photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
MICHAEL "FAT MIKE" BURKETT of LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK veterans NOFX has long been quite the OUTRAGEOUS personality in the PUNK underground and ALTERNATIVE music scenes going back to the 1980s. in some sways that AUDACIOUS public persona, most recently exemplified by the NOFX memoir THE HEPATITIS BATHTUB AND OTHER STORIES (review linked HERE), has run the risk of eclipsing his many musical and BUSINESS ACCOMPLISHMENTS (he runs and owns FAT WRECK CHORDS to this day with his ex-wife ERIN).
what i love about his FAT MIKE'S FAT MIC podcast is that it really marries the two aspects of his personality: his need to be CONFRONTATIONAL and his artistic / BUSINESS ACUMEN. there are many examples of celebrities and musicians who have turned to podcasting as a supplementary marketing avenue or potential revenue stream, but with FAT MIKE'S FAT MIC there oddly seems to be a real effort to pull back the curtain and dare i say it, EDUCATE. interviews include discussions with collaborators involved with varying aspects of the MUSIC INDUSTRY including MIXERS, MUSIC VIDEO DIRECTION, VOCAL COACHES and BOOKERS. being a PUNK elder statesmen at this point, FAT MIKE does promote those who came before him (JACK GRISHAM of T.S.O.L., GREG HETSON of REDD KROSS / CIRCLE JERKS / BAD RELIGION and legendary ROXY THEATRE owner - and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW film producer - LOU ADLER) as well as those that came after (GET DEAD, CODEFENDANTS, THE D.O.C., OLD MAN MARKLEY, IGNITE, THE BOMBPOPS, LONG BEACH DUB ALL-STARS, BAD COP BAD COP, DAYS N' DAZE, MAD CADDIES and THE LAWRENCE ARMS). FAT MIKE also gets into TOURING, ART and POLITICAL ISSUES surrounding the ENVIRONMENT and WOMEN'S RIGHTS.
the FAT MIKE'S FAT MIC podcast seems to be on a bit of a break at the moment but in my opinion it stands out not because of its BRASHNESS, but instead its THOUGHTFUL, REFLECTIVE nature about the inner-workings and limitations of the MUSIC INDUSTRY and, more importantly, as a platform (and force multiplier) to get the word out about MEANINGFUL SOCIAL JUSTICE INITIATIVES and ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY efforts.
its pretty incredible and FAT MIKE'S FAT MIC is well worth checking out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
THE EPITAPH STORY (EPITAPH, 2003) is an interesting mini-documentary i found online about the legendary independent SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUNK ROCK record label EPITAPH RECORDS that was originally issued as an add-on to a now long out-of-print PUNK-O-RAMA DVD. obviously its an EPITAPH-produced film released by EPITAPH about themselves so clearly their built-in bias is to be expected, but what i found interesting was the band-centered ethos that the label was founded on.
you get the sense listening to label founder BRETT GUREWITZ (of BAD RELIGION fame) the impetus was for bands to have a label that supported and worked for them, not financially screw them as had been the practice dating back to ELVIS PRESLEY. helping sell that point are notable interviewees FAT MIKE (NOFX), FLETCHER DRAGGE (PENNYWISE), and JON WALL (CLAWHAMMER) as well as long-time label management and employees in ANDY KAULKIN (PRESIDENT), JEFF ABARTA (ARTIST DEVELOPMENT) and RHONDA JESSEE (PRODUCTION / MANUFACTURING). also included is the noteworthy under-the-radar CANADIAN recording engineer DONNELL CAMERON who co-owns the recording studio WESTBEACH RECORDERS, where the second coming of the label was based out of. where i feel this documentary succeeds is how it puts you in the business mindset of GUREWITZ, especially with the risk involved in putting up capital to front the manufacturing and warehouse costs of upcoming records. and i am specifically talking about the mid-1990s when landmark, best-selling records by the likes of THE OFFSPRING, RANCID and PENNYWISE came out. its crazy to think that when the iron was at its most scalding, he had his home put up as collateral in the mix to front those costs. that could not have been a fun experience, nor the same decision-making on follow-ups. for a documentary about an iconoclastic record label that defied business logic, its ironic that the most interesting aspect of it is the talk of their actual business strategies. i was not anticipating that, especially given that having a successful PUNK ROCK label must have been such long-shot for being profitable. it is a bit mind-boggling, but obviously it sparked a cottage industry in its wake.
