Last week I found myself once again in the Estadio Cubierto Malvinas Argentinas, the same venue I saw Bad Religion live last October, pushing and thrashing and singing loudly along with yet another loud punk-rock act from California that was an enormous influence during my formative years: the self-crowned kings of candor, sultans of slander, bastions of DIY, NOFX.
This had been a long time coming. I’ve followed their oeuvre since I was about 13 years old, moving past my discovery of punk rock by way of watered-down fifth-generationers, and quickly devouring as much of their discography as I could find. This was a genuinely difficult task that found me scavenging through the racks of the few record stores in my hometown, hunting down pricey imports and paying way too much money for every album (since Epitaph didn’t have a Colombian publishing branch). I listened to “Punk in Drublic” and “White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean” obsessively– captured, at first, by their ridiculous sense of humor, then by the greatness of the songs. I remember listening to “Linoleum” for the first time and coming to the conclusion that “this is what punk rock is supposed to sound like”– something I’d contest nowadays, but firmly believed back then. My next purchase was “Heavy Petting Zoo”, a brilliantly dark and off-kilter album that I was initially disappointed in but I’ve come to adore. Then, the current album– “Pump Up the Valuum”. Then, the early stuff– “Ribbed”, “S&M Airlines”, “Liberal Animation” and even the “Maximum Rock&Roll” compilation of demos and early tracks. As much as I loved every discovery, the record that cemented my fandom was “So Long and Thanks for All The Shoes”.
I had this one shipped in by a very helpful Tower Records employee, as it was the last album I needed to complete my collection (this was before “The War on Errorism” came out, so around 2002). To this day I remember feeling like my face was going to melt off as I pressed ‘play’ and the album kicked into its roaring opening track, then straight into “Kids of the K-Hole” (the song posted above), a ferocious yet melodic blast of narcotics-fueled rock and roll. With its rapid-fire drumming, buzzsaw bassline, overdriven twin guitars and a melody as rich with pathos as the best Greg Graffin songs, “Kids of the K-Hole” feels to me like the quintessential NOFX track, a two-minute-long anthem that’s as irreverent and uncompromising as it is heartfelt.
The entire album is solid, featuring a healthy dose of silliness (“Monosyllabic Girl”, “I’m Telling Tim”) and genuine feeling (“Falling in Love”)- This may be my favorite-sounding punk record, too, featuring a production sound that’s crisp and loud and suitably distorted. And it features a little bit of all the components that make the NOFX sound– early-eighties hardcore, power-pop, new wave, reggae & ska. One of my favorite tracks is “The Desperation’s Gone”, a melancholic look back on the hardcore scene in sharp contrast with the slick pop-punk that was playing on the radio in the mid-to-late 90s (a scene which, ironically, NOFX influenced heavily and helped perpetuate). “Trip down the stairs into hell / Cathay De I miss your smell / A mixture of puke, beer / Stale piss, fuck, sweat and fear”. Punk rock nostalgia amidst a sea of power chords and three-part vocal harmonies.
And I think that’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about NOFX. The fact that, more than most bands, they seem to be deeply aware of their place in the punk rock tradition, and they honor their heritage in their music and lyrics. On “13 Stitches” from “The War on Errorism”, Fat Mike sings about “the first time (he) saw The Descendants”. On “We Got Two Jealous Agains”, he tells a love story via a list of mutual favorite records. On “Everything in Moderation” he sings about how he still gets excited when The Adolescents play. “Door Nails” is a touching tribute to fallen musicians, to “winning losers” and “lucky substance abusers” who “left their black marks on us all”.
If there’s one feeling I associate with NOFX, it’s that of kinship, a kind of camaraderie that comes through in their music as much as it does in their on-stage demeanor. And the fact that they celebrate their place in the punk rock tradition is something that keeps me going back to them. It’s a tradition that I feel strangely part of, as a spectator and participant. And while some of my fellow music enthusiasts may feel like they’re above the silliness of NOFX’s music, their puerile sense of humor, their on-stage sloppiness and lack of professionalism, I remain an unapologetic NOFX fan. Yes, they’ve been making the same record for the better part of their career, and yes, they could stand to be a little more serious about their craft, but none of those things mattered to me as I thrashed about with thousands of other fans, and sang loudly along with my favorite songs from way back when.
I’ve come to realize that, as much as I post content relating to newer artists, a really big part of this blog is dedicated to analyzing the songs and artists I loved when I was younger, and trying to make sense of what part they played in shaping the person I am today. Some of those artists I’ve grown a little wary of, and some I continue to love fervently. As I was getting ready to head over to the venue last Thursday, I was wondering what camp NOFX would fall into. It quickly became clear to me that it was the latter.