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“Uncovering What Should Have Been a Glaring Warning Sign in Sublime, Second-Hand Smoke.”

Somewhere along the lines of Mumford & Sons being passed off as great rock music, I think we all gravitated to the inevitable conclusion that Sublime was really a pretty bit**in’ band, by comparison with most others. To me, the song “Wrong Way” is such an ingenious swatch of lyrics because any other doofus would have furnished some good-ol’-boy, cookie cutter message like “Hold me when I’m here / Love me when I’m gone”, but Bradley Nowell juxtaposes his illustration of the gruesomeness of this girls life with “I’m staring at her tits the wrong way”. It’s a song that not only moves along at the pace of life but takes on the unflagging moral plague that life itself does: sure this girl’s in better hands with Nowell but he’s still “only a man” and capable of thinking with multiple different parts of his body. 

I find the whole self-titled album classic, anyway, and probably my favorite music to put on when I’m stoned (many other installments leading to paranoia and this death-like feeling), with impeccable production from the Butthole Surfers’ Timothy Leary and, well, “Pawn Shop,” which stands as not only the best fusion of reggae and blues within one song but perhaps the ONLY one in history. 

Second-Hand Smoke is a record I used to spin with decent copiousness back in high school, in CD form, of course, and that to be honest I sort of put aside in my yuppie phase where I thought Sublime wasn’t a “mature” band to listen to. But they’re pure catharsis and Cali surf rock and now I go back to Second-Hand Smoke when I need more quickly manifested vibes and a lyrical wilderness that seems a little looser with the tongue, appropriate seeing as it’s a b-sides collection. 

On “Romeo,” though, Bradley Nowell might have been a little too loose with the tongue. That is, in the installment of VH1’s “Behind the Music” that featured Sublime, it was diagrammed by Troy Nowell, Bradley’s widow, that Bradley would often be “gloomy” during family times that should have been happy and in which no glaring problems were present that could be fixed. Now, it’s been widely reported, obiously, that Nowell struggled from heroin addiction, and that this exact thing led to his end, within just a week of the release of their last record, Sublime (1996). Elsewhere in the “Behind the Music” other parties bring up the concept of lyrics and how the manufacture thereof was something Nowell struggled with: he just didn’t want to be fake or corny, I suppose, so he’d siphon from old reggae tunes with pretty good frequency, and he’d shoot heroin possibly as an attempt at augmenting his creativity level in a way certainly far from natural. 

This song “Romeo,” though, having less to do with his eventual mortality, might feed into his relationship problems and might have been the product of some irresponsible, incoherent and drug-induced thoughts that would have propelled him to disrespect his wife. Now, something all of us who grew up back then is that the ’90s were a pretty disrespectful time: it was absolutely an uncompromising landscape of atrocity featuring bulbous murder rates and terrorist attacks (done by white people, for the record) and, what’s just as unsettling, people being overtly rude to each other at things like awards shows and certainly in the music, which at this time was heavily dominated by gangster rap. So Nowell’s discourse when he says things like “I know who’s to blame” and “The more I think about it / You’re a pain in the a**” doesn’t come across as SHOCKING, necessarily, to us who grew up in the ages of Kevin Smith movies and Adam Corrolla, but looking back it’s easy to see that this disposition is inappropriate and what’s more problematic, having no place in a home or even in the music studio, if it’s addressing someone with whom by law you are in love. 

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