The Other F Word Interview: Brendan Kelly

posted by Richard Gill

In anticipation of THE OTHER F WORD having its Minneapolis premier this weekend as part of the Sound Unseen film festival I decided to talk to a few of my fellow “punk rock dad” pals and get their opinions on what it’s like to be a touring musician in a scene that’s historically a young person’s genre while at the same time trying to be a responsible parent and good role model for your kids.

The last person I talked to for this little project was Brendan Kelly. Most are familiar with Brendan as the outspoken frontman of The Lawrence Arms and The Falcon who is known as much for his drunken / funny stage banter as he his for his critical views on everything from The Warped Tour to George W. Bush. However, in recent years as his touring schedule has decreased he has turned much of his attention to his daily blog, Bad Sandwich Chronicles, where he continues to share his opinions on such varied topics as juggalo culture, the artistic merits of Lady GaGa, various awesome Sean Nader stories, and more often than not the daily routine of being a parent. He’s a great writer, a pretty alright guy, and you all should be reading his blog on a daily basis. Also, he writes a lot so this interview is a bit longer than the others.

Anyway, enjoy.

SBC: The Lawrence Arms toured pretty heavily for the first several years of existence but have slowed down considerably the last few. How much of that is due to you having kids and how much of it is due to all of you not wanting to spend 9 months out of the year living in a van?

BK: Well, it’s not really such a cut and dry situation. Our band sort of reached a kind of weird tipping point when my son was born. Up until then I think we all felt that we were giving it our all for pretty limited returns, but then suddenly I had a kid and as a result I was sort of sidelined for about six months while I learned how to be a dad and in that time our band got vastly more popular. The thing is, we didn’t ever experience that popularity as an active band. In the time while I was readjusting, the other dudes made some moves and by the time I was ready to come back and tour, our guitarist had decided that he didn’t really want to be on the road anymore. I can’t blame him for that, obviously. He sweated blood in that van for eleven years and it was only marginally rewarding in terms of empirical and financial success. I can’t bust a guy’s balls for not wanting to get back in the van for the twelfth year.

I’m still completely into going on tour as long as it’s something that can bring home money. That’s obviously more of a pragmatic concern when you’ve got kids and when going on tour, in my case, means that the primary daytime caregiver is gone so other, more expensive arrangements have to be made. It really does become about the bottom line. There’s no doubt about it. Traveling the world playing music is a luxury and having kids is an exercise in living without luxury. I think it would be very profitable and fun for the Lawrence Arms to tour, but I took a break and then suddenly everyone didn’t want to get back in the van, and so I’m home now. It’s not that my kids have stopped me from touring, it’s that we never got the experience of being ‘grownups’ on tour before we HAD to stop for a second and now that people have jobs and girlfriends and lives and are used to sleeping in beds and taking showers, I guess it doesn’t seem like something to throw yourself back into as a 35 year old. Makes sense. I’m just bored shitless standing around texting in the park all day long and I’d like to play some shows. Sigh.

SBC: A number of punk rock singers have done kids records (Mike Park, Matt Pryor of The Get Up Kids, The Brats On The Beat record with Matt Skiba, Jim Lindberg, etc). Since having kids have you thought about doing something like that? Do you sing / write songs for them at home?

BK: Interestingly, my son doesn’t like when I play guitar. He says things like “dad, not so loud” when I play at home. My daughter seems to respond better, but she’s still pretty small so she’s unfortunately governed by the rules shaped by her brother, which essentially frown on any and all guitar playing or singing. I am positive that if my kids liked music I’d consider doing a kids record, but for now music still seems like something completely separate from parenting to me, for better or worse.

SBC: In what ways, if any, has coming from a punk rock background shaped your way of parenting? Moreso, has it been difficult growng up with the question authority mentality and now finding yourself in the role of authority figure? If not now, since your kids are both still pretty young, do you see that becoming an issue in the future?

BK: I don’t know. I’m a staunch believer in the power of genetics, so that makes things kind of tricky in this regard. Here’s what I mean: my mom likes to suggest that the reason that I’m a voracious reader is because she read to me every night as a kid, but my take on that is that I’m the product of the kind of person that reads to their child every night, so I’m gonna be the kind of person that reads, regardless of nurture. My parents weren’t ‘anti authority’ per se but they’re both kind of semi-radical thinkers. It’s my working theory that my kids are gonna be the same way. The misconception about punk rock is that it just rails against authority. That’s kind of naïve though. People crave and require authority. People who rail against the government just are more drawn to the authority of thinkers like Zinn or Gandhi or the guys in Crass or whoever. People who are nihilists or wastoids point to examples of how nihilism and wastedness can be awesome, but that’s just a different kind of authority. If you say, “man, fat mike just does drugs and parties and he’s AWESOME, so that’s what I’m gonna do” isn’t that just making someone who’s wasted and awesome your authority? There’s really no such thing as a ‘no gods no masters’ mentality, in my experience, and as such, I think I just have to work within the parameters of who I am to teach my kids the lessons I’ve learned in my experience as a person who walks around and does things in a confusing world. Punk rock is part of my spectrum of interests, just like football or cheerleading is part of someone else’s spectrum of interests. At the end of the day, you’d be a fucking boob to liken your parenting style to football and that’s how I feel about likening it to punk rock.

