I’m a big fan of documentaries, and music docs doubly so. Still, Andrea Blaugrund Nevins’s The Other F Word isn’t quite a music documentary in the traditional sense. Sure, latter-day punk anthems like “Bro Hymn,” “Ruby Soho” and “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” are expertly woven into the film’s overall narrative, as are slice-of-life reflections from many of the songwriters, but it’s far more an examination of punk as a culture as opposed to its often more recognized musical elements. Moreover, it’s a film about men who spent their reckless youths railing against order and authority and materialism, only to find themselves with families, mortgages and front lawns.
Pennywise’s Jim Lindberg is the focal point of the film, with the friction between his home life and a grueling tour schedule serving as the linchpin. He makes for a fine principle protagonist thanks to the same level of insight and unflinching honesty he previously plied in his own book, 2007′s Punk Rock Dad: No Rules, Just Real Life. In a world of extremes, Jim walks the fine line between punker and father.
Yet he’s not the sole example of this peculiar strain of rock and roll daddy. The Other F Word goes to great lengths to show the gamut of punk rock parents – from NOFX’s Fat Mike, who refused to forgo his chemical and sexual proclivities in the name of fatherhood, to former Black Flag vocalist Ron Reyes, who wholly abandoned the punk lifestyle for a life of quite domesticity in Vancouver – but Lindberg constantly serves as the comfortable middle ground. He understands both his roles and his unique predicament, and acknowledges it with such clarity that it’s hard not to want him to succeed on all fronts.
Interspersed between the highs of successful touring and the lows of missed birthdays, holidays and soccer games, Jim’s life- and parenting style are cast against those of fellow punk rockers, as well as those in spaces one might term “punk adjacent.” Renowned pro skateboarder Tony Hawk, for example, adds a dash of broader appeal to the niche subject of punk parenting by offering his own views of the West Coast scene and the travails of an often on-the-road father. Crossover artists like Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Mark Hoppus (Blink 182) and Art Alexakis (Everclear) similarly provide familiar faces to those not intimately involved with the American punk movement, and each manages to bring in a unique personal flavor to film as a whole. Although the same can likewise be said for many of the project’s more esoteric figures.
In some of The Other F Word‘s more upbeat moments, you find yourself laughing along with Hoppus as he recalls his son’s fascination with newly discovered “bad words” or with the Reyes clan as they peruse a local record store. But the bad times too come fast and furious. Art Alexakis’s reflection on a childhood of abandonment, poverty and abuse and Tony Adolescent’s stark recollection of the stillbirth of his first child are nothing short of heart-wrenching. I’ll even admit that hearing legendary figure in the skate community and hard-charging vocalist of the U.S. Bombs Duane Peters’s graphic description of his suicidal rage following the traffic-related fatality of his son Chess actually prompted me to pause the DVD, leave the den and hug my own (sleeping and thoroughly confused) children.
At each step along the way, Lindberg’s predicament is sharply examined through the lens of other fathers in similar situations, punks who, after years of fighting the proverbial man, find themselves in the role of ultimate responsibility. These vignettes always give Jim a place to shine, and many of his fellows follow suit. Flea’s tearful confession of his parents’ unwillingness — or perhaps inability — to raise him contrasts against his own obvious affection for his daughter Clara, who takes center stage herself in one of the film’s many high points.
Though certainly not a shock to fans with their ears to the underground during the autumn of 2009, The Other F Word‘s final act sees Jim leave Pennywise, unwilling to further sacrifice his family time despite his decades long history with the band. What we see in this admittedly drastic shift is the documentary’s true theme: parenting, much like music, requires sacrifice.
Whether it’s Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath pondering the unintended influence his father’s right-leaning political inflexibility or Lindberg himself reflecting on his road diet of Ambien and hair dye, The Other F Word skillfully (if occasionally sappily) examines punk both as an avenue of youthful rebellion and as a very real but clearly elastic element in many adult lives. There are bumps along the way, sure, like BMX rider Rick Thorne’s disjointed endorsement of pinching as a preferred method of punishment or the precious little time spent with heavy hitters like Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen, but the doc remains genuinely engaging across its full 98 minutes.
The Other F Word succeeds by combining the elements you’d expect with those that truly surprise. Casual observations like Bad Religion’s Mr. Brett commenting on how punk was forced to grow up in spite of itself and Jim’s own revelation that his time might be better spent changing the world through attentive parenting paint the grown-up face of punk rock as functional even in the absence of its trademark idle rancor. Punk is a mechanism by which lost children find purpose, but the change that parenthood enacts in the lives of its adherents — a damn-the-torpedoes attitude that approaches each domestic challenge with a blend of personal strength and self-awareness — is its true power. By breeding strong individuals, punk likewise fosters strong parenting. By supporting a musical community, it can similarly support the family unit.
With rare exception the littler Lindbergs, Hoppuses and Fredricksens aren’t portrayed as pint-sized punkers with their fathers’ hair, ink or snark. They are pleasant kids. They are normal kids. They are, by all accounts, happy kids. Unlike the previous generation, punk is their social baseline, not their alternative. It is their reality, their day-to-day. And the fact that these parents don’t seem intent on simply indoctrinating their young proves that its message of personal expression and acceptance has endured, even if its anti-authoritarian stance has softened with age.
The Other F Word screens in New York and Los Angeles early this month, with a wider release to follow. If you too are a punk rock parent balancing youthful idealism with grown-up responsibility, you’ll definitely want to catch the theatrical release if it comes within driving distance. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more enlightening, entertaining, touching intersection of your twin passions on the big screen. And if you’re a parent with even the vaguest interest in the music and movement of American punk rock, at least drop it in the queue when it makes its eventual appearance on Netflix. It’s an unlikely feel-good documentary that helps put a relatable face on many punk icons.
Review materials provided by: Girlie Action / Oscilloscope Laboratories