By Johnny Papan
Fat Mike lives a life of absurdity. The NOFX leader is bringing his Punk In Drublic Craft Beer & Music Festival to Western Canada this month, continuing his infamous legacy of testing the limits of what people can and can’t do.
As the frontman of NOFX, one of the world’s most successful and controversial independent punk acts, he’s built a career on writing quick, catchy tunes and pushing people’s buttons.
Born Michael Burkett, Fat Mike is the first to admit that he could care less about being offensive. He wears his love for punk rock, kinky sex, alcohol and cocaine like patches on a denim vest. Burkett’s drunken, drug-fuelled escapades were filmed for the NOFX tour documentary Backstage Passport.
In the NOFX book Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, he discusses the first time he drank his girlfriend’s urine. In 2010, while performing as his alter-ego Cokie the Clown, Burkett passed what was assumed to be shots of tequila to members of his audience. After knocking their drinks back, Burkett played a video of himself “topping up” the bottle, walking on-stage moments later and serving a bitter piss-tequila concoction to that same audience. He was met with echoes of laughter, disgust and appall.
But there are some lines even he can’t cross. At Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival in 2018, Burkett riffed on a joke made by NOFX guitarist Eric Melvin about the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting, the deadliest massacre in United States history. It had happened only eight months prior in the same city. Their comments immediately resulted in a downward spiral for the band. Beer sponsor Stone Brewing Co. cut all ties with the band and many NOFX shows were cancelled, including Burkett’s 2018 Punk in Drublic Festival. He says it was the worst week of his life.
“I don’t apologize for shit and I did apologize for this,” Burkett says. “Fletcher [Dagge] from Pennywise said ‘Think about the eight-year-old girl whose mother didn’t come home.’ That really hit home with me. I apologized and I meant it. If someone still has a problem with it, that’s their problem. I didn’t shoot anybody. I made a joke that was insensitive and it’s probably the thousandth time I’ve done that. I didn’t apologize for the country, I apologized for the people that lost somebody. It was a shitty thing to say.”
The storm has calmed for Burkett and his projects. His label, Fat Wreck Chords, is still running strong and Punk in Drublic is returning this year. Burkett also released a new record, You’re Welcome, under his Cokie the Clown alter-ego. An artistic turnaround for Burkett,You’re Welcome is an acoustic, piano-laden, intimate expression of his life experiences; an unveiling of haunting memories usually masked by his boisterous public front.
“It wasn’t therapeutic,” Burkett says. “It was very difficult to do. The first song is about me finding my wife after she tried to kill herself in the bathtub. I found her just in time. When I sing that live, it’s acapella. The crowd is absolutely silent. No one’s moving, no one’s filming. It’s like giving a eulogy. I did a show at SXSW and never saw a crowd like that before. Damian from Fucked Up! said it was the most awkward, uncomfortable thing they’ve ever seen. I like that feeling. And then there’s the song ‘Fair Leather Friends.’ That one really fucking hurts me.”
“Fair Leather Friends” is about Burkett feeling betrayed by his closest friends after beginning a relationship with adult film star Soma Snakeoil. Friends stopped coming for dinner at his house, and the couple wasn’t invited to social gatherings. Burkett remembers being invited to a bonfire that honoured the birthday and life of deceased No Use For A Name frontman Tony Sly. It was an annual event Burkett didn’t even know about until he and Snakeoil split up.
“I didn’t go,” he says. “I’m only invited now that I’m divorced from Soma? He was one of my best friends. I recorded half his records with him. We toured together. And they didn’t invite me because of the woman I was with. That’s why I have a hard time singing this song. It’s embarrassing. I can’t believe people would do that.”
Other stories told on the Cokie album include Burkett being neglected by his father, finding his roommate who hanged himself, and being the one to help his suffering mother reach eternal slumber.
“If you’re going to do something, fucking go for it,” Burkett concludes when asked why he felt inclined to pursue a project that brings him so much pain. “I wanted to sing about the worst tragedies of my life. It’s not a commercially viable record, it’s a fucking big bum out, but it touches people. I’d rather touch people than write fucking Offspring songs and talk about taking her home and making her dessert. Some of the songs don’t make me look good. It’s really ugly and heartbreaking, but music is supposed to make you feel.”
Punk In Drublic 2019 Craft Beer & Music Festival hits Edmonton on Saturday, July 7 (Edmonton Expo) and Vancouver on Saturday, July 13 (PNE Amphitheatre).Fat Mike, NOFX, Punk In Drublic