Artist Spotlight: Sublime – Why They Don’t Deserve Your Hatred/ In Defense of Ska Rock as a Genre

Good morning Avocados and welcome to my fifth artist spotlight on this new website. If you haven’t read a M-AM Artist Spotlight before, I like to discuss a little history about the artist and/or my own personal connections to. From there I then transition to which songs I like best from them from each album or I list the ones I do together under a “Best Of” compilation of my creation. So, rest assured you’ll be reading a review that comes from a place of love. I usually focus on musical artists that are huge or well known in the music world but get a lot of what I feel is undue hate. So, I write these spotlights with the hope I can convince the haters to give said act another chance or introduce the uninitiated into a band that I really love. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t sometimes talk about an unknown act in the effort to expose them to as many new people as possible. I may also do an artist spotlight on a well-known and well-liked band just to give my own reasons for liking them.

 

But for today’s review, I wanted to focus on a Californian ska rock act that I love. They are not a perfect band, they have made terrible songs in the past in their failed attempt to condemn rape. But more on that later. I just want to make this artist spotlight with the hope that you understand where they came from when making that song, along with hopefully gaining a new perspective about the band in the process. And yes, this artist spotlight is a redux of one that I’ve done before in the past reworked to fit the standards I hold myself to today. This will be the case for the first 25 artist spotlights I post on this website as they all will be reuploads of my old work. Now with that out of the way, let’s begin.

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Another day, another spotlight where I try to convince you a mainstream band isn’t as bad as you think. Today’s artist in question may not have had the longevity to become renowned worldwide, but their impact on music history cannot be understated. Together with bands like Operation Ivy (Bradley Nowell’s biggest influence), Skeletones, Rancid, Fishbone and early No Doubt, Sublime helped pioneer a distinctly California genre of music: Ska Rock. While I know this genre is generally disregarded as just Californian white people music, the influence that this genre has had should not be completely ignored and made fun of.

 

Whether you like it or not, ska rock gave a creative outlet for the outcasts of California’s middle class to tell the stories and songs that they wanted to listen to. Ska rock wasn’t made to appeal to the average Midwesterner or New Englander. It was for Californians, by Californians. I personally am proud that the state I live in helped to pioneer this distinct genre of music and no one can take that away from me. I am writing this spotlight with the hopes I can convince just one person to give this ska rock act a real 2nd chance.
Now let’s begin in REAL earnest.

Sublime started off as a punk rock band called “The Juice Bros” consisting of drummer Bud Gaugh and bass guitarist Eric Wilson. Eventually University of California, Santa Cruz dropout, Bradley Nowell, joined the group as lead singer and guitarist. As you might have guessed, it was Nowell who introduced Wilson and Gaugh to reggae and ska. Unlike other bands of any genre to be frank, this lineup did not change once in the decade plus they were a band. The band later changed its name to Sublime, to reflect the feeling they had after smoking weed.

Sublime played its first official show as Sublime on the Fourth of July, 1988 in Long Beach, California. Legend at the time said that this performance caused a small-scale riot and helped to build a loyal following in the greater Los Angeles area. It’s now commonly known as the Peninsula Riot, and it apparently was right on the edge of being a full-scale riot had it not been for preemptive police interference. Not bad for their first show and playing nothing but ska versions of famous punk rock songs, huh?

While this performance certainly made an impact to the music companies at the time, most were hesitant to sign them to record deal. They thought the band’s eclectic musical fusion would never catch on and that they would be just a blimp in the greater Hair Rock scene at the time (keep in mind this is during the height of Guns and Roses’ popularity. Another famous L.A band). In response, the band created their own music label, Skunk Records. They told venues that they were “Skunk Records recording artists”, which funnily enough helped the band book more shows in bigger and more popular L.A venues. Which in turn helped to build their following even more. For the next several years, the group played alongside acts such as the Smokestacks, No Doubt and Skeletones and were gaining a reputation as a fun band who puts their heart out in every performance they do.

