Fat Mike of NOFX on pornography, punk-rock parenting and how America is a sinking ship
NOFX was started in Los Angeles in 1983 by Michael "Fat Mike" Burkett and Eric Melvin. The band was born of the same West Coast scene that produced some of the most important punk bands of all time, from Black Flag and the Circle Jerks to the Minutemen and the Descendents. Although the sound that NOFX helped pioneer was more pop-oriented, the band certainly didn't lose any of the sharp, irreverent sense of humor that permeated the music of many of those legendary L.A. hardcore bands.
Decidedly independent, NOFX has never signed to a major label, unlike many of its peers, and has succeeded on its own terms, releasing albums through Burkett's Fat Wreck Chords imprint. The band's catchy songs and juvenile but smartly iconoclastic lyrics have been an inspiration for a generation of punk musicians, who have helped carry on not just the sound, but the cultural and political foundations of punk to the mainstream without selling out.
In the last decade, the band wrote songs denouncing (and went on tours with themes mocking) George W. Bush, which served to help motivate its audience to become politically aware and involved. We recently had a rare opportunity to speak with the always thoughtful and witty Burkett about his recent scoring of a pornographic movie and his thoughts on that subject, his assessment of the political climate today and about some of the humorous titles included on the new record, last year's Self Entitled.
Westword: You were involved in the film Rubber Bordello, at the very least in making the soundtrack?
"Fat" Mike Burkett: Yes. My girlfriend and I. That's kind of our thing. So we just started making a movie. We made it -- she directed it; I did the soundtrack, and it got nominated for eight AVN awards. Pretty good for our first try.
You've made ragtime music before. Did it come pretty natural to you this time out?
I worked with a piano player, my friend Dustin. So it's just like music is music. You come up with melodies and stuff and change styles. It wasn't challenging; it was just really fun.
Have you figured out how to take that on the road, or is that something you've thought about?
Yeah, when things slow down, we're going to do a live SM show with a small band playing those tunes. It should be pretty fun.
You did an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, and in that interview, it was brought up that when you were going to college you wrote your thesis on pornography. Why did you write your thesis on that, or what sparked your interest in pornography as a kind of academic subject?
At the time, there were a lot of people fighting against pornography. Tipper Gore, for instance. The Parents' Music Resource Center was around, and people had to start labeling their music, and people tried to shut down magazines. I just started doing research, and I found that most people's negative views toward women came from mass media and not from pornography. Movies such as Gone With the Wind, in which Scarlett O'Hara gets raped and wakes up with a smile on her face? More people saw that than any pornographic magazines.
Yeah, more people saw that than saw Behind the Green Door or Deep Throat or anything like that.
Oh, for sure. Times a hundred. And porn movies generally don't show rape. It's just maybe rough sex, but mainstream media is what gives people negative attitudes against women, not porn.
How did you go about researching that, seeing as it was probably the '80s sometime.
I read a lot of studies, most of which came out of Holland.
How did you become involved in The Other F Word?
Oh, just Jim Lindberg from Pennywise wrote that book, Punk Rock Dad, and he asked me for some quotes. He didn't use them. They were a little bit too racy, I guess, for him. That sounds weird, but I was talking about how difficult it was to clean poop out of my daughter's vagina; I was cleaning her diaper, you know? "God, how did this stuff get in here?" I felt so, "Ugh, I'm not supposed be doing this!" And he's like, "Yeah, I can't really use that." I said, "You can't use that? That's a great punk rock parenting story!"
Everyone with a daughter goes through that.
Yeah, but no one talks about it. So the producers liked what I said, so they wanted me in the movie.
You've worked with Bill Stevenson for some time now in recording your albums. How did you get connected with him, and why do you enjoy working with him?
Well, he's the guy if you want to make a good punk album. Him and Jason Livermore. They've just been doing it for so long. NOFX played with The Descendents in '86, so we've known Bill for quite a while. We played that show with them in Houston.
Did you ever get to see Black Flag?
I did. I saw them at the Palladium, and I didn't like them with Henry. It was actually '83 and it was their "reunion" show, and they had Ron Reyes, Dez Cadena and Henry Rollins, and we all kind of left when Henry got on the stage. Henry kind of ruined Black Flag for all of us.
If you asked Henry what his favorite line-up of the band was, he'd probably agree with you.