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POP MUSIC

Rock 'n' Roll Coochie Coo

Sometimes baby makes three, or more, when musician parents go on the road. And families that cling together may sing together. But does it mean touring in a minivan?

June 29, 1997|Chuck Crisafulli | Chuck Crisafulli is a frequent contributor to Calendar

When rock 'n' rollers have used the word "baby" over the years, it's been a term of affection or seduction, as in the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way" or Bread's "Baby I'm-a Want You."

For a growing number of today's rock musicians, however, baby talk is less about romance and more about formula. To them, "baby" simply signifies, well, baby, as in infant.

"I never thought too hard about being a mom and housewife," says Kim Gordon, the singer and bassist with Sonic Youth, one of the most influential American rock bands of the last two decades.

"That was never a high priority. But you hit a point where your hormones start sending those signals, and having a kid starts making sense.

"After we signed with Geffen [in 1989], it seemed like a good time to start trying. We knew we'd have money for diapers. But even then it was a worry in terms of career: Would the label take our band seriously if one of the members was pregnant?"

Procreation isn't a new idea for rock musicians, but the strong presence of women in rock in recent years has made it a more visible issue. The typical life on the road once left very little time to spend with families. But female artists, from Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh to Sinead O'Connor to Courtney Love, are not only having children, they're making their kids a part of their musical life by taking them on tour.

And male stars who have become dads--from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, who has twin toddler girls, to surf guitarist Dick Dale--are showing an increasing desire to bring wives and children along during tours.

The rock life lived by such parents can be surprisingly wholesome; most rocker moms and dads have turned from "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" to naps, snacks and Fisher-Price. Instead of contract demands like buckets of champagne and cases of whiskey backstage, parents on the road are more likely to insist on "no smoking" signs and playpens in their dressing rooms.

Sonic Youth's Gordon is sometimes surprised at how well band, career and family have blended.

"I think I've become more confident and honest as a songwriter," says Gordon, whose daughter, Coco Hayley Gordon Moore, is almost 3 (bandmate and husband Thurston Moore is the dad). "Because having a kid gives you that source of strength, and I've got this really good band and a really smart, happy kid. The two have really adapted to each other well."

According to Mark Kates, director of Artists & Repertoire at Geffen/DGC Records, the labels aren't too concerned about a rocker's parental status.

"To tell you the truth, I don't think I've ever thought about it. It's never been an issue for me and wouldn't affect the way I looked at a band, signed or unsigned," Kates says.

"I've worked with Sonic Youth for a long time, and the only issue that arose with them when Kim was pregnant was that they released one record that they didn't tour on. But that happens for all kinds of reasons all the time. I don't think anybody's personal life needs to be the industry's business; though, frankly, in just about every example of musicians becoming parents I can think of, there's been a positive impact on the music."

Kates is learning to mix rock and family himself; he has a 4-month-old son at home. "Now I really respect what Kim and Thurston have been able to do. And it's changed our relationship. Last week Kim and I spent a long time talking about preschools before we got to any of the business at hand."

Kristin Hersh's songwriting with the critically acclaimed band Throwing Muses has made her a powerful and influential female voice in the world of alternative rock. And as a mother of three sons, she has also served as a model for musicians looking for ways to combine music and family. Since she was pregnant with the first of her boys, Dylan, more than 10 years ago, Hersh, 31, has managed to take her children with her as her band tours.

Hersh recently split up Throwing Muses after a 13-year haul and has moved her family to the high desert of Southern California, where she is working on material for a solo album. (She'll play some of it in a show at LunaPark on July 18.) But the Throwing Muses' final tour was the typical family affair: Along with bandmates Bernard Georges and Dave Narcizo, Hersh was accompanied by her two younger sons, 5-year-old Ryder and 4-month-old Wyatt, and their father--her husband and band manager, Billy O'Connell.

Hersh recalls that even a rough post-show morning could be the best of family times.

"One morning, I got up with the baby on our tour bus, just a few hours after going to bed," she says. "Everyone else was asleep except our driver, and we were heading through all this flat Minnesota farmland on a really gray morning. I felt like hell, but I was so happy. I'd worked hard the night before, had a good show, and now I had a contented baby in my arms. I thought, 'This really is a nice life.' "

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