Category Archives: Pop punk

Road Trip Playlist 2017! (Dad Pretends to Be a DJ)

I was driving with my brother, playing him my summer road-trip playlist and explaining the rules that I follow when creating it:

Me: “This first song is by Prince; I like to incorporate songs by artists who passed away in the previous year.”

My brother, scrolling through my list: “Green Day? Did one of the guys in Green Day die?!?”

Me: “No. I also include songs by artists who someone in the family has seen in the past year.”

My brother: “CeeLo Green? When did you see him?”

Me: “I didn’t; I just like that song.”

My brother: “Why is there so much ‘Hamilton’ music?”


So I should probably explain for you, faithful blog follower, and definitely for my brother. For the last few years, I have made a playlist for each of our family vacations, following an increasingly elaborate set of rules that I totally made up and that I thought would mean something to my family but apparently matters only to me. Not that I am bitter. Here’s how I choose songs:

1. First, I start with an overall theme. For example, in 2016, my son was graduating high school, so the obvious choice was songs from the Disney Channel “High School Musical” movies. This year’s theme was “Hamilton” because (a) three of us saw the show in Chicago, and (b) our youngest child obsessively listened to it at home and knows all the lyrics.

2. I also include artists who have passed away recently. This year’s list included Prince, Glenn Frey, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, and George Michael.

3. Musicians who we have seen in concert in the last year make the cut.

4. Songs that have a connection to the places were are traveling to are in the mix.

5. Songs that have a connection to our family,  for example, from a TV show or movie we’ve viewed.

6. Songs that have no obvious meaning but that I like are included. (Hey, I’m the DJ.)


It wouldn’t be a blog post about a road trip without a “National Lampoon’s Vacation” photo.

Those are the main rules. Broadly speaking, there will be mostly fun driving songs with a few slower ones at the end, there will be songs that not everyone in the family enjoys but that someone will love, and there will be Taylor Swift (personal preference; my wife knows about my Taylor Swift obsession, so it’s not creepy). Sometimes, songs just don’t work with the rest of the list. In 2016, I included a new song called “Her Mercy” by Glen Hansard, one of my lovely wife Jen’s faves, and for whatever reason, it didn’t fit. The song before it was from “High School Musical,” the song after it was loud and fast, and it just kind of sat there in the middle. I really like it and would recommend Glen Hansard to anyone, but that was a screwup on my part.

This year, we went to Colorado. Our son stayed behind to work a job and earn some money for college, so it was Jen, the girls, and me. We started in Denver and moved up through Boulder to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here’s the list. (I still slip and call it a “mixtape” and get ridiculed mercilessly for being old. I remember a time when creating a mixtape involved having a double-cassette-deck stereo; I’d elaborate on the process, but I’m sure nobody under age 40 cares.)

Colorado 2017 Playlist!

1. “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain. So sad to see such a talented artist die relatively young, especially because he did us short people so proud. This song has a great start (“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life”), but frankly, it kind of drags on the playlist when it settles into the rest of the song.

2. “The Story of Tonight,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, and Anthony Ramos, Hamilton. “Raise a glass to freedom, they’ll tell the story of tonight…” Still setting the mood for the road trip. A great little song about the beginnings of the American Revolution.

3. “Welcome to New York,” Taylor Swift, 1989. Our middle child spent a week in NYC with the high school drama club; this was for her. Also, I’m a big fan of Taylor Swift; this is no secret.

4. “Castle on the Hill,” Ed Sheeran, Divide. Just because I like this song. I placed it after the Taylor Swift song because they have toured and recorded a song together (“Everything Has Changed”).

5. “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” The Clash, Combat Rock. This was the theme song to Season 1 of Stranger Things, a Netflix show that my kids forced me to watch. Not to get too deep here, but I put it after the Ed Sheeran song about longing for our childhood because the TV show takes place in 1983, when I was 12 years old, the same age as the main characters in the show. Plus, I got to see one of the Clash’s founding members in concert (Mick Jones when he was in Big Audio Dynamite).

6. “Move Along,” The All-American Rejects, Move Along. Great pop punk song that everyone can scream along with on a car ride. Our youngest daughter and I saw them open for Blink-182 within the past year.

7. “Still Breathing,” Green Day, Revolution Radio. I took both of our daughters to see Green Day earlier this year (my ears are still recovering). This new song off their latest album keeps me going, when I’m running and in life generally. Another pop-punk car-ride screamer.

