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No Rent: BDSM Meets Broadway in NOFX Frontman Fat Mike’s New Punk Musical Home Street Home 

Wednesday, Feb 18 2015
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Long before Fat Mike — the mohawked, frequently bratty, always larger-than-life frontman of NOFX — ever set foot on a stage, he was just little Michael John Burkett, an 8-year-old boy with a flair for the dramatic.

Roll the tapes back with us for a moment and witness the child, crouched in front of his parents' television set in Los Angeles, a cassette-tape recorder in hand, capturing the songs of The Rocky Horror Picture Show — the lyrics and innuendo of which he barely grasps. He's transfixed. He had caught part of the movie a week earlier, and then looked desperately through TV Guide to find out when he could see it again. He was waiting, finger on the record button, as the opening credits rolled.

"It was so fucking weird," the singer and bassist recalls now, two weeks before Home Street Home, his own musical — a project about 15 years in the making — is set to debut in San Francisco. "I just remember that I liked the songs so much. And then that was my only record for the next three or four years." His parents, he says, didn't even have a stereo.

No one would call Burkett "Fat Mike" for another dozen years. Nor did anyone have an inkling he'd grow up to front one of the longest-running and most celebrated bands in West Coast punk; co-founded a record label that issued compilations protesting the re-election of President Bush; or become known as much for his nonstop partying, onstage antics, and alcoholic-court-jester persona as for his songwriting, singing, and bass playing. (Examples of said antics: getting banned for life from Emo's in Austin for allegedly urinating into a bottle and then serving it to fans, crafting an alter ego as an evil clown who squirts cocaine out of his lapel flower and, most recently, kicking a fan who approached him onstage in Australia square in the face.)

But NOFX has been at it for 32 years, and when your band is known for the kind of behavior NOFX has become known for, there's a rather short list of things you can do that will shock people.

No. 1 on that list: Write an honest-to-goodness Broadway-style musical. A real one, a big one, with genuinely catchy, sweeping harmonies and choruses that conclude in a proud cascade of "nah-nah-nah"s. For extra shock factor, include the voices and instruments of about a dozen other punk-rock luminaries — members of the Descendents, Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, Alkaline Trio, Dropkick Murphys, Old Man Markley, Dance Hall Crashers, Hedwig & the Angry Inch's Lena Hall, and more — on the accompanying concept record and in the production's live band.

Believe this: Home Street Home, which debuts at Z Space in San Francisco Feb. 20 and runs through March 7 (opening night is already sold out) will catch punk fans by surprise if they go in expecting NOFX: The Musical. Sure, there's some teenage humor; the main characters, after all, are teenagers. It's also truly dark, heartbreaking, and challenging in places: The songs' lyrics and plotlines are heavy on abusive home lives and self-harm. Casual drug use, prostitution, and BDSM (bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism) also figure prominently. These themes are treated with a celebratory air in some parts of the play; in others, they're simply approached with pragmatism, a told-from-the-inside sense of veracity, and a rarely seen absence of moral judgment.

But at the end of the day, "Fat Mike" Burkett and his co-writers — the professional dominatrix and adult film actress Soma Snakeoil (Burkett's girlfriend), and Jeff Marx, the Tony Award-winning composer of Avenue Q — will tell you earnestly that Home Street Home is really a story about family. It's about finding the people who will love, accept, and protect you when your biological family can't, or won't. And if those people also happen to be teenage runaways who initiate you into group sex and hard drugs while living in a squat? Well, that's reality for you.


On a Wednesday afternoon two weeks before the musical's debut, Burkett has one eye on rehearsals and one eye on his phone. An employee at Fat Wreck Chords, his label, is giving him updates about reactions to the concept record, which is streaming online for the first time today. "They said it's getting a ton of shares on Facebook," Burkett reports, with a mix of surprise and relief.

Among the 15 or so other people milling about the rehearsal space, there's a conversation about whether or not it's common knowledge that Richard Pryor set himself on fire while on crack, and whether or not that would make for a funnier lyric in a musical number than the one currently in place about Aaron Sorkin's coke problem. Richard Israel, the play's award-winning director, gives actors verbal notes such as "Remember, the pee bucket is already going to be over there," and "Look toward the center, the tampon will be hanging from the chandelier."

Today is the day the actors are getting their punk haircuts, meaning the crew members — all NOFX friends and extended family — are hard at work trying to make an ensemble cast of mostly fresh-faced, clean-cut young actors who exercise and take good care of their voices look as if they've been living on the street and doing drugs. (A casting call included the directive, "All singing and musical performances are to be delivered with a punk sensibility.")

One crew member brings an actor over to Burkett for an assessment of the young man's new mohawk. "A little shorter up front," Burkett advises, before turning eagerly back to the scenes in action, and looking every bit like an overage high school drama club kid who is finally, at long last, in his true element. At 48, wearing long cutoff shorts and an untucked button-up T-shirt over arms full of tattoos, Fat Mike looks decidedly, permanently adolescent.

Burkett's own signature mohawk, bright red at the moment, matches shocks of Soma Snakeoil's hair. Aside from tattoos, though, that's about the only similarity in their respective aesthetics. Goddess Soma — or just Goddess, as Mike and others call her — is seated next to him, dressed in a tight, shiny black dress expertly laced in important places, and rocking 6-inch stilettos with the nonchalance of, well, someone who rocks 6-inch stilettos every damn day of her life.

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