On The Existential Ramifications of Having Once Been A Fan Of Sublime

‘And then she pulled out my mushroom tip / and when it came out it went drip, drip, drip…’ – Caress Me Down

DOIN’ TIME

In 1996, when I was ten years old, Bradley Nowell injected himself with a fatal overdose of heroin and died. Nowell was the lead singer of the still-popular [1] mid-‘90s band rock band Sublime, torch bearers of a genre that includes similar-sounding artists Slightly Stoopid, Pepper, and 311.

At first blush, Sublime may seem like an innocuous if somewhat juvenile stoner band. They made music with catchy pop hooks, and had what seemed to be a truly authentic and unforced chicano-gangsta-surfer vibe. Listening now, one must confront scatological jokes, casual misogyny, and some of the worst turntable scratching ever recorded, but their eclectic (if poorly executed) mix of genres was unique for its time, and predated other turntable rock like Linkin Park and Incubus by years.

Sublime brought together ska, hip-hop, and punk in equal measure, with a sound that evolved naturally from the sun-addled beaches and parking lots of Long Beach, California. They sang about topical, highly relatable issues like relationships, alcohol, weed, drugs, pets, and extreme sports — often imbibing their songs with socially-conscious messages e.g. if you date-rape a woman, you will go to prison and will be ‘butt-raped by a large inmate.’ The old-school rawkstar death of Bradley only reinforced Sublime’s confounding staying power. [2]

WHAT I GOT

Like all kids who don’t know any better, there was a time when I just wanted to listen to what everyone else liked. So, when I made my first mix CD in the 8th grade, compiled from Napster downloads and burned on a 2x CD burner the size of a toaster, Sublime placed twice (tracks 2 and 3, ‘Santeria’ and ‘What I Got,’ respectively).[3] And since I listened to their albums during those formative years when all music is internalized with some level of permanence, I still recall most of the lyrics on Sublime’s eponymous LP, Sublime, and many on earlier records 40oz. To Freedom and Robbin’ the Hood.

When I think of fifteen-year-olds listening to Odd Future today, I imagine their own experiences must be similar to the sketchy menace I felt while listening to Sublime in homeroom. Sublime used curse words and referenced sex and drugs – all things I had experienced tangentially or not at all. These were subjects both endlessly appealing and quite frightening as a teenager; what better way to safely flirt with rebellion than through vicarious fantasies aroused by rock ‘n’ roll?

To this day, if Sublime does happen to come on the stereo in a social situation (thankfully, a rare occurrence these days), I begin mouth the lyrics in spite of myself. When Bradley sings ‘Lovin’ is what I got, I said remember that,’ I always, indeed, remember that.

WRONG WAY

Given the mix of nostalgia and revulsion I now associate with Sublime, how do I then reconcile feelings from the past with the less-than-positive associations I hold for Sublime today? I now realize that Sublime wasn’t cool at all, and their surface-level appeal was due to a combination of my naiveté and a pubescent yearning for acceptance. Of the bands I loved as kid (Weezer, Saves the Day, Green Day, Blink-182), only Sublime causes dark feelings of shame and regret to rise up inside me. So why then can’t I leave Sublime in the past, with my wallet chains and Magic: The Gathering cards — a bump on the road to becoming who I am today?

I think it has a lot to do with a scenario that I keep returning to: I expect to live another seventy years, give or take. That is seventy years during which, somewhere in my brain, Bradley will be telling me that he is ‘hornier than Ron Jeremy’ as he compares a hand job to a ‘G.I. Joe kung-fu grip.’ Deep in my subconscious, Sublime will be reductively describing child prostitution with the observation that ‘no one ever told her it was the wrong way,’ while pornographically and contradictorily ‘staring at her tits.’ I can only speculate at what my mental state will be when I am on my death bed at ninety-five, but it is not impossible that flitting through my foggy old codger’s consciousness, Bradley’s ‘mushroom tip’ may be wagging over me — ‘drip-drip-dripp’-ing on my soul as I march toward the great beyond. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – Amazon

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