8. “Say You Won’t Let Go,” James Arthur, Back From the Edge. Zero connections to this song; I just like it. A love song to my wife. Turned out, though, that our youngest hated this song because all the kids in her class at school would request that the teacher play it when he allowed them to listen to music. Well, too bad, Dad’s in charge.

9. “Rocky Mountain High,” John Denver, Rocky Mountain High. Too obvious? This is required listening for a trip to the Rockies. Interesting side note: John Denver’s real last name was Deutschendorf; an LA club owner recommended that he change it to Denver. He didn’t actually visit Colorado until 7 years after he picked up the stage name. (“He was born in the summer of his 27th year…”)

10. “Rocky Mountain Way,” Joe Walsh, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Also too obvious. Pretty sure Joe Walsh is not talking about the mountains here (“couldn’t get much higher…”). We did see a few marijuana dispensaries while in Colorado. Jen and I got to see Joe Walsh in concert when he was touring with the Eagles about 10 years ago.

11. “You’ll Be Back,” Jonathan Groff, Hamilton. One of the King George songs on the soundtrack, definitely the comic relief of the show. (“You’ll be back, time will tell, you’ll remember that I served you well; Oceans rise, empires fall, we have seen each other through it all; And when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!”) Jonathan Groff is a family favorite; he was the voice of Kristoff in Frozen and Jessie St. James in Glee. 

12. “On Hold,” The xx, I See You. Another song with no connections. I like the way it sounds, and when a song samples Hall and Oates’ cheesy ’80s tune “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” I’m in.

13. “The Weekend,” Modern Baseball, Sports. This song and this band remind me of my high school and college days. Hard to believe, kids, but there was a time when I went out to parties and had girl problems.

14. “In a Drawer,” Band of Horses, Why Are You OK. Before our middle child got her drivers license, I would drive her and her friends home from school. When this song came on the radio, she would complain about it (“It’s about a guy finding something in a drawer!”), but I knew that secretly she loved it and that it was destined to end up on our playlist. That’s the kind of keenly attuned dad I am.

15. “Good Help (Is So Hard to Find),” Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi. Great song with a good beat. Also, it sounds to me like a political statement (“You’ll never have to hear the word ‘no’ if you keep all your friends on the payroll”).

16. “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here. Taken at face value, this one was for our son, who couldn’t make the trip, the first time one of our kids missed a vacation. Personally, this song hits me because it reminds me of a childhood friend who introduced me to Pink Floyd who died while we were in college. Surprisingly, this song doesn’t work on the playlist; there’s too long of a buildup, and it’s too slow.

17. “All We Ever Knew,” The Head and the Heart, Signs of Light. Another popular song on the drive home from school (thanks, WXRT!). I hear about three or four distinct songs within this one every time I listen to it: there’s a slow part at the start of each verse, a pickup at the chorus, and a nonsensical singalong portion (“La la la la la la…”), plus a bridge that sounds like another song.

18. “Best of Wives and Best of Women,” Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo, Hamilton. I didn’t include any of the Hamilton songs that actually make me cry, but this one comes close. Alexander is about to go off to a duel with Aaron Burr, and his wife Eliza asks him to come back to bed. He tells her he’ll be back soon, and as she turns away, he calls out, “Hey, best of wives and best of women.” That’s an actual quote from the letter Hamilton wrote to Eliza on the event of his death.

19. “Mom,” Meghan Trainor, Thank You. Jen had been thinking and worrying about her own mother as we left for the trip. It’s also a fun song for moms and daughters to sing together (and I got to hear mom and daughters singing together loudly on this trip).

20. “F@#k You,” CeeLo Green, The Lady Killer. Well, ahem. Yes. We allow swearing in our family if you are singing along with a song. This is a great tune for a windows-down drive, except you might want to keep the windows up when the chorus comes around.

21. “Already Gone,” The Eagles, On the Border. Glenn Frey’s passing caught me off guard. I had seen him solo in a very strange setting: my brother-in-law’s company picnic up in the Santa Monica mountains sometime in the early 2000s. I saw Don Henley solo in the early 1990s, and I got to see the reunited Eagles about a decade ago. Frey was a great showman and a solid musician, and it can be argued that the Eagles are America’s greatest rock band. But that’s a story for another blog post.

