We are family

Are the kids all right? Chris Mugan wonders about a new generation of star progeny
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The Independent Culture

There's also the fact that Holly is the granddaughter of country and western's most revered icon, Hank Williams. It matters not that the 23-year-old didn't know her famous forebear, who died when Holly's dad was aged three. Hank casts a long shadow.

Her father, Hank Williams Jnr, was brought out to sing his dad's songs at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville five years after granddad's death, before he forged his own career in the Eighties as an odd mix of outlaw singer and patriotic rocker. More recently, Holly's half-brother Hank III came grudgingly to the honky tonk sound after trying to make it as a punk rocker, while Aunt Jedd was only too happy to put a picture of Hank Snr on the cover of an album.

While Jnr and III have struggled to come to terms with the family legacy, Holly seems more sanguine. It helps that her father left her at quite a young age. "I knew Hank was a country star of sorts, but I really didn't understand his status as a legend," she says. "Only when I started writing myself did I realise they [Hank and Jnr] were creating things, instead of doing the same as everybody else."

Amazingly, Holly only picked up a guitar when she was 17. She admits her father, having been forced into music early, helped by not being pushy. "He was concerned about me getting into the business, but he knew that I was doing it for the right reasons."

This is turning into a landmark year for musical progeny. Early in the year, the album Want Two cemented the reputation of Rufus Wainwright as an ambitious yet accessible performer, while sister Martha has emerged as a more confrontational artist in a similar vein to Tori Amos.

Their parents are the Canadian folkie Kate McGarrigle and geeky bard Loudon Wainwright III, with whom his kids have enjoyed a fractious relationship. This stems from the autobiographical nature of much of Loudon's work, which often takes in family affairs.

Rufus responded with Oedipal intensity, with Want One and its successor selling well. In "Dinner at Eight" he tells his father: "Don't be surprised if I wanna see the tears in your eyes." Martha has been even more outspoken. She described Loudon as a man who wrote songs about his kids rather than raising them, then put her feelings on her remarkable eponymous album's most searing track, "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole".

Such situations can only become more common as rock's offspring gather in the music industry's heartlands and encourage each other. When Rufus moved to Los Angeles in the mid-Nineties, he fell in with a coterie of offspring of famous names. They included Harper Simon (Paul's eldest), recently seen playing guitar with Sean Lennon. Also trying to join the family business was Chris Stills (son of Stephen). And Chris had teamed up with Adam (Leonard) Cohen.

On the other side of the States, The Strokes' Albert Hammond Jnr has benefited from a close relationship with his über-songwriter father. Hammond the elder made his name when he wrote the likes of "The Air That I Breathe" and "When I Need You". He enjoyed a moderate performing career, though he put that on hold to raise his son. With a child's typical lack of gratitude, the Strokes guitarist rarely mentions this in interviews, though Pops is keen to bring it up now he has his own album due out.

The success stories, though, are exceptions. Rock history is littered with failures after initial interest and some success, as Julian Lennon fitfully achieved in the Eighties and early Nineties. After minor hits with "Saltwater" and "Too Late for Goodbyes", John and Cynthia's son has drifted into obscurity.

This has always been the lot of Yoko Ono's son Sean Lennon. Raised in New York, Sean has been comfortable in more avant-garde waters, as shown on his eclectic, and occasionally tunesome, 1998 album Into the Sun. That was much more palatable than his version of "Give Peace a Chance" with Lenny Kravitz, at the start of the 1991 Gulf War.

Perhaps Kelly Osbourne wishes she'd taken a similar low-key route. Having failed to establish herself as a rock chick with that petulant take on "Papa Don't Preach", Ozzy's daughter has turned to dance music. Her new single "One Word" is, at least, a startling change of direction.

Kelly should prepare for a long, often barren struggle. Take Jakob Dylan, who rather than follow Bob as a solo artist, formed his rootsy band The Wallflowers. They hit paydirt with their second album, 1996's Bringing Down the Horse. It fitted well into the melodic, post-grunge world and earned several platinum discs. Yet true quality will always out; while Dad has regained his status as a living legend, The Wallflowers have suffered increasingly diminishing returns.

Some rock kids never even have that initial success. Rolan Bolan showed little sign of inheriting any of the talent of not only Marc, but also his soul-singer mum Gloria Jones. Three years ago, Rolan tried to marry both influences in his take on "rock'n'soul". He was last seen auditioning for INXS.

So hats off to Kim Wilde, who knew when to step off pop's merry-go-round. She had a longer period of chart success than her rock'n'roller father Marty, establishing herself as the British Debbie Harry with "Kids in America" and milking the late Eighties pop boom with "You Came". But Kim retired gracefully in 1991. Never has gardening leave sounded so glamorous.

Yet we must remember that a lot of these artists suffered tempestuous upbringings. Despite privileged backgrounds and access to stars, the likes of Jakob Dylan and Adam Cohen did come from broken homes. Naturally they have some pain to express, although perhaps they could have used the experience they picked up along the way in rather less public a fashion.

Apart from Rufus and Hammond Jnr, only one member of the rock offspring set has equalled their parent's success. Step forward Zak Starkey. He may be the son of one of the most famous skinbeaters in the world, namely Ringo Starr, but he has filled the drum stool of a much more fearsome talent, The Who's Keith Moon. When it comes to talking about his generation, Zak lets the drums do the talking.