THE STORY OF "JEFF WEARS BIRKENSTOCKS?"
OK, we admit it – if we, editorial team of BIRKENSTOCK are ever bored (which doesn’t happen all that often), we start to google all sorts of things. For example - for reasons we can no longer really explain - we once searched for the terms “Birkenstock” and “song” together. And we happened to score a direct hit, stumbling upon a real gem from the 1990s – the song "Jeff Wears Birkenstocks?" written by the world-famous punk rock band NOFX. We asked ourselves “Who is this Jeff and does he really exist?”. So we began to dig around a little. And we eventually found him in Los Angeles – Jeff Abarta, product manager for the punk label Epitaph and this unusual track’s eponymous hero.
Jeff is initially somewhat surprised that he’s being approached about that song all these years later – but is then happy to tell us his story.
HIPPIES VS. PUNK ROCK: THE GRATEFUL DEAD AND FAT MIKE
Jeff is evidently a major music fan and developed an interest in hippie music early on, especially the music of The Grateful Dead. Later on in the 1980s, he became more and more fascinated by punk rock. And when he came across the record label Epitaph on a punk rock band’s album, he knew precisely where he wanted to work. In 1991 when he was just 22, Jeff applied for a job at Epitaph. When he went in for an interview, it was none other than NOFX’s lead singer Fat Mike who opened the door to him. Jeff had no idea who Fat Mike was at the time, though, and was more interested in securing an unpaid internship. He did just that, and eventually the internship became a proper job. And he did become well acquainted with Fat Mike some time later. “At the time, Epitaph only had about four or five active bands,” remembers Jeff. “And NOFX was one of them. It took me three months to realize that the guy who opened the door to me for my interview was actually Fat Mike – wow!”
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE TRACK TITLE JEFF WEARS BIRKENSTOCKS?
It was a trivial reason: Jeff already liked to wear Birkenstocks back then, which didn’t go down well with Fat Mike: hippie sandals at a punk rock label? Out of the question! This led to a humorous argument which finished with Jeff explaining to Fat Mike that punks were just like hippies – the only difference being that punks got angry about ultimately being just like their parents. “He was obviously impressed by this and decided to write a song to get his own back on me,” says Jeff. “It was called Jeff Wears Birkenstocks and appeared on their new album Punk in Drublic. I heard the song for the first time at a show at the Hollywood Palladium: the entire band took me outside to their van, opened the doors, and cranked up the stereo system – it was really cool!” Jeff obviously knew the song was a bit of a dig at him. But he was flattered that NOFX had written a song about him. And the album happened to be one of the band’s most successful albums. He has maintained a good friendship with Fat Mike ever since: “He’s a great guy. When he’s in town, we usually grab a bite to eat together. Or we hang out at the annual punk rock bowling tournament in Las Vegas. It’s great fun watching drunk punks bowling ...”
WHY JEFF LOVES BIRKENSTOCKS – AND WHY FAT MIKE HATES THEM
As far as Jeff was concerned, Birkenstocks were the ideal shoes for work right from the start: “Totally comfortable and good for your feet. And you can stay standing in them for a long time, which isn’t an option with most other shoes. They’re great shoes and I don’t care if people think they’re ugly,” says Jeff, clearly stating his case. He has a simple explanation for Fat Mike’s disapproval: “He thinks they belong to the hippie culture – and in his eyes punks and hippies simply don’t go together. But the two actually have much more in common than he thinks ...”.
WHAT SHOES REALLY ARE SEXY?
At the end of our meeting in Los Angeles, Jeff did us a huge favor: he arranged for us to interview Fat Mike. And Fat Mike only had one condition: beer – lots of Stella Artois beer. Our meeting with Fat Mike was both entertaining and remarkable, and, as expected, the NOFX lead singer really let rip: “Having someone like that working for a punk rock label and wearing Birkenstocks was a real no-no. That’s what you would expect of weird hippie types! Punk rockers wear boots!” Feeling such disdain, it didn’t take Fat Mike long at all to write the lyrics: “It took me 40 minutes. It was only supposed to be a stupid song to embarrass Jeff,” he says, laughing.
Text: Armin Block