IN NOVEMBER, in his home of San Francisco, Mike Burkett wandered down to the local Occupy protest.
"I visited and thought it was pretty cool," says Burkett, the 44-year-old singer of NOFX otherwise known as Fat Mike. "I was talking to some people and I said, 'Hey, can I come by here tomorrow and play?' And they go, 'Sure, there's no rules here.' So me and [longtime NOFX guitarist Eric] Melvin just came by the next day, put it on Twitter, and played."
Before performing that day Burkett was inspired. He wrote "Wouldn't It Be Nice if Every Movement Had a Theme Song," a simple, four-chord punk sing-along. In between chants of "Occupy, Occupy, Occupy!," Burkett, reading from the freshly scrawled lyrics and playing acoustic guitar, rifled off populist demands like, "We're not here just to bitch/we want more taxes for the rich." Political songs plucked from the band's 29-year-old catalog, like 1994's "Perfect Government" and 2009's "We Called It America," rounded out the short, relatively stripped set.
"We had such a good time, we said, 'Let's play LA!'" Burkett says. With a week's notice and another Twitter post, some 1,000 fans showed up. According to the LA Weekly, "Everyone sang along to just about every single word of their songs."
Though inspiring, the scene was not an especially new one for Burkett. "I've been going to protests since I was 15," he says. "I remember Rock Against Reagan outside the Federal Building in LA. It's no different. This one might just get recognized because it's happened around the world."
More than any grand new political statement, NOFX's appearance at Occupy displays an almost 30-year-old punk band remaining both relevant and engaged. Neither resting on laurels nor dancing on the grave of youthful ideals, NOFX maintain their lust for life. They're taking risks, remaining independent, doing mostly right by a diverse fanbase, and ever searching for the next dirty or self-deprecating joke.
Through nearly three decades of consistent writing, recording, and touring, NOFX discovered what works, and developed some rules accordingly. For whatever reason, they seem to involve the number three.
"We tour about three months a year but for no more than three weeks in a row," says Burkett. "That keeps us liking each other, keeps us fresh and keeps our livers okay." NOFX also never plays a city more than once every three years. Their last four albums have been released three years apart (which Burkett says is nothing but coincidence).
NOFX also discovered that drugs help. In the middle of our interview Burkett pulls through a drive-through pharmacy to refill his Valium. Playing sober holds little purpose. "If the doctor told me I had to [quit] I probably would," he says. "If you're playing punk rock sober after 30 years, you're either doing it for the money or uhh—well, that's the only reason you're doing it."
NOFX, however, keep on because it's too fun to stop, admirably ambling, and all the while reveling in their good fortune. "We've so exceeded any of our expectations and dreams," Burkett tells me. "It's crazy. I really think we have the best job in the world.
"Not only is being a musician the best job in the world, but being in a punk band is even better. Because we're allowed to get away with so many things that you aren't as a regular band. We can play fucked up and make tons of mistakes and you know, kind of the more mistakes you make, the more charming you are in punk rock."