Punk Rock's Soft Spot, Speaking Up In 'F Word'
What happens when aging punk rockers become fathers? They go all gooey inside, just like regular guys. Or at least they do when they stagger home from expletive-filled gigs on the road to drive the kids to school, soccer and ballet, with cleaned-up versions of their own albums playing in the station wagon.
Food for midlife crisis? We'll get to that. But first to the charm offensive, and I mean from the filmmakers, not the stars of this affable new rockumentary, the latest in a thriving subgenre about bad-boy musicians landing on the wrinkly side of 40. The feature debut of television producer Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, The Other F Word is executive-produced (with Jeremy Chilnick) by Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), a man with a sharp nose for commercial high concept. Wild and crazy guys tamed for life! And there's something undeniably sweet and comforting about the sight of little angels snuggling happily in the tattooed arms of grizzled lugs with names like Fat Mike, Rob Chaos and Tony Adolescent.
The feeling is mutual, to judge by the fervent testimony of the dads, most of whom played with hardcore bands like Black Flag, The Adolescents and Rancid that flourished in California's beach communities in the '70s and '80s. The film focuses on Jim Lindberg, lead singer of the skate-punk band Pennywise and author of a book about being a punk dad; when he's not on tour belting out that other other F-word for 17-year-old fans around the country, the genial Lindberg is home in a modest suburb with his high-school sweetheart wife and their three girls, doing what dads do.
An impressive number of these men say flat out that their children saved them — the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea breaks down in tears — and all seem desperate to be better fathers to their own children than their own abusive or absentee parents. Yet in focusing on the rockers' deprived childhoods, the movie, which is rather careless with period detail — if punk was a refuge for misfits in 1970s suburbia, why show footage from the 1950s sitcom Ozzie and Harriet as the model for a generation more likely to have grown up watching Happy Days? — has little to say about punk as a form of political and cultural resistance in its time. It winds up reducing the movement to little more than a bunch of disaffected furies from lousy homes.
Few of the dads repudiate punk as a musical form; they've simply aged out of it. "Punk was never meant to grow up," says one dad sadly, while another registers his growing discomfort at having to play "birthday clown" for hormonal young things who embrace the style without the political message. In that regard The Other F Word may already be a little out of date — Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, who doesn't appear in the film, has said that punk may yet come back to bite us with the Occupy movements. If so, the midwives will have to be the young.
With or without children to support, there's real pathos, as Lindberg wryly admits while applying black dye to his hair before a gig, in being a 43-year-old man preaching rage against the machine to a bunch of teens safely penned behind a partition. On the home front, it's hard to remain a nihilist around little kids, who are natural creators of meaning from the materials at hand.
As wonderful as it is to see the peace and happiness they've brought their dads, the real challenge for these men may come when the sweet tots who now look up to them grow into adolescents looking for authorities of their own to displace. I look forward to the sequel, Back to the F Word: When Teenagers Out-Punk Their Elders and Make Them Mad Again.
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