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. TC mark

image – Amazon

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kevinmichaelgallagher Kevin M. Gallagher

    You should easily be more ashamed of crap like Blink-182 and Saves the Day than Sublime. Loser.

    • Megan

      WRONG

      • guest

        So wrong!

  • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

    Sublime is one of the greatest bands ever. At least to me. I liked this.

  • Susiederkins

    I still enjoy a little Sublime occasionally but spot on about Wrong Way. Horrible song. I never could enjoy it. 

  • Anonymous

    “last was Low Rider by Edwin Starr (track 7)”
    Please, please tell me this is a sly reference to the plethora of incorrectly tagged MP3’s on Napster

    • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

      ” ‘Crimson and Clover’ -The Velvet Underground”

  • Werdtown

    listening to blink should make you feel more ashamed…

  • Anonymous

    Two things:

    1. Sublime is great and all the juvenile lyrics you mention were meant to be tongue-in-cheek in a sort of punk/libertine way. Songs like Boss DJ and Pool Shark are legitimately solid. I think, in order to appreciate Sublime, you have to appreciate the entire Bradley Nowell persona, which is deeper and more nuanced than a surface examination may suggest. As another commenter pointed out, the other bands you mentioned are WAY less insightful and rich.

    2. I don’t want to see the word “existential” in toss-away internet articles anymore. I just don’t. I think it’s being used to add humor in a high/low culture sort of way (academic philosophy and pop-culture) but that joke is exhausted. There are a few writers who can apply existentialist concepts to surprising subjects (see Tao Lin’s TC article on Koko) but the overwhelming majority are just using it as some kind of short-hand intellectual signifier. Citing existentialism is a recent college grad hack writing ploy. Like wearing a bob marley t-shirt– bob marley is great and existentialism is great, but it’s tiresome to see them exploited for banal purposes.

    This article isn’t bad, just think it through a bit more. Fail again. Fail better.

    • Ajpetroff

      THANK YOU. this explained it perfectly.

      just a comment on those other bands, i am proud that i liked sublime, a little embarrassed about blink 182 (dgaf), and i was a smart fucking 9 year old to know better than to listen to 311. yikes. aaron b has it spot on. clearly this author has some weird slant on sublime.

  • Zed

    Worst article ever published on Thought Catalog.

  • Zed

    Worst article ever published on Thought Catalog.

  • Sublime4390116

    Sublime was so much more than “What I Got” and “Date Rape” and “Wrong Way” – as another poster referenced, “Pool Shark” alone is better than any Blink 182 song.  I guess you just listened to the radio hits in order to judge Sublime.  40oz. is an amazing album cover to cover, and it doesn’t have any underlying child pornography tones like “Wrong Way”.  I would really like to see you name 3 other songs by Sublime that you actually listened to that make you feel shame and regret.  That is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard, that listening to a band made you feel shame and regret.  Did you also listen to Britney Spears “Baby, One More Time”?  I did, and although I now realize I listened to it so I could imagine myself with Britney Spears, I certainly don’t feel shame or regret.

    • Adolf Hipster

      Being “better than Blink 182” is not really much of an accomplishment, considering Blink 182 was one of the absolute worst bands in the last 20 years.

      • Sublime4390116

        That is a very good point.  I still don’t understand anyone on here that feels shame for listening to shitty bands when they were younger.  I’ve got a tawdry list of bands that I loved and now can’t bear to listen to (311 among them), but I don’t feel any regret.  If I listed the soundtrack of my friends NYE house party in ’99, people on here would destroy it.  But I still have fond memories every time I hear one of those songs.  Thankfully no Blink made it on that list.

      • Adolf Hipster

        In essence, yes Sublime sucked ass, but there is no shame in having liked them in the 90’s, and everyone listened to shitty music when they were younger. 
        There was far worse out there you could have been listening to. At least you weren’t a Creed fan (hopefully).

      • Sublime4390116

        That is a very good point.  I still don’t understand anyone on here that feels shame for listening to shitty bands when they were younger.  I’ve got a tawdry list of bands that I loved and now can’t bear to listen to (311 among them), but I don’t feel any regret.  If I listed the soundtrack of my friends NYE house party in ’99, people on here would destroy it.  But I still have fond memories every time I hear one of those songs.  Thankfully no Blink made it on that list.

  • guest

    THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS.

  • http://twitter.com/godworm Nicholas Cox

    Your entire last paragraph is just a fancy way of saying “I don’t know.” But I think you do know, and if you won’t admit it then I will: You still love Sublime because, plain and simple, they were a great band, one of the greatest. Their music always sounded effortless, almost like it happened by accident—a couple of guys with instruments who happened to show up at the same house party. But they weren’t just another party band—at their best they managed an almost utopian pathos. The party to them was not just a good time but a little piece of perfection, a little fragment of heaven that somehow feels like it will last forever even when everyone knows it’s almost morning. With the exception of Daft Punk I know of no other band that could even come close to nailing party-as-tragic-utopia the way Sublime did. Hence these lyrics from “Don’t Push,” possibly their most utopian song:

    If I had a shotgun, you know what I’d do?
    I’d point that shit straight at the sky
    And shoot heaven on down for you
    Because the bars are always open,
    And the the time is always right
    And if God’s good word goes unspoken,
    The music goes all night.

    Add to that “What I Got,” which would get the artsy kids singing along with the jocks back in high school, and “Pool Shark,” one of the best heroin songs ever recorded, and that amazing cover of “Rivers of Babylon” that is one of the secret tracks on 40 oz, and the fact that Brad Nowell was one of the decade’s best singers, and I think they count as a great band.