i thought it was interesting that there werent more interviewees from the likes of RANCID, THE VANDALS and THE OFFSPRING participating or even then-emerging label-mates such as THE BOUNCING SOULS, MILLENCOLIN or GUTTERMOUTH. probably more of an omission was the lack of any mention of the emerging threat surrounding piracy and digital file-sharing, which was years-old at that point. i know this was more a celebratory homage to themselves but it seemed like a lost opportunity to predict how a community that defines itself by authenticity and individuality would respond to the concept of free product.
being that the label is still around means that question has been answered over the intervening years. the idea of PUNK ROCK guilt surrounding major labels is laughably an artifact of its time. i wonder aloud now what the PUNK ROCK ethos means now in our current cultural climate dominating by online bullying, corporate micro-targeting and social media trolling. seems to harder than ever to be a kid these days.
i wonder what this documentary would like if it was made today. what aspect of the company would they choose to celebrate?
if this topic interests you then definitely check out the excellent recent BAD RELIGION biography DO WHAT YOU WANT (review linked HERE).
photo & text by nacrowe
film and released in part as a celebration of their 25th anniversary as a PUNK ROCK record label, A FAT WRECK: A PUNK-U-MENTARY (OPEN ENDED FILMS, 2016) is a documentary about the bands, employees and greater community that make up FAT WRECK CHORDS. prominent interviews include members of bands ranging from NOFX, LAGWAGON, GOOD RIDDANCE, BAD RELIGION, STRUNG OUT, GET DEAD, THE BOMBPOPS, NO USE FOR A NAME, PROPAGANDHI, RISE AGAINST, WIZO, ANTI-FLAG, THE LOVED ONES, BAD COP/BAD COP and AGAINST ME! among others, as well as the label heads of ASIAN MAN RECORDS and SIDEONEDUMMY RECORDS and, of course, FAT WRECK CHORDS founder/president (and NOFX frontman) FAT MIKE and his ex-wife, vice president ERIN BURKETT.
i think given the fact that this documentary was concerned primarily with the celebration of a community, it made the film a bit meandering and long-winded at times. but in a good way, because although FAT MIKE and BURKETT act as a narrative through-line for the film, what transpires is a seemingly kaleidoscopic perspective on what the record label means to a lot of people. and i thought that that sense of purpose was powerful and vastly made up for the films structural weaknesses.
so a few things that i thought were interesting:
i thought it was awesome that they totally got into the whole PROPAGANDHI making fun of FAT MIKE's PUNKVOTER campaign on one of their records. just goes to show the commitment of the label, and FAT MIKE specifically, to fight for his bands' creative freedom, even when such is at his own expense.
there is a line FAT MIKE makes about how for him business is personal. the whole "it's no personal, it's business" mantra of modern corporate culture is anathema to him. for him, the fairness and reliability of his record label is an extension of himself and his love for his chosen PUNK ROCK community. i thought that was quite touching and powerful. and it made business sense.
whats crazy is how much the world changed in 2016 with election of DONALD TRUMP. i would kill to know what FAT MIKE's take on that debacle was but this film came out right before the shit hit the fan. i guess since im on the topic, itd also be interesting to see how PROPAGANDHI may try to conflate TRUMP with CLINTON just like they did in this film with KERRY and BUSH. i get it that they are a legendary stridently progressive political PUNK ROCK band and all, but seems to me BUSH was way way worse than KERRY. seemed kind of a no-brainer even back then so im a little confused on where they were coming from with that. their take seemed pretty naive. then again, im not CANADIAN.
regardless, i really enjoyed this documentary and suggest anyone watch it that is interested in the history of modern PUNK ROCK, HARDCORE, POP PUNK or POST HARDCORE. that or anyone interested in the power of music to bridge together communities. sounds trite but this whole film is a full-throated testament to that.
photo & text by nacrowe
this was an interesting one.
THE HEPATITIS BATHTUB AND OTHER STORIES (DA CAPO, 2016) by NOFX with JEFF ALULIS seems at heart to be a distant PUNK ROCK cousin of the similarly structured and similarly debauched legendary MOTLEY CRUE memoir THE DIRT (reviewed HERE). both spend the majority of their ink going on a bout drug addiction and various inventive forms of self abuse that saw a wake of emotional turmoil and human destruction in their wake.
call me a prude but tales of degradation, violence and selfish behavior in the extreme bores me. to me it just screams as a cry for attention and deep need for outside validation. in other words its very un-PUNK ROCK.
