Fight The Youth: 30 Years of a Fishbone Masterpiece

The Reality of My Surroundings once got me in trouble; it was worth it

Celebrating 30 years of Fishbone’s 1991 magnum opus The Reality of My Surroundings (Collage: Ron Hart)

My parents caught me listening to Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings once and I got in big trouble for it.

I was 15, home cleaning the kitchen on a Friday night, listening to “Pray To the Junkiemaker” while my two siblings played in the adjacent living room. Mom and Dad arrived home from a night of shopping and I didn’t hear them come in.

“What IS that noise, Jason?” Mom demanded. “It’s so loud, what band is this?”

“Fishbone!” I replied. “They’re that band from that movie Back to the Beach.”

“Well, it’s not music you should be listening to in front of your brother and sister!”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s too loud! And…are they saying bad words?”

I sighed and turned off the cassette player. And I never listened to Fishbone in front of my parents ever again. 

 

VIDEO: Fishbone “Fight the Youth”

Thirty years later, I wish I would’ve stood up to my mother and fought for my right to listen to Southern California’s best ska/punk ensemble’s best album. Listening to this album again as a jaded 45 year old, I can’t help but smile. This album is just so damned good. It kicks off with the anthemic “Fight the Youth,” featuring lyrics that feel eerily prescient when viewed through a 2021 lens: 

Fight the Youth
The Youth with poisoned minds
Ignite the truth
Restore sight to these blind
Fight the youth
The youth with poisoned minds
And if they suffer it’s no fault but their own

For a year dominated by releases that would become iconic totems of rock history—Nirvana’s Nevermind, Chili Pepper’s Blood Sugar Sex Magick, etc.—Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings doesn’t get the love it should. The album didn’t get much love back then as I recall, either; sure, this was the group’s most commercially successful album but the album’s name has never been uttered with a whisper of reverence amongst the pop culture historians.

I say fuck that. Not only is Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings the best album they ever put out, but it’s one of the best albums of 1991. This was ska/punk (or “skunk” as my friend Justin used to call it) for the thinking person. Smoke a joint, listen to “Those Days Are Gone” and see what kind of mind trip you go on. “Sunless Sunday,” which I remember watching the band perform on “SNL” back in the day, is the perfect kind of song for putting on a mixtape for your partner or crush. It’s funky, thoughtful, and goes down like a Flintstones vitamin. And yes, this is the album that gave us “Everyday Sunshine,” the Fishbone song that always gets played at wedding receptions. My personal favorite is “Naz-Tee May’an,” which just kicks ass—a rousing, let’s-get-this-party-going funky stomp. This is one of those albums that going great with weed and/or whiskey; the Dark of the Moon of ska. 

Looking back 30 years ago, getting in trouble with my parents that night was worth it. The Reality of My Surroundings is weird, raunchy, loud, and experimental enough to seriously freak my parents out. And that’s got to be a sign of some good rock-n-roll.

 

   

 

   

 You May Also Like

Jason Webber

Jason Webber is the author of the critically acclaimed book "Purple Bananas: How Prince Saved Me and Other Selections from the Soundtrack 2 My Life."

2 thoughts on “Fight The Youth: 30 Years of a Fishbone Masterpiece

  • April 24, 2021 at 3:10 pm
    Permalink

    I really liked Fishbone’s album BEFORE this one: Truth and Soul. Excellent, tight, album that starts off with a great cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” and doesn’t let up.

    The follow up, discussed here, seemed less focused to me. Not without some good songs, but it didn’t grab me like Truth and Soul did.

    Also, the homophobia of “Naz-Tee May’en” was not lost on me. Even 30 years ago it was a bad look. It still is. These guys were right to call out racism where it existed, but to exhibit their own brand of bigotry was no better. A shame, as they were a fun band.

    Reply
    • May 30, 2021 at 12:32 pm
      Permalink

      Err – Don’t see anything homophonic in Naz-tee Man. It does what it says on the tin, celebrating heterosexuality (and very piss-takingly at that). Whilst there was undoubtedly at least one religious zealot in the band at the time, the lyrics to the song Servitude on the next album should tell you all you need to know about Fishbone’s feelings about homosexuality.

      Peace.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *