I’m still thinking about “The Other F Word,” Andrea Nevins’ new documentary about punk rock musicians who became fathers, since I saw it a week and a half ago at the Woodstock Film Festival.  Featuring the dads who play in Pennywise, NOFX, Blink 182, Rancid, Bad Religion, Black Flag, Rise Against, U.S. Bombs, and Fear (represented by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers), the film is entertaining, glossy and (this isn’t insignificant) generic enough as a rockumentary to go straight to VH1 Classics, as it develops the absurdity and unexpected nuances of its premise: “Isn’t it funny how guys who played music to rebel against the system have now become part of the system?”

Narratively, “The Other F Word” alternates between interviews of punk-rock dads in their domestic settings, usually with kids in tow, and an extended focus on Pennywise lead singer Jim Lindberg over (what we discover by film’s end is) his last tour with the band, a narrative device that develops common conflict of emotions and principles that almost all the musicians feel between punk rock and their families.  Maybe the film follows the threads of Lindberg’s story too much.  We really don’t need to spend so much time on the music industry’s decline as fans stop purchasing recorded music, for instance, to give context to the grueling 200+ date tour that Lindberg finds himself on.  (The priority that punk rock gives to live performance over selling recordings has long preceded the music industry’s current predicament.)  But Lindberg, who has written about his life as a punk rock dad before, is candid and articulate; with his rather ‘suburban’ appearance, he makes an appealing figure for mass audiences to identify with.

If Pennywise isn’t exactly the kind of band that comes to mind when you think of punk rock, then you might be disappointed by Nevins’ choice of informants.  For the most part, the dads’ bands featured in “The Other F Word” hail from Los Angeles’ South Bay and neighboring Orange County, with a few exceptions (Rancid, Rise Against).  And for the most part, these are the “punk rock” groups you hear on the Warped Tour — a well-produced derivation of Southern California hardcore, characterized by a fat guitar sound and an aggressive masculine bellow, that can be slipped into a KROQ playlist — or the original hardcore groups that inspire those bands.  (A mellow, wise Chavo from Black Flag, a.k.a. Ron Reyes, gives one of the film’s most welcome appearances).  Nevins fails to provide a representative picture of contemporary punk rock: among other absences, there’s none of the DIY stuff played in youth centers and basements, no metalcore, and obviously no queercore or riot grrrl (if those 1990s sub-genres have any contemporary manifestations).  But what the film sacrifices in terms of representativeness, it gains in terms of empirical coherence.  By inadvertently focusing on a regionally identified sub-genre, “The Other F Word” sheds light on a very tangible set of class dynamics that illuminate tensions and contradictions in the lifeworlds that punk rock and its offshoots provide many young and not-so-young adults.

I confess: I’ve never been a major fan of this stripe of punk rock.  Back in the mid-1980s, it was easy enough to have your world changed by Black Flag (whose achievements across North American post-punk and alternative music are documented in Michael Azzerad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991).  It was only when I was a college student in Los Angeles that I got up to speed on groups like the Descendants, the Adolescents, the Vandals, and Social Distortion.  This means I missed being a high school student in Southern California, which I discerned was the place where the real local punk rock diehards came from.  At that time, Hollywood punk rock was either a memory (the Germs, the Weirdos, the Screamers) or a group trying to eke an existence in the uncharted waters between major labels and college radio (X, the Go-Gos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  The punk rock that has always thrived in Southern California, drawing legions of young guys looking to let off some aggression by picking fights and slam dancing (I never heard the term “mosh” until east coast thrash metallers Anthrax recorded “Caught in a Mosh”), hailed from the suburbs.

The fact that American hardcore punk originated in Southern California’s suburban environs is fairly well established.  In We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk (Three Rivers Press, 2001), Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen record two contemporary recollections from hardcore’s ground zero:

Jeff McDonald: I know exactly how and where hardcore started.  I remember the day!  I was a teen with a couple of friends around my age who were all into punk rock.  Somebody told me about this school in Huntington Beach where there was supposed to be over a hundred punk rockers.  That was unbelievable to us, completely unheard of.  One afternoon we went by that school, Edison High, looking forward to meeting all these cool new hip people.  We were shocked and bummed instead when it turned out it was the same kids who previously been hassling us for liking punk and now they’re all red-hot punkers emulating how the media portrayed punk rock, as really violent and fucked up.  The Edison High punks all seemed to worship Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten.  All their bands sang with English accents, whatever was coming over from England, stuff that had nothing to do with their lifestyle in southern California.  The entire New York punk scene just wasn’t a factor.

Mugger: Edison High is just this one school.  There were a lot of schools in the Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa area that attracted the sorts of kids whose families didn’t care about them or whatever, and they just got crazy.  Huntington Beach was the term people used, but it was all over Orange County… it was basically a full-on white suburbanite rebellion.  People were saying “fuck you” not only to these people that were trying to tell us what to do but to the establishment in general… the kids did their thing and now the punkers were doing their things (pg. 193).

