Story Pile: Hello Rockview

There’s this joke, about ska.

The joke is that not many people like ska, and people who do like ska, are funny, and to be laughed at.

It’s not a really good joke, but it seems to be the only way ska music gets brought up. Hey, remember ska? Some people like it! Hah! You do sometimes see the variant ‘I can’t believe there was a time where we thought ska was good,’ usually in reference to the late 90s when a handful of ska bands got a few songs on the radio, which represented, of course, an invasion.

Also it got to be in the Digimon soundtrack because it was cheap, which is probably where a lot of people heard it the first time.

I really like ska music. I really like it, in part I know because it was something I listened to when I was just at the point in my life where my brain was forming responsive connections to musical experiences, and so it’s always going to remind me of feeling like a teenager. The stuff you loved when you were a teen will usually echo with you as an adult. Plus, the whole ‘escaping a cult’ thing.

Anyway, one of the first ska albums I ever bought, because a guy in my school recommended it, was Less Than Jake’s Hello Rockview.

Hello Rockview has fourteen tracks on it, and I don’t think it’s a concept album per se as much as LTJ did a good job of wrapping all the songs they did want to tell in an idea that makes them all feel connected. With a wider view of LTJ’s corpus of work you’ll see that there’s so much of their work wend around the feelings outlined in Hello Rockview.

Hello Rockview is an album which tells the story of someone struggling with a damaged, disrupted normal life. They witness violence, they struggle with how it changes them, about their self-image, and how the things they care about are hard to experience. It’s an interesting synthesis of like, post-adolescent angst.

I didn’t have these problems per se when I first hit this album. I heard the lines from My Best Friends Are Metalheads, which talked about the idea of being shocked when you realise the people you think of as your friend have no actual common ground with you, and while the music felt good, I didn’t realise how true it was until I left high school and church, and found that –

oh.

Yeah.

It’s also the source of a song that’s kind of haunted me ever since I heard it, and probably my favourite LTJ song of all time, Nervous in the Alley.

I know listening to this kind of music requires a sort of ear for the way to decrypt the words. It’s an actual skill. I understand that you might not catch the words, or even want to listen, so here:

On a Tuesday in the rain I never thought there’d come a day
If I put myself to the test would I ever raise a fist
Would I just shut my mouth, would I just block it out?
I’ve sworn a million times never to be left,
Standing with that feeling
Of hopelessness left standing, just nervous in the alley
When all is said and through
Would I know just what to do
And if I put myself to the test
Would I ever raise a fist
Would I just shut my mouth or just block it out
I’ve sworn a million times never to be left,
Standing with that feeling
Of hopelessness left standing, just nervous in the alley
Is it a change of heart,
That keeps us apart
And you say it’s true
And we know it’s true
When all we have left is me and you
And it’s so strange,
When all I have left to say
Is I wonder what’s I’d fight for?

The final line of this song,  – I wonder what I’d fight for – is something that has haunted me since I heard it. What would I fight for? I fought a lot. I got into a lot of fights, daily, unreasonably. The thing that stopped me getting in fights was mostly stopping having exposure to a permissive space where fights could happen. But I fought because I was attacked or because I was angry, angry about the way it never mattered that I was hurt.

This song served as a delivery method for a simple idea.

Would I raise my fists when I saw something bad happen?

Would I fight for something that mattered, or would I just fight?

And would I be paralysed in fear at the chance of getting hurt?

One of the things you have to do as an adult is start to recognise the ways you yourself are made, to examine the things that make up who you are. I am the lens through which I examine some of this nonsense, and that means that while I should be, ostensibly, the byproduct of the great art and media of my culture, a synthesis of Biblical doctrine and the political fires of my time, if I’m being honest I’m a broken peppershaker half-full of Strong Bad Emails, ska music and aspirations towards not being an awful person.

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