Also important to note during this time, in February 1990, Nowell adopted an abused Dalmatian puppy from the shelter. Nowell named him “Louie” after his grandfather, who had a major impact on his life growing up. “Lou Dog” became the band’s official mascot and was basically the 4th Sublime. According to Gaugh, “Lou Dog just loved Brad because it was the first time he had ever actually been shown love.” Lou Dog would often be seen just chilling on stage while Nowell was going on insane drug induced sets. One time, Lou Dog just wondered off in Costa Rica by himself and was later found, in a jungle miles away.

It was also during this time that the trio started toying with the idea of making their own official LP. In late 1990, music student Michael “Miguel” Happoldt approached the band. He offered Nowell, Gaugh and Wilson to record in the studio at the school where he was studying. The band enthusiastically agreed and the four friends snuck onto campus late at night. Where they recorded from midnight to 7 am doing nothing but recording and making songs on the spot. This famous recording session resulted in the popular cassette tape “Jah Won’t Pay the Bills,” which was released in 1991. This tape cemented Sublime as a local act worth paying attention to, and only worked to make their debut album a hyped-up occasion. This album? 40 Oz. to Freedom released in June 1992.
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Just to remind everyone, I do things a little differently in my artist spotlight’s. I like to go through each album an artist did in chronological order, and list the songs that I like from it. Just because I don’t list something doesn’t mean I don’t like that particular song. It just means that it’s not a track that I can put on shuffle and always like it. But if you feel like I have oversighted a good song, let me know down below.
40 Oz. to Freedom
1.) Date Rape
2.) 40. Oz. to Freedom
3.) Smoke Two Joints

4.) We’re Only Gonna Die for Our Arrogance
5.) Don’t Push
6.) 54-46 That’s My Number/ Ball and Chain
7.) Badfish

8.) Ebin
9.) New Thrash
10.) Scarlet Begonias
11.) Waiting for My Ruca
12.) D.J’s
13.) Chica Me Tipo

14.) Right Back
15.) What Happened
16.) Hope

Quick note on Chica Me Tipo, it’s sung entirely in Spanish and shows that Bradley was not as culturally tone deff as others would have you believe. This album began to sell in droves once Los Angeles Rock Station, The World Famous KROQ (and honestly, the station deserves its own discussion for all of the bands it helped make famous) began playing the song “Date Rape” and the albums’ subsequent singles to a wide audience.

While I have your attention, I may as well take this time to list the address the other major complaints people have towards Sublime.

 

Sublime Condoned Rape

Now this is where I want to defend Bradley Nowell and what he was trying to do with that song and others like it where it seems to the naked ear that he condones rape. He never thought rape was good or acceptable in any case or situation. One day he was at a party where he was arguing that rape was never okay when another guy said the infamous line “if it wasn’t for date rape I’d never get laid.” Nowell thought he would make a song that turns that phrase back on that guy’s head and paint him out to be the bad guy. He even had the idea of having the rapist being raped himself by Ron Jeremy in the music video for the song. Unfortunately, his attempt at making a stance that rape was bad was misinterpreted and in hindsight he regretted making that song. He didn’t realize people would think he approved of date rape, and as a result hated playing that song at live shows before he died.

 

Sublime fans suck

Every band’s fans suck — to people who don’t like said band. The bands don’t get to pick their fans. Generalizing a band based on the people who decide to like them is pretty irrelevant to the music the make. Just my two cents.
Sublime was a bunch of frat-bros making frat-bro music

Bradley Nowell was a dude who liked to make songs he thought was cool. He wasn’t a musical genius or songwriter, he was just a regular dude who joined a band and made songs he wanted to make. He was a nice and well liked person by all accounts, and he loved peoples of all races and religions. As a Mexican-Salvadoran American myself, I have never found myself offended by any of the things Nowell has ever said. As for the fans, see my previous point.
Now, back to the music.
The follow up to the well liked 40 oz. to Freedom came in 1994 and was called: Robbin’ the Hood.