22. “Johnny B. Goode,” Chuck Berry, Chuck Berry Is On Top. I was lucky enough to see Chuck Berry in concert before he passed, back when I lived in St. Louis. He was in his 70s and would play about once a month in the basement of Blueberry Hill, a restaurant in University City, MO. I had been told that he was very hit-or-miss; some shows were great, but in others he was disinterested, ornery, and ready to bolt early. I got a great show. What was fascinating was that he would start with a guitar riff (and if you know Chuck Berry songs, you know there are basically two riffs that his songs start with), and the other guitarist would figure out what song he was playing and yell it out to the pianist and drummer. Fun stuff.

23. “Modern Love,” David Bowie, Let’s Dance. Seriously, it’s getting harder to take, this aging and having all my music crushes die. David Bowie? Come on. Was there anyone more willing to reinvent himself and be different at the risk of ridicule?

24. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” George Michael featuring Elton John, Duets. Okay,  I get it, everyone dies. But George Michael? I don’t have to remind my faithful readers that Wham! was my first concert experience. I could have chosen any Wham!/solo song, but I went with this one because it’s a fun singalong and the video was recorded live in Chicago, my home base.

25. “Miles Away,” Goldfinger, Goldfinger. For years, I had this album on a poorly-recorded cassette, and I had practically forgotten about it. Then our youngest child, who fell head over heels for Blink-182, Green Day, and Fall Out Boy, started agitating for more pop punk music. I finally broke this album out for her and rediscovered how good it was. Plus, we were literally going, ahem, miles away from our home on this trip.

26. “Cynical,” Blink-182, California. I took our youngest to see Blink-182 in concert, and my ears recovered just in time for us to see Green Day. The reconstituted Blink-182 is unfortunately missing Tom DeLonge, their great co-lead singer, but Mark Hoppus makes this song off their most recent album sound as good as any of their early stuff.

27. “Packed Powder,” Blind Pilot, And Then Like Lions. How many indie bands can Portland, OR, produce? Here’s another. Love the feel of this song. “I started working as a tour guide, I thought it would make me believe my own words…” I am purposely winding the album down with softer songs at this point.

28. “Set ‘Em Free, Pt. 1,” Akron/Family, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. This one was a holdover from the previous year’s playlist, when our oldest went to college. I heard it (of all places) in a tire commercial. I interpret it to be about letting our kids grow and go. “Set them free, set them up, and let them be their own release, And when it’s time you can begin to let them breathe…”

29. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” the cast of “Hamilton,” Hamilton. I lied: I did include a song from the musical that brings me to tears. It tells the story of Eliza and Alexander, but it’s also a message about our limited time in this world from Lin-Manuel Miranda to all of us: “And when you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame?”; “And when my time is up, have I done enough?”

30. “Nightswimming,” R.E.M., Automatic for the People. I always planned on ending a playlist with this quiet song. There was a time before iTunes and Spotify when record companies would release albums, often on Tuesdays, and fans of a band would line up (yes, line up!) outside of record stores on release dates to buy the latest albums. When I was in college, R.E.M. was one of those bands for me; the band has retired, which is a bizarre thing to do for a band that produced so much vibrant music over the decades. The song “Everybody Hurts” got more airplay off of this album, but this song meant more to me. I think of Jen and me when I hear it, about how lucky we are to have known each other since we were teenagers. “Nightswimming, remembering that night, September’s coming soon, I’m pining for the moon; And what if there were two side by side in orbit around the fairest sun?”


Daddy/Daughter Date to a Punk Rock Concert: What’s My Age Again?

Part of being a responsible parent is pretending to like godawful music and listening to it over and over again in a minivan. This was not covered in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. My lovely wife Jen and I will be forever haunted by having certain CDs on repeat when our kids were younger: Sesame Street’s Elmo’s Lowdown Hoedown (Big Bird, Elmo, and friends singing country songs about reading, friendship, and feelings), The Lilo and Stitch soundtrack, and Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0. 

I should note that I like early Justin Bieber. When that precocious kid sang “Baby” (“Ooh, baby baby baby oh, baby baby baby no, I thought you’d always be mine,” etc.), I was rooting for him to have long-lasting success in the music industry. But when our youngest was a  5-year-old music-selection dictator screaming for us to play that song nonstop on car trips while our other kids covered their ears and screamed, “Make it stop! Make it stop!,” it made me reevaluate my relationship with him and, frankly, my love of other things Canadian, like Pamela Anderson and Canadian bacon.

