THE OTHER F WORD Review
With a tone that wavers between surprise and sympathy, The Other F Word explores the world of punk rock musicians who have become fathers -- and discovers that they're pretty much like all other fathers. Shocker!
The documentary, directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, is certainly engaging, and the interview subjects are gregarious, generally forthcoming, and frequently funny, acknowledging the contradictions in their lives that are obvious to outsiders. Yet it's hard for me to shake the feeling that I was watching the pilot for a reality TV show. Perhaps I've watched too many episodes of The Osbournes.
Punk rock has its roots in the early 70s New York alternative art scene. It became political after New York bands like the Ramones toured England, where economic conditions and the predominance of bloated progressive rock groups inspired the Sex Pistols and a myriad other bands to create their own angry expression of nihilistic rebellion. Los Angeles had its own brand of punk rock by the late 70s, which quickly splintered into tinier sub-genres, which developed their own identities and either flourished or died.
The Other F Word picks up from that era in Southern California, as young men -- many with abusive fathers and broken homes -- came of age, found solace in a scene that encouraged aggressive expression, and formed their own bands. The "no future" punk rock ethos resonated with them, and influenced how their lived their lives. Unexpectedly, some of them have made a long-term career out of a high-energy scene that initially appeared to have a limited life-span. Of the men who survived into their 30s and 40s, a number now have children, and this is their story.
As the musicians admit, living in extreme poverty is not ideal when you have a family. And, as well explained, the music scene has changed dramatically, especially in the past decade, and most musicians must tour constantly in order to make a decent living. That means they are away from their families for upwards of 200 days per year. Understandably, that take a toll on their children, which puts the musicians in a very difficult position. How can they continue to do what they love without depriving their children of what they need emotionally?
It's a question that any parent who travels extensively to make a living must face. When a punk rock musician says in the film, 'I'm doing it for them,' meaning his children, he's as guilty of self-deception as much as any traveling salesman from the 1950s to the modern day. Every parent must make hard choices, balancing personal desires, financial obligations, and family needs, and it seems that the battle between career and family will never end.
And it appears that punk rock fathers are as guilty of "do what I say, not what I do" hypocrisy as any other father, as they try to justify their boisterous on-stage and on-tour antics, in contrast to their calm, almost genteel conduct around their children at home.
As I mentioned, the interview subjects are forthcoming, acknowledging that they sometimes unwittingly embarrass their children with their appearance -- 'In retrospect, should I have really gotten a tattoo across my forehead?' -- and wondering whether profanity is harmful or not. (In general, the answer is "f--- no.") Much of the film revolves around Jim Lindberg, a standard-bearer for punk rock as a co-founder of Pennywise. Lindberg wrote a book about the subject ("Punk Rock Dad: No Rules"), so obviously he's given it a lot of thought, and he expounds at length about the internal conflicts he feels.
What emerges from The Other F Word is a group portrait of imperfect men grappling with the notion of fatherhood. The ones who escaped from abusive fathers and broken homes have sworn that they will be better fathers to their children, and, as Lindberg suggests, that may be the best, and most lasting, lesson that punk rock has taught.
The Other F Word opened in New York yesterday and opens tomorrow in Boston and Los Angeles before rolling out to other cities in the U.S. in the coming weeks. Check the official site for theaters and playdates.