review: the other f-word

trkfest 2011: tunnells

I love this photo; it’s such a perfect quiet moment with Stephen and Joah Tunnell, and Joah’s daughter Madeline, amongst the furor of TRKFest 2011. Madeline is growing up as the daughter of two musicians, as the niece of two musicians. Her mother spends a large chunk of the year on the road with about-to-break Lost in the Trees, playing french horn and accordian and everything else. I know so many musicians who are also parents, or parents who are also musicians, I felt a kinship with Oscilloscope Labs’ The Other F-Word immediately, even though I lack children of my own. (I can barely take care of myself, so it is for the best that I do not have a child.)

The Other F-Word is the story of punk rockers, many still performing today, who now have families, and wives, and children — the through-line is former Pennywise lead singer Jim Lindberg, who after 17 years with Pennywise left the band to spend more time with his three (adorable blonde) daughters. It’s cut with interviews with plenty of other musicians — most of whom I have to admit I could not identify either by sight or even sometimes by name — but it opens and closes with Lindberg, who wrote the book that the documentary came out of. I loved Lindberg; Pennywise’s music is not to my taste, but I thought Lindberg was funny and charming, and, above all, a great dad. It’s clear from his first moment on screen that he adores his daughters and his wife unreservedly, and that is does cause him genuine pain to be away from them on the road so long.

So it wasn’t a surprise, in the film, to find him leaving the band at the end of the movie, but it was a surprise, the path the movie takes to get to that point. The Other F-Word does nothing extraordinary in the documentary genre, but it certainly has its share of extraordinary moments of humanity, which is the best thing about documentaries. I wasn’t surprised, for example, by how great all these tattooed, pierced, mohawked fathers were with their children, but I was utterly charmed by it — such fierce looking men, many of whom have made their careers out of utter chaos on stage, being so tender and conscious with their kids.

It’s a long story about responsibility, and how the past doesn’t have to repeat; one of the most moving segments was a long string of interviews about how the fathers of punk rockers were often absent and generally abusive, and how all these men have struggled with the responsibility of growing up and taking care of their families and being a different sort of father than what they knew growing up. The film takes on the trauma of losing a child, the pain of spending years as an addict and knowing that, for your children, you have to clean up (Jack Grisham moved me to tears in several places), and how tiring a tour can be as you get older (Lindberg has a great line about surviving on “Ambien and hair dye” on tour that made me laugh out loud).

A documentary about punk rock fathers, one might expect it to be loud and full of curse words and tattoos, and it is; but The Other F-Word is also quietly charming, and absolutely, fiercely loving. Every single one of the musicians filmed loves their child(ren) with a complete certainty and unwavering devotion. It’s sweet without being saccharine; it’s honest without being exceptionally brutal. It isn’t all sweetness and light, but it isn’t all darkness and mohawks and busting guitars and jaws. It’s life, this movie, and it’s the lives of men who don’t necessarily know what they’re doing with their kids like they do with their music but who are, goddamnit, going to try their absolute best to be better than their own parents were.

It’s moving, and it’s fascinating, and it’s highly, highly recommended.

The Other F-Word is available on DVD starting tomorrow. You can check that out here.

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