Monday, May 05, 2008

R.I.F.

If you're like me, and God help you if you are, you have all the trappings of an adult's life, but you feel like an immature kid most days, albeit one carrying a few extra pounds, a few gray hairs and an air of constant exhaustion. You also have the occasional internal difficulty reconciling the, (as Mike McColgan so eloquently put it) "hooligan, castaway, hardcore youth" you used to be with the diaper-changing, no-sleep-getting authority figure you've become. And most of the time when you are at Target or the grocery store or the playground, you look around and see all the dads in pressed khaki shorts and Oakley's perched just so on the brim of their TaylorMade caps, then realize you're wearing a wrinkled Unseen t-shirt and dirty Vans again and that you look more like the teenage kids of those Dockers dads than the dads themselves. Or, as Jim Lindberg, lead singer of Pennywise, puts it, "Just when we realized exactly why we were rebelling against our parents, we became them."

If any of that sounds familiar, then you need to pick up the book "Punk Rock Dad," by the aforementioned Jim Lindberg. This frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious book can serve as both a cautionary tale/new dad primer as well as a trip down memory lane for those of us who already have kids. Countless times while reading this book I found myself nodding and saying, "Oh God, I remember those days..." It's the tale of a forty-something, graying punk rock icon trying to balance the demands of three hyper-active girls with those of three hyper-active, childless bandmates, while trying to prove to us, and himself, that he's not the old fart we, and he, know he's become. It's a poignant ode to the wife and kids he obviously loves, and he tosses in pointers that can help anybody's marriage thrive amidst the chaos created by children. It's brutally honest at times about the stresses, strains and shit stains that come along with raising kids, and unlike so many other "parenting" books, it doesn't sugarcoat many things. The birthing process may be a miracle, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it's a pretty disgusting thing for most guys to witness.

In the book, Jim explores and details the difficulties that come along with being the singer of, as he calls it, "a patently offensive band hell-bent on pissing off 95% of society," while trying to be just another dad at the PTA meeting or weekend youth soccer match. At its core, his message is one of acceptance: accept him despite his profession, just as he accepts other dads' proclivities for pleated pants and boring golf stories. He makes the assertion that kids are the great equalizers, that they can unite people with nothing more in common than parenthood. And he's right; I've seen this happen on many occasions at the park, at parties, at bars, whatever. Guys with little in common can bond over what it's like to still be up at 3am, walking a cranky infant around in a vain attempt to get him back to sleep so dad can collapse into a bed shared by his tired, cranky, not-horny wife for a couple hours before it all starts up again at 6:30am. I may not understand why someone is Republican, or what's so interesting about walking a golf course for five hours or how a man can drink white zinfandel in public, but I understand the elations, let-downs, frustrations and blessings of raising kids.

The other central theme of the book is how to raise independent-thinking children who understand that conformity is not mandatory and that questioning authority is something everyone should do, while at the same time instilling in their kids a sense of discipline and respect for the parents as authority figures. This paradox is something that obviously consumes Jim, as it does many of us raised on the attitudes, platitudes and tenets of punk music. Again, Jim puts it better than I can: "How can the singer of 'Fuck Authority' make his kids pick up their toys and eat their vegetables?" Can it be done without feeling like the world's biggest hypocrite? The answer, of course, is no. But the key, as he puts it, is to pick your battles and just accept that your responsibility to your child trumps your responsibility to your ethos.

This book is not a "my life in Pennywise" story, so childless fans of the band would probably be disappointed. But for punk rock dads, or just your average dad or dad-to-be who can appreciate a funny, touching, honest look at marriage and parenthood, this book is highly recommended. Most of the chapter and subsection titles are taken from punk rock songs, like the chapter entitled "Anarchy in the Pre-K." Also interspersed throughout the book are little quotes or stories from other punk rock dads like Fat Mike, Tony Cadena and Greg Hetson. You don't have to be punk to appreciate this book; you just have to have an open-mind that despite musical, political or fashion differences, all parents have the same responsibilities and struggles. If you can accept that premise, then it's easy to understand how the guy in the dirty, old Vans can swap diaper stories with the guy in the Izod polo, even if he'd rather be slamming him in the pit.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Somethin's Changed Inside of Me...

As far as I can tell, the last concert Sarah and I went to together was the Bouncing Souls/Street Dogs show at the Black Cat in October, 2006. She was seven months pregnant and, as some of you may remember, this was not a great evening...

So it was a neat little bit of symmetry that our next show together was last night when we saw the Bouncing Souls again, this time at Mr. Smalls in Millvale, PA. As you can see if you click the link, the venue is inside of an old church, the main room of the club being the sanctuary, a good sign if music truly is a religion...it was kind of a strange spot, with weird traffic flow through the room and bar areas. Plus, it was hot as balls. One of the hottest venues I've been in since the glory days of the old 9:30 club in DC. And poorly ventilated. And for a church, the accoustics weren't all that great, although my perception of that may be compromised by the fact that we were about six feet from the speakers on the right of the stage, not exactly the sound's focus point, probably. But, we had a great vantage point, and Sarah was out of harm's way.

This was, I think, the 10th time I've seen the Souls, and as I get older, so do they. Last night's set started out very promisingly with "Hopeless Romantic" being a surprise opener followed up quickly with "Say Anything," prompting me to give up the glasses and camera and spend my obligatory two minutes in the pit banging around. That's about all I can do anymore...From there, they said "Hi!" and then hit the chords to "That Song" but that was quickly abbreviated when an over-zealous crowd surfer tried to take the stage, much to security's dismay. The guy got on stage, tried to circle around the Souls' guitar player, The Pete, but was brought down by the bouncer, crashing into Pete and taking him, his guitar and his mic stand into the barricade with him in one big pile. A mess...the band stopped playing as roadies rushed out to rescue Pete and security hustled the offending fan out the side door of the club. After five minutes or so, Pete was back up, tuned up and ready to go. They skipped the rest of "That Song" and launched right into "Cracked," one of Sarah's favorites...she managed to get a little video of it...



We took a bunch of pictures, but none turned out that great...here's a few though...

Here's a half decent shot of Greg and Brian...


Here's the aforementioned, The Pete, sweatin' on guitar...


One of the funnier moments of the show was a ukelele and "spoons-on-the-knee" cover of Sick of It All's "Scratch the Surface," as seen here...

Other songs on the set-list, as far as I can remember in no particular order included, "No Security," "Kate is Great," "Private Radio," "Kids and Heroes," "Kid," "Manthem," "Lean on Sheena," "Midnight Mile," "The Something Special," "The Ballad of Johnny X," "Gone," "East Coast Fuck You," "Sing Along Forever," "The Guest," and a closing accoustic version of "Night on Earth." Of course, amidst all that, they played crowd favorite, "True Believer," by which point, the bouncers had basically given up the barricade. Sarah got a great little video of me on stage, rushing to sing along with Greg, before people in the front row tried to pull me, Greg and the mic into the crowd...I'm the guy with jeans and black t-shirt putting my arm around Greg before disappearing into the crowd...

All in all, it wasn't the best setlist I've heard them do, it wasn't the best venue I've seen them in and it certainly wasn't the best crowd I've been in, either. That said, it was a night out with my wife, without kids and with some really loud music. When I left the show last night I said it was a bit disappointing. But sitting here today, with my ears ringing, my shin bruised and "Say Anything" bouncing around in my head, "I can say, I have no regrets today..."