Books Are Pretty

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Punk Rock Dad.

"I cannot wait, I cannot wait," says my husband, "until the last Baby Boomer is dead."

After almost fifteen years of living with him, I've racked up a lot of hours listening to anti-Baby Boomer rants, always predicated on him hearing some wide-eyed discovery by some former hippie that, wow! they're aging! and who'da thunk it?

"I took my first Geritol today," one newspaper article that I read breathlessly began, and that was as far as I got before I quit reading.

Typical Gen Xers that we are, we spent our twenties mostly wishing the hippies would just shut the fuck up so we can curl up in a ball and listen to our own particular brand of anti-authoritarian music, peacefully contemplating our comforting nihilism.

And then in this decade we all started turning forty, and as it turns out, there's one area where we're mopping the floor with the Boomers in the self-absorbtion department. We can call this category Wow! We're parents! Who'da thunk it!

The requirement of aging Gen Xers in the '00s seems to be to write a book about Our Parenting Experience, where we ponder the same things: 1.) We don't know what the hell we're doing, but 2.) It seems to be working out. Or we can write a thinly veiled work of fiction about parenting, a Mommy book, that covers the following ground: 1.) She doesn't know what she's doing, but 2.) It seems to be working out.

To be fair, when writing a parenting book from an autobiographical point of view, a certain amount of self-effacing charm is necessary, as well as the reassurance that despite all the war stories the writer has just told (and war stories are a must, too, the messier the better), parenting is such a worthy endeavor - the best decision they've ever made, in fact - that s/he wouldn't trade places with anybody else in the world.

Otherwise the writer comes across as either an egocentric asshole, one of those know-it-all parents the rest of us love to hate, or a monster that publicly admits s/he doesn't love the children they created.

When writing a book with criteria so narrowly defined, then, its readability comes down to the charm and talent of the author. It doesn't matter if the writer is a born-again Christian, like Anne Lamott, an arty hippie-wannabe like Ayun Halliday, or a completely insane rightwing lunatic like G. Gordon Liddy, all that matters in the end is whether the writer has the ability to make the reader want to spend time with them, regardless of how many times the reader has heard this particular tale.

Which brings us to Jim Lindberg, lead singer of the veteran hardcore punk band, Pennywise,* and his parenting memoir Punk Rock Dad.

I was given this book for review, but if it was something I'd browsed through in a book store I wouldn't have made it past the blurb on the inside jacket.

When he drives his kids to school in the morning, they only listen to the Ramones, the Clash or the Descendents. This is family time; the girls can listen to Brittney and Justin on their own time. He goes to all the soccer games, dance rehearsals and piano recitals like all the other dads, but when he feels the need, he also goes to punk shows and runs into the slam pit and comes home bruised and beaten, but somehow feeling strangely better. While the other dad's dye their hair brown to cover the gray, Jim occasionally dyes his blue or green.

And so on, making him sound like he's less of a father and more like some dude with a high sperm count that doesn't let his kids get in the way of his life.

Despite the fact that this is an excerpt from the book's introduction, the message of the book as a whole is almost completely the opposite, as he instead portrays himself in a utterly charming way, as a kind of old-fashioned father who surprised himself by forging a career as a punk rock star.

Of course, this isn't true, either. Lindberg was a musician long before he got married and had children. The first part of the book describes his own disaffected, lonely childhood and his feeling that he wasn't accepted by his peers. Punk music gave him a creative outlet for his anger and frustration, and provided the social comfort he'd been looking for.

Even so, Lindberg seemed to understand at a young age that it was better to grow up to be Howard Cunningham than GG Allin, because there comes a point when sleeping under a blanket of your own puke loses its appeal.

His memoir then settles into the normal adjustment from single guy to married guy to father, and his eventual acceptance of the uncool homebody marriage and fatherhood has forced him to become.

In one of his more humorous anecdotes, Lindberg describes being recognized by the cashier at an all-night drugstore. The fan initially gushes enthusiastically about the band as he rings up Lindberg's purchases, then, $95 dollars later, finds he doesn't have that much to say to him, after all.

