Eyeballin': NOFX's Backstage Passport

NOFX

Backstage Passport DVD

www.nofx.org

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Few bands in punk rock have lasted as long as the San Francisco-based NOFX. And even far fewer have stayed as relatively tight-knit a crew as Fat Mike and the boys. After 25 years of co-existence, most pop-punk bands of NOFX's ilk and age have already shuffled off the scene for child-rearing, while others lie in drug-induced early graves.

This isn't to say that NOFX hasn't had its share of drug scares, what with drummer Erik "Smelly" Sandin chasing the needle in the early '90s and the rest of the guys seemingly dabbling with the odd pill or powder at various points. Now that the whole band is over 40 and married with children, however, stereotypical balls-out rock and roll debauchery on the road is a non-issue.

Well, almost.

In 2007, NOFX embarked on a globe-spanning world tour, with the idea of visiting countries that had never seen a real American punk show, let alone a rock show. For the resulting DVD, NOFX: Backstage Passport, cameras followed the band along the way, documenting every terse and terrific moment. The footage aired last spring on Fuse, the fledgling indie-centric music channel still sort of non-existent even to most people with cable.

Along the way, we see the band encountering shady foreign promoters and even shadier venues. In Brazil, its road manager, Kent, has an alcoholic breakdown that seems to rear its ugly head throughout the series at the most inopportune times. At a one-off gig in Chile, local punks repeatedly rush the stage to lovingly pummel the band.

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Craig Hlavaty
NOFX's Fat Mike backstage at Warehouse Live, 2008
What stands out is how NOFX, and Fat Mike in particular, seem to still be enthusiastic about spreading the word of punk rock all these years on. Even when they have to play on a converted tennis court to a gaggle of affluent Ecuadorian fans, not once do they waver in their ideals. It's a lesson for any band in any genre that above all, the music and the fans have to come first, even if you are playing to a bunch of rich kids whom you may doubt their sincerity.

In Japan, the band visits an S&M house where their stage producer Limo literally gets his ass beaten by a diminutive geisha-cum-dominatrix. Singapore finds Fat Mike, Kent and Limo partake in a few sketchy lines of benzylpiperazine, which is like a mutant version of Ecstasy and cocaine, which turns them and guitarist Eric Melvin into drooling nightmares. Keep in mind that in Singapore, drug use and possession is punishable by death; this is the same country that in 1994 severely caned American frat boy Michael Fay for mere car vandalism.

As one follows the band through its tour of the world, which includes drunken train rides during the Russian leg and the finale in a still quasi-Apartheid South Africa, you get to see the inner workings of the band. Interactions seem to still be as fluid and youthful as they were in the beginning, only now that have grown far stronger, and (yikes!) somewhat loving. Especially when Fat Mike and Smelly reminisce about how Smelly's heroin addiction in the early '90s.

Family ties become a bone of contention when the band skids out in Israel where the Jewish Mike finds that his homeland is actually as dangerous as the news reports. One can see his heart break at the religious violence and absurdity, even as he is now a devout atheist. He gets homesick for his young daughter, who sits at home in San Francisco angry at her Daddy for being so far away on her third birthday.

NOFX: Backstage Passport isn't quite the debauched tour chronicle that it could have been, but that is forgiven. The true story here is of four idealistic guys on the road, missing home while still being motivated every night by the prospect of converting kids to the gospel of punk rock.

Even if you are playing a song called "Kill All The White Man" every night.

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