This is tied with Joe Keithley’s I, Shithead and Michael Azzerad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life as the best punk rock book I have read. The story of NOFX is told by each member of the band in near equal measure (Eric Melvin, Erik “Smelly” Sandin, “El Hefe,” “Fat Mike,” and, where applicable, their early guitarists Dave Casillas and Steve Kidwiler). Each band member brings a very distinct aspect and viewpoint to the history of NOFX as their stories intertwine. Juxtaposing each band member’s story with each other is an extremely effective exercise in crafting and examining a historical narrative. Just as often as recollections back each other up, there are times that the story from one person does not agree with another’s, or sheds light on aspects that weren’t known to other members of the band. What emerges isn’t just a point-by-point recounting of NOFX’s history, but stories of four lives shaped by punk rock.
The tales are occasionally inspiring, just as often hilarious, and even more often disturbing. Impressively, the hepatitis bathtub mentioned in the title isn’t even the most disgusting anecdote in the book. NOFX, in a way, personify the complications of punk rock. Discovering punk at the right juncture can save a person’s life, but, just as often, punk can be stupid, violent, and more than a little contradictory. For every positive change punk has had on those in NOFX or their immediate circle, there are just as many people who were swallowed up into darker paths—like addiction or random violence—especially in the hardcore scene of L.A. in the ‘80s.
Perhaps the most compelling thread in here is Smelly’s path from obnoxious and out-of-control junkie to longstanding sobriety, while still retaining his place as the drummer in a band where insane amounts of drugs and alcohol are standard. This is juxtaposed with band members reflecting on Fat Mike’s increasingly heavy and worrisome intake of drugs and alcohol, up to and including present times. There is a refreshing candor to how little it is held back from any of the band members. Yes, Fat Mike can often seem kind of self-aggrandizing, but there’s also enough raw back story that it starts to make sense (if not necessarily being agreeable).
Jeff Alulis has managed to help massage NOFX’s recollections into something eminently readable. The stories are not always pleasant—in fact they’re often not—but they are intensely fascinating looks at the way lives are shaped by punk, for good and ill. –Adrian Salas (De Capo Press, 44 Farnsworth St., 3rd Fl., Boston, MA 02210. decapopress.com)