Punk Rock Grows Up, And Grays, In 'Other F Word'
Punk rock bands like Blink-182 and Rancid are no strangers to obscenity — it's an integral part of their anti-establishment vernacular. But as the figureheads of raucous teenage rebellion age, they've had to encounter a different kind of "F-word"-- fatherhood. A new documentary film explores this paradox, as serious punk-rock performers make the transition from rebels to responsible family men.
The film's director and writer, Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, sat down with NPR's Robert Siegel to talk about what inspired her to explore the tension behind aging punk rockers-cum-devoted dads — and the surprising lessons she learned from these unlikely philosophers.
Nevins came across the idea when a friend — Cristan Reilly, eventually the film's producer — passed along a book written by Reilly's high-school friend Jim Lindberg, also the lead singer of skate-punk band Pennywise. The book was called Punk Rock Dad, and it explored Lindberg's experience fronting a band whose most popular anthem is "F - - - Authority," at the same time as he was raising three little girls.
"It seemed like a really fun oxymoron to jump into, and we did," says Nevins. With Reilly onboard, "we went down the punk-rock rabbit hole and made this movie," she says.
The transition from punk rebel to mature dad was a sharp turn for most of the musicians. Although Nevins originally conceived of the project as a comedy, she quickly came to realize the real struggle and pain behind these men's experiences with fatherhood.
"I discovered that a lot of these guys were really devastated by their own fathers," she says. "When handed a child, suddenly that all came rushing to the forefront, and they felt like they had to truly be there in a way that their parents weren't."
It was their own childhood experiences, coupled with a profound sensitivity, that led these musicians to their early rebellions, says Nevins.
"They were also very sensitive kids, [...] so they felt they needed to express the outrage that they were experiencing in a poetic way — but not [with] your regular sonnet."
As they now make the transition into aging fathers, the artists Nevins profiles are dealing with more than just the tension between being a working musician and a family man. They also have to reconcile their changing images with their fans' expectations.
"With most musical genres, the audience ages with the artist. But in this case, this is really an art form that speaks almost exclusively to rebellious, angry teenagers," says Nevins.
As these men age, but continue to play to teenage fans, they struggle with questions of authenticity.
"Honesty and authenticity are sort of the watchwords of the punk-rock movement," says Nevins. But if punk rock is still putting food on the table, then it's difficult to decide when to quit, she says.
It's a challenge made even more difficult by the demands — and the decline — of the music business. Not many punk bands are big enough to sustain themselves off only a few shows a year. As CD sales decline, supporting a family requires regular touring, which means being away from their children.
"They used to be able to put out a record and at least be able to feed the kids off of that," Nevins explains. "But now [...] they have to get ticket sales to get paid."
Her work on the film helped Nevins deal with her own questions about the push and pull of work and family.
"It was something that I was wrestling with for a good long time, this decision about how much do you work, and how much do you try and spend time with your kids," she says. "I learned that I have to be there as much as I possibly can," she says.
While the parenting struggles of aging punk rockers might be an extreme example, many parents have to reconcile the choices of their past as they raise their children.
"All of us go through a period where we have to re-evaluate who we are in the world," says Nevins. "We're no longer the person who's rebelling against our parents, and that's hard for everybody on different levels."
For punk rockers, their entire identities are tied to ideas of rebellion and nihilism — making it all the more difficult to assume the role of mature parent.
"Their whole brand, their whole identity is involved in being the rebel. Then how do you come home and send your kids to school and make sure they get their homework done?" asks Nevins.
At least when it comes to sharing their art with their children, punk rockers can always play the clean versions.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. A story now about the F word. Actually, "The Other F Word," which is the title of a new documentary film. And we should say here that the other F word is fatherhood. The subtitle of the film is "The Coming of Middle Age," and it tells us how a handful of serious punk rock performers have made the transition from rebels to responsible family men. The movie is funny and serious and obscene and sweet, and its director and writer is Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, who joins us now from our studios in Culver City, California. Welcome, Andrea. Welcome back, Andrea, I should say.
ANDREA BLAUGRUND NEVINS: Oh, thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: I should explain that 25 years ago, you were booking interviews for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
NEVINS: That's right.
SIEGEL: I guess, about 25 years ago, the guys who made this film were young and living like there was no tomorrow.
NEVINS: They sure were.
SIEGEL: How did this idea to find punk musicians who've turned into devoted fathers, how did this come about?
NEVINS: A dear friend of mine, Cristan Reilly, who is now the producer of the film, came to me with a book written by an old high school chum of hers named Jim Lindberg, and the book he had written was called "Punk Rock Dad." And it was what seemed like a really fun oxymoron to jump into, and we did. We went down the punk rock rabbit hole and came out with this movie.
SIEGEL: Jim Lindberg, I say this, if I knew this before 72 hours ago, Jim Lindberg is from the band Pennywise. Here's a clip of him as he's packing for a long tour.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE OTHER F WORD")
JIM LINDBERG: I've been doing this for 20 years, being a singer for a punk band. Rock belt, that's where the magic happens.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Can we get you a different pair?
LINDBERG: We have a big album coming out. You know, a lot of touring in front of us. We've got open house at school. I'll be in Myrtle Beach. Sometimes I'll be here. Sometimes I'll be gone.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, I can't take 20 Barbies. I'll take one.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIEGEL: He's the person we see most of in this film, and he seems to have made the transition pretty well, from a wild and crazy young guy to daddy.
NEVINS: He's made it pretty well, but it's been a struggle. It's really hard to go out and yell the band's anthem, "F Authority," and then come home and be the ultimate authority in his house.
