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The Other F Word

November 1, 2011  |  12:30pm
<i>The Other F Word</i>

It’s a funny thing about punk rock—a band can remain essentially blue-collar as its reputation steadily increases over a period of decades. It’s something unprecedented in other musical genres; no matter how much the musicians hone their craft, they will always play to fans with a minimal amount of money to spend on their fandom. As Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused would say of a band like Pennywise: They just keep getting older, but their fans stay the same age.

Andrea Blaugrund’s documentary, The Other F Word is ostensibly about reconciliation. The film, which premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, asks one very simple question: How can a punk rocker balance his job as an anti-authoritarian mouthpiece and his responsibilities as a family man?

It’s a valid question. When I think of NOFX’s Fat Mike—one of the many artists interviewed for Blaugrund’s film—I think of a man who made headlines last year after he pretended to serve urine-spiked tequila to his fans. Forgive me for wondering exactly who entrusted such a character with children.

To everyone’s credit, it’s obvious that all of the featured artists are dedicated to and protective of their progeny. It’s this refusal to be the “absent father” that fuels the main conflict of the film—Jim Lindberg, lead singer of the prolific skate-punk band Pennywise, and his decreasing enthusiasm for life on the road. While Lindberg is wracked with guilt over having to essentially abandon his family for half the year in order to support them, his boredom is more interesting than his guilt.

Blaugrund’s movie also sheds light on how nihilistic passion can slowly give way to commodification, given a long enough span of time. These are guys with jobs, and these jobs involve quite a bit of acting. While Mark Hoppus and company were able to produce music that was deceptively astute at dissecting the complexity of adolescence, it’d be hard to convince me that a man pushing 40 finds artistic fulfillment in singing songs about masturbation. They have cultivated a brand, and it’s now their profession to deliver a product to the snot-nosed 17-year-olds who continue to eat it up.

Should the viewer fault these musicians for reaping the financial security that has finally come after years of perseverance and probable hearing loss? Granted, with the notable exception of Ron Reyes, the lead singer of Black Flag for a brief but seminal year in the band’s history, the artists featured were never necessarily gutter punks. Mostly, the narrative seems to follow a bunch of kids from broken homes who channeled their rage into its aural equivalent and, eventually, wanted nothing more than to settle for the kind of secure, traditional home life their own parents never provided for them. It’s a frequent theme of the some of the artists’ songs—blink-182’s “Stay Together For The Kids,” Rancid’s “The Wars End,” and Everclear’s “Father of Mine” all carry an air of lament rather than of blind anti-authoritarian rage. Regardless, it seems unfair to bar our tortured artists from social mobility and trap them in the role of self-destructive martyr. As such, the problem for the fathers doesn’t seem to be reconciling angst with parental responsibility so much as how to project an image of disenchantment when they’ve finally found fulfillment. And these guys seem genuinely fulfilled.

There are moments that seem contrived, but even then, moments are captured. (Immediate insights: Flea might be the most adorable human ever; Art Alexakis is about as strange as I expected.) And should seeing Flea interact so sweetly with his daughter surprise me? After all, who would make a better dad than a sensitive soul haunted by his own parents’ negligence? If anything, these dads might be the most well-equipped to handle fatherhood out of any men in America.

Although Blaugrund’s thesis was slightly overshadowed by a more profound subplot, the film still insightfully navigates the tension between continuity and change as the director intended. In fact, it imbues a song like Hoppus’ “Stay Together For The Kids” with an ulterior meaning. It could rightfully ask, “When should a man abandon his youthful provocations and move inwardly to nurse his own nest? When should he end his stint as a teenage icon and focus on raising thoughtful, productive teenagers himself?” The answers to such questions are probably best left to the artists, but for all the joy such bands have provided kids across several generations, it seems only fair that we allow them a comfortable recline into middle age.

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