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The Other F Word

The Other F Word

Andrea Blaugrund Nevins

USA, 2011

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Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 12 November 2011

Source Oscilloscope Pictures DVD Screener

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American Punk

The Other F Word, the feature directorial debut of documentarian Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, bills itself as a “coming of middle age story,” and explores the lives of a variety of high-profile California punk musicians who have surprised their fans – and in many cases, themselves – by becoming family men. The film includes interviews with a range of current and former musicians who are also fathers, but it gains much of its narrative shape from the story of Jim Lindberg, a founding member of the band Pennywise who feels torn between his responsibilities as a father and the demands of his touring schedule. (Fans of Pennywise will already know how this drama played out, but they will not have had such an intimate look at Lindberg’s life on and off the road.)

Lindberg, who is seen dying the gray out of his beard so as not to “disappoint the kids” in his audiences, says he’s having a midlife crisis, but that doesn’t feel quite right, since he also describes life in a punk band as a kind of extended adolescence. Aren’t midlife crises stereotypically characterized by an attempt to return to one’s youth and move away from adult responsibility? What happens when punk rock has become someone’s career, in essence becoming as much an adult responsibility as an escape from it? By confronting these questions, Blaugrund Nevins finds herself in fertile territory. “Maybe punk rock was never meant to grow up, but it did. So too bad,” says Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz.

Throughout the film, the musicians grapple with how their lives have distanced them from punk’s youthful, self-destructive sensibilities. Lindberg notes that some punk fans expect their heroes to be “bleeding and drunk,” and admits that the genre is haunted by figures like Sid Vicious and Darby Crash, both of whom died of drug overdoses in their early twenties. Lindberg’s former bandmate, original Pennywise bass player Jason Thirsk, committed suicide at age twenty-eight amidst struggles with alcoholism and depression. To its credit, the film pushes past the impulse to romanticize the early deaths of these young musicians, concerning itself instead with the personal and professional challenges of being a rock and roll survivor and a member of a long-lived, working class band. Much like the excellent rock documentary loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies, The Other F Word gives fans a needed reality check about the not-so-glamorous facets of life on tour (Lindberg’s touring accommodations include a stay at an Econo Lodge, and his description of the smell of a tour bus is less than inviting), as well as the difficulties of making a living as an artist while the music industry crumbles.

Still, the focus remains mainly on fatherhood (even the moms get little camera time here, which is rather disappointing). Punk, the film reminds us again and again, is characterized by a rejection of authority, and many of the interviewees describe frayed or nonexistent relationships with their own fathers. Some of the most powerful moments in the film come from the musician’s revelations about their difficult childhoods. Everclear’s Art Alexakis performs his band’s song “Father of Mine,” and reveals its harrowing backstory, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea is one of several interviewees who is brought to tears when discussing his past.

Yet as serious as it sometimes is, the film also gets a great deal of comic mileage out of the strange incongruity of domesticated punkers at home with their kids. Former Black Flag vocalist Ron Reyes, who was a prominent presence in Penelope Spheeris’ excellent 1981 punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, has worked a comparatively ordinary day job in a print shop since quitting the band, and in one scene his daughter sheepishly tells him that she and a friend looked him up on Wikipedia and “found some stuff.” Elsewhere, Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus admits that he never expected that he’d have to buy the clean versions of his band’s albums to play in the car. NOFX’s Fat Mike helps his daughter pick out a dress for school, recommending the one with the “hearts and skulls.” U.S. Bombs frontman Duane Peters keeps a child’s car seat in his sticker-covered, punk-looking van, and Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen takes his kid to the park while sporting leopard-spotted hair and a shirt that reads, “I Hate People.” All of this is gently amusing while admittedly restricting punk mostly to youthful vulgarity and surface level signifiers: the camera lingers, for example, over Lindberg’s quietly ironic coffee mug, which is emblazoned with a red anarchy symbol.

Indeed, Blaugrund Nevins is sometimes so preoccupied with punk’s seeming incompatibility with parenting that she perhaps doesn’t delve far enough into the places where the two might fruitfully converge. The creativity of punk, for example, or punk’s social conscience, could influence kids in a genuinely positive way, and the musicians who have continued touring must believe that on some level: the young people who turn up at their shows are, after all, somebody’s kids. At times family life is perhaps too readily equated with a certain suburban squareness, suggesting that parenting is synonymous with the kind of existence that The Descendents railed against on their track “Suburban Home” (“I WANT to be stereotyped/I WANT to be classified”). Blaugrund Nevins also isn’t immune to sentimentality: in one notable instance she offers us a lingering, Hallmark-worthy shot of Lindberg playing with his family on a sun-dappled beach. Still, The Other F Word is in many ways a more affecting and thought provoking film than I expected. Even viewers who don’t own any albums released on California punk labels like Epitaph or Fat Wreck Chords should find worthy moments of humor and pathos here.

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