A rash of books by indie and punk rockers have taken center stage of late. It started, perhaps, with Patti Smith’s Just Kids in 2010 and continues to this day. In fact, Smith’s second memoir, M Train, was released last year.
With recent offerings from X’s John Doe, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Marky Ramone and many more, we are living in the golden age of rock memoirs.
But what if I told you that the best of these new books chronicles the highs and lows of the band NOFX?
Yes, NOFX. The band responsible for songs such as “My Vagina” and “Don’t Call Me White” and albums titled Heavy Petting Zoo and White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean, and whose singer, “Fat Mike” Burkett, started a media firestorm not too long ago by convincing a crowd at South by Southwest that the free tequila shots he had served them were spiked with his urine.
For the uninitiated, NOFX is a punk band from L.A. that formed in 1983 and has never been accused of taking itself too seriously. While they often give the impression of being a joke band onstage, they have amassed a large following (and a small fortune) by sticking with what they know. In fact, founding members who are still with the band have never had to work a so-called “real job” a day in their lives.
The Hepatitis Bathtub follows the formula of Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt, co-written with Neil Strauss, in which each band member tells his side of the story in a series of alternating chapters. The contradictions and kerfuffles that emerge from the telling give the reader access to something intimate, unfiltered and new.
And so it is with The Hepatitis Bathtub & Other Stories. Whether anyone would want such intimacy is another question.
You’ve got S&M fanatic and consummate drug dabbler Fat Mike contradicting guitarist and weed enthusiast Eric “Melvin” who finishes stories by recovering heroin addict Eric “Smelly” Sandin and commented on with rueful disbelief by Aaron “El Hefe” Abeyta, the unlikeliest member of the band.
The book also includes chapters from ex-members, who played with the band in the early days when things were more dangerous and disorganized. Take this testimony from former guitarist Steve:
“None of this was happening the way I thought it was supposed to happen. Tour was supposed to be fun. Fights weren’t supposed to break out. Guns weren’t supposed to be drawn. Beer wasn’t supposed to equal money. Drummers weren’t supposed to destroy everything. People weren’t supposed to die.”
It took a while for NOFX to find their sound and hit their groove, but they were quick studies in the sex and drugs department. Here’s Smelly reflecting on the “dark side” of experimenting with drugs:
“I remember once watching a freckle on my arm turn into an ant, crawl to the tip of my finger, turn into a droplet of water, drip upward, cause ripple pattern on the ceiling, which turned into a swirl, out of which emerged a horse that drifted toward my face, and when I was nose to nose with the horse, the sky peeled away from its head until I was staring into its skull. Life on the dark side was fucking cool.”
Smelly, whom Courtney Love once called “the worst junkie she’d ever seen in her life,” had a heroin problem that he hid from the band for years, which prompts the question, how bad a junkie do you have to be to earn the distinction of worst from the likes of Courtney Love?
This and other tantalizing questions are answered in The Hepatitis Bathtub. Sometimes the book is violent (“I liked punk rock but I didn’t like the idea of getting killed over it”), sometimes it’s absolutely horrifying (“When you have hepatitis, your shit turns white and your piss turns brown”), but it holds nothing back.
It’s fascinating to follow the individual members as they deal with drug abuse and the deaths of parents, to getting clean and becoming parents. While there are plenty of shocking stories, the biggest surprise may be how sincere they are. In the beginning, you’ll be glad these people weren’t your friends, but by the end you’ll wish they were.
Kudos to co-author Jeff Alulis who briefly served as the vocalist for the Dead Kennedys and filmed NOFX’s tour documentary that evolved into the television series Backstage Passport for Fuse TV. Alulis coaxes amazing stories from the band and puts them together in a way to create that rarest of rarities, a book that’s impossible to put down—even if you will occasionally want to hold it at arm’s length.
Jim Ruland’s collaboration with punk rock legend Keith Morris—My Damage—will be published in August 2016.