In April 2016 when this book first came out in Canada I knew the name NOFX, but I knew nothing about them. I didn’t even know who was who on the book cover. NOFX were in the same realm as Rancid, Bad Religion and Misfits, bands lots of people talk about so I know OF them, but I couldn’t name any of their songs*. I trusted the people tweeting about it, who said it was, to use just a few words: amazing, crude, disturbing, disgusting, eye-opening and wonderfully vile. Those are things I like in my books! So I put it on hold at the local library** and thought OK, I’ll learn about them this way. I also turned to Spotify to see what this over 30 year old band was all about musically. Spotify has a fantastic playlist out called “This is NOFX,” I highly recommend it.
Word of advice: Some bands should not be listened to chronologically. Sometimes you should start with the really popular songs and then work backwards. They are usually popular for a reason. I didn’t like their super early stuff at first.
Before I get into the meat of the review I will tell you two things upfront:
1. The book is all those things mentioned previously and then some.
2. I returned the library copy and now I own both the book and the audiobook (and most of their albums…) That should tell you right away that I enjoyed it.
While the book on its own in either print or e-book is great, hearing the stories told by the guys in their own voices is way, way better. Fat Mike, Hefe, Smelly and Melvin read their own parts with Tommy Chong & Jello Biafra guesting for former band members Dave & Steve. With the audiobook, not only do you get the story, you get little jokes “Dave’s not here, man” from Tommy Chong and giggles from the guys (mostly Fat Mike) while reading it.
(An except of the audiobook)
The book is divided into chapters with each band member telling their own story to the reader separately, and sometimes with asides to the rest of the band. They were all extensively interviewed (15+ hours according to interviews) by Jeff Alulis (you may remember his credit from NOFX: Backstage Passport) who then wove the stories together. Some of the stories they recount have never been told to their bandmates before, they learned about them through this book. This isn’t a book of “Ha ha, we trashed a hotel room,” we’re talking serious shit that happened to them and those around them like addiction, assault, suicide, murder, etc. Smelly dominates the book with his story of drugs, from addiction to later recovery as well as Melvin opens up about being molested when he was a child.
Parts of the book are so out there it’s hard to believe, especially when it comes to the nature of the L.A. punk scene back then: full of violence, death and police riots. As someone naturally afraid of being stabbed or beaten up for no reason, I kept thinking: who the hell who would go these places (or let their KIDS go to these places) knowing what may go down?! I’m nervous going to certain clubs now and I’m almost thirty and they HAVE security, these clubs did not. Numerous times in the book you will wonder, as they do too, how in the hell they’re all still alive as they recount knowing people who have died from overdosing, gangs, or just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The book isn’t all doom and gloom though. Sure, there’s a lot of dark stuff in it, but it’s well-written and there are really funny parts. It’s heartfelt and ultimately it’s about friendship with a chosen family. There’s lots of hope in it and perseverance to keep making music even when they’re playing shows to four people and those four people leave after the first song. I really felt for El Hefe when he first joins the band. He’s the last to join, he’s a trained musician and he comes from the furthest away from the punk scene.
There are bits that may make some people squeamish (just one for me, set in Tokyo) and if they do, please skip ’em and keep reading anyway. Also, keep reading past the first chapter, it’s just pee (you’ll understand when you get there) and settle in to take one hell of a ride.
Lastly, I tried to not read too many reviews of this book before I wrote my own, but the few I did read seemed to note how we “learned way too much about Fat Mike’s sex life”. I get that near the end Mike seems to focus on it, but it’s part of who he is. I don’t know whether it’s because he talks about BDSM and his discovery of his brand of kink or what, but I think it’s a little unfair to single him out when they all talk about having sex, repeatedly, in less than normal, vanilla circumstances. Also, come on the beer bong butt-plug is hilarious.
Needless to say, read the damn book and maybe get a copy for someone for their preferred winter holiday. I read it cover to cover in two days and I couldn’t put it down. Then I read it again (slower) in about a week. You don’t have to like their music or know who they are to enjoy their book, but you may find yourself listening to some tracks with a new perspective and liking it a little more than you did before.
5/5 – if I had a rating system
*I had heard Linoleum at this point though, as Frank Turner covers it on one of his albums, I just didn’t know that yet.
** And end up waiting almost three months to get it because of the high demand.