When Fat Mike is sitting in a front-porch rocking chair 40 years from today, he’ll look back at 2018 as the year he finally lost his punk-rock credentials.
Give the man born Michael John Burkett credit for hanging on as long as he did. For his first 51 years on the planet, the singer and bassist for NOFX was famous for getting away with everything, from Holocaust jokes on the Warped Tour to using between-songs banter to explain felching to 13-year-old fans.
NOFX shows are where audiences wait for the band to single out someone in a wheelchair and then announce “Let’s hear it for lazy people.” To watch NOFX backstage interviews is to marvel at jokes like “How do you get a gay guy to screw a girl? Shit in her vagina.”
NOFX gradually became the biggest pure-punk band since the Sex Pistols by refusing to give a, ahem, shit.
It’s almost as if Fat Mike was the first person in the history of the genre to understand what the Pistols were trying to do by taking aim at the Queen, wearing swastika T-shirts, and puking on old ladies at Heathrow: destroy everything. Or, at the least, piss off the world.
NOFX not only did just that for the first 35 years of its existence, but did so masterfully.
And then it totally pussied out. The truly shocking thing is that the band’s punk-rock Waterloo came right after the most punk thing it has ever done.
For that, back up to May 27 in Las Vegas, where NOFX was headlining the annual fast-and-loud three-day blowout known as the Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival.
How punk Punk Rock Bowling is in 2018 is up for debate; can you imagine the management of the 100 Club or the Masque or the Smilin’ Buddha warning people “The noise volumes can get loud the closer you are to a stage, so it’s advised to take earplugs in case you stand near a speaker or close to a stage”?
Nonetheless, the festival—started by Mark and Shawn Stern of Youth Brigade—has grown into something of a mega-event, with thousands from across the country making the pilgrimage every year.
On Sunday, NOFX did what it’s been doing for years: rolling out stage banter designed to offend. But instead of explaining what a chili dog is (“[It’s] when you shit on a girl’s tits and then titty-fuck her”), the band zeroed in on the Route 91 Harvest Festival tragedy in Vegas last October.
You’ll remember that as the event where a gunman in a hotel room opened fire on an outdoor concert featuring country singer Jason Aldean, killing 58 people and injuring over 800 others. It remains the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
After ripping through “72 Virgins”, NOFX went into “comedy” mode. Fat Mike announced, “We played a song about Muslims and we didn’t get shot. Hooray.”
When guitarist Eric Melvin responded with “I guess you only get shot in Vegas if you are in a country band,” Fat Mike continued with “That [the massacre] sucked, but at least they were country fans and not punk-rock fans.”
Both jokes were about as totally fucking offensive as one can get in modern America. They were also indefensible. Kind of like making jokes about the Holocaust. Or singling out people in wheelchairs. Or explaining what a chili dog is to a 13-year-old.
But, despite years of intentionally outraging audiences, NOFX somehow decided that, for once, it shouldn’t be offending people. That might have something to do with the group being dropped by beer sponsors, criticized by others in the punk-rock community (including the Stern brothers), and removed from the lineup of upcoming festivals, including the Camp Punk in Drublic Festival, which, ironically, Fat Mike created.
But it’s more likely that the band thought long and hard about what it was like to be in the crosshairs of a psychopath in Vegas last October. And to have gotten a phone call that a son, daughter, wife, husband, or parent was among the victims at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
So the band first reached out on Twitter to state “What we said in Vegas was shitty and insensitive and we are embarrassed by our remarks.”
That was followed up by a formal apology, which included: “There’s no place here to backpedal. What NOFX said in Vegas was shameful. We crossed the line of civility.”
The band couldn’t be more correct, earning bonus points for refusing to blame its idiocy on alcohol or Ambien.
Instead, it stood up and made it clear that it went too far. And by doing so, pretty much announced, for the first time in its career, that sometimes there’s such a thing as being too punk.
Wave goodbye to your hard-earned punk cred, Fat Mike. And, more importantly, be proud that, at the age of 51, it’s finally gone.