Punk is Not Dead, It Just Grew Up
Granted I may be speaking to a subcultural elite here, but being a punk rock parent is possibly harder than it looks. Once all of the gelatin peels away from your Mohawk, and your bondage pants become too tight and cumbersome, it is time to grow up (well, sort of) and face the future you had previously given the finger to. If the number of Ramones and Black Flag onesies are any indication of the unflagging punk rock spirit, there are a lot of parents out there from that pivotal 1977 to 1992 punk rock generation that are trying to mature with some grace, and pass along some of the modified nihilism to their own children that punk wrought.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the new documentary (currently in limited release) The Other F Word, which explores the stories of a dozen or so fathers sharing a certain punk rock pedigree, along with parenting duties. What could have been the premise for a smart, hip sit-com, maybe titled something like “F@#* Authority, It is Still Bedtime,” but instead we have a funny, and sometimes poignantly touching, documentary profiling a certain generation’s struggle to live in accordance to their beliefs while effectively parenting. This is easier than it sounds, considering many of these fathers (sadly, no punk rock mothers are profiled, but maybe that is being held for the sequel) spent much of their life living out of step with the world and gleefully fighting notions of authority and conformity. Now, being authority figures, how do they leverage such responsibilities against their guiding principles of rebellion and anarchy?
While not exactly being any kind of punk rock dad myself, the film resonates with me because it reflects both my generation, as well as some of my values. One of the more successful fathers profiled in the film is Flea, bassist of the hugely successful Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea and I both went to the same high school (albeit at different times), and had a few run ins back in the late 1980s. I remember when he had his first baby, which at the time seemed completely like a chronological mistake. I thought at the time, how could this crazed, bass-slapping, lunatic raise a child, as I watched him bounce his infant on his chest as we all together watched the Democratic Convention of 1988 on his TV. We were all mocking the talking heads and elected officials, and feeling a general sense of dismay about the political process, as Flea was bringing a child into this apparent insanity. Now some two decades on, Flea appears in the film as an exemplary father with very well adjusted children. Something went right, and it wasn’t just the success of his band.
One of the core issues of the film seems to be around finding that tricky balance between fun rebellious spirit and grounded authority figure (something even punk rock parents have difficulty with) as well as the issue of how to bring a child into a world that feels inherently hostile and unwelcoming. These were some of the main issues that likely got these young guys into punk rock in the first place. I know for me, at about age 13, the world felt wholly disjointed and chaotic and punk rock (along with the avant guard) felt like a refuge in 1980s America. Now some two decades on, it is up to the same disillusioned people to imbue their children with a sense of hope and opportunity, something they were seemingly lacking when they were young and impressionable.
Instilling that sense of creativity and hope is a universal challenge for most parents. And as a little ray of hope (as well as a shout out to the mothers) I would like to share this little video from Kimya Dawson, the once singer of the Moldy Peaches. Kimya, while not exactly punk rock by any stretch of the imagination, does share some of the non-conformist attitudes of her punk rock brothers, as well as many of the parenting responsibilities as well. She recently recorded an album revealing her new identity as a mother, aptly titled “Thunder Thighs.” Here is the first video for “Driving, Driving, Driving” showing her and her daughter loving life and being creative:
To all the punk rock veterans out there: what are your thoughts on parenting in accordance to your punk rock ideals? A difficult proposition? More fun than anyone would have thought?