Austin Brown is an artist living in Brooklyn, New York. He is a writer and known member of Parquet Courts.
I first found out about NOFX on the first day of middle school. Andrew, my friend from Little League baseball, came back from summer vacation with long hair, baggy shorts, Converse All Stars, and a NOFX t-shirt. We lived in a tiny town, with no record stores, independent radio, or culture – just a mall. That’s where I went to a CD Universe or whatever it was called to buy Punk-O-Rama 4, and it wasn’t long until I joined in with the rest (or at least a sizable proportion) of the youth of suburban America, and exercised my right to be pissed off and say swear words about stuff. (My parents, mostly.) A few years later, Andrew and I started our first band, and our first show was at a high school pep rally. There was a massive bonfire and other students unplugged our amps and threw soda cans. The next day, few were shy about telling us how much we sucked, but to this day it’s one of my proudest moments.
When I sat down to write about NOFX, I felt stifled by intimidation, which was confusing. NOFX has been an institution of my past ever since I bought 1997’s So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes in sixth grade and worked my way backwards through their discography. They have made a record every year or three since then, and now here I am with their new EP Stoke Extinguisher, a short collection of songs that were only available on rare vinyl singles, as well as some new material. I haven’t heard anything new from them since So Long…; my peers and I moved on shortly after I saw NOFX at the Warped Tour that summer during middle school. We went to indie after pop-punk, and then I started reading books and listening to older music, so I don’t know what music came from them after I tuned out. The point is that NOFX stayed in their niche for me, and when I’ve thought about them, it’s almost always been as a punchline. They were from that time when I was a shitty kid. They were the band that got it right for a bunch of pissed-off children, and they never grew out of it.
Listening through the 11 minutes of Stoke Extinguisher, I started typing at around the tenth minute, as the song “New Year’s Revolution” was coming on. This was going to be my moment, my thesis, my takedown. Cliché parody song title, awful lyrics, the NOFX copyrighted drumbeat, digital imitation distortion with palm-muted guitar – it was the NOFX I wanted to write about, who used to be good when I kept up with them, but now they’re hack. It’s a song about how New Years is “so banal” because we ignore the suffering in the world to party for the sake of partying. It’s an anti-party song and an easy target — until I get to the second verse. “Let’s all sing together/Songs about change/Songs of a people/Notes in my range/Can we motivate?/Can we incite?/Can we can we make a difference/With lyrics oh so trite?”
That’s when it hit me: NOFX is completely self-aware. Like when you ask Siri if she loves you, and she arrogantly tells you that she’s a machine and has no feelings or whatever. Every criticism I could have about the song is already in it, so the joke’s on me. I was the one who got older and shittier, realized I was shitty and was forced to try find things that I enjoyed about life, and redefine myself by my own standards. NOFX have been witty, conscious, and consistent since I left them at the Warped Tour in 2000-whenever, and things don’t go away when you stop paying attention.
I can’t really think about those years of discovering popular counter-culture and music without remembering just how fucking good it felt. The world was turning into something that made sense, and there were people just a few hundred miles away like me, and there was a place for me somewhere. In their way, NOFX were a part of that process of discovery.
Later, things got shitty. My parents split up, I moved out to go to college, became fed up, lethargic, and was just plain surviving the most difficult ways that I could, barely keeping a job and often not supporting myself. Life can be hard work when you feel like you deserve something better without having earned it. It makes you see the value of finding one’s lane and staying in it.
Major depressive disorder is difficult for anyone who has it to talk about, and there’s not much to say except “bear with me” or “help.” I’ve had a hard time justifying my personal struggle because my plight isn’t much different from people who choose to live responsibly, even with true injustices in their lives. Living with consistent quality is satisfying, rewarding, and harder work than anyone is given credit for. Revisiting NOFX helps a person who grew up with the band to realize that there’s something to be said for being self-realized and smart through the ages, regardless of how naturally it may or may not come to them. There’s no inherent value in newness or innovation for its own sake. A person understands history through context and personal experience, and there’s a true art in being consistent.