Just look at these sexy shoes!

Fat Mike

Birkenstory #5

Jeff Abarta, he and his Birkenstocks were immortalized in a song by the punk band NOFX

OK, we admit it – if we on the editorial team 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.

The first thing we asked ourselves was “Who is 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 after so many years – but is then more than happy to tell us his story.

Hippies vs. Punkrock: „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 no less 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 then become well acquainted with Fat Mike some time later ...

“At the time, Epitaph only had about four or five active bands,” relates Jeff. “And NOFX was one of them. It took me three months to realize that the guy who opened the door to me at 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, and Fat Mike didn’t appreciate this at all: 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,” says Jeff. “It was called Jeff Wears Birkenstocks? – with a question mark at the end – 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 go for 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 at all long to write the lyrics: “It took me 40 minutes. It was only supposed to be a stupid song to embarrass Jeff,” he says, laughing.

Confusion appears to be something of a punk rock principle because Fat Mike’s closing question has us scratching our heads: “Incidentally, do you know which shoes are much more comfy than Birkenstocks?” Without even waiting for us to answer, he reveals a pair of punk boots – with high heels! “Just look at these sexy shoes – I have a cupboard full of them!”

Lyrics „Jeff wears Birkenstocks?“

(Album: Punk in Drublic, 1994)

Don't want to chill, don't want to sit
Don't want to hear no hippie shit
Don't tell me I've closed my mind

Don't want to groove don't want to dig
Don't want to spend the day naked
Don't like my music country fried

He's got a tye dyed Rancid shirt
Wears his Birkenstocks to work
Is he a jerk? No! Just confused
Jeff don't wear regular shoes

Fat Mike I gotta let you know
It's not the tunes, it's their live show
And all the people you get to meet
Plenty of good vibes and decent drugs
Stinky people give you hugs
Walk around in your bare feet

He's got a tye dyed Rancid shirt
Wears his Birkenstocks to work
Is he a jerk? No! Just confused
Jeff don't wear regular shoes
Jeff don't wear regular shoes


BIRKENSTORY #1: Hanna Wolf
Hanna is a master tailor and fashion designer. We caught up with the pleasant designer at her studio in the trendy Glockenbach neighborhood of Munich.

Birkenstory #4: Florian Akinbiyi
The Bavarian with Nigerian roots works as an event manager in Dubai. We spoke with Florian.