#4: remembering Mustard Plug’s “Evildoers Beware!”

When I was in 9th / 10th grade, there was a ska revival, or at least what I came to understand to be a ska revival, in that I hadn’t ever been aware of ska music, but once the Mighty Mighty Bosstones became big I discovered that they hadn’t, in fact, created a brand new genre of music (I lived an isolated life). My favorites of the time were Reel Big Fish and Mustard Plug’s song ‘Murder in Tulip City,’ which, at this point, probably isn’t actually the name of the song, but that’s how I remember it. We would play it in the auditorium and work on our stage diving skills before first period. It became a pretty popular enterprise until we were caught by teachers because around 20 people were hollering and singing in the auditorium at like 7:50am while I attempted a flip during my stage dive. This is what it means to be a gifted 15 year old; the genius never ends.

I first heard (discovered!) Reel Big Fish during the same session of 120 Minutes where I first heard the Bloodhound Gang. It was an epic night, filled with Matt Pinfield’s giant bald head. Later in the school week, I brought this up during health class, only to be lectured on how Reel Big Fish isn’t actually ska, Skankin’ Pickle was. This is also the same class where I learned that I was not to say ‘Japan animation’ but ‘japanimation.’ This distinction was, apparently, vital. Considering I had no idea who the fuck Skankin’ Pickle was, I felt ashamed in my fandom of Reel Big Fish, except for the fact that I actually enjoyed Reel Big Fish. This presents a fundamental conundrum of pop music, or really, pop culture in general: what does one do when the things he likes are inherently uncool? How to celebrate them and still maintain credibility?

This is, of course, essentially the Journey Conundrum: people either like Journey ironically or they sincerely do (or they don’t at all, but, you know, whatever). I, however, find it impossible to like anything ironically. The irony cancels out any ability to actually like something simply by becoming more important than actual enjoyment of said product. I am, after more than a decade of debate on this, a sincere Journey fan. I don’t care how overplayed “Don’t Stop Believin'” is; any time it is on, I shall consider it important to turn it up even louder. But I only came to this conclusion because of the rather visceral debate of ‘guilty pleasures.’

I greatly dislike the term guilty pleasure because it, again, implies that actually liking something isn’t actually liking something. It becomes a way to defend one’s own choices in a culture where judgment derives from some strange hierarchy of cool; basically, enjoyment determined by the rules of any teenage / high school-based television show or movie, which are, I suppose, often ‘guilty pleasures’ in and of themselves. As in, a movie I have watched roughly 4,984,422,765,491 times is 10 Things I Hate About You. I watch it almost every single time I see it on TV. I do this because I, for some reason, find it to be awesome. When pressed to explain this, I almost always start referencing things the dad says because he’s hilarious, as is the angry English teacher; however, this is a byproduct of the Journey Conundrum: locate something specific on which to focus my enjoyment in order to maintain face about actually liking this movie. I am entertained; is that not enough (oh, damn, that was a sly Gladiator reference [the Roman one with Russell Crowe, not the boxing movie with Cuba Gooding, Jr. {I’ve never once thought about his name being ‘Cuba,’ as in, you know, the country just south of us who we blacklisted from the world or whatever. That’s a pretty ballsy name, isn’t it?}], you know when Russell is standing there yelling at the crowd, ‘Are you not entertained?’ and then he spits. Because he’s badfuckingass. And the crowd erupts in cheers because we all love a rebel)? But of course it isn’t enough. There is, inherently at this point, a need for some sort of justification.

A list of some of my so-called Guilty Pleasures:
Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’
the movie Love, Actually
pretty much any non-slow single Kelly Clarkson releases
Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Escape’
that Garth Brooks song about having friends in low places
other teen movies like Can’t Hardly Wait, Mean Girls, and Clueless
the Heavy D produced Temptations rip-off band Soul For Real
and lots more if I spent time thinking about it.

Insert Assumed Reader Question Here: What the fuck does this have to do with Mustard Plug and their awesome, awesome album, especially the closer, ‘Beer (Song)’?
Nothing, really. But oh well.

The idea of a guilty pleasure is, unsurprisingly, a way to fend off embarrassment; declaring to like something ironically, then, is a way to declare yourself smarter than the very thing you are enjoying. Essentially, when people say they watch the Jersey Shore because it is soooo stupid and therefore sooooo funny and watching it is just a way to participate in the mockery of these people who are soooooooooo stupid or whatever asinine explanations I’ve heard people come up with, what they are actually saying is that they believe themselves smarter than this product and that by watching it they are participating in the age old idea of ‘slumming.’ It also is not so much a mockery of the product but of the self; slumming is a relative to bullying, in that its goal is to make you feel better about yourself. Guilty Pleasures are a big fucking deal: they  showcase the fact that we are not comfortable with ourselves, that we cannot be open with ourselves and enjoy the very things that bring us pleasure without putting up some sort of barrier between us and that enjoyment because we feel like we are not supposed to enjoy them [of course, this can be pushed to all sorts of bizarre extremes where people don’t want to admit they enjoy watching animal baby poop porn or something, but I don’t think that is so much a guilty pleasure as being totally fucking insane].

Pop culture is a reflection of who we are, obviously. Any one thing’s rise to popularity is a reflection on the culture that made it popular. The reason so many people knew the dance moves associated with the Macarena is because people fucking liked it, not because it was funny. It became funny to do only because it became popular. What’s most fascinating, I think, about Rolling Stone magazine at this point is looking on the back page in their ‘From the Vault’ section where they list the most popular songs from a specific week and year back in the day. The songs that are now celebrated as being canonical or whatever are almost never in those top tens; it’s almost always filled with songs music geeks would consider crummy or overrated; yet, there, in print, is historical proof of who we were as a culture, proof of the very things we most enjoyed. There’s nothing ironic about that.

5 thoughts on “#4: remembering Mustard Plug’s “Evildoers Beware!”

  1. Joel,
    This was a fantastic little piece. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve tried to (mostly unsuccessfully) convey these same sentiments to people. Never have been able to put it so precisely and economically though . . . my ramblings usually end with glassy eyed stares or awkward glances at cell phones.
    Anyways, I’m digging what you’re sharing here, and I wish we had had the chance to discuss the finer points of third wave ska in the office.
    -Ryan

    P.S. Congrats on the marriage.

    1. Thanks, dude. On multiple accounts.
      If I knew how to do a podcast, I’d say we should work on trying to put one together, even call it the T.A. Office show. Those were always interesting conversations.

  2. Joel,

    Several things.

    First off I told you about my animal baby poop porn fetish in confidence how dare you openly mock me like this you bastard!

    Murder in Tulip City, or Murder in Potato City as it became on the many trips between Mansfield U and home, is the correct song title.

    However, it was on Mustard Plug’s Big Daddy Multitude album and not Evildoers Beware! as this essay implies. I had to correct that because well that’s what we do.

    1. Mo:
      a few things, in response.
      I had assumed your fetish was animal adult poop, so my apologies.
      Two, I did know that it wasn’t on Evildoers Beware!, I was merely cross pollinating memories.
      Three, you’re supposed to write for this site. I demand an article.
      Love,
      J.

      1. Article(s) forthcoming. Uhhhh, motivation willing naturally. So many ideas are starting to brew. Many of them centering around ages 17-19.

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