No prominent punk rock band has put its members’ Jewishness on display as overtly, frequently, and humorously as NOFX has. The quartet includes singer/bassist Fat Mike and guitarist Eric Melvin, who are both Jewish. NOFX’s “The Brews” is the number-one Jewish punk anthem.
Fat Mike’s and Melvin’s Jewishness comes up sporadically in NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, which was published on Tuesday. Considering that two members’ Jewishness is not a defining characteristic of NOFX, it doesn’t come up as often as in the Israel episode of Backstage Passport. Read Chapter 2 of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk for more information—and context.
Here’s what NOFX’s book revealed about the band’s Jewish members.
An anecdote from Fat Mike’s teenage years might help explain his apparent resentment toward religion, including Judaism. Apparently when he was getting into punk, his parents (who were not religious) thought that spending time in Israel would straighten him out. He associated that with an unwelcome religious “Jew-wakening,” and this is what stood in the way of being himself, embracing punk, and playing with NOFX. He did not strongly associate with religiosity in the first place, and then he felt the need to reject an association with all that. This might have created a perceived dichotomy between punk and religion, while not compromising his ethnic/cultural Jewish identity. Fat Mike wrote that when he and his father were in Israel:
He wanted to leave me on the kibbutz.
He and my mom thought I was going downhill. They hated that I was getting into punk and thought six months on a farm in the Holy Land would help steer me right somehow. I don’t know where this Jew-wakening came from—we were Jewish by heritage but never religious at home. We never celebrated holidays, I was never Bar Mitzvahed, we never went to synagogue. I guess he figured Israel was far enough removed from L.A. that I would eventually work my rebellion out of my system.
Of course, I threw a fit. No high school kid wants to ditch all of his friends. NOFX had just started four months earlier, and I was trying to make something of it.
Fat Mike might have been uncomfortable with Jewish religious associations, but he still identified as Jewish. Amusingly, he wrote elsewhere in the book, “Even though my parents weren’t religious, they were still Jewish, and in a Jewish family it’s not ‘Are you going to college?’ it’s ‘Which college are you going to?'”
Fat Mike is no stranger to incorporating his Jewishness into self-deprecating quips. Discussing his first girlfriend, he said, “I guess she had a thing for sloppy Jewish musicians ….” Later in the book, he referred to his “big Jew nose.”
Fat Mike has widely invoked the Holocaust in song lyrics, interviews, and otherwise, and some examples cross the line of inappropriateness, to put it lightly. Apparently, nobody clapped or booed when NOFX played its first show. Fat Mike reflected, “I believe it was Elie Wiesel who said, ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.'” That Wiesel tie-in is pretty tame compared to some of NOFX’s Holocaust references discussed in Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk.
Melvin shared two funny anecdotes about growing up Jewish. First, he said, “Even though we were Jewish we celebrated Christmas every year, and after a while my mom started placing our presents around her guitar case rather than a tree.”
When Melvin started identifying as a punk, he shaved his head. A big kid at school with “an Israeli name” thought he was a skinhead, grabbed him by the collar, and slammed him against a wall. Melvin recited at least the opening of the kiddush to prove he was Jewish, and the assailant let him go.