I got into NOFX after their ‘So Long and Thanks for All The Shoes’ album came out in ’97. I was 13. The album blew my mind and is still my favourite album by the band. And not just because of the nostalgic component.
Sadly, ‘So Long…’ barely gets a mention in ‘Hepatitis Bathtub’, the autobiography of the band, told, oral history style, by the band themselves.
But aside from the band glossing over the recorded jewel in their punk rock crown, this book is, from front to back, kind of astounding.
I didn’t know what to expect from it. I thought it would just be a bunch of stories about the band meant to offend, annoy or sicken the reader. Just like their music. Instead it’s a bunch of stories that offend, sicken and inspire the reader. Truly this has to be one of the best examinations of addiction that i’ve ever read. And just like the Descendents documentary ‘Filmage’ used Bill Stevenson’s illness as an emotional anchor in their story, NOFX use Erik Sandin (Smelly)’s journey to the very bowels of abyss and back to anchor theirs. In fact, for a good two thirds of the book, ‘Hepatitis Bathtub’ essentially is the Erik Sandin story. It’s his stories which are the most unbelievable, the most authentic, the most sickening, the most fun. It’s his struggles which give the book its heart. Not only his struggles with addiction, but with his father, with his difficult role as the only sober band member of NOFX and his uplifting role as an adoptive father. It truly puts to bed the age old notion that the drummer is the most replaceable member of a band. I could not imagine this band without Smelly.
The rest of the band have some good, inspiring moments themselves. Eric Melvin comes across as a very down to earth, kind, easygoing guy. Someone you’d love to hang out with just to hang out with. El Hefe, the only member of the band who isn’t a punk and doesn’t try to be, inspires as someone who worked his ass off to become a professional musician only to see it pay off in the end, albeit in a very different way than he had expected.
And Fat Mike? Well, Fat Mike is an enigma. On the one hand, he kept his shit together and stayed away from drugs and self destruction in the early years of the band so that he could be the responsible one and keep them afloat. And it worked, obviously.
On the other, right around the point in the book that he starts to experiment with coke and pills and take up the flag of punk rock self destruction left by the likes of Darby Crash, Sid Vicious and G.G. Allen, his story ironically becomes somewhat boring and ultimately rather annoying.
The parts about his fatherhood are nice. It’s obvious he has a deep rooted love for his daughter and that he goes out of his way to be a good dad. But the rock star posturing on tour, the drug and alcohol abuse, the stunts and the obnoxious behaviour and the obsession with his own sexual preferences and perversions get old quick and you actually start to feel bad for the rest of the band by the end of it all.
But that’s Fat Mike. He’s a proudly divisive character in the modern history of punk rock. You truly either love him or hate him. I felt both emotions for him throughout the course of the book.
There are a lot of rock bios about addiction and insanity out there (Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ and Anthony Kiedis’ ‘Scar Tissue’ are two of the best), and there are a lot of books on punk history out there as well (Legs McNeil’s ‘Please Kill Me’ is one of the best). NOFX’s ‘Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories’ might be the best book I’ve read that deftly explores both. With the shock and awe of ‘The Dirt’ and the juicy punk history and conversational format of ‘Please Kill Me’.
Easily a must read for anyone who grew up punk, or for punks who stubbornly refused to grow up.
More interviews, reviews, photos in June 2016 Vandala Magazine