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Mother Nature’s Sons: Beatles’ Progeny Struggle to Create Music Identity

In a guest post today, AoE culture correspondent Patrick Riley takes a look at the efforts by James McCartney and other Beatles offspring to escape the celebrity penumbra of their parents.–Matthew Nisbet

With the recent release of a 5-song EP by his son James, Paul McCartney has become the last Beatle to have a child step into the fray of the music business.

Before James have come John’s boys Julian Lennon, Sean Lennon, Ringo’s son Zak Starkey, and George’s son Dhani Harrison – each, it would seem, more tentatively than the other. They’ve formed bands and put out recordings but even the hardest-core Beatlemaniac would be hard-pressed to name them all. Julian’s two ‘80s hits aside, sales have been modest.

Is James going to be any different? Will he claim the mantle of artistic genius and commercial success and prove that it can be handed down? Or will his career also succumb to the pressures of his lineage and remain on the down-low?

As Clash Music put it, “Everyone struggles to live up to their parent’s legacy. However spare a thought for The Beatles offspring, who face the mountainous task of outdoing one of the most iconic groups in pop history.”

The Cute Beatle’s only son is a late bloomer. He learned guitar at the age of 6, according to the Daily Mail, and a decade ago he played on a few of his father’s songs. But he long resisted going professional, instead studying architecture and pottery. He gradually gave in to the musical urge and now at the age of 33 is taking the plunge.

Despite the brevity of his indie-rock-influenced release, Available Light, there are signs James is aiming higher than some of his fellow sons-of-Beatles by taking full advantage of his heritage: Unlike Sean and Dhani, James hasn’t adopted an anonymous band name as a way to emerge out of the spotlight; his dad co-produced the EP (along with high-profile producer David Kahne); and it contains a classic-rock-friendly Neil Young cover (“Old Man” – an appropriate choice given the father-son collaboration). He’s even come right out and said it in a rollicking live song: “I Love You Dad” [Below]

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His choices have not gone unnoticed.  Gossip columnist and Paul fan Roger Friedman recently praised him: “It’s not easy doing this sort of thing; in fact, it’s downright brave. Children of rock stars, no matter how talented, are always compared to the parents. James is 33, and has obviously waited until he was comfortable with his identity. (…) So bully for James McCartney. The tracks are good. Let’s hear more, I say!”

Truth be told, the other Beatle kids haven’t exactly thrown in the towel themselves. In fact, there’s a coincidental flurry of activity among them:

  • Sean Lennon and his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl have formed a duo called Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and their album Acoustic Sessions is out October 26. Sean, 34, has previously released two solo LPs, the first in 1998.
  • Dhani Harrison, fresh off a Lollapalooza gig with his four-year-old band thenewno2 has joined forces with roots rockers Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur to form Fistful of Mercy whose debut album As I Call You Down is set to drop October 5. Dhani, 32, made his way into the industry following his father’s 2001 death, working on his dad’s posthumous album and playing guitar in a memorial concert.
  • Julian Lennon, whose career started strong in 1984 at the age of 21 but quickly waned in popularity, has come out of retirement to complete his sixth album, Everything Changes, set for release in 2011. The 47-year-old also has just launched a photo exhibition in New York City.
  • Session drummer Zak Starkey, 45, who has toured with Oasis and The Who will likely be back at work next year when the latter band hits the road again.
  • Of course, those who feel the secret of the Beatles’ success was collaboration may find it hard to resist looking at the next generation and thinking “Beatles 2.”

    “Now we’ve got an active McCartney recording artist for the fantasy Beatle-kids band,” said a Twitter commenter. As Facebook user Nick Celeste commented regarding James’ EP trailer (video): “Nice. Sounds pretty good. Now all the sons have proved themselves…and maybe should all get together?? Nah. Well, maybe.”

    Indeed the idea comes with a certain hesitation. Even if the Beatle boys were interested, any type of collaboration might seem forced, or crassly commercial.

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    Yet perhaps it would be the perfect recipe, their common backgrounds acting as a support group to shed their bashfulness and lift them to a whole new level of musical magic. If so, then they should throw prudence and hipster good taste to the wind and get together. Hell, they could even include other small-time musician offspring of legends such as Paul Simon’s son Harper (video), Sting’s son Joe Sumner, and Van Morrison’s daughter Shana.

    Either way, in the end, their level of success may all come down to the same criteria their dads were forced to live by: whether the music is any good.

    –Guest post by Patrick Riley

    See also:

    HBO’s Game of Thrones: Marketing, Fan Culture, and Closure to a Beloved Fantasy


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