I have been reading a book for the last month. It’s a good book. It’s well researched and thorough.It’s not just good. It is a great book.
My initial plan was to tell you about that book. I changed my mind.
I woke up this morning and realized that I don’t want to tell you about the book. I do want you to read the book though, so here’s a little story about how I stumbled into a love of Ska.
I grew up in the midwest in the late 70s and early 80s. Life was easy. We loved Night Ranger and Loverboy. It’s what you loved if you didn’t pledge allegiance to Conway Twitty each and every night. We turned the radio on. We turned the radio up.
Maybe I had it easy on my path to Ska, but I grew up in a reasonably diverse household, musically speaking. My dad loved a wide blend of hippy music and acid rock, and my mom was way into Motown. I started to climb a mountain. That mountain’s name was Rock and Roll.
I will do you a favor and fast forward you a bit through the horrors of later 80s rock radio. It was a lot more bad than good. Let’s leave it at that.
Radio rock aside, I wasn’t really much into music. My older brother was. He was my gateway into other music. It was hit or miss for a while, but when he played Appetite for Destruction for me, I started to come around. When a friend of his was over and played the new Suicidal (How Will I Laugh Tomorrow) I was hooked. I can still feel my hair growing. That’s how metal I was.
New forms of music became my thing. I liked to be on the forward front, all “Have you heard this?” This continued when I went away to college. New Pantera, cool, but “Have you heard the new Voivod?” “Hey what if we listen to Ween?” In that quest for “new”, I found new. New to me anyway. In 1993 I heard “Don’t Know How To Party” for the first time. The Bosstones had me hooked on a new thing.
Later that year I was in a music store (Big Don’s Music City) in Joplin, MO. There was a message board near the front. (For the post-internet crowd, physical message boards were a place to connect with like-minded individuals to sell used appliances and find bass players.) That message board had a “take-a-number” sheet on it looking for members to start a Ska band. Influences including: Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Let’s Go Bowling, Toasters. Welp, I had heard the one, Let’s hear more.
I liked this Ska stuff. It had horns. (was a trombone player once) It was opinionated, but at the same time, friendly.
About a year later, MU330 rolled through the college town I was living in. I don’t even think they had an opening act. Just them doing a solid hour set. Afterward the sat down to chill and talk to the fans. I remember sitting with Dan and Jason (who was on lead vocals at the time). Jason shook my hand with the kind of handshake where you cover the entire handshake with your other hand, and don’t let go until you know the other person’s hand is fully shook. … if you know what I mean. It’s the handshake of long lost friends; the hug of handshakes. We chatted a bit, Jason, Dan and myself. I asked Dan, “how do you get those guitar sounds? I like it, but everything I try comes out sounding like Black Sabbath.” Dan said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. Keep Trying.” Better words were never said.
I was in love with Ska. I tried to tell my brother, to share a bit of what he had given to me. He wasn’t into it. I think maybe the first stuff I played for him wasn’t quite aggressive enough. He was still pretty much a metalhead then. … but things change. Something stuck and he was asking me if I knew of more Ska bands, and where I could get more CDs.
I was living in Portland at the time and my brother came to visit. I took him to Ozone Records and he bought every Ska CD they had in the store. If I have my chronology right, later that year, maybe early the next, I went back home to visit. My brother picked me up in Kansas City and we went to Lawrence for a show at The Grenada. Less Than Jake, Skavoovie and the Epitones, and Chris Murray. IT WAS AMAZING.
Special shout out to Chris. Skavoovie’s keyboard player had decided mid-tour to go back to college (I think that’s the story) So Chris played his opening “Campfire Ska” set, then went backstage, jumped into a suit, and proceeded to rock the full Skavoovie set on the keys. (Many years later Chris played my 20th wedding anniversary party.)
I bought my first Asian Man Records shirt at that show. It was magic. Later that night we went to the record store next to The Grenada. My brother bought me Mepheskapheles “God Bless Satan”, and Spring Heeled Jack (usa) “Static World View”.
Life was a whirlwind back then. I was young, living in a city. Bands were playing all the time. So many. It was hard to keep up. I saw the Pietasters for the first time then. I was enamoured. Cool jazz guys almost, in wrinkled suits, with a couple of drinks in them. Good times. I bought a CD copy of OoLooLoo. I was blasting it in the apartment and one of my neighbors was all “Pietasters? Fuck Yeah!” She was from DC and totally on board with hometown music hitting the West Coast
A little anecdote here, but while I was living in Portland, my rather concervative grandmother came to visit. She wasn’t happy about a lot of the music I listened to, but she loved The Pietasters. She said it reminded her of big bands from back in the day.
Nothing ever changed for me after that, as it pertains to Ska. I mean, one time I couldn’t get tickets to Less Than Jack and Reel Big Fish because the show was sold out. Life goes on though. I didn’t turn my back because of that. I just found new stuff. I’m like, “Up yours Reel Big Fish! I’ll listen to Thumper instead.”
I suppose I could ramble on more about the bands that bent my ear (Suicide Machines) and all the great shows I saw, but it would all be driving to the same destination. Ska is awesome. There is, not now, never once, a reason to be ashamed.
I stand In Defense of Ska. But, as they say, the best defense is a good offense. (I think people say that) So to that end, I say, “GO OUT THERE AND BUY THIS MUTHAFUCKING BOOK AND LISTEN TO SKA!”