The Art of Kin

Like others before them, father and son duo Liam and Neil Finn find that making music can create a beautiful bond

Neil and Liam Finn

For an industry that’s so unstable, and where the path to success is always elusive at best, it’s pretty remarkable how many musicians are eager to pass the family business forward. Then again, in a household where a dad or mom have ascended to the highest plateaus of privilege and prosperity, it’s hard to imagine that wouldn’t be a way of life. It’s little wonder then that the music biz is littered with familiar names that create a continuum through the decades.

In this case, the family in question is Finn, and the father and son involved are both successful on their own. Neil Finn helped helm Crowded House and the New Zealand band Split Enz before that, and thanks to his ongoing series of solo albums, his career continued to succeed long after. Son Liam is the lesser known quantity in the equation, but he too has made a name for himself under his own aegis.

At the same time, father and son procure different styles and for the most part their first album in common, Lightsleeper, leans more towards Liam’s turf, especially as far as the ambiance, embellishment and ethereal arrangements are concerned.

We ought not be surprised; few famous offspring ape their parents’ sound and style. That stands to reason; with the public looking for obvious comparisons, any attempt by the children to emulate their parents would almost certainly be met with criticism, skepticism and a high bar that would be nearly impossible for anyone to meet. Julian Lennon aside, the other Beatles kids — Sean Lennon, James McCartney, Dhani Harrison and Zak Starkey — all pursued independent avenues and made their names in different ways.

How about the other offspring? In recent years, any number of famous children have done their dads proud. Take for example, Miley Cyrus. Her pop, Billy Ray Cyrus, was nearly in free fall when she brought him back to the limelight. That likely filled his achy break heart with fatherly pride.

Likewise, Willie Nelson has reason to thank Neil Young for giving his sons Lukas and Micha Nelson jobs as part of his on-again, off-again, mostly on-again backing band, Promise of the Real. Not that they didn’t have options available early on, but the Young association certainly hasn’t hurt.

On the other hand, you have to give credit to Bob Dylan’s boy Jakob. It’s hard to imagine the pressure that comes with being in the shadow of a living legend. Nevertheless, Jakob’s done well for himself — he soared to stardom with his band the Wallflowers, and has now procurred a successful solo career.

Then again, living in the shadows of famous forebears doesn’t always guarantee serendipity. Take, for example, Teddy and Cami Thompson, the children of estranged Brit folk duo Richard and Linda Thompson. They likely bore witness to their parents’ tempestuous relationship, and yet their musical inspiration survived just fine. Teddy’s earned his place among the Gen X elite thanks to a solo career that’s steady and assured.  Sister Kami currently co-helms a due called the Rails alongside her husband James Walbourne. You can also check out Family album, a set of songs that features participation from each of the aforementioned members of the Thompson clan.

A similar situation was experienced by Rufus, Martha and Suzie, the Wainwright siblings and offspring of Loudon Wainwright III and his ex, singer Kate McGarrigle. Rufus and Martha Wainwright have struck out on decidedly different paths, and each is an outspoken artist in his or her own right. However when dad wrote “Rufus Is a Tit Man” (a reference to Rufus’ penchant for breastfeeding) and the sentimental “A Father and a Son,” he may have been intent on bringing his boy added attention.  The elder Wainwright composed “Pretty Little Martha” and “Five Years Old” for Martha when she was a child, and later penned “Hitting You” to document her difficult teenage years.

Like his dad, the late, great Leonard, Adam Cohen also leans towards a more downcast disposition, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that even with four solo albums and one with the group Low Millions, Adam has kept a relatively low profile. It seems that a certain somber, sobering sound runs in the family.

Let’s also not forget Jason Bonham. Jason was a child of twelve when his father John succumbed to excess and abuse, but he carries on his dad’s legacy by fronting his tribute outfit, the Led Zeppelin Experience, and sitting in with father’s former band mates, Plant, Page and Jones, whenever there’s cause to reconvene. Still, hedoesn’t need to rest on his father’s laurels. His day job has him providing the back beat for Foreigner, Paul Rogers, Ted Nugent, and Joe Bonamasa.

It’s one thing being the son of one of rock’s most notable insurgents and quite another to be the child of James Taylor and Carly Simon, a royal couple as far as the pop purists were concerned. That would suggest that he maintain his best behavior, but as his aunt and uncles — Kate, Livingston and Alex — found out, the Taylor brand doesn’t always guarantee similar success.

Which, in a very roundabout way brings us back the Finns and an album that finds the input of  both father and son contributing in equal measure. Rich, radiant and reflective of both Neil and Liam’s specialized sensibilities, this Lightsleeper allows Finn and Finn to share a beautiful bond.

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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