Ska: Let’s Pull The Plug

Articles | By on Mar 6th, 2005

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Any ska fan worth the buttons on his backpack knows the Three Waves of Ska. Zine writers harp on and on about it all the time. Bands describe their sound based on it. Old-timers reminisce over waves passed, adding grumpy injectors about current waves. Ska fans know the waves, and they know HOW they happened: Coxsonne Dodd, Jamaican immigrants going over to England, Bucket not finding any good music in America. There you have it. But no one has ever pondered WHY there are waves. Look at music in general. Country, it’s been around for quite awhile. It’s still the biggest music genre in the US. Jazz, why that’s been going on for like a hundred years and it’s never left, kindalike one long elevator ride. Rock n’ roll, it’s been through some permutations since Black Sabbath and all, but rock is rock. I could go on and on.

And then you have some other music styles that died and never came back. Disco, for instance. As White America recovered from substance abuse in the 80s, they woke up to what they were listening to. Embarrassed as all get-out, disco was buried very, very deep and only resurfaces as jokes or for kitsch value. Another good example is Glam, a very, very bad idea that never caught on. But Ska. Look at it. It was big in Jamaica for like 3 months and died. It got big in England for like 2 years and died. America, it got really big a couple years ago and it’s yet to be put out of its misery, but it’ll go the way of the dodo soon enough, believe you me. What we have here is a music that dies and gets reborn every 15 years or so. And it isn’t brought back as a joke… No. People take ska seriously in all of its waves. So what’s going on? Noah Wildman, staunch ska supporter through thick and thin (ironic to say now), would insist that ska never died: It’s always been in a constant process of evolution. Bullshit. Just because a handful of people were playing or listening to ska in 1976 doesn’t mean the music was alive then. Like any specialized music, there will always be people listening to ska. Or skiffle, or Indian raga, or Leonard Cohen. Ska has definitely gone through periods of mania and depression.

So here’s what I think. Ska is too quirky and too much a novelty to have the lasting power of other genres. You listen to ska for the first time. You think Wow, this is cute and fun! You play it for your friends to see their baffled expressions. You listen to it for awhile, and then two years later…

BAM! You’re sick of it. It’s annoying. The honeymoon is over. In other words, Ska is just a silly novelty that can only last a few years at a time. It’s like polka or bagpipe music or Wang Chung. Even the Jamaicans knew this. That’s why ska only lasted a couple years there AND NEVER CAME BACK. Jamaica is probably the only country in the world that doesn’t have a ska scene right now. Because they created the music and they’d just as soon forget it.

I am going to prophesize the future for you: We will all get sick of ska. It will die and be forgotten. 15 years from now, some popular band from some other country will “rediscover ska.” People will say,” Wowie, that sounds weird and fun!!” and everyone will get back into it. Until they get intestinal cramps from it again. And the cycle will continue. That is, unless we end the cycle here and now. There are two ways we can do this. One, we can embrace the incorporation of ska into the mainstream. Allow the bands to flock to majors. Enjoy hearing ska advertise cars and fast food. Love each and every crappy ska band that comes out of Utah (the Seattle of ska). Don’t turn back from the over-saturation of the market. Create a global awareness of ska, so that soon it will be an acceptable broad genre of music, like rock n’ roll or country or r&b.

The second way is a lot less painful. We must kill ska. Destroy it, drive a stake through it, and nail the coffin shut. Stop supporting your crappy local bands. Make them feel stupid for playing ska. Make people feel stupid for listening to ska. Make ska into a joke, like disco. Only squares listen to ska. Look at rudely-dressed kids like they’re from another planet. Trip them in the halls. Steal their girlfriends. Exert enough peer pressure and alienation to get the message across that ska is unhip, and will not be tolerated by the “in” crowd. The cycle must end, people. Ska was not meant to be. Please, let’s either accept it into the mainstream or kill it off now and forever. Ska in 1999 is not dead — it’s on life-support. And it’s really, really pathetic.

(Originally written for Easy Life Ska Zine)