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Rock-on-a-bye, baby

Linda Viens is trying to explain that 10 years ago, successful musicians usually had children only after they’d quit playing. "It definitely feels pioneering to continue to be an artist once you’re a parent," says the Crown Electric Company and Boston Rock Opera founding member over the phone from her Cambridge apartment. "Especially if you have to work a full-time —"

Heavy breathing muffles the rest of her sentence.

"Ruby, I can hear you breathing heavy," Viens says to her six-year-old daughter, who’s listening from another extension. "It does seem to be more acceptable to continue to be an artist and be a mom. It still seems radical, though —"

Ruby exhales deeply again.

"Honey, please, that’s freaking me out."

Viens, her husband and fellow Crown Electric Company member, Wayne, and their daughter, Ruby, are three of the many subjects featured in Kelly Davidson’s "Rock & Roll Parents," a musically themed photo show opening at the JP Art Market this Friday. A regular contributor to Northeast Performer and the Phoenix (where she worked as a senior designer), Davidson spent the past two months shooting color portraits of local rockers with their children, people like Tanya Donelly, Catie Curtis, Morphine’s Dana Colley, even Phoenix assistant arts editor Carly Carioli. Although Davidson had previously photographed more than half her subjects, the Boston University grad still figured some of them would be apprehensive. "I thought everyone would be like, ‘No way, not my kids.’" That wasn’t the case. After hearing about the show, even Mission of Burma’s Roger Miller called her and asked to participate.

"I don’t think I’d do it for a magazine," admits Tanya Donelly, who’s photographed with husband and Juliana Hatfield bassist Dean Fisher and their six-year-old daughter, Gracie. "An art installation — that’s a really different thing than giving your child mass exposure to benefit me. If it was an article about me, and she was there, it would make me uncomfortable."

Local singer-songwriter Dennis Brennan and his son Jake, best known for fronting the Confidence Men, have always shied away from the father/son gimmick. "We’ve always been hesitant to do anything father/son — that stuff always comes out smarmy," says the elder Brennan. "Rock and roll is rock and roll. It’s supposed to be about rebellions, it’s supposed to be about taking a chance, bustin’ loose and all that stuff. I don’t go to many of Jake’s gigs — not because I don’t want to, but who wants their dad sitting there? I didn’t want my dad sitting there." But in this instance, they agreed. "It didn’t seem exploitative or weird." From their Lizard Lounge photo shoot came a shot of the sharply dressed elder Brennan teasingly sticking his tongue at his son’s ear. When Dennis first saw it, he asked Davidson not to use it, but eventually changed his mind. "I let go of it. I said, ‘What the hell? This is what it’s all about.’"

Noise publisher T-Max and his 23-year-old son, Izzy, a Count Zero guitarist, are complete opposites: they’ve been playing together live since the younger Max was 11. "I come from a family who likes to be photographed," says T-Max. "If I had my tongue in Izzy’s ear, I’d be like, ‘Fine, let people talk about it and think what they want. Yeah, I’m having sex with my son now. I don’t care what people say." They aren’t making out in the photo; instead, a top-hatted T-Max kneels over Izzy, who’s lying on the duct-taped floor of the Middle East, arms crossed. It’s a fitting portrait for a father who brought his home-schooled five-year-old to Noise-related business meetings at the Rat and to Middle East performances when Izzy was seven.

T-Max knows how difficult it is to raise a child and be active in the local music scene. "Izzy was born right around the same time as the Noise started. I had on my hands a part-time job working in a health-food store, being a parent, and then playing in a band at night, and being a husband somewhere in there too," he says.

Viens had trouble finding time to write songs when Ruby was little. "You really have to go into a pretty inner space to keep creating. When you have a small child, it’s almost not safe to get as far out there where I need to go to write a song," she says. "I’m so lucky I have really smart mom friends, where you’re changing a diaper and making a chicken finger at the same time, you’re like — "

Giggles drown her out. "Mommy, you said something so funny!"

"Ruby, honey, please hang up the phone."

"Rock & Roll Parents" will be on display from May 5 through 15 at the Art Market Gallery, 36 South Street, Jamaica Plain. An opening reception will be held this Friday night from 6 to 9 p.m. Call (617) 522-1729.

Issue Date: May 6 - 12, 2005
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