[He] wants me to sign something for him, and then says his friend Paul loves us and he won't believe this, and asks another few questions before he remembers he's actually working and starts to scan my items through. With each item, he and I are both let down further and further. Children's anal suppository. Child rectal thermometer. Breast pads. Just for Men Extra Gray Coverage Brown Hair Dye. Metamucil. Nair for Men. Mylanta. With each swipe across the scanner I go from being punk rock, superstar, Warped Tour legend, to rapidly aging, grayhaired father of a constipated child, with a nipple-dripping wife. I'm not a radical, punk-scene voice of a generation, I'm a pathetic middle-aged loser having problems with heartburn, irregularity, and back hair.

In a single anecdote, Lindberg drops the main lesson of parenting: It doesn't matter who you once were, once you become a parent the playing field has been leveled and you are no longer cool.

And wisely, Lindberg knows fighting against it just makes things worse, so he goes the opposite route and embraces it, even devoting the last section of the book to marital and parenting advice that honestly, could have come from Dear Abby, with a more liberal use of the word "asshole."

And while we're on the subject of the Death of Cool, Lindberg addresses one more thing about his life as a punk rock star that, somewhat surprisingly, has lost its appeal for him: bad manners. This seems to be somewhat hypocritical of someone who makes his living off giving the finger to others, but he has a point:

I usually get to a show about five minutes before we play and don't hang around any longer than I have to. I'm not complaining, and certain people are going to read this and think I'm an asshole, but the whole preshow center of attention thing has become kind of a drag for me. Sounds stupid, I know, becaase why would you be in a band if you don't want attention, but I'm jaded and lame now and that's just how it is. There are parts of the whole show night interaction that I like a lot...[but] there's a dark side as well.

When you're a singer, or actor, or radio host, or even the guy announcing the local little league game, basically anyone who puts themselves out into the public eye, you unknowingly open yourself up to pointed criticism from everyone from your best friend to complete strangers. Someone with horrible beer breath will come up to you and say they love your band but they like the old stuff better and didn't really care for the last few albums, and "what's with the third song on the new album, that song sucks, and why don't you guys play more like (insert stupid band here) and what time are you guys on tonight, and can I get a backstage pass for my girlfriend's cousin, and are there any more beers in your dressing room, because I looked and someone already drank them all, and bro, could you get me a shirt for my little brother? He really loves you guys, but like I said, he wasn't really that into your last record, either, and by the way, who did your last video? That thing was so gay! What was it even supposed to be about anyway? You guys should go back to playing superfast like you did on your first album, and write more songs with works like 'fight' and 'fuck' in them 'cause that's cool, like 'fuck authority,' that's awesome. Yeah, dude, and don't forget, backstage pass for my cousin and a shirt for my brother. Oh, and a hat for me, too. Thanks, bro. You rule."

I'll meet ten people exactly like this on the way into the club, there will be twenty more in the dressing room drinking all our beers and eating our deli tray, and thirty more on stage drunk when we play. Some of them, and this is no lie, will come out onto the stage in the middle of a song while I'm singing and yell in my ear, "Dude, are there any more beers left? Hey, and play song four off the second album, I forget what it's called."

If you're physically unable to give them five extra laminates and a wristband for their girlfriend's cousin, a shirt for their little brother, and a few dozen beers, and if you won't party with them until dawn, well, then you're an asshole and your last album sucked.

Although there's just something inherently funny about a hardcore punk rocker complaining that the new music the kids today are playing is too loud and just sounds like a bunch of noise (which he does), this rant makes him sound like the quintessential grumpy old man. Until you stumble across an internet punk forum where they're discussing his book, and the conversation can be summed up with, "Jim Lindberg is a fag. Having sex with women is so gay."

(While we all know how I love my hyperbole, I'm actually not exaggerating. Verbatim quote from the message board: "Jim Lindbergh has three kids? What a fag.")

Can you blame the man for preferring to spend his evening with a sick child, scrubbing partially digested hot dogs and cottage cheese off his bathroom floor?** The company of his daughter alone raises the average IQ in the room by about 20 points.

And although Punk Rock Dad doesn't deviate from the Mommy book format in any meaningful way, Lindberg infuses his particular story with intelligence, wit, and a competent writing style that makes the reader enjoy spending time with him, watching him scrub away.

*The link takes you to the band's official website, where you can click the little Play button at the top of the page to hear one of their more recent songs.

**There's that war story!
Punk Rock Dad
by Jim Lindberg
HarperCollins, 2007
Hardcover, 212pp.
ISBN: 006114875X

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