 2002, a gathering of musicians, comedians, and spoken-word artists -- all of whom were mothers. Today, Family Circle magazine sponsors Mamapalooza, which takes place in 30 locales. Its inaugural Canadian incarnation on Sunday -- Mother's Day -- will be held at Toronto's Lula Lounge. Joy Rose, Mamapalooza's founder and lead singer of Housewives on Prozac, says Mamapalooza strives to create "a safe, generous experience where artists of all backgrounds can freely express themselves and feel supported."

Of course, pre-Mamapalooza there already were rockers who happened to be moms, without the benefits of organized support. It's difficult to imagine, say, Chrissie Hynde (front woman of the Pretenders, now into her 50s and the mother of two daughters) fretting about whether she was having a safe experience when she'd rip into Bad Boys Get Spanked. Hynde, and the pitifully few like her, have never been part of any movement, unless you count their automatic status as a visible minority.

For mom rock to matter, musically, it would have to create more Chrissie Hyndes, more Bonnie Raitts and Annie Lennoxes -- something that hasn't happened to date. Instead, it's possible to view mom rock as potentially undermining the legacy of women who actually made it in the boys 'n' guitars world on their musical strengths. The sassy jokiness that is one of the charms of mom rock bands is also what makes it all too easy to dismiss the music they make. That's a reality that some mom rockers, such as HRT, (who count AC/DC and the Rolling Stones as primary influences), admit is worrisome. HRT guitarist Marlane Pinkowitz says the "gimmick angle" is a double-edged sword.

"In one way, mom rock does represent what we are about," she says, "because we are moms who rock. We certainly started out that way. But as we grow musically we are playing less on the fact that we are moms who rock and more on being women -- and a band -- that rocks hard and rocks good."

HRT, who wisecrack that as they get older their acronym can double for hip-replacement therapy, don't consider their music a hobby, and steer away from cutesy song titles, writing numbers like I Hate My Fucking Family instead. But musically speaking they're newbies -- only one of the group's members had played before the mom-rock movement inspired them to form a band.

This isn't the case with all mom rockers though. Kraar, one of the organizers of the Canadian incarnation of Mamapalooza, and author of the blog, Guitargirls Digital Diary, had a band in Toronto in the 1980s called Lynda Marks and the Marksmen, who performed gigs at such venerable establishments as Grossmans and the Isabella. For her, taking up music again in her forties, as a mother of two, is a return to one of her passions.

"A lot of people give it up and stop and never revisit it again, and say, yeah, well mummy had a rock band when she was much younger, but not since you guys were here, because you're more important," Kraar says. "Playing rock now is a way of saying, you know what? Mommy's still a rock 'n' roll babe."

Mommy may be a rock 'n' roll babe, but beneath the black velvet jacket is also usually a woman who's making a statement about the status quo views of motherhood. Or, as Kraar puts it, "The minute you take on the decision to drive car pool, you lose your status in the outside world."

For these women, mom rock is partly a way of reclaiming status -- on new terms. But societal perceptions of the role of motherhood (particularly the suburban, "stay-at-home" ilk) aside, the question remains: What kind of status does mom rock give women in the rest of the musical world? So far, not much. There are exceptions, of course, for example the Mydols, whose recording Born to Iron is nominated in the Detroit music awards.

But perhaps for bands who choose to identify themselves as mom rock bands, it ultimately won't matter -- not if as a genre it continues as one-part music, one-part empowerment, two-parts a rockin' good time -- a successful recipe, as long as there are mothers who want to get on stage, brandish their axe, and still drive the kid to the soccer game the next day.

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