Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kathleen Hanna on why she hates the sad-dad vibe of “Cat’s In The Cradle”

Hanna, center, with the rest of The Julie Ruin (Photo: Shervin Lainez)
Hanna, center, with the rest of The Julie Ruin (Photo: Shervin Lainez)

In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.


The hater: A punk icon that has influenced everyone from Kurt Cobain to Miley Cyrus, Kathleen Hanna came to prominence as the frontwoman of legendary riot grrrl act Bikini Kill. She’s since headed up a number of bands including The Julie Ruin, a politically fueled and artistically inspired dance-punk group, releases its second LP, Hit Reset, today on its new label, Hardly Art. Read Chris Mincher’s take on Hit Reset, which he calls an “unconstrained, confident collection of dance-punk cuts that bubbles with exuberance.”

The hated: Harry Chapin, “Cat’s In The Cradle” (1974)

The A.V. Club: Why did you pick this as your least favorite song?

Kathleen Hanna: I used to be a karaoke host in Olympia at a gay bar and that song is so long. A lot of dudes picked it and I banned it. I just took it out of the book. I was like, “I can’t ever hear that again.” So many people did it, but it was so long and so monotonous.

Also, it sounds like it’s saying, “I’m really sorry I was a deadbeat dad because I didn’t pay attention to you.” Just say, “I was always gone.” Writing a song about it doesn’t really make up for it. “I missed your high school graduation, but here, I got you some Bubblicious.”

I’ve always thought it was a deadbeat-dad anthem. I know it’s more complicated, probably, to him. But also, I don’t really like his voice or his songwriting, so it really has everything going against it.

There are songs I hate worse than that. The main one I hate is a commercial called “1-877-Kars-4-Kids.” Have you seen it? [Sings.] “1-877-Kars-4-Kids… ” When it comes on, my husband [Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz] knows he has to turn off the TV immediately or I’ll have a nervous breakdown. I cannot hear that song. It’s prerecorded but they’re pretending like they’re playing it. It’s fake kid actors that are trying to be really cute. It’s so vomit-y.

AVC: The concept that kids have to be bubblegum-adorable for commercials is very off-putting in 2016.


KH: Yeah, I just want to see regular kids. Have them playing their own instruments. It’s so fake.

It’s that jingle, too, that gets in my head. You kind of picture that, in the studio, it’s actually a woman trying to do a little boy’s voice. Ugh, God. Anyway. Sorry.


AVC: The idea that there were a bunch of guys in an early-’90s gay bar singing “Cat’s In The Cradle” is pretty depressing. It seems too on the nose, in a really sad way.

KH: Well, yeah. As I remember the song—I should have looked at the lyrics—but it’s like, “When you coming home, Dad? / I don’t know when.” Then he’s showing that it’s an intergenerational thing, saying, “I ignore my son, and then my son ignores his son,” or something. You get the idea that he’s trying to let himself off the hook. “Well, my dad was a dick, too. It’s just the way men are, man! We’re just dicks. We don’t care about our kids.”

I don’t know. It’s the deadbeat-dad thing. Were you paying child support during this time? I feel like it’s making it cool. It’s like it’s saying, “This is just how it goes.” The vibe I get from the song isn’t, “Don’t do what I’ve done,” but, “This is just how it goes, man. I’m a really important dude and I’ve got to be on the road.”


AVC: It’s pretty simplistic. He’s not offering solutions. He’s just saying, “Isn’t this fucked up?”

KH: Oh, I see what it is. Okay. I was thinking he was, like, [singing] “My boy is just like me / The boy was just like me.” But it’s not that his kid had another kid and was mean to that kid.


AVC: No, he’s an old man.

KH: He pays it back to the dad and then the dad’s like, “I fucked up and now that I’m ready to have my child’s time, he doesn’t want me anymore.” His son does have a kid, though, because he says, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time / You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu / But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad / It’s been sure nice talking to you.”

But that’s the thing. This guy has a job but he’s still taking care of his kids who have the flu. He’s not just like him. Don’t say he’s just like you. He’s not just like you. You were a douchebag and you’re trying to find some way to turn it into some kind of inspirational song. The fact of the matter is you just weren’t there and it was more important to you to be on tour. I guess people have to pay the bills, but the whole way he says it, it seems like he couldn’t take his kid on tour with him or something. There are tons of things that people deal with when they’re child-rearing and being in bands.


AVC: It’s never a question for women.

KH: Right. It’s the ’60s-dad phenomenon of, “Oh sorry, Mom cooks dinner 364 days a year and I barbecue once and I’m never going to stop talking about it. Remember that one time when I barbecued?” “No, but I remember the three meals a day for every other day of the year that Mom cooked.”


God. I feel like it’s that absentee-dad jerk thing, but it’s being made into a song and he’s making money off of it, which is just so gross. This isn’t sad for him. I think that’s part of the gross-out of it, because, “It’s so sad for me because now my son doesn’t have time to hang out with me.” Why would he? He doesn’t know you. He’s saying, “Look at me, everybody. I did this because I had to pay the bills, and now my son doesn’t like me.”

I associate it with all this stuff that may not be true but it has that feeling, to me, where I see the dad and the barbecue.

AVC: And it’s a terrible karaoke song.

KH: It’s awful. It’s so fucking long! I wish I could forget how long it is. And it’s this sad-sack bullshit the whole fucking time.


AVC: This feels like one of those songs that people pick at karaoke because they think, “I can do this. This is in my vocal range.”

KH: It was in everybody’s vocal range, let’s just say.

It’s really boring.

AVC: You also want karaoke to be fun. The bar is trying to say, “Hey everyone. It’s a party. Have more drinks,” but this is so sad.


KH: I know. It was a karaoke-killer maneuver. It made everybody go, “Okay, let’s go to the bar and ignore that this is happening.” I would see the energy level being brought down.

It’s like a set list, when you’re playing a show, and all of the sudden an 18-minute bring-down song comes on. And everyone’s like, “I’ve got to go get a taco.”

AVC: Or to the bathroom or to the bar. To talk in the back.

KH: People did bummer songs at the karaoke and did songs about their dads and stuff, but they performed them. One kid did this Bowie song, and he said, “I dedicate this to my dad,” and then he held up a toilet seat and he sang through the toilet seat, “Deeper and deeper in the shit, Dad.” He did this amazing Bowie cover, even though that was a kind of sad song. I don’t remember which one it was, but I was like, “Whoa.” Everybody was engaged with that because he took some time. But “Cat’s In The Cradle” feels like it’s just the bottom of the barrel. “I’ll just do that one.”


AVC: It feels easy and cheap.

KH: That kid used to come early before karaoke and practice. Also, the guy who worked at the library used to come and make really funny songs, like do duets with himself and stuff. He was great. There were a couple people who were really—this was one of their creative outlets. It wasn’t just karaoke. It was creative.


AVC: That’s what you want karaoke to be.

KH: There were two girls who were fighting over the same guy and they both picked the same song and had a karaoke battle. They battled each other to the Cheap Trick song “I Want You To Want Me.” It was pretty funny, but it was also sort of like early breakdancing. Have a battle!