In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Comedian Jonah Ray rose to prominence as Chris Hardwick’s tall, Hawaiian-born sidekick on the Nerdist podcast, but has quickly grown to stand on his own. He now hosts his own very smart music podcast, Jonah Raydio, and, together with Kumail Nanjiani, hosts a weekly stand-up night in Los Angeles that has hosted everyone from Aziz Ansari to Robin Williams. The Meltdown With Jonah And Kumail, a weekly series based on that show, premieres July 23 on Comedy Central.
The hated: Sublime, “What I Got” (1996)
The A.V. Club: Why do you (understandably) hate “What I Got?”
Jonah Ray: I hate Sublime because they represent every asshole I knew in high school in Hawaii. Nothing better than Sublime could have come out for these white dudes who loved reggae that I went to school with. Every white, blond-haired, piece of shit surfer jock guy, when this came out, they were like, “Oh! Now we have a Nirvana.” And they just ate it up. Everywhere you went, there was a white guy with an acoustic guitar singing Sublime songs; I’m sure one of them was Jack Johnson. And you had to deal with these guys who thought that this band was the band. And I’m not going to judge the way people dress or look, but Sublime looks like the Guy Fieri trio. People who like Sublime are probably people who think that Guy Fieri is badass.
AVC: When you say that Sublime is “their Nirvana,” do you mean because they have this dead and martyred lead singer, or just because their fans think that they’re this great band?
JR: At least Kurt Cobain made a choice in ending his career. Bradley Nowell just did a bunch heroin and fucked up; he died in San Francisco, which is pretty cliché. He’s this guy who would always be profoundly poetic about how you don’t do hard drugs and how there are “40 ounces” of beer “to freedom” and smoking weed, and then dude has a kid and then ODs on heroin before his biggest album even comes out. It’s the surfer asshole’s Nirvana.
AVC: And this is the band’s second single; the first single was “Date Rape,” which is also a real charming song.
JR: See, that’s why it was so tough to choose one song. I picked the biggest song they had, but “Date Rape” was a close second on my list, because they were trying to say that date rape isn’t cool—it’s not cool—but to make a song that was, essentially, an anthem for guys who are most likely to date rape somebody was the most ironic thing.
And they’re all, on top of that—they did that song “Wrong Way,” which paints the singer—let’s call him “the narrator”—as a hero, but in the song he also happens to have butt sex with, what is it, a 16-year-old girl? A 14-year-old girl? He paints himself as the hero. Once again, I don’t know where the irony is in these songs.
And also, they have that other song, “Waiting for My Ruca.” That’s how they open 40 Oz. To Freedom, and they dare to open it with a sample of a Minutemen song, and not just a Minutemen song, but one of the best Minutemen songs out there. That really just makes my skin crawl. To just take a sample from “History Lesson Part II” is just… God, it makes me so angry.
AVC: Well, that’s because Sublime is from Long Beach, right? That’s not too far from San Pedro, where the Minutemen are from.
JR: They’re the jocks that got into Descendents. They’re the same guys that like Pennywise—these guys that liked the music and aggression, but didn’t get any of the commentary or politics along with it. These guys are singing about the dumbest stuff and dare to reference one of most profound and prolific bands from Southern California, the Minutemen? How dare you!
I was in punk bands growing up. I don’t really regret a lot of stuff, but Screeching Weasel was one of my favorite bands growing up and it’s pretty tough listening to them right now knowing Ben Weasel punched a woman in the face. So I get it. Maybe you were too young and didn’t realize how shitty Sublime was, but people still listening to them? It would be better if they didn’t.
Also, I used to have musical equipment in my garage and I had to hear my brother and his friends play the song “Badfish” over and over and over again and it was horrendous.
Me, my brother, and my friend Donald were all into metal—like we were into Metallica and Megadeth and then Nirvana came along and we were way into Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots. And then my brother, to be cool, starts smoking weed and starts playing reggae and we were like, “What are you doing? That’s against everything we’re into. That’s what losers are into!” But maybe I should be thankful for that, because it pushed me to become straight edge and get into bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat.
