The resurgence and mainstream acceptance of punk that emerged in the 1990s can be attributed to many things- but it is undoubtedly hard to look past at some of the individuals that would ultimately become the face of a genre’s revival. One such individual is, of course, NOFX frontman Fat Mike, who on the back of an already successful career with the band, hit new heights with the release of 1994’s Punk in Drublic. While it did not reach the kind of levels Dookie or Smash did, Punk in Drublic’s Gold-selling status is made even more incredible with the fact that it was all essentially, because of the content of the record and word of mouth. While Green Day and the Offspring became the namesakes of the mainstream punk explosion, NOFX continued its mantle as the clown princes of the underground. They never seemed to waver from their brand of humor, snotty attitude, and anti-establishment persona. Fat Mike, of course, was the spearhead for every controversial story that involved the band- from no interviews to never signing to a major label, Fat Mike was always and above, the crux and centerpiece of the band.
Over the years we have gotten to “know” Fat Mike as the label head of long-running independent label Fat Wreck Chords. We got to know his politics with Punk Voter, we know that he likes to crossdress, doesn’t mind a little S&M, and was never shy of being controversial on stage, on record, or afraid to feud with other artists from all genres. This was the public’s version of who Fat Mike is, but it wasn’t until we met Cokie the Clown back in 2010 that we finally got to see the man behind Fat Mike. At first, Cokie the Clown was just an eye-opening character who released an EP and made a noted appearance at SXSW. It is not until now that we finally get to see and hear the real Cokie the Clown.
“I peeled my fuckin’ skin off for this record,” says Fat Mike. And it is that level of honesty and openness that defines You’re Welcome. The album, 10 songs of gut-wrenching vaudevillian punk, is as brutally open as a personal record can get. It is not a NOFX record by any means. And if you’re looking for NOFX’s melodic, attitude-filled punk blasts of politics, social commentary, and humor, then you’re better off listening to Punk in Drublic or The War On Errorism. Instead, You’re Welcome is perhaps the most unconventional punk record of recent times. While you’ve heard “Punk Rock Saved My Life”, the rest of the album doesn’t veer into punk’s guitar-heavy urgency. Instead, choosing to adopt orchestral compositions and theatrical histrionics that occasionally sees heavy rock influences (“Negative Reel”), but relies more on sad piano reflections and string-based melancholia. The truth is, You’re Welcome is not a happy record at all. Whether it is the painful family memories of “The Time I Killed My Mom” (“Yes please end it sweetie / I can’t live with this much pain / I’d like to die surrounded by the people I most love / I brought you in to this world you gotta take me out”), the rough and tumble relationships of his life (“Pre-Arranged Marriage”) or the acoustic, heavier sound of the rather self-explanatory “Fuck You All”, You’re Welcome is as he says in the song, the music of a sad clown.
The album may be anything but a NOFX record, but what’s more punk rock than writing a punk rock record that doesn’t sound like a punk rock record? Sure, it’s nice that Travis Barker drums on the record, and that Guns N’ Roses alum Dizzy Reed is the featured keyboardist, but in reality, You’re Welcome makes an impact because Fat Mike’s unrelenting honesty and unconventional approach to lyricism and songwriting is still ever-present, just done a little differently. And the results are captivating, eye-opening, and filled with the oft heartbreaking reality of being human. Rarely if ever, has someone in his position been so personally open on a record- and rarely has a person been as free, or care-free, about the consequences to do so. But the work he has cultivated as a self-made man means that he’s reached a level where he can. And ultimately for the genre, You’re Welcome is both vital and groundbreaking.
“Punk Rock Saved My Life” is a wonderful anthemic song, the summation of Fat Mike’s life, family and history- all parts of the puzzle that made him the influential, globe-conquering punk singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. NOFX fans will know that throughout his discography he’s written songs about how good it is to be Fat Mike (“Thank God It’s Monday”) and for the last 30+ years we’ve gotten to know Fat Mike as an antagonist, provocateur, and iconoclast. But for the first time in all these years, we’re finally getting to know Mike Burkett.