Reviews

'The Other F Word': Punk Never Grows Up

As punk rock dads recall their own difficult childhoods, their absent fathers and abusive stepfathers, they assert their determination to "be there" for their own kids.


The Other F Word

Director: Andrea Blaugrund Nevins
Cast: Jim Lindberg, Mark Hoppus, Lars Frederiksen, Art Alexakis, Tony Hawk, Flea
Rated: NR
Studio: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-11-02 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Take me back to the day

When I was still your golden boy,

Back before you went away.

--Everclear, "Father of Mine"

"There's nothing really in the punk rock ethos that prepares you for being a dad," says Brett Gurewitz. In dark-rimmed glasses and black jacket over his white t-shirt, he still looks rather like the 17-year-old El Camino Real High School student who, with three friends, formed Bad Religion way back in 1979. But Mr. Brett has changed too: his hair is grey and his face has filled out. He's gained some wisdom from his years on the road -- and he's got three daughters.

Speaking in the The Other F Word, Gurewitz assesses his own transformation: "I don’t wear boots and do random acts of violence, even though I thoroughly enjoyed doing so when I was a teenager," he says, as the film cuts to a photo of him in full assault on a car, a big white arrow pointing to him, with the label, "brett." He adds, "I think that's probably the right time to be doing it. You know, if you do it at my age, you're a terrorist." Here the owner of Epitaph Records alludes to contexts the film doesn’t engage directly, but that nevertheless provide a plain backdrop for the experiences of the several punk rock dads interviewed. They've changed, and so has their world.

For the most part, the subjects in Andrea Blaugrund Nevins' documentary -- which opens 2 November at Film Forum (with Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 appearing in person for the 8:10 show on 15 November) -- describe their trajectories as individual. As Hoppus and Flea recall their own difficult childhoods, their absent fathers and abusive stepfathers, their hardworking moms and their scary neighborhoods, they assert their determination to "be there" for their own kids, their hope to provide the loving and secure homes they didn't have.

Certainly, Art Alexakis is an obvious subject here, as his song "Father of Mine" articulates so painfully the loss and anger he felt when he was six years old and his father "split to Florida and didn’t pay child support" (the film includes an acoustic performance of the song, dramatically lit and aptly poignant). His feelings of fear and risk were only compounded when he was raped by older boys in his neighborhood; now, Alexakis says, he's had therapy ("I go back as an adult and comfort me as a child"), which allows him to feel fully engaged with his children's lives. He's a great dad, Alexakis says, and when his daughter's friend tells him, "I wish you were my father," he agrees. "I wish I was my father too."

That's not to say any of these transformations are easy. Flea's teenage daughter recalls that her classmates and teachers "freaked out" when her dad came by her elementary school, and when Rancid's Lars Frederiksen takes his young son to a park to play, he's well aware that other parents look at his tattooed head, "I Hate People" t-shirt, and zipper-leg leather pants, and make judgments. "That's okay," he says, "Because I am who I am. And hopefully I will instill in my son that you respect people on their merit, not on the way that they look." As the film shows him settle his boy into a bright red swing, he adds, "What's working is that I live in San Francisco. You have to basically be naked and set on fire before anyone's gonna bat an eye." As the scene ends, he underlines his awareness of his own performance of fatherhood at this moment: "Hey you guys wanna know how to clear out a park? Bring a punker and a camera!"

Frederiksen, his son, and wife laugh as they walk way home from the park. But the film suggests that other self-performances -- as punks and as dads -- have other sorts of consequences. Jim Lindberg of Pennywise recalls a moment with his preteen daughter: "She looked at me and I could tell she just turned off," he says. "Don’t give me that look," he remembers saying, "I invented that look!" Early in the film, Lindberg packs up his suitcase for yet another tour, as his daughters watch from the doorway. The younger one offers him a Barbie to take along. But, he notes, "For the first time, my oldest daughter said, 'I hate it when you leave.'" The film shows her standing in the doorway as he prepares his trip -- over 200 days, as the film tracks him, by animated map and dates marked on montagey frames -- to Japan, Australia, Italy, and Germany. Here the look is less "turned off" than earnestly pained.

What Lindberg packs speaks to his changed role too: antacids ("Because you eat like shit"), hand sanitizer (the film cuts to a close encounter with a sweaty fan), and hair dye, because you've "gotta keep the dream alive, keep people thinking I'm 20 when I'm twice that age." In other words, the fiction for Lindberg has shifted. When he and other punks were kids, acting out their honest and sometimes desperate rage in LA clubs, they had a sense of mission, a belief that they might fight back. "In reality, what could people do?" has asks. "Go around throwing rocks through a window? A lot of people started playing music that sounded like you were throwing rocks through a window." The film illustrates, with grainy videotape of Lindberg on stage: "Fuck authority," his young and skinny self sings. "Silent majority, raised by the system, now it's time to rise against them!"

And now, 20 years later, it's time, not so much to join them, but to figure out how to live with them. Gurewitz provides the broader context: it's not only about making money with music, or "selling out." It's this question: "How is one supposed to operate ethically in this world and at the same time pay your way?" The question is complicated as record sales are no longer a means to make a living. For Lindberg and other aging punks, touring is the way to support his family. It's a grind to ride a bus for months. The Vandals' Joe Escalanate says, "Bands who used to tour once a year are now coming home once a year."

The Other F Word keeps focused on what the dads are up to, but it's clear that if they're touring and maintaining any sort of performance career, they've got help. Lindberg's wife keeps track of finances (while he complains about how much they're paying for PE clothes), makes sure the girls get to school and practices and make birthday cards to send to dad on the road. If the moms don't speak much in his film, they're ever-present.

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