AVC: In my high school, you’d know the kids that were going to leave school and go smoke weed, because they’d play 40 Oz. To Freedom and Sublime in their cars. It was like a flag that you’d fly.
JR: The music is lazy. Like “What I Got,” that riff is “Lady Madonna” by The Beatles; it’s the same riff. And I’m not going to say there’s no ripping off in rock ’n’ roll–the Eels also used a very similar riff–but for this to become their biggest single based off the riff and rhythm from “Lady Madonna” is just a shit in the face of rock ’n’ roll; these three Guy Fieri-looking motherfuckers.
AVC: And this band has such a legacy. They’ve sold 10 million records and they still tour without Bradley Nowell and if you ever Google “Sublime tattoos,” you’re in for a really depressing slideshow.
JR: What state of mind do you have to be in to want to Google “Sublime tattoos”?
AVC: A superior one?
JR: I bet everyone has the cover of 40 Oz. To Freedom. I’m sure it’s as big as Henry Rollins’ sun tattoo.
Ugh, and they did the most cliché, lame thing where they put a bong sound in front of “Smoke Two Joints.” It’s really hard to pick one song. Can we change this article to “Hate Bands”?
AVC: Maybe in the future.
Okay, let’s just say we give these guys the benefit of the doubt and say maybe Bradley Nowell was a really smart guy and got the intention of songs like “Date Rape.” But then in “What I Got,” for example, there’s a part where he says, “I don’t cry when my dog runs away / I don’t get angry at the bills I have to pay / I don’t get angry when my mom smokes pot.” His biggest songs are about loving his dog and smoking weed. I don’t trust that he has the capacity to write deep songs, or to understand the levels on which things work.
JR: That’s very true. Here’s a very hypocritical moment in the song as well: He says “I don’t cry when my dog runs away” then he goes on later in that verse to say, “Living with Louie Dog’s the only way to stay sane.” So why wouldn’t you be upset if your dog ran away? You just said, “I don’t cry when my dog runs away” but then he says his only way to not be crazy is to have his dog. And guess what? His mom smokes pot first then goes to drink booze then skips back over to smoke crack? That’s a good combo right there.
AVC: Maybe that’s why he had problems later on down the road.
JR: Look, my parents drank, my parents smoked pot, and my dad did coke, but I’m not about to make horrible, reggae-ska punk and try to come off as some modern-day poet. Jim Morrison was just a drunk with a notebook; he was a real piece of shit, but everyone thinks he’s a poet. He’s not. This is a fucking stoner with a heroin needle.
On Wikipedia, it says the melody is just like The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” but it’s not listed here in the official samples. No shit.
AVC: Do you think you hear more of them living in Southern California?
JR: KROQ plays this band more than any other band; it basically goes Sublime, The Offspring, and then Dramarama.
Hawaii was also very much a place where Sublime could become really big before they ever broke out because any kind of band like that would be popular. I would be living in Hawaii hoping that bands like The Vindictives or some awesome band that I was into would come to Hawaii and it would end up being Sublime every three months.
AVC: Do you really think you could draw a direct line from Sublime to Jack Johnson?
JR: Yeah. I’m pretty positive, but also Jack Johnson said in an interview once that he saw Fugazi the one time they came to Maui, so you have to give him a little bit of credit. But the way his music is, it’s like I know that guy. He’s sitting on the beach, next to a bonfire, singing Sublime songs and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and “Jammin’” by Bob Marley. It’s the kind of guys that think Legend by Bob Marley is an album.
AVC: “It’s just non-stop hits, man!”
JR: Exactly! “It’s crazy how every song is a hit!”
AVC: I lived next to one of those guys in college. He used to sit on his porch and he’d just try to figure out songs on his acoustic guitar all day. One day, I swear he tried to learn “Wanted Dead Or Alive” for six hours. He’d play a bar, mess it up, start again, over and over.
JR: [Riffs on bad chords.] “Nope. Wait, wait, wait. Nope. Wait, wait, wait.”
AVC: It was so bad. We’d just turn our speakers and play Kid606 out the window like, “Fuck you.”
JR: Jesus. I bet one day that guy learned to play the guitar like a motherfucking riot.