My daughter, Dolores — otherwise known as Dolly, though only to family, as she's getting a little too sophisticated for nicknames — is a born rocker. The first music she heard, pipin' hot out of the womb, was London Calling by the Clash. Now that she's five, she wants more of the same when her father, mellowing in his old age, tries to catch the news on NPR on the way to kindergarten: "Dad, what is this? I don't want talk.... I want rock." When I inevitably cave to the pressure of the younger and cooler, the air guitar and air drums start right up.
Beyond rocking out in the car, Dolly fronts a semi-imaginary band called the Rock Girls, featuring a rotating lineup of her cousins Chloe and Abby on bass and drums, respectively, and Katie Rockgirl, Lisa McCartney, or Veronica Lee Mills (Dolly's stage names) on — what else? — vocals and lead guitar. Now, I realize every parent in the world thinks their kid is somehow more gifted and magnificent than the common rabble of paste-eating snot noses, but I'm serious here: she's got some intense, Tenacious D–style talent at coming up with extemporaneous rock lyrics, from her early punk hit "Step on a Pigeon, Yeah!," made up on an evening stroll through the streets of Prague a few years ago, to her current repertoire, which is leaning lyrically toward the inspirational power ballad ("I can do anything in the world, yeah!"), and exhibits an intuitive grasp of song structure and phrasing. Beyond this, the kid's got serious moves. She takes ballet and tap classes, both of which influence her Rock Girls routines, but lately she's been working in flamenco-type flourishes and bounce-off-furniture, Martha Graham–meets–the Solid Gold Dancers modern dance maneuvers.
And while she's seen the Sippy Cups during a matinee at Cafe du Nord and her namesake, Dolly Parton, at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, she hasn't really seen any show-shows. You know, shows that happen after dark, with mosh pits and people in leather jackets drinking bourbon and acting cooler than they actually are. So I decided to take her to see Radio Birdman at the Great American Music Hall on Aug. 31. Why not? It was an all-ages show, I had an extra set of headphone-style ear protection left over from my days of shooting guns, and besides — she was born to rock.
As we walked down O'Farrell on the way to the show, we came to one of those sparkly sidewalks. Dolly has a rule: when there's a sparkly sidewalk, you've got to dance. Doesn't matter where you're going or what you're doing, sparkles equal boogie. This stretch of sparkle motion lasted half a city block and included a new move, the likes of which Britney Spears can only dream about.
"Did you see that, Dad? Did you see the DJ thing?"
She showed me again, cocking her head to the side as though holding headphones in the crook of her neck and doing an exaggerated Jam Master Jay–style zip-zip-whir scratch. I don't know where she got it, but she's got it.
We arrived at the hall around 9, and openers the Sermon had already played. I ran into my friend Brett from back in the day — he'd ridden his motorcycle from Denver to see Radio Birdman. It was a good night for Dolly's first real show. Radio Birdman, who'd formed in 1974 in Sydney, Australia, broke up in 1979 and, despite occasional reformations, had never toured in the United States until now. They were in their 50s; Dolly was midway through five. The torch was about to be passed, rock ’n' roll–style. The Black Furies came on with, "Fuckin' fuck yeah! We're the fuckin' Black fuckin' Furies from San Fran-fuckin'-cisco, motherfuckers!" I'm not sure how much Dolly caught from the balcony next to the lighting booth, where former Guardian intern K. Tighe hooked us up with the primo seats and free Cokes. Dolly's had a few more cherries than mine, but I'm not one to hold a grudge.
Dolly had been talkin' about rockin' all day, from when I dropped her off at kindergarten at 10 to 8, to when her mom picked her up.