George W. Bush: Youve Been Punkd
"Fat Mike" (Mike Burkett), the front man for seminal punk/hardcore band NOFX, very publicly hates two things: George Bush and doing interviews. The former because he's the locus of all that is evil, and the latter because there are just things the witty, acerbic singer would rather be doing with his evenings than fielding queries from morons and ass-kissers. He stopped doing interviews years ago, but now, with the realization of his Punkvoter tour, which brings together punk music and politics, and the release of the Rock Against Bush compilation CDs (Volumes 1 and 2) on his Fat Wreck Chords label, Burkett's become something of an unlikely political figure, so he's willing to talk. Kind of. We caught up with him a couple of nights after he seriously fucked up his back, when he was sure to be in a good mood.
OC Weekly: Have you ever met Bush?
Fat Mike: No.
If you did, what would you say to him?
I'd say, "Do you have any idea how many people hate you?"
Do you think he does?
No, I think he's hidden away. All he gets is briefing. His staff isn't going to tell him he's completely dividing the country. When he went to England, there was the biggest demonstration they've ever had, and they're our biggest ally! He's the most hated man in the world right now.
Do you feel at all that you're preaching to the choir?
A little bit. The past four shows we've done we've registered 150 new voters per show. The website's getting 14 million hits a month. When you're doing a show, if you get 10 percent registered, that's pretty great—and that's just the people who aren't registered—and for the ones who are too young, we're just informing them.
What were your initial goals with Punkvoter?
I've sold a few million records in this country, and the initial goals were to use my celebrity to get our fans interested in politics, to get them to be interested in the political process.
Have you always been interested in politics? As a kid were you?
No. And I don't feel like I'm interested in politics now. I feel it's my responsibility. The only reason I do now is because I'm a public figure. I think if you are a public figure, you have a responsibility.
What about the argument that celebrities are just there to entertain and that music and politics should remain separate?
I think everyone should be involved in politics and tough shit. Are we supposed to only listen to billionaire politicians? Are they the only ones who get the arena and get to be heard? I hate that argument! If you're an American, you get to speak your mind. And it's not like our show is full of politics. We have maybe four political songs out of 20. I may say a couple of things between songs. We have a song called "Idiot Son of an Asshole."
Are the bands on the tour playing full sets?
The bands are pretty much playing full sets. We show two mini-movies, and we have Jello Biafra speaking, so that's where most of the politics come in.
Has the Punkvoter tour been protested at all from conservative groups?
People who consider themselves conservative, unless they're religious, agree with our politics. Our biggest gripe is the fact that the Bush administration is trying to take away a woman's right to choose. Bush just passed the Laci Peterson law, which gives fetuses rights, and he already made 11 consecutive actions against the right to choose. The next president gets to appoint two to four Supreme Court justices. If Bush stays in office, we're going to have a conservative, religious Supreme Court, and that scares the hell out of me. How many more freedoms can he take away?
Let's say you met someone who doesn't vote. How would you convince him or her?
I'd tell them a couple of these things I just told you. I'd give them situations that are happening now that they don't think about, and usually, that's enough.
But even if someone agrees with your politics, they still might not feel their vote is going to make a difference. It's an unpopular thing to say, but it's hard to shake the feeling that one vote doesn't really matter.
That's exactly why we're doing this. We feel we can get a couple of hundred thousand kids to vote, and if they feel they're not just one vote but part of 200,000 votes, I think that's the big difference. They'll start to feel like it does matter. We're not just telling them to vote; we're telling them why this administration negatively affects their lives. It cuts Pell grants. Twenty-nine thousand soldiers have been seriously wounded in the war. The unemployment rate among teenagers is something like 60 percent.
If you could reduce your feelings toward Bush into one emotion, what would it be?
Fear. He's the first president who really scares me. I think he's turning this country into a religious state. I think he truly believes God put him in this position.
Who's No. 2 in the chain of evil?
Karl Rove. I don't know, actually. Ashcroft is fucked, too.
Your website (punkvoter.org) says there are four basic principles you're united against, but it doesn't say what they are. What are they?
Well, there are so many that we're talking about every night. Humane drug laws. We're against the war in Iraq. We're lobbying against electronic voting machines because there's no paper trail. We want health care for everybody. Reproductive rights is a big one. No Patriot Act—that's huge. The government shouldn't be able to see what you're looking at on your computer.
Do you ever think of running for office?
No. I'm a rock & roller. I can't run for office!
How did you choose what bands to put on theRock Against Bush compilation?
I just called up all the bands I know that were pretty big and asked them if they wanted to be a part of the comp. So many wanted to that there's two volumes.
If George Bush were a sexual position or act, what would he be?
A Hot Carl.
Excellent! So when did you start doing interviews again?
Three or four months ago.
And how's it going?
Well, I don't like it.
I know. I think I'm afraid of you.
Oh, it's okay. I'm doing interviews now for a reason, to discuss my political agenda.
Punkvoter Tour featuring Nofx, Alkaline Trio, Authority Zero and more at the Bren Events Center, UC Irvine, University & Campus Drs., Irvine, (714) 740-2000; www.ticketmaster.com. Wed., 6 p.m. $15-$16. All ages.
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