NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories
Da Capo Press (2016)
Much like Mötley Crüe’s seminal 2001 confessionary The Dirt, NOFX’s tell-as-much-as-legally-advisable new autobiography, The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, swaps from band member to band member, making sure their collective fucked up history’s as (in)digestible and entertaining as possible. Unlike The Dirt, however, there’s a bit more self deprecation and a lot more humour – even though death, heroin and STDs play almost as much of a supporting role.
For anyone familiar with NOFX and their antics – including frontman “Fat Mike” Burkett’s infamous 2010 South by Southwest appearance as Cokie the Clown – the heaviest stories aren’t a complete shock. What did surprise me, though, is how long they sucked for as a band, how much of a junkie and general scumbag drummer Erik “Smelly” Sandin was, and that they’re all still alive – something Fat Mike jokingly attributes to magnet-wielding mole people at the Earth’s core guiding them to “safety through the chaos.”
Of course, the “punk rock Rolling Stones” have been there and sold the t-shirts. NOFX has been a band for 33 years now, so you’d better believe they have some interesting, offensive and immature stories to tell. From Nirvana, Courtney Love and the explosion of mainstream alternative music to Green Day’s 1994 Diamond-certified album Dookie, MTV and the subsequent punk rock major label exodus – something NOFX wisely voted to avoid.
There’s also the terrifying and violent-sounding early Los Angeles punk scene that NOFX somehow survived, pouring beer all over Fugazi’s tour van and guitarist El Hefe piecing Fat Mike’s vocal takes together on NOFX’s 1992 EP The Longest Line, convincing listeners that he could, in fact, sing in tune.
In the end, the hepatitis bathtub story comes and goes without much fanfare. I mean, it’s gross as hell – a lot of Smelly’s chapters are – but I found myself turning back, thinking, “Was that it?” Three of my favourite anecdotes are; NOFX turning down $1 million to open for Blink 182; Fat Mike randomly breaking into a van outside a Red Hot Chili Peppers gig and inadvertently stealing their stage outfits (which he then customised and used as S&M gear); and Smelly stealing a van, trashing it and accidentally kidnapping and terrifying a young Billie Joe Armstrong.
Of course, NOFX is the kind of band you love to hate – sometimes you love them, sometimes you hate them (and sometimes you despise them). And the book’s the same; warts, herpes and all. It’s dark and depressing, especially towards the end, when they all start talking about their parents and friends dying. But it’s also hilarious (at times), and deserves its place in rock ‘n roll – not just punk rock – history, chronicling 33 years of the most dysfunctional functional band in the world. The unlikely antiheroes that went on to achieve something heroic. And land a New York Times bestseller.