The Other F Word, Rebellion and Map Of Fog
What happens when punk rock grows up? It gets a house and has kids. In The Other F Word we see various stars of the So Cal punk rock scene sing songs to their kids, take them to the park and try and lay down the law in a cool, I’m-not-really-telling-you-what-to-do-but-I-am-so-please-do-it way. It all seems so ordinary and devoid of rebellion, and that’s because it is. These guys are no longer flipping the bird but pancakes over morning cartoons.
The film sets up what seems like an interesting premise but really it’s obvious: punk rockers love their kids, they just look a little bit different from the regular polo shirt and chino crowd. But hidden away is a better question: what happens when punk rock becomes a job? For artists such as Flea and the skater Tony Hawk, they’ve made their money, but for the majority in this film, they’re the music industry’s ‘blue collar’ workers. They tour to survive because no one buys records anymore.
The saddest thing this film reveals is just how ordinary punk rock rebellion has become. You can buy everything you need to not fit in down at the mall. Getting a tattoo to top it all off is almost a mandated form of socially accepted rebellion, which of course means it’s not rebellious at all.
The head honcho of Epitaph records Brett Gurewitz, dryly quips ‘that the same people who don’t think twice about buying a Starbucks or filling their tank with Shell oil’ will illegally download music. If a band like Pennywise does a deal with News Corp to distribute their new album, then they’re selling out – even if such a deal is the only financial viable way of making a record. We don’t value music anymore and we only feel we should pay to see someone live. Hence why most of the subjects in this film are now having to endure tour schedules that would have Black Flag grumbling – a band that despite its founding member stating it would never re-form, has re-formed anyway as two different versions featuring two different sets of former members.
At just under two hours, The Other F Word stretches its material a little thin and some sections do feel a little undercooked. I really did want to know what Fat Mike from NoFX said to his daughter about the dominatrix tattoos on his arm. I wanted to hear more from the families who have to put up with the gruelling tour schedules. And to be honest when you’ve seen one heavily tattooed man push a toddler on a swing, you’ve seen ‘em all. The best thing about this film and the real reason you should see it, is it opens up some interesting questions about our concept of rebellion and earning a living from what we choose to do with our lives.
Recently I’ve been thinking a bit about rebellion, and the idea of opting out or finding a way to live a life that matches your values rather than your income. This is probably because for the last week I’ve been in Northern California – the home of alternative lifestyles. In a small town perched on the edge of the Pacific coast I found ex hippies who had escaped to create a place where it’s easier to buy gluten-free brownie mix than it is a can of Coke. In Sonoma valley, a former tech VP served up wine and spoke about how he got out of the race and into the vineyards. That one big score and then out – it’s a plot device that must have set up a dozen thrillers, and it was a dream that myself and my wife entertained on more than one or two occasions this past week.
We would get a place by the sea, we’d both write, make art, maybe I’d get a pickup that ran off old cooking oil like the one Darryl Hannah has. And then you think, yes it’s beautiful and yes it’s remote and I’m never happier than when I’m in the middle of nowhere, but could I live here?
In Margaret Killjoy’s tongue-in-cheek article, How To Survive The Collapse Of Civilization (Dodgem Logic #5), he states that the worst thing you can do is run away to the hills hoping to survive the end of the world. You need others around you and you need the skills of others to survive, and although these lessons don’t appear to apply to downshifting, they’re actually quite prescient. I grew up in a small town, I know what it’s like to live outside a city, and even though my secret fantasy is to open an all-action movie cinema called The Exploding Helicopter (with an actual, wrecked helicopter embedded into the facade that I would set on fire on special occasions – perhaps for Shane Black night), I know it would never work in a remote and pretty part of the world.
Running away is not the answer, but maybe never heaping any expectation on the things you love is. What I mean by that is, I make my living as an advertising copywriter, and when I’m writing for someone else or making a film or interactive campaign for them, I’m always aware that it’s ultimately not my baby. I want the work to be the best it can be because ultimately everyone’s happy. However, if it absolutely has to be lime green at some point you have to accept that maybe lime green is what it’s got to be.
But for my own indulgent shit: my writing, film, photography and whatever else I decide to do, I have no expectations on any of it making any money ever. And that’s fine. It means I’m quite happy to take photos of the back of a Mexican Wedding on a bridge in Chicago. It’s why I write this blog, and why any fiction I write doesn’t have any teenage wizards, vampires or werewolves in it, and if it does it’s because I want them there, not because there might be a buck in it. And anyway I can’t do anything about it, I feel itchy if I’m not making something. I suspect that’s the real sad thing about the people in The Other F Word; what else are they going to do?
The only dad in The Other F Word who seems to be quite happy is Ron Reyes, a man who pretty much left music at the right time (although, he has since been coaxed back). Rebellion has a shelf life for both the person who’s rebelling and for any particular scene before it becomes inevitably co-opted into the mainstream. I guess the trick is working out how to manage that process, and to accept that all things have an end. The town full of hippies selling gluten-free brownie mix seemed a better place to be than the than Houston Megadome on night 86 of a tour.