The Reality of My Surroundings once got me in trouble; it was worth it
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!”
“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.