Of course, hardcore never stayed confined to Southern California.  Indeed, aside from legends like Black Flag and Circle Jerks, it’s arguable whether the best stuff even came from Southern California.  (Ultimately, I don’t think the Minutemen can be considered a hardcore group.)  But as hardcore took on more political overtones and/or expressed more inner-city perspectives in Washington DC, NYC, San Francisco, North Carolina, and elsewhere, punk rock in Southern California mutated into a more tuneful and self-consciously ‘juvenile’ form.  Ryan Moore argues for its cultural influence in Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture and Social Crisis(NYU Press, 2010):

In the L.A. suburbs, nihilism begat a new sub-subculture of punk bands described as “brat-core” or “snot-core.”  The names of some of the seminal bands — the Dickies, the Circle Jerks, and the Adolescents — seem to say it all.  These were groups of young men who flaunted their immaturity and idiocy while making high-speed but very melodic music, which might be described as the sonic equivalent of being teased by an annoying child.  This was “punk” in the juvenile sense of the word, and their songs were full-blown but fleeting temper tantrums against authority.  The Adolescents personified this state of retardation in “No Way”: “No class / No job / I’m just a victim of society / A slob / No ass, no head / I gotta go home and jack off instead.”  This sense of boredom and anomie had originally been expressed by the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, but it seemed especially relevant to punks growing up in the Southern California suburbs.  The Adolescents were part of a circle of punk groups in the Orange County cities of Fullerton and Placentia that included Social Distortion and Agent Orange.  Although nestled in the suburbs, the City of Fullerton in particular was beginning to experience downward mobility, and Social Distortion developed a uniquely working-class aesthetic in that social milieu.  Further toward the coast, an even more violent punk scene developed among much more affluent youth in Huntington Beach who followed the bands T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty), the Vandals, and China White (pg. 56).

In fact, brat-core or snot-core punk seemed to anticipate a larger trend in dumb and dumber American popular culture, where billions of dollars are now made from men who regress to adolescence on screen, over the airwaves, or in cartoon form…  The man in the gray flannel suit, we might say, has been replaced by the boy in the backward baseball cap (pg. 57).

This legacy of “suburban punk” leaves us more or less at the point in which Andrea Nevins documents the punk rock dads in “The Other F Word”.  Have they given up the backward baseball cap for the gray flannel suit?

Of course not.  “The Other F Word” shows us dads bonding with their preteen kids over video games, dressing their tots in precociously cool outfits (the daughter of NOFX’s Fat Mike is a scene-stealer), escorting them to father-daughter dances at middle school, and chauffering kids of all ages around in mini-vans.  The dissonance in these scenes is only superficial; consumer materialism is the lingua franca between these punks and the ‘suburban people’ among whom they raise their families.  (Interestingly, scenes of fathers and children playing musical instruments together offer some of the film’s only non-consumerist interactions.)  And as the cultural codes and status symbols of today’s consumerism shift ever younger and younger, it turns out these punk rock dads are able to identify with and “provide for” their kids quite well.

Quite likely, at least some of the materialism that these punk-rock dads shower on their kids is a reaction to the ways they themselves were raised.  In fact, the most emotionally stirring section of “The Other F Word” examines the relationships these dads had when they were young to their own fathers, which Nevins portrays as generally negative.  Many of these punk-rock dads grew up in single-mother households, and several reminiscences involve occasions when their own fathers abandoned the family.  Others who came from two-parent households confess the lingering pain of moments when their own fathers didn’t think to show up for little league baseball games, never really showed much concern for their kids’ doings, or simply failed to live lives of integrity (Jim Lindberg recalls his father was a traveling salesman) that their sons could respect and emulate.


As the interview with Flea illustrates, even when the punk-rock dads refer to their own family situations in the vaguest of terms, it’s quite clear how deep the wounds of their childhood remain in their present lives.  These wounds are cited as both the reasons why they took up punk rock in the first place, and why they’re powerfully committed to their own children.  In the film’s most optimistic assertion, such family commitment is held up as the ultimate punk-rock principle.  It’s a cheery note to end the documentary on, although it’s a problematic one insofar as it casts aside any of the political contexts of punk rock’s history and neglects the consumeristic settings in which (as “The Other F Word” would have us believe) musicians pursue punk-rock fatherhood today.

Maybe this contradiction isn’t (simply) a failing of Nevin’s analysis; maybe it’s generalizable to the whole of the American punk rock scene.  It’s been said that whereas British punk originated as political protest, American punk was more cultural in its basis, expressing in extreme form the familiar American impulses of individualism and the youthful quest for autonomy.  Perhaps that’s one way to explain the contradiction that “The Other F Word” ends with, but I can’t help but think about this more in terms of economic class.

For instance, does the sub-genre of commercially successful (relatively speaking), male-identified punk rock found on the Warped tour represent a particular class?  It’s tempting to ascertain one, as Ryan Moore does in Sells Like Teen Spirit, in the downwardly mobile generation who grew up children to educated yet not exactly “free thinking” parents working in white-collar technical or administrative occupations of Southern California’s once-booming aerospace/defense economy.  Certainly many of the fans of Southern California hardcore came from such circumstances, but, curiously, few of the punk-rock dads in “The Other F Word” seem to identify such a background.  The more important commonality Nevins highlights is the household/parental situation: abandonment, neglect, disrespect.  This raises an important issue: does the family situation also constitute a class situation?

I’m not yet ready to abandon the economic perspectives that Karl Marx and Max Weber offer in regards to class.  Furthermore, it’s reasonable to be suspicious of family-based theories of social class, which smack of conservative ideologies that hold “personal values,” not economic relations, to be determinative of life chances. But what “The Other F Word” does rather well, if somewhat inadvertently, is reveal some of the micro situations of gender, education, materialism, and family history in which individuals manifest and work through the macro contexts of economic relations and geographic setting.