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The Other F Word

December 3, 2011
The Other F Word

How does a punk rocker, steeped in a culture built on anti-authoritarianism, deal with becoming the ultimate archetype of authority: a dad? It may be surprising, but as Andrea Blaugrund Nevins shows in The Other F Word, fatherhood for these guys is actually rather normal, if perhaps a bit more colorful than average.

The first waves of punk music crested in the mid- to late-1970s, and many of the most famous names from this era took their “live fast; die young” message to heart. This documentary centers around the generation that was just coming into their teenage years around that time, especially around Hermosa Beach. Bands like Black Flag inspired The Adolescents, The Vandals, NOFX, T.S.O.L., Bad Religion, and Red Hot Chili Pepper, and later projects like U.S. Bombs, Total Chaos, Operation Ivy, Rancid, Everclear, Blink-182, and Pennywise. And while there have been some tragedies, lots of these guys are still around, and many of the bands are still together.

And, as A Clockwork Orange tells you — if you read the British version of the book, not its American release or Kubrick’s adaptation — people have a way of growing up. Punk rockers, like everybody else, fall in love, get married, and have kids. And now they’re caught between their sometimes nihilistic youthful idealism and the realities of family life.

But is it really such a contradiction? If you scratch the surface, many were drawn to an anti-authoritarian punk movement precisely because of the failures of authority in their own childhoods. Whether it was their first political awareness being Nixon’s resignation or their own fathers’ shortcomings — most poignantly and publicly attested to by Everclear’s Art Alexakis — they were let down by those they should have been able to look up to. And many of them take this painful history and take it as an object lesson in what not to be.

Still, this is not to say that there aren’t some odd moments. The film is consistently hilarious, shot through with one story after another about coming to terms with being a father: one guy shows up for a PTA meeting without realizing his shirt is emblazoned “Fuck The Police”; another changes his kid’s diaper and wishes he could get his hair that particular shade of green.

And then there are the realities of being a provider. A lot of time is spent with Jim Lindberg in the year before he left Pennywise, when touring kept him away from his wife and three daughters for eight months in total. But in practice that sort of tour schedule is sort of necessary for a band, since who is more likely to download a free copy of a song than a punk fan? Some band members without kids try to keep going as ever, but Lindberg finds that even after replacing alcohol with Ambien and Manic Panic with Just For Men he doesn’t have it in him to be apart from his family that much anymore, even if it had been keeping food on the table.

But one question seems unanswered: how has this all affected the music? Alexakis, at least, has been introspective about his own past, but we hear little about the present. Maybe selections from Teaser and the Firecat don’t adapt well to punk songs, but surely there’s some inspiration to be drawn from parenthood. And when one punk after another talks about the collapse of the record business in the face of online downloading and the need for a shift in the system, none of them thought to bring this message into their music? Punk is among the most political of musical genres, and this didn’t occur to anyone? I find it hard to believe, but for all Nevins’ focus on how punks adapt to fatherhood, not talking about how fatherhood affects punk seems a glaring omission.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: if it applies to documentaries, fail.

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