A version of this review first ran as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2011.
When Roger Daltrey first sang “My Generation” and said he hoped he’d die before he got old, just how old was he talking about? The guys’s 67 and not only is he not dead, he’s still singing that song. That’s the weird thing about rock stars: they get older but their songs — and their fans — stay the same age. When Jim Lindberg started the punk band Pennywise, he was 23. Now he’s in his mid-40s with a wife and three young daughters. On stage, he’s still the same obnoxious guy he was two decades ago, still singing about effing authority. Off stage, his big concern is making sure he’s home from touring in time for the big father/daughter dance. Reconciling those two sides of his personality is hard and getting harder.
That’s why I liked the documentary “The Other F Word” about Lindberg and a whole generation of punk rockers who have become parents. It’s not just a fluffy portrait of dudes with tattoos and their cute kids; like a good punk rock song, “F Word” is suffused with anger and love and frustration. These guys love their families, but they love their music too. Both are full-time jobs, and it’s tough to have two full-time jobs at the same time.
Lindberg’s existential crisis and his increasing isolation from his Pennywise bandmates (who don’t have kids) provides “The Other F Word” with its core narrative, but director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins fills out the film with anecdotes from tons of punk rock dads At every turn, their interviews confounded my expectations. I wasn’t prepared to watch Flea cry while he describes what his daughter means to him or to listen to Art Alexakis talk about the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that inspired his song “Father of Mine.” I typically don’t have a lot of patience for woe-is-me stories about celebrities, but these are different. There’s a genuinely tragic dimension to this punk rock lifestyle. Its live fast, die young ethos has been romanticized by its fans to such a degree that they expect and almost demand their heroes live deranged, tortured lives. In many cases, that expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Few punkers have enough money to retire so they have to keep playing, and to keep playing, they keep acting like they’re 21. As Lindberg notes, that can be hazardous to your health in middle age whether you’re a father or not.
There are plenty of laughs in “The Other F Word” — who doesn’t get a kick out of NOFX’s Fat Mike’s daughter scowling at him as he giggles at his own farts — but there are some hard truths too, most importantly about the sad state of the music industry, where record sales have evaporated to the point that the only way to make a living at rock and roll is through constant touring, which isn’t an option for a family man like Lindberg. The movie really captures how soul-deadening it can be to play the same song night after night, in one city after another, while your family is thousands of miles away. In maybe the best scene in the film, Lindberg tries to do a video Skype chat with his family while he’s out on the road. The connection’s bad and the call gets lost, and his kids are left talking to a big black void on their computer screen whether their dad used to be. That scene is emotionally devastating enough to make you hope your music career dies before you get old.