NOFX are the children of the LOS ANGELES HARDCORE scene in the 1980s when more aggressive bands from the SOUTH BAY and ORANGE COUNTY got involved and upped the violence quotient considerably. before that moment it was more of an inclusive art scene with eclectic musical approaches and a crowd that reflected such. NOFX is emblematic of a shift to a more streamlined, aggressive, less socially conscious brand of PUNK ROCK that decidedly had more to do with WHITE MALE AGGRESSION than the prior ethos of individuality, self-responsibility and empowering your community.
for me what made this book interesting were the times that NOFX shifted away from the sophomoric frat house routine they are renowned for and put their collective backbone into some type of cause. NOFX singer / main songwriter / bassist FAT MIKE put his name and independent record label FAT WRECK CHORDS as the muscle behind the PUNKVOTER website in order to get his fans out voting, specifically with the aim of getting GEORGE W. BUSH out of office. obviously it didn't work but that is the point, it marks FAT MIKE and the band as having an interesting in speaking truth to power and encouraging civic engagement and self-empowerment. in other words i'd argue the definition of PUNK ROCK.
another strain throughout FAT MIKE's narrative is his growing confidence to let his passion for fetishism and S&M to be expressed in his music more openly, not guarded behind the knowing wink of a joke. although originally introduced to us in the first few pages as a means of titillation and shock value, what transpires over the course of the story is how such for him is a means of identity with a correlating community supporting such endeavors. in a way, its as normal as a country club or a knitting circle, it is just another means at deriving a community and in a strange sense this book offers an insider's look at the appeal and benefits of such a non-mainstream community.
lastly i want to mention that for me the most compelling of the several individual narratives that made up each chapter (again, in similar fashion to THE DIRT), was that of NOFX drummer ERIK "SMELLY" SANDIN and his relationship with drugs. i feel that out of all the members, his story was the most depraved. the damage he did to himself and his surrounding community was insanely hardcore and fueled entirely by an intense sense of self-loathing rooted in a troubled childhood. the narcotics and the "friends" he picked up thereafter were just symptomatic of that need to belong. it sounds so simple, but his journey was one of discovery one's own self-worth, even through the haze of drug addiction. and he was a legendary degenerate junkie for that matter. COURTNEY LOVE referred to him as the worst junkie she'd ever seen due in part to his lack of ability to control his symptoms, puking and passing out with no regard for his surroundings. the idea that he can come out of that arguably present himself as one of the more responsible members of the band is a testament to his efforts.
i do want to also commend guitarist ERIC MELVIN for sharing his experience of being social abused as a child. its beyond courageous and should be celebrated as such. hopefully it will result in other victims feeling like there is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
that being said, as a fan of NOFX, my only gripe with this book is about how little of this book dealt with the actual music. as a band that has highly referential lyrics to specific people and places, there were only a few nuggets thrown out there to clarify such. maybe that was a conscious decision but in my mind it was an unfortunate one. most of the material in this book is beyond cliche, especially with regard to ROCK AND ROLL memoirs in general.
if debauched behavior by ROCK AND ROLL bands is what you are voyeuristically seeking to learn about then THE DIRT is the way to go. if you are interested in learning about the 1980s HARDCORE scene or the 90s POP PUNK explosion there are several other books more insightful than this one.
i wasn't disappointed, just underwhelmed with this book. i think if the tone was a little more somber at points, as well as axing that ridiculous cover, the utter depravity and bleakness of its content would be a bit easier to swallow. instead i am left with being sure how they feel about their band history, which is confusing as a fan.
seek this book out only if you are a committed fan of the group. otherwise there are arguably better books on the subject of LOS ANGELES HARDCORE scene and its transitions to the 90s and beyond.
HENRY ROLLINS GET IN THE VAN (review linked HERE), KEITH MORRIS' MY DAMAGE (review linked HERE) BAD RELIGION's DO WHAT YOU WANT (review linked HERE) and JON DOE's UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (review linked HERE) all immediately come to mind. LEXICON DEVIL, AMERICAN HARDCORE, WE GOT THE NEUTRON BOMB and WE'RE NOT HERE TO ENTERTAIN are good options as well.