SIEGEL: Yes. We're talking about not just the language of the performance, the look of the performance, the tattoos that go along with being a punk rock musician, the attitude towards society. It's a pretty sharp turn one has to make to start socializing one's children.
NEVINS: It is. But what I discovered in doing this film and didn't expect at all - I was really just thinking of it more as a potential comedy. What I discovered was that a lot of these guys were really devastated by their own fathers. And when handed a child, suddenly that all came rushing to the forefront, and they felt like they had to truly be there in a way that their parents weren't. And in many ways, that was the reason for the strength of their early rebellion.
SIEGEL: Yeah. I have to say that I had actually assumed that a lot of the outrage of punk bands was as much a pose as the statement of what their lives were like. And, in fact, you describe - you interview a lot of people here who had horrible upbringings and came from terribly broken families and backgrounds.
NEVINS: They did, and more than that, I think that all of them were, in addition to having been maltreated as children, they were also very sensitive kids and really kind of the poets of their classes. And so they felt that they needed to express the outrage that they were experiencing in a poetic way but not your regular sonnet.
SIEGEL: Here's one of my favorite moments of balance in the film. This is - is it Tim McIlrath?
NEVINS: Tim McIlrath, yes, Rise Against.
SIEGEL: McIlrath of the band Rise Against. We hear him playing his song on guitar with his little grade school-age daughter, and then it segues to him performing that very song in a concert.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE OTHER F WORD")
TIM MCILRATH: You know how it goes?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No.
MCILRATH: I'll start it.
(Singing) Now I'm standing on a...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Singing) Rooftop ready to fall.
MCILRATH: (Singing) I think I'm at the...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Singing) Edge now.
MCILRATH: (Singing) But I could be...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Singing) Wrong.
MCILRATH: (Singing) Now I'm standing on a...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: That's all I know.
MCILRATH: That's all you know?
(Singing) (Unintelligible). I'm standing on a rooftop ready to fall. I think I'm at the edge now, but I could be wrong.
SIEGEL: I'm standing on a rooftop. I think I'm at the edge. Not the typical song that father and daughter sing together.
NEVINS: No, not at all. But these kids are being raised with some real truths in their lives, and I think it's benefiting all of them.
SIEGEL: One tension here is between the aging punk rock musician and his family, but the other tension is between the musician and his fans. For his family, he may have to become a mature daddy, but for the fans, he has to remain the raucous kid out there.
NEVINS: Absolutely. It was one of the things that really struck me in doing the research for this because I was not a punk rock fan growing up. And what struck me was that with most musical genres, the audience ages with the artist. But in this case, this is really an art form that speaks almost exclusively to rebellious, angry teenagers. And as you're getting older, it becomes kind of ironic to be up there screaming a teenage kind of angst. And a lot of these guys are struggling with how do you stay honest because honesty and authenticity is sort of the watchwords of the punk movement.
SIEGEL: Yes. There's - one of the musician's remarks: There's a bit of the clown playing the kid's birthday party here. Old guys coming in dressed up and making youngsters, teenagers happy, happy in their anger.
NEVINS: And so when do you call it quits if it's actually still putting bread on the table, and then what do you do if that is your expertise? It's a question they were all asking themselves.
SIEGEL: These are bands that somebody says in the documentary that they're not so big that they could do a couple of shows a year and live through their 50s on that income. They've got to get out there. They've got to get out and perform which means being away from little children.
NEVINS: Exactly. And they're coming of age and really having to put food on the table corresponded with the decline of the music industry. So that's one of the things that all of them are dealing with, the fact that they used to be able to put out a record and at least be able to feed the kids off of that. But now, with file sharing and the decline in CD sales, they have to get out there to get paid. They have to get ticket sales to get paid.
SIEGEL: I won't spoil the end of the film here, but Jim Lindberg throughout the movie has to make a big decision. He reflects on that in a very honest revealing way about what he's learned. So I wonder what you've learned from making this film about him and the others.
NEVINS: You know, it was something that I was wrestling with, this decision about how much do you work and how much do you try and spend time with your kids? It's such a tremendous pull, I think, on all of us who have children. And I think what I learned is that I have to be there as much as I possibly can.
SIEGEL: Of course, this story, one can see it as an extreme; that is, people who in their youth, which went deep into their 40s, let's say, were out performing raucously, publicly misbehaving, and the question is how do they reconcile that with raising their children. But in a much broader and perhaps less shocking sense, parents have done things in their youth. They behaved in ways that were young and irresponsible, and it's a general question. How do you reconcile that with the kids you're raising knowing some things are inevitable, some bad choices are inevitable, but hoping they won't make too many of them?
NEVINS: Exactly. And I think all of us go through a period where we have to re-evaluate who we are in the world. We're no longer the person who's rebelling against our parents. And one of the reasons why I wanted to explore this with punk rockers is because I think it's actually much harder for them because their whole identity is involved in being the rebel. And then, how do you come home and send your kids to school and make sure they get their homework done? And, you know, I think a lot of these guys are finding it amusing that they have to play the deleted F word version of their songs in the car for their kids. Otherwise, their kids can't share their art. And I think that's very hard.
SIEGEL: Well, Andrea, thank you for talking with us about the film.
NEVINS: Thank you for taking the time. I so appreciate it.
SIEGEL: That's Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, who is writer and director of the documentary film "The Other F Word." It opens today in New York and on Friday in Los Angeles.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FATHER OF MINE")
ART ALEXAKIS: (Singing) I will never be sane. I will always be weird inside. I will always be lame. Now I'm a grown man with a child of my own. And I swear I'll never let her know all the pain I have known. Oh, yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.