The collaborative autobiography “Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories” reached No. 9 on the New York Times best seller list for paperback nonfiction this week, and the band is on a tour that alternates shows with book signing events. It has them exchanging graffiti-covered backstage rooms and music venues for the more erudite surroundings of the Harvard University book store in Boston on Thursday, the Strand in New York on Friday and Politics and Prose in Washington on Saturday.
Singer and bass player Mike Burkett, drummer Erik “Smelly” Sandin and guitarists Eric Melvin and Aaron “El Hefe” Abeyta spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday at novelist Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books in Nashville before signing books and paraphernalia for a crowd of fans lined up through the store, many with children — and sometimes grandchildren — in tow.
The book written with documentary filmmaker Jeff Alulis features first-person accounts about NOFX’s origins amid the violence of the Los Angeles punk scene in the early 1980s, the damaging influence of unsavory characters surrounding the band in its early years and members’ struggles with drugs, alcohol and general debauchery. All of that was followed by seemingly sudden success following Nirvana’s breakout and the ensuing boom for California punk bands like Green Day and Rancid in the early 1990s.
Burkett, known universally as “Fat Mike,” credits the band’s longevity to the fact that none of the members ever thought they’d make any money, and because they remained independent.
“Why did kids like listening to punk rock? Because it was secret music,” he said. “That’s why we never went to a major label. If everybody likes it, it’s no fun to like.”
Burkett doesn’t apologize for his blunt descriptions in the books of his forays into bondage, bodily fluids and other fetishism. That’s in keeping with the overall approach of the band, he said.
“You’ve always got to push. You’ve got to do things different than what’s been done,” Burkett said. “Other bands don’t want to offend audiences. I love offending audiences.”
Still, Burkett was shaken by the November attacks by Islamic extremists that left 89 people dead at an Eagles of Death Metal show at a Paris venue where NOFX has played before.
“I’m the cross-dressing Jew pervert, singing songs against all religions,” Burkett said. “We’ve always kept going with lyrics that are totally anti-social and not accepted. But now there’s people that will kill you for that.”
The band has since ramped up security for its European shows, hiring a former Navy SEAL to coordinate protection for the band.
In the book, amusing stories like the inadvertent theft of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ stage costumes are balanced with darker memories. For example, guitarist Melvin for the first time discloses to bandmates, family and the public that he was sexually abused by a schoolmate’s father as a child.
“For years I just kept it inside, not talking about it,” said Melvin. “People are afraid for many different reasons to talk about it — and what you need to do is talk about it and to sort it out.”
Drummer Sandin and band mates candidly discuss their struggles to cope with his worsening heroin addiction, followed by his successful effort to quit taking drugs even as his bandmates continue to revel in mind-altering substances.
“They gave me the ultimatum that I either needed to get sober or I was going to die for sure,” Sandlin said. “So I got sober and I got clean, and now I’m on the outs because they’re partying and I’m kind of to myself.”
“But I’m happy where I’m at,” he said.
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