photo & text by nacrowe
along with LIVING COLOUR's VIVID (EPIC, 1988) and R.E.M.'s OUT OF TIME (WARNER BROS, 1991) albums, another INDELIBLE early musical memory and PROMINENT record from my childhood was FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS' THE RAW & THE UNCOOKED (I.R.S., 1989). its funny to me, because in college i became familiar with 2-TONE SKA and got really into THE BEAT, having absolutely no clue that guitarist ANDY COX and bassist DAVID STEELE were later members of FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS. both bands had exquisitely conceived and executed SONGWRITING with BOUNCY, PUNCHY rhythms and immediately MEMORABLE MELODIES and HOOKS. as POP albums go, THE RAW & THE UNCOOKED is nearly FLAWLESS.
ive gone a paragraph now without mentioning vocalist ROLAND GIFT, who is undoubtedly the secret weapon of the band and the absolute first thing i noticed when i heard the band as an IMPRESSIONABLE five year-old in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. its difficult for me to describe his VOCAL AFFECTATION other than to say GIFT was blessed with a RARE, EMOTIVE quality allowed for an ability to express deeply felt wells of EMOTION. as much as more UPBEAT 2-TONE SKA revival numbers like "GOOD THING" and "SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY" are rightfully CELEBRATED, this UNIQUE character of his VOCALS is best experienced on more subdued and highly AFFECTING tracks like "AS HARD AS IT IS," "TELL ME WHAT," and "I'M NOT THE MAN I USED TO BE." i really feel strongly that those last three songs are just total face melters and upon listening to them instantaneously take me back to my early childhood experiencing the EMOTIONAL POWER of music firsthand by a TALENTED outfit that had recently come out and were not inherited from my parents' collection of ELVIS COSTELLO, BEATLES, NICK LOWE, WHO, ANIMALS and STRANGLERS records (all of which i adored). that GNAWING hollow that comes with the DESPAIR and LOSS of FALLING OUT OF LOVE or LEAVING A RELATIONSHIP in "TELL ME WHAT" especially got me as a child as it reminded me of that feeling of ISOLATION when my parents left me with a babysitter. and i guess that is sort of my point, this album for me has qualities that go beyond the LYRICS or PRODUCTION VALUES (all of which are STELLAR). for me it is SINGULAR record that has a DIVERSE array of STRONG EMOTIONS that is brought to bear by the INCREDIBLE COMPOSITIONS themselves.
all of the songs are ESSENTIAL in my opinion, even their cover of BUZZCOCKS' "EVER FALLEN IN LOVE," but the STANDOUT tracks outside of those aforementioned include "I'M NOT SATISFIED," "DON'T LOOK BACK," and "IT'S OK (IT'S ALRIGHT)." production-wise it sounds like the late-NEW WAVE era it was conceived in, with SAMPLED DRUM LOOPS and SYNTH PADS all over, but the quality of the SONGWRITING is never in doubt. and it still holds up more than thirty years later. THE RAW & THE UNCOOKED by FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS is definitely worth checking out.
parodies by nacrowe
i was thinking the other day about WHITEWASHING in AMERICAN culture over the years. how ELVIS PRESLEY unfairly gained undue adulation with the general public that was probably more appropriately due to LITTLE RICHARD and CHUCK BERRY. same dynamic could be argued with EMINEM, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, BENNY GOODMAN, BEASTIE BOYS and so on. seems to be a bit of a tradition that a genre or style only gains mainstream acceptance and critical recognition once a white musician does it with some competency. i dont know about BENNY GOODMAN (whose music i am not a fan of at all - much prefer DUKE ELLINGTON), but the majority of these artists were all steeped in the musical traditions that they pursued and had the utmost respect for the artists that came before. for EMINEM this means explicit shoutouts on tracks mentioning the likes of celebrated lyricists like RAKIM, 2PAC, NAS, ANDRE 3000, JAY-Z, REDMAN, THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G., LL COOL J and ICE CUBE among others. my problem is not with the artists but with the general public's COLLECTIVE AMNESIA towards and HISTORIC DISREGARD towards BLACK CULTURE until a white body inhabits such. its bullshit.