 

Robbin’ the Hood

 

A few songs that I will mention later

 

This album was as experimental as they come to say nicely. It was a commercial and critical failure. Besides a few songs that I will mention later, I agree that this album is a dud. That’s not to say the whole album is a loss, however. For example, there’s the story of Raleigh Theodore Sakers. One night, they met a man in a halfway house (Mr. Sakers). He was off his meds at the time and began hallucinating. The band pulled out the tape recorder they had on them at the time and started recording. Later when he took his medicine and found out that he was recorded, he gave Nowell permission to use his ramblings on the new album they were working at the time. These ramblings made their way onto Robbin’ and they are without a doubt the highlight of an otherwise clunker of an album. Here’s a video of the ramblings down below

In 1995, the band co-headlined the inaugural nationwide Vans Warped Tour. The band was eventually asked to leave the tour for a week due to unruly behavior of Sublime fans and complaints that Lou Dog were biting strangers who tried petting him. Gaugh reflected on the experience: “Basically, our daily regimen was wake up, drink, drink more, play, and then drink a lot more. We’d call people names. Nobody got our sense of humor. Then we brought the dog out and he bit a few skaters, and that was the last straw.” After the Warped Tour and the subsequent Three Ring Circus Tour, the band was pressured to begin producing new studio material to make up for the Robbin’ the Hood bomb.

The band completed the album in early 1996 and were finalizing a release date for what they thought were going to be their big break record. Tragedy struck when Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose on May 25th, 1996 in a motel in San Francisco, California. Their self-titled album debuted the next year in 1997 to worldwide success and critical success.

Sublime

1.) Caress Me Down
2.) What I Got
3.) Wrong Way
4.) Same In the End
5.) April 29, 1992
6.) Santeria
7.) Seed

8.) Doin’ Time (Summertime)
9) The Ballad of Johnny Butt
10.) Burritos
11.) Jailhouse

The remaining two members of the band disbanded shortly after Nowell’s death. To quote Bud Gaugh “just like Nirvana, Sublime died when Brad died.” For what it’s worth, this album was perfect in every sense of the word in terms of ska rock music. This was a true high point for the genre to the point none of their peers could top the high bar Bradley Nowell left for them.

There’s not much more else to say without me getting more depressed. Sublime was a band cut short before their time, when their best work was yet to come. Bud Gaugh had truly come into his own as drummer and Eric Wilson was only getting better at playing the guitar. Given how he was already the best musician of the band since its inception, that’s saying something. I truly feel that if Nowell hadn’t died, we would have seen Wilson been given more of a chance to prove just how special of a talent he just was. Considering how great their self-titled album was, it makes me wonder just how Bradley would have matured from their. I have to assume he would continue making laid back music, but perhaps he would have put more of his liberal politics into his work? I’m not sure, but all I know was that the world was robbed from another uber talented artist due to drug addictions.
Lou Dog died 5 years later in 2001 and stayed in Bud’s care all that time. Bud claimed that Lou Dog was never the same happy dog he once was, and always waited at Bud’s door hoping for Nowell to come back.

If you know my music habit from my previous artist spotlights, you know how I like to collect songs and singles not released on any album proper or from lesser official LP’s (like Robbin’ The Hood for example) and put them all under one fan compilation record. I have done the same thing for Sublime, and the fan album is under the title: “Sublime: Gold.”

Sublime: Gold

1.) Saw Red
2.) All You Need
3.) S.T.P

4.) Superstar Punani
5.) Falling Idols

6.) Little District (Acoustic Version)
7.) Zimbabwe (Acoustic Version)

In 2005, No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal said “They made a sound that somehow fused rock, reggae, punk and hip-hop in a way that was seamless and credible, bound together by the undeniable soul of Brad Nowell’s voice.” Pennywise’s Mike Watt, Philadelphia neo-bluesman G Love, California beachcomber Jack Johnson, Latin-rock eclecticists Ozomatli, progressive hip-hop figures Michael Franti and Gift of Gab all voluntarily performed at a music festival called “Look at All the Love We Found: A Tribute to Sublime,” to help raise money to support artists with substance abuse problems.

In case you’re wondering, Sublime With Rome was a disaster that doesn’t even warrant an album artist spotlight dedicated to them. Just know that it was a mistake and both Bud and Wilson regret the idea.

And that’s it. Sublime. If you still hate Sublime, that’s fine. But I at least hope this spotlight convinced you that you should hate the band for its musical sounds, not for the preconceived notions you had of them before.