“All these things I do, They’re waiting for you.” -Bradley Nowell, Sublime, Garden Grove
Sublime reformed in 2009.
I learned this news recently. It disturbs me.
They’re actually called Sublime with Rome now, a distinction forced by Bradley Nowell’s family, who filed a lawsuit in late 2009 insisting former original Sublime members, bass player Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, not use the original band name. After a bit of lawyerly bickering, the suit was dismissed in 2010. Sublime with Rome was the compromise.
Rome Ramirez, a 22-year old mound of a kid from NorCal, is the new vocalist. Sublime with Rome is touring this summer, making a stop at Pier VI Pavilion in Baltimore July 18.
This is what they’ll be bringing to the table at a concert hall near you.
Clearly, this cat Rome has good intentions. His voice is decent and he knows his Sublime, and he has the blessings of arguably the most talented white boy rhythm duo since The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and Chad Smith. Who can argue?
But its all just so much karaoke to me, with Rome the host at the interstate Holiday Inn, pulling the top hits from a familiar, but special, song-book…
It is summer, 2000. High school graduation is behind me, and its my teenage magic hour, that three month window of freedom before I hot the MetroJet to Tulane University. I worked, at a neighborhood restaurant, Mamie’s, making $60 in tips. Most of my friends worked waiting jobs, and after we’d clock out at 10:30 or so we’d drive over to 28th St. liquors in Remington and by gallon jugs of Bacardi and Jose Quervo and cases of Corona, then find an open house to celebrate until 4 a.m.
That July, my parents took a vacation to Bermuda, and in their absence I hosted a five-day house party for my friends. This did not occur with out my usual reservations, and I made sure to prepare for worst-case scenarios. I locked away family photos, cordoned off rooms, kept the good family liquors out of reach.
We had our own circle of usual suspects. The boys from Curley, Ben and Joey, and the girls from Western —Celeste, Melanie, Marilyn, Sally. There were the neighborhood folks, Ang and Matt, Steve, Josh King, and the gang from Mt. Washington, Barb, Sonia, plus a slew of cameo appearances by friends and friends of friends. For five straight days we drank rum and took jello shots off various exposed body parts and made out in the back alleys and passed out, entwined, the hangovers tickling our brains.
And we danced —to Eminem and Dr. Dre and Heart and Lynyrd Skynyrd. But, for most of our parties, we danced to Sublime. For the bulk of our time, Bradley Nowell served as the feisty lyrical satyr, bashing about our own peculiar bacchanalia.
Nowell died at the age of 28 of a heroin overdose. This, if you know his history or watch one of his concert videos, is not shocking news. The Long Beach Cali native sweat kinetic energy that he could probably only ever shut off with mountainous piles of drugs that would make Scareface blush.
His OD happened just weeks before the release of Sublime’s self titled album, a 1996 LP that would top out at No. 13 on the Billboard charts. This, I maintain, is a pivotal moment in music history. If Nowell lives, the album still goes platinum. Sublime joins fellow Cali band No Doubt on their rise through the pop charts (hinted at in the famous “Saw Red” duet with Nowell and Gwen Stefani). Before long he’s singing hooks with L.B.C. rapper Snoop Dogg, playing stadium events like the once beloved HFSestival in D.C., and refocusing pop music to the SoCal world with its dub and reggae and dance hall and punk rock and surf rock, all which were hinted at on the self-titled album. If Nowell lives, maybe N.Sync and Brittany Spears and their ilk never see the light of day.
Instead, his death left a void in hardcore fans who wanted to learn more about Nowell’s world, the world defined in his lyrics; nights strumming guitar on the Pacific Ocean, drunken existentialism Lou Dog inside the van and the pain of heroin addiction. All these things I do, I’m waiting for you and etc.
Casual fans who know the self-titled album love to sing “What I Got” at a high drunken wail in late evening summer hazes, preferably near the beach. This is fine. But True Fans know every beat and syllable to ’40 oz to Freedom’ (an album that hit me like a freight train the first time I listened to it) and Robbin’ the Hood and Stand by Your Van and Secondhand Smoke and Bradley Nowell and Friends. These were in constant loop on my family’s CD player that summer.
I imagine most fans feel like I do, wishing they could take Doc Brown’s Delorean back in time to 1994 and catch Nowell live in concert. For my fix, I’ve always left it to the old Sublime concert videos and the occasional dollar in the jukebox. In college, during the heydays of Ebay and before the birth of Youtube.com, I bought a six-hour VHS compilation of Bradley Nowell concerts and interviews from a California collector. You can’t replicate Nowell. His energy was too precious and unique and beautiful to try to rekindle.
That void continued to live though, and tribute bands stepped up to fill it. One famous Mid-Atlantic group is Badfish, who sell out decent-sized venues like Ram’s Head Live playing nothing but Sublime’s original songs and famous covers.
I can hear the words, and the bassline and the reggae rhythm on the guitar. It’s there. The solo is the same from the Sublime self title. And the kids, they sing along happily. If not authentic, it’s at least cathartic.
But the heart of Sublime isn’t there. Its been dead since 1996, echoing faintly in a handful of recordings and grainy video clips.
Maybe I’ll go to that summer concert at Pier VI with Sublime with Rome. I dunno yet, I haven’t decided. I can drink rum & cokes and sing along dutifully, maybe find some pot and travel backward 10 years to a sweaty summer house party with a bunch of teenager who couldn’t see the future past our libidos. It would be good to revisit that.
But it won’t be real. Even then, back in 2000, it was only a projection of our own dreams and insecurities. All these things we do, indeed.
And today? Yes, that is Eric on bass, and Bud on drums. I got a dalmatian, and I can still get high. But the rest, its a mirage, one that continues to dissipate in the haze of summer’s past.