SBC: You’ve been pretty open both in songs and on your blog about your past experiences with drinking and drugs. Have you thought at all about how you’ll handle the inevitable conversation about drinking and drugs when it comes up with your kids?

BK: Again, I’m kind of a pragmatist when it comes to this stuff. My wife and her family all enjoy drinking. Both sides of my family are drinkers. I’d hate to say it’s inevitable that my kids are gonna at some point get super wasted and decide it’s awesome and then do it again, but again, it’s simple genetics. I’m concerned with being a good person around them and being cool and not blowing my top all the time and teaching them how to be respectful to themselves and others (not that I’m awesome at any of that. That’s just my mission statement as a dad). What they do with drugs and alcohol is ultimately their business, which is not to say I won’t be concerned or that I won’t become involved if I see something developing that I see as a problem, but people are people and my parents had a fucking ZERO percent success rate talking me out of doing things while playing the role of upright citizens. I’d rather be somewhat honest and relatable and hope that I could offer my expertise when and if those issues come up. It’s worth mentioning that I’m not advocating laissiez faire attitudes towards the discussions regarding substance abuse or “Just being friends” with my kids, because I think that’s a shitty cop out and a fast path to making shitty kids. I just mean that I’ve seen people who have successfully dealt with their demons and/or awesome lifestyles with the help of parents or peers who are honest about their own demons. I’ve never seen someone who acts like they are infallible help anyone out of any situation, ever.

SBC: Along the same lines, in the film there seems to be two camps of raising kids. The “we’re gonna bring this child into our lives but we’re not gonna change the way we live” AKA the Fat Mike way and the “my entire life changed and I just can’t go out like I used to” AKA the everyone else they interviewed way. Which side are you on? If it’s the second one in what ways has your life changed since having kids.

BK: This is a tricky one, because there’s really something to be said for just being awesome, continuing to be you and just trusting that your kids will see that and be down with the situation because they recognize your vitality. People who have parents who compulsively create and maybe travel and work long hours and entertain lots of friends tend to admire that a lot. It seems to be the kind of thing that shapes growth and engenders a real bond and respect. That being said, kids are a fucking nightmare. I’m not rich. I’m not even really employed. As a result, I’ve gotta take care of my kids all the time. How has my life changed? I wake up at 6 and go to bed at 9 every day. I have a lonely beer at 3 instead of at 10 and I spend all day in the park or at the museum instead of driving around in a van. Being a parent is hard and it sucks. There’s absolutely no one who is being honest who can disagree with this statement. I love my kids, but I hate parenting. Parenting is just an exercise in sleep deprivation, being a dick and a killjoy, and watching your things get destroyed while you just pile up guilty baggage about how you’re fucking up the psyche of a perfect little person every time you check your email or let them watch tv. It’s hard. Parenting ends relationships and makes people kill themselves and even do horrible things to kids. It’s not easy and it’s rarely fun. Being around my kids is fun, it’s my life’s greatest joy (besides getting blowjobs), but there’s no doubt about it, those times when it’s the most fun is when they don’t need parenting and I can be around them and just watch them do their thing. Then my boy pushes my daughter down the stairs and I have to be a parent and it becomes hard again. Fuck.

SBC: There’s a line in the film by Jim Lindberg where he says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “As punk rockers we thought we were gonna change the world and maybe the way we do that is by raising our kids a little better than our parents raised us.” (note: the actual end of that line is “the way we do that is by rasing better kids”. Pretty much the same idea.) Do you think that’s an accurate statement?

BK: Sure. My parents were divorced before I was born and I never really thought anything of it, but now as a dad in a four person family, I’m amazed by how much more dynamic this homelife is than the one I had. I will never get divorced even if my wife were to do fuck my dad or decide she hates me. I think it’s too important to be there for the kids as a unit. I’ll move into another room or sleep on the floor and forgo everything before I’ll put my kids through that. Sounds kind of wild eyed and naïve, but I feel like this is the contract I signed when I decided to have kids. You stay with the mother of your children forever or at least until they’re adults. My parents’ generation essentially invented divorce. They also invented corporate colonialism and soulless advertising to children and all sorts of bullshit I want no part of. Just because my parents were more concerned with being self actualized and having fun in their forties than raising a kid together (and I don’t want to sound bitter because I’m not. I have a wonderful stepdad and stepmom and a half brother and I wouldn’t know any of them if my parents hadn’t divorced) and using excuses like “well, it’s better than raising him in a house where there’s fighting,” that’s not the way I roll. Not very punk, perhaps. But fuck it. Fuck punk rock if it means being a shitty, lazy asshole that only answers to my own tip of my own Maslow’s pyramid.

SBC: What’s your favorite kids show?

BK: I hate when my kids watch Dora or Diego because it makes them misbehave. I hate the fresh beat band. Everything else is my favorite by default.

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 at 9:00 am