    You probably won’t admit all this because Sublime is radically in conflict with a certain persona that you wish to identify yourself with. You are a Brooklyn hipster in 2011, they were SoCal beach rats in the 90s; you are well-dressed and well put together, they were chubby and shirtless; you are smart and sophisticated, they were dumb and made stupid jokes about pre-ejaculatory discharge. I get it. I identify with the same persona—we all do, and that’s fine. But if we’re going to be hipsters, let’s at least be good enough hipsters to recognize good music when we hear it, especially if it’s uncool.

    • guest

      I’m ashamed of my onetime love of Sublime and I assure you I am chubby and shirtless.

    • Lulz

      This was excellent, I agree with every word.

  • http://twitter.com/nolan3391 Nolan Young

    You’re trivializing lyrics that were meant to be sophomoric. Sublime recorded hundreds of songs and they all varied in sound, topic, etc. etc. Their versatility is part of what makes them great. What about ‘Ball and Chain’, ‘Pawn Shop’, and the pseudo-existential little gem, ‘The Ballad of Johnny Butt’?

    Anyway, my favorite Sublime song is ‘Jailhouse’. It’s, like, totally awesome. 

  • http://twitter.com/BornToChill pancho

    God, you sound so old.

  • DE

    I’m glad I found this because I’m tired of people trying to justify the atrocity that is Sublime. 

  • Melissa

    Almost every guy I’ve dated has admitted, with varying degrees of embarrassment, to having been a fervent Sublime fan during his adolescence.  Now I’m wondering about the existential ramifications of being the girl who dates former Sublime superfans.

  • Duckroller

    Hey now, Magic: the Gathering is a pretty neat game.

  • Duckroller

    Hey now, Magic: the Gathering is a pretty neat game.

  • http://thefirstchurchofmutterhals.blogspot.com/ mutterhals

    I fucking loved Sublime in high school. I also smoked a shit-ton of weed. Coincidence? I think not.

  • http://twitter.com/nathanreese Nathan Reese

    Great feedback, especially from Nicholas Cox and AaronWB. Receiving comments that are critical without being mean-spirited or needlessly recalcitrant is a rarity on the Internet. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. 

  • http://twitter.com/nathanreese Nathan Reese

    Great feedback, especially from Nicholas Cox and AaronWB. Receiving comments that are critical without being mean-spirited or needlessly recalcitrant is a rarity on the Internet. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. 

  • Ruthlezz

    “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.”

    I really liked this sentence–helps me understand ‘what all the fuss is about’

    I am not ashamed to admit that I still enjoy Sublime. Here’s a few more reason’s I feel they are a Great band:

    originality

    they seamlessly fused hip-hop, surf, ska, punk, samples and reggae into a fresh new style that none of the millions of imitators have matched or surpassed 

    tight musicianship

    these guys were easily better singers, players and performers than 90% of today’s popular indie rock groups

    heart and soul

    like the best 90’s gangsta rap, they brought the ‘realness’ of their subculture in such a raw and seductive fashion that you found yourself transported to a different world of ‘sketchy menace’

    catchy tunes

    sure, they borrowed ALOT from the classic rock and reggae cannon, but they wrote and recorded songs that still get tons of radio play and that everybody wants to sing along with (even hipsters who think they have outgrown Sublime)

  • http://entropicalia.wordpress.com Alison

    1. comment. 2. I obviously had a Sublime sticker somewhere in my room circa 1996. 3. Sublime holds family history due to the fact that an uncle once told me listening to it was inappropriate for me, despite the fact that my own father asked me to burn the CD for him too. And.. 4. Blink 182 in the same breath as Saves the Day? Please. It makes sense now, but at the time those two would never have been spoken of together. If you are going to have a semi-embarrassing pop-punk past you might as well talk about it on the internet right.

  • http://twitter.com/galette_rois Julian Galette

    I like Sublime. Not to an extent where I’ll list them in my all time faves or name a song as favorite, but if they come on the radio I won’t change the station. And I’m not ashamed. 

  • inthemiddlewaiting

    Lets see. I’m 43 and established.  2 months ago I bought Sublime. Then 7 days later I bought 40 oz to Freedom and a week later I bought Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & Friends. When I’m done I will own everything including bootlegs if they’re good.It’s effortless, fresh, groundbreaking and just plain good. The reasons they succeeded are the same reasons they failed. I love that I found them in my later life. To be able to study and listen to something that is not only new to me, it would be new to anyone that bought a Sublime cd now. Why? Because it’s still unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s still new. That is why you cant let go and that is why they are acclaimed in my book. Maybe we are all a little mad because we didn’t get to watch this band grow and finish what they started but maybe they would’ve just sold out like so many bands before them and even bands that grew up along side them that made it did.They started young and were a veteran band while in their 20’s. How often does that happen? This contributed to them being original. Look at it like your first true love. Be happy that you got to experience it even if it still causes a little pain. Something that obviously gave you so much pleasure should never be shameful.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVnyScPCoqMLike Bradley says in this video, “…it just sounds so F*****n sweet”.

  • jonboy

    1.  “Of the bands I loved as kid (Weezer, Saves the Day, Green Day, Blink-182)…”  wow, and you’re ashamed of sublime?

    2.  “Low Rider by Edwin Starr”  low rider is a song by the band war, edwin starr was most famous for a song called “war.”  i think you’re confused here.

    3.  “On The Existential Ramifications…”  i don’t think the word “existential” means what you think it does. 

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