this led me to thinking about the 2-TONE SKA movement out of the UNITED KINGDOM in the late 1970s at the height of THATCHERISM and the VILE, RACIST, ANTI-IMMIGRANT perspective that her government embodied. since the post war era there had been a massive influx of immigrants from THE CARIBBEAN, known as the WINDRUSH GENERATION, who worked in northern factories alongside their CAUCASIAN counterparts and grew to establish a similar working class lifestyle. this close racial proximity in both living and work contexts saw cultural and musical innovations from JAMAICA, part of THE COMMONWEALTH, find active listenership in ENGLAND from both their descendants and their white counterparts. SKA, ROCKSTEADY and later REGGAE became a facet of BRITISH culture not dissimilar from other inherited artifacts like tea (INDIA), polo (IRAN), baked beans (UNITED STATES), ST. GEORGE (SYRIA), tennis (BASQUE), penny farthings (FRANCE), marmalade (PORTUGAL), pubs (ANCIENT ROME) and fish and chips (SPAIN). that penchant for CULTURAL APPROPRIATION is a distinctly BRITISH tradition in my opinion.
whats cool about 2-TONE SKA is how it explicitly indicates in its names its roots as the common meeting point between two cultures and musical traditions. in the face of the AUSTERE domestic and seething ANTI-IMMIGRANT policies employed by MARGARET THATCHER and the rising tide of RACISM that such engendered in the larger culture and body politic, these musicians showcased an ALTERNATIVE vision that valued INCLUSION, COOPERATION and celebrating DIVERSITY. these bands include iconic BRITISH multi-ethnic acts such as THE SPECIALS, THE BEAT, THE SELECTER, BAD MANNERS and THE BODYSNATCHERS as well as aligned all-CAUCASIAN acts like MADNESS among others. it is nearly impossible to not see 2-TONE SKA as a distinctly POLITICAL act within the BRITISH context it was birthed under. i think people today, especially in the UNITED STATES, just see it in retrospect as derivative dance music that takes its cues from JAMAICAN culture. they dont see the intent or evolution of a sound. dont believe me, just listen to third-wave AMERICAN ska bands from the 1990s (like LESS THAN JAKE, REEL BIG FISH, CHERRY POPPIN' DADDIES, BUCK-O-NINE, VOODOO GLOWSKULLS and THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES) that took the sound but none of the politics and made something VIBRANT, SOPHISTICATED and INTOXICATINGLY ENGAGING to something BLAND and easily DISPENSABLE.
of course there are a number of bands that thoughtfully (like EMINEM) paid homage to the history of the form and felt comfortable further INNOVATING on top of such. i want to give a shoutout to the modern bands i feel are in keeping with the true legacy of 2-TONE SKA such as the FISHBONE, DANCE HALL CRASHERS, THE SUICIDE MACHINES, NO DOUBT, THE SLACKERS, THE AQUABATS, GOLDFINGER, STREETLIGHT MANIFESTO, CATCH 22, THE AGGRO-LITES, THE INTERRUPTERS and SAVE FERRIS among others.
i just wish AMERICAN audiences would care more about issues related to CULTURAL APPROPRIATION and WHITEWASHING. maybe as our country becomes less white this unfortunate dynamic will shift in a generation or two. here's hoping!
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode from the fall of 2019 on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC dedicated to 2-TONE SKA and the thoughtful hybrid bands that came thereafter. enjoy!
RIP TERRY HALL.
parodies by nacrowe
lately ive been on a bit of a researching tip focused on the original 1960s SKINHEAD culture in ENGLAND and have been consuming various DON LETTS documentaries, rewatching MADE IN BRITAIN (ITV, 1982) and THIS IS ENGLAND (WARP FILMS, 2006) and seeking out copies of the RICHARD ALLEN novels SKINHEAD (1970) and SUEDEHEAD (1971). let me know if you have a copy
of course, part of investigating the trajectory of that movement (and its unfortunate infiltration by the NATIONAL FRONT and extreme right-wing politics) is the 2-TONE SKA movement of the late 1970s, which celebrated diversity and multiculturalism. the fact that it attracted unwanted attention from racist idiots is something i still don't understand.
great music though. THE SPECIALS, MADNESS, THE ENGLISH BEAT and THE SELECTER are all amazing. cant say the same for those 1990s revival bands though.
art by nacrowe
tonight's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is all about 2-TONE SKA and beyond. get ready to dance.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.