The decision to make a go at a music career is a set up for some hard living. For anyone who has played in a band, as this writer did in his younger days, they’ll already be intimately aware of the unique pleasures such an endeavour brings. Long hours cramped in a van, driving from city to city, eating horrible food, lugging equipment up and down flights of stairs, bad turnouts, shady promoters, too much alcohol and hanging out with your best friends until they become your worst enemies. It’s also a helluva lot of fun. But unless you’re in the small percentile that make it big, or have the stamina and drive to stick to pursuing your art until it eventually can at least pay the bills and put food on the table, you generally run into a decision at some point to put down the instrument and settle into something resembling stability. But for the middle-aged punk rockers in Andrea Blaugrund‘s documentary “The Other F Word” maturity came in a different package, one with ten fingers and ten toes that forever changed their lives.
The concept for the film is a good one. Punk rock itself is roughly thirty years old (give or take) and those guys who were first carving out the path of the genre when it was still decidedly outside the mainstream, are now having kids. And “punk” itself has transformed and changed to include a variety of personalities and meanings. Rounding up a wide array of folks including Jim Lindberg (Pennywise), Lars Frederiksen (Rancid), Rob Chaos (Total Chaos), Fat Mike (NOFX), Joe Escalante (The Vandals), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Mark Hoppus (Blink-182) and more, Blaugrund attempts to look at punk rock and fatherhood through the lens of dudes who tore it up in their youth, and are now making an uneasy alliance with adulthood. It’s just a shame that “The Other F Word” gets stuck in a locked groove early on that it can’t seem to shake.
If you’re not up on your punk rock history — at least the West Coast iteration, given that its where most of these guys are from — the first part of the doc diverges for a bit to give viewers a background on the recklessness, violence, energy and unbridled spirit that defined the scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And for pretty much everyone interviewed here, their definition of punk remains rooted simply in attitude. Asked early in the film to define what punk is, almost all unanimously reduce it to a “fuck you” stance to anything resembling authority or regular society. Tony Hawk briefly mentions the DIY ethic that is a crucial defining element of the genre, but the overall stubbornly narrow view from the musicians carries over to the filmmaker as well.
Despite the number of subjects Blaugrund lines up to speak with, “The Other F Word” quickly settles into a plodding pace that essentially finds most of these guys discussing the woes of parenthood that any regular Mom or Dad could recognize. They long to be there for all the special moments, and when they are on the road, it’s difficult to be away from their families. They strive to be role models for their kids, while remaining who they are. And it’s that note, repeated ad infinitum for most of the film. But what Blaugrund fails to do is really ask the tough questions that become more and more frustratingly unasked as the running time drags on. Though only briefly alluded to by Lindberg, none of these middle class guys, mostly living in safe neighborhoods, address the interesting dynamic between their continued onstage personas that rail against The Man, and how their personal lives find them as participants of The System. Never once does Blaugrand inquire how their views on punk rock, the lifestyle or even their own political views, have changed over their lengthy musical careers or as they have become parents.
But the film’s myopic view doesn’t end there. Also disappointing, Blaugrund never talks to anyone else in these artist’s bands — particularly those who don’t have kids — to get any perspective on how fatherhood has changed them as bandmates, friends or musicians. Babysitters and school officials are glaringly absent, even the mothers/partners are on the sidelines. What is it like raising a child with one-half of the team a devoted punk musician? You won’t find out here. Also baffling are the editing choices. Why have Flea participate, if you’re only going to have two very brief segments with him (especially when those portions are easily the most moving and fascinating of the entire film)? And why on Earth does Art Alexakis from Everclear (remember them?) get as much time as he does in here? It seems the only reason is because he has tattoos and wrote that song “Father Of Mine,” which if you didn’t hate it before, you might now given the bizarrely extended attention it gets here.
It’s hard to believe a documentary about punk musicians could be as lifeless and ultimately uninteresting as this, but we suppose there’s a first time for anything. A completely missed opportunity that only serves to indicate that someone needs to make a documentary about Flea, “The Other F Word” might leave you by the end credits thinking of that other F word. [C-]