But I wanted to talk about taking my youngest daughter to her first legitimate rock concert. As the baby of the family, she has benefited from Jen’s and my (mostly my) slippery-slope parenting skills. With the first child, we were all, “His eyes won’t see a screen until he’s 3! And he’ll only listen to Mozart and Beethoven and James Taylor! And he’ll only eat organic foods harvested within a 100-mile radius of our home! And let’s bubble-wrap the crap out of this apartment so he never gets a boo-boo on his body!” We were pretty annoying. By the time Child No. 3 came around, our tune had changed: “How long was that hot-dog chunk on the floor? Was it longer than 60 seconds? Just brush off the crumbs and see if she’ll eat it. And is it 9 a.m. yet? ‘Dora the Explorer’ should be coming on soon; TV is our friend.”

I was the baby of my family, too, and I can pinpoint the moment I realized I was the beneficiary of being youngest: July 1980, when I was 9 years old. My mom took a much-needed vacation with her girlfriends to Florida. (My parents had four children in a 4-year span. It was so loud at our house that even I didn’t like to be around us at times, and I was one of us.) My dad took us to a double feature at the local theater: The Blues Brothers (the first time I heard the F word and the S word used repeatedly in a film) and Airplane! (the first time I saw a woman in a state of undress in a film). As we left the theater in stunned silence, my dad turned to us kids and said, “We probably shouldn’t speak of this to your mother.”

By contrast, I had a friend who was the oldest in his family, and when we were 15, his parents took me along with him and his little sister to see the re-release of Disney’s Song of the South. Which, by the way, was controversial for other reasons, but was still a Disney movie. I was like, “I’m too cool for this, man. Pass me some Jujubes.”

When my brother was 18, he convinced my parents to let him take his girlfriend to a concert at Poplar Creek, an outdoor music venue in the Chicago suburbs that no longer exists. The only way they would agree was if he took along his three younger siblings. (Well played, Mom and Dad.) This seriously cramped his style that night. The happy news for me is that I got to see my first band live in concert. I am not ashamed to admit that it was the UK pop duo Wham! with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. (The band’s official name includes the exclamation point; please don’t assume I am excited every time I type it out.) Which one of Wham!’s songs are you thinking about now? Is it “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or “Careless Whisper”? If you’re not familiar with Wham!, they were like the Justin Bieber of their time: catchy tunes, cute faces, lots of screaming fans, never meant to last. I was in love with the whole spectacle of that evening: the long line surging forward when someone thought they spotted George, an opening-act comedian (not something you see with most rock bands), girls crying when the boys took the stage, and the pyrotechnics and light show.

It was the summer before my freshman year of high school. You can bet I wore my “Whamamerica! tour” concert t-shirt to high school exactly once before burying it deep in my shirt drawer.

Version 2

As Mark Hoppus sings, “My friends say I should act my age. What’s my age again?”

In recent years, I also buried some of my music collection away so that my kids wouldn’t be exposed to it: AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, the Violent Femmes, and Blink-182. While it was easy to hide the cassettes and CDs, things got complicated when I switched over to iTunes. Our youngest child perused my music on the laptop and stumbled upon Blink-182’s 1999 album Enema of the State. The joke in the title reveals the level of the band’s juvenile humor (right in my wheelhouse). For whatever reason, our daughter took to this album. Sometimes you can’t explain why certain music appeals to you (e.g., I am a huge fan of Taylor Swift and will vigorously defend her right to pen breakup songs about celebrity ex-boyfriends; I wish I was kidding).


This is Wham! I was lucky enough to see them in concert in 1985. If you got too close to them and looked at their mouths, their teeth would permanently blind you. Or so the rumor had it. From left: George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley.

We started running into the problem of what amount of foul language is okay to sing aloud if it’s not allowed in everyday talk. Slowly, our daughter pushed for more music along the lines of Blink. They’re a pop punk band, so she fell for the triumvirate of greats in that genre: Blink-182, Fall Out Boy, and Green Day. (Not to turn this into a lecture or to reveal my own ignorance on musical genres, but pop punk basically takes the “screw you” mindset of punk music with its fast chord changes and distorted guitars but adds a more listenable tune to it. To hear the difference, listen to the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and then listen to Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?”)

When our youngest balked at the increased amount of tennis lessons I had signed her up for this summer (I figured that if she liked tennis 2 times weekly for 3 weeks, she’d really like it daily for 6 weeks), I told her I’d make a deal with her: Make it through all the lessons, and I’d take her to the Blink-182 concert in September. (Bribery, ladies and gentlemen!) Originally, we were going to bring her sister and a friend, but they couldn’t make it.

