A bit early for Father’s Day, a bit curdled too…
Maxwell Cavaseno: Zac Brown is one of those guys the music industry upholds for being real, a kind of authenticity that they insist has been lost. When you push yourself to the limits of your talent, that’s great, but when you’re sub-mediocre, it’s nothing to be celebrated. Let’s ignore how any 14-year-old with a sense of sentiment and an eagerness to please could easily write this middle-school project of a song, or the fact that Zac Brown’s reedy voice has the strength of mildewy wrapping paper. Consider the real tragedy: for all his insufficiencies, this guy is supposedly good because he knows what good music sounds like. You know how aspartame doesn’t work like sugar, but inevitably kills you faster? This motherfucker is the reverse. An insistence on the real thing instead of what’s good, killing us faster and faster.
Alfred Soto: Rosanne Cash’s “My Old Man” has more ambiguity: you can love a father whom you envy or hate. Brad Paisley’s “Anything Like Me” has humor and that writer’s trick whereby the song is about the narrator and his own child. Getting too worked up over Zac Brown Band’s absence of imagination sounds absurd until I remember the song’s getting airplay and too many families invest in sentimental pieties.
Katie Gill: This is slowly making regular rotation on country music stations in my area and I just can’t find a way to talk about this. It seems tailor made for father-daughter dances at weddings in a way that’s just so boring. There are moments when the gentle production manages to win me over but then the lyrics start up. Good on you, Zac Brown Band! Your dad did all the things that halfway decent dads do while still managing to fit the gratuitously rural trappings that country music seems to require of artists these days. Seriously, dusty overalls and trying to fill his boots? I live in Mississippi and that made me roll my eyes.
Brad Shoup: Right, the old generational hex whereby you think your parents had it together, yet you’re barely holding it together. Zac still sees his dad through a kid’s eyes, which is not comforting to me at all. The pluck and strum is so contemplative, it ends up at sacrosanct, and the chorus is giving me real strong “On the Road Again” vibes.
Scott Mildenhall: Presumably the Zac Brown Band are not familiar with the potential logical extension of this song’s title — that being that his old man wears gorblimey trousers, and indeed looks a proper ‘nana in his great big hobnail boots. But maybe that’s not so ridiculous a comparison — both they and Lonnie Donegan ascribe a nobility to the working man that is in itself worthy. Lonnie Donegan didn’t make it sound so boring though.
Jonathan Bradley: “My Old Man” knows how fathers can be impressive but has little interest in what might make them distinctive, what can soften them from patriarchs and Oedipal antagonists — Brown, with little subtlety and an assist from the song structure, supplants his forebear — into living men. “Now I’m a giant,” he sings in the second half of the song, claiming paternal authority for himself. “Got a son of my own.” The maturity doesn’t soften him; he draws himself through his child’s eyes in the same hard lines he did his own father. Country is concerned with tradition, as something individuals grow into and as a set of values passed down over generations, and “My Old Man” literalizes these themes. But, done well, country finds the humanity and nuance in them too — or at least has the nerve to look their ugliness dead in the eye. I don’t like the old man Brown describes, and I don’t like the old man Brown sees himself becoming. I especially don’t like that Brown thinks I should: that he sees greatness in this withered, parsimonious masculinity.