All in a name: The musician's curse of famous parents
In a music industry swamped with indistinguishable retro-minded rockers, pop-slinging singer-songwriters, and next-big-thing wannabes, you’d think having a widely recognized last name would help an aspiring musician stand out. Though having a famous musician (or two) as a parent may initially seem like an advantage, it can often be a handicap: Your music will forever be associated with and judged against that of your elders, creating an almost insurmountable obstacle to achieving critical success on your own terms. Yet, almost miraculously, some have managed to do just that. Prior to Jakob Dylan's show Wednesday at the Pabst Theater, The A.V. Club presents this list of four musicians who, despite their heritage, have managed to make their own name for themselves.
His surname may be synonymous with one of the 20th century’s most iconic musicians, but Jakob Dylan never used his father’s cultural influence to further his own career. In fact, the younger Dylan’s band, The Wallflowers, struggled in L.A.’s oversaturated music scene for seven years before hitting it big with 1996’s Bringing Down The Horse. The album succeeded on its own catchy alt-pop merits, selling more than 6 million copies—twice that of his father’s Blood On The Tracks—and propelling Jakob to international stardom. Even with The Wallflowers still recording and touring, Jakob has found time to also pursue a successful solo career, which has included the Rick Rubin-produced Seeing Things as well as numerous singles for TV and movie soundtracks. He may not be as culturally pivotal as his enigmatic father, but Jakob is equally ambitious and hard-working.
As the son of not one but two cultural icons, Sean Lennon has spent most of his musical career attempting to escape his parents’ shadow. After early collaborations with his mother, Sean would go on to join Cibo Matto, dabble in hip-hop, and contribute to various film scores. Both Sean’s 1998 solo debut, Into The Sun, and its 2006 follow-up, Friendly Fire, were met with mixed reviews—likely the result of a media machine that, despite its claims, can’t help but judge the offspring of John Lennon and Yoko Ono as if he should be the Lord And Savoir of music by now. (No wonder the guy seems content with working behind the scenes as a session musician.) Most recently, Sean has been performing with girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Vincent Gallo as The Ghost Of A Saber Toothed Tiger—the latest project of an artist who’ll make music whenever and with whomever he damn well pleases, even if the rest of the world has a different plan for him.
It’s one thing to be the offspring of a musician who is extremely popular within a certain genre; it’s another to be the offspring of a musician who invented a genre. Nevertheless, Femi Kuti—the eldest son of afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti—has managed to carve his own niche in the musical genre that his legendary father created in the '60s. Both Femi and Seun Kuti (Fela’s youngest son) performed with their father’s band, Egypt 80, while growing up—an experience that helped shape their musical, social, and political viewpoints. However, whereas Seun would eventually take over Egypt 80’s leadership, Femi formed his own band, and has been cranking out albums such as last year’s Day By Day for the last two decades. Like his father, Femi brings his own children into the act: His first son has been playing and performing since he was 5 years old, adding a new generation to Fela’s already impressive musical legacy.
Now here’s an example of a musical celebrity spawn whose fame has eclipsed that of her one-hit wonder father. In fact, even soul-patch-sporting Billy Ray has grabbed onto Miley’s gilded coattails, appearing as her dad on The Disney Channel’s bafflingly successful Hannah Montana and even joining her as host of last year’s CMT Music Awards. Miley’s empire now exceeds the usual CDs and merchandise, encompassing clothes, toys, and an assortment of frivolous tween lifestyle items (including sleeping bags, camera cases, and—gasp—even wigs). She may be as much of a pop machine package as other Disney vets (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake), but Miley/Hannah/whoever has surpassed reasonable expectations as both a TV (split-) personality and a successful working musician.