Which is how I found myself heading out on a Friday night to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, just my 11-year-old daughter and me, to see a punk show: three bands, one DJ. When I was shopping for tickets, Jen convinced me to buy the lawn seats on the theory that our daughter shouldn’t have nice, sheltered, cushioned pavilion seats for her first show because then she might never want to get the cheap seats. “What if it rains?” I said. “What are the odds that that it would?” Jen said.

When we got to the parking lot, we could barely see the entrance gates because of all the rain. (Thanks, Jen!) It was coming down so hard that there was a chance that the concert would be cancelled. We wore raincoats, and I carried a poncho in so we could sit on something. I wanted to sit in the car as long as we could, but the kid was anxious to see the sights and sounds, so out we schlepped through the pouring rain. I mean, it was raining hard like a Taylor Swift song. In the first 5 minutes we were there, we got completely soaked. The good news is that we had our pick of the lawn and settled into a spot behind maybe 3 rows of people. We watched the DJ (DJ Spyder) and ate our soggy pizza and nachos. My daughter kept looking around wide-eyed and saying, “Look at all the black clothes! Everyone is so emo!” We bought souvenir T-shirts; my first choice turned out to be a woman’s shirt, of course, so I had to scramble to find something manlier.

The first band to play was the All-American Rejects, another pop punk band whose popularity was highest in the early 2000s. They were great, even though the venue was only about half-filled by the time they hit the stage. They played a short, 35-minute set of all their hits and finished with a new song, called “DGAF,” which stands for “Don’t Give A” and then the F word. The chorus was, “We don’t give a *bleep*,” screamed over and over again. Later, my daughter said she liked the All-American Rejects the best, better even than Blink-182. Hopefully not because of their new song.

By the time band number two came on, the rain had stopped for the night. And the crowd got thicker and pushier and scarier. I looked around at one point and realized that (A) my daughter was by far the youngest person in our vast section of the lawn and (B) I was by far the oldest person in the lawn section. I’m not kidding. Fortunately, my kid kept her hood up the whole time, so I’m not sure that anyone around us even knew how young she was. Also, I’m the height of a middle schooler, so she’s about my size now.

The second band was a group called A Day to Remember. Their music has been described as metalcore. I like all kinds of music; however, and especially when I am trying to protect my kid from the headbangers crowding into me, I can’t say I’m a big fan of them. I told her, “If things get ugly, I’m grabbing you and we’re pushing our way out to the right.” And she kept reaching over to hold onto my arm to make sure I was still there. When two guys started a mosh pit behind us, my daughter got pushed about 5 feet away from us, but I had my hand on her arm and stopped her from flying too far. I was never happier to have a band finish its set than when A Day to Remember said, “This is our last song!” I cheered the loudest.


The nice gentlemen in Blink-182 who were sent to corrupt your childrens’ morals. From left: Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker, Matt Skiba. Photo: Robin Marchant, Getty Images.

Then Blink-182 was up. I went into the concert somewhat disappointed that one of the three original members, Tom DeLonge, wasn’t touring with them (he’s the guy with the nasally voice who shares lead vocals on their songs), but I have to say that I’m glad I went. Although, again, speaking as a dad, I’m not sure about the massive flaming sign behind their drummer, Travis Barker, that was simply an “F,” a “U,” a “C,” and a you-know-what-else. Some quibbles: they didn’t play enough songs off of their best album, they played too many songs that were closer to the metalcore of A Day to Remember and not enough that were closer to the pop punk of the All-American Rejects.

They were supposed to play from 9:20 until 11:10 or so; looking at other setlists from the tour, they’d do about 24 songs. About 5 songs into their set, my kid whispered to me, “I’m really tired. How much longer should we stay.” I was like, “Really? It’s 9:50 on a Friday. At sleepovers, you stay up until 2 a.m.” So I made her a deal: we could leave after they played “All the Small Things,” which I knew they would do as their 22nd song. (One suggestion for the guys in the band: When you have a song like “First Date,” whose chorus is “Let’s make this night last forever,” you should end with that song instead of playing it so early in the set.)

The closer and closer we got to the end, the sleepier my daughter got. As soon as we finished singing along with the crowd on “All the Small Things” (“Say it ain’t so, I will not go, turn the lights off, carry me home…”), we zipped out, hopped in our minivan (only the cool kids drive minivans to punk shows), and headed home.

I put Enema of the State on in the minivan. My little rocker was asleep as soon as we hit the highway.