This post was contributed by the venerable Tom Clancey. (The journalist, not the novelist.)
“Tell me, are you a badfish too?”
Christmas 1998. “Thank you Mom and Dad!”
I was 13 and – despite the big “Parental Advisory, Explicit Content” sticker slapped on the cover, my parents had gotten me exactly what I’d asked for.
After tearing the wrapping paper off that classic CD-shaped gift, the famous sun tattoo that Opie had drawn on Brad emerged much to my delight, the cover art to “40 oz. to Freedom.”
Of course, “Brad,” “Eric” and “Bud” and I weren’t on a first-name basis yet. We soon would be, however, as my neighbor Ryan and I – both aspiring/wannabe guitar players – raced to learn everything we could about the Long Beach, Calif. punk/ska/reggae trio that was already done before we found them: Sublime.
Earlier that year I had been waiting to take a guitar lesson when I saw a magazine cover featuring Brad Nowell, the voice and sound that defined Sublime’s SoCal answer to the grunge-dominated ’90s.
They had just begun to crack the mainstream, reaching me with songs off their ’96 self titled record, that was hitting the New York airwaves via now-defunct KRock.
I had been learning their easy-to-pickup ska songs in my weekly guitar lessons and was hungry more. But as I turned the pages, could it be: Brad Nowell was already dead?
Finally, a band I connected with. AND its creative force was already consumed by the scourge that is heroin addition. There was no more Sublime.
What was left was their legacy. It was time to start at the beginning. So, we found a friend with AOL and slow ’90s dialup and learned about 40 oz.
Now in my possession on Christmas morning, I immediately threw the disc in a CD player, with my baby brother, 9-year-old brother, mother and father all within ear shot, and heard that trademark bass of “Waiting For My Ruca.”
My Dad shot me a glance.
“Dad, they cover a Grateful Dead song,” I told him, hoping the familiar refrain might appease the “what have I done” feeling he was surely having.
“We sold some mushroom tea, We sold some ecstasy, We sold nitrus, opium, acid, heroin and PCP. Now I hear the police coming after me…”
That line wasn’t in the original version! You know, the one about the girl with flowers tucked into her hair. Time to turn this CD off and hide it before I get it taken away, I thought.
With songs like “Date Rape,” “What Happened,” and “Smoke Two Joints,” this album was clearly above my grade level.
But Brad’s lyrics represented his reality, and this band’s music captured what was surely one hell of a party during the late ’80s and leading up to its release in 1992. The trio had self produced it and sold copies out of their cars at shows around the West Coast, I would learn later. And while there would be more Sublime to explore, with 1994’s “Robin The Hood” and the posthumous “Second Hand Smoke,” it’s 40oz. that stands with the later “Sublime” as the band’s best output.
It’s raw yet polished. Fun yet serious. And it left an indelible mark on this then-young suburban teen that provided a window to the reggae and ska music I would later come to love.
Go ahead. Give it a listen.
Suitable for: Any time you need instant SoCal vibes
Appropriate Playback Device: A Sony Discman with cheap headphones