For almost my entire life, I have been an avid fan of Third Wave Ska. I was first introduced to the genre as a very young child. I booted up my Playstation One, with a strange disc titled Incredible Crisis spinning in the tray. Greeted by a smiling fox, the logo of the now defunct Titus development studio, I selected the Union Jack for my language option, and then watched as the screen faded to black. When the square-eye burning CRT light returned, it brought with it a magical sound — the sound of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. I was hooked. For the rest of the 90s and early 2000s I followed the genre. Like most, I embraced Smash Mouth in their dominance of the soundtracks of 90s feel good flicks.
One band, however, stood out above all the rest: Reel Big Fish, first introduced to me in the menu music for a Kingdom Hearts fan-made flash animation. Their combination of feel-good music with often dark, cutting, and even cynical themes were a concoction which proved to be quite potent with me. Formed in 1991, the band have enjoyed a cult following which has allowed them to persist despite the overall decline of ska punk. I am a proud member of this cult. In fact, seeing them live in Belfast in 2014 is one of the happiest memories of my life. All of this was before I had settled on my own political ideology.
Imagine my surprise then, when in 2018, the band released their first single off their upcoming album Life Sucks… Let’s Dance! which seems oddly… Libertarian? ‘You Can’t Have All of Me’ by Reel Big Fish stands out from the current popular music maelstrom as an oddity in its political tone. Fittingly, the song deals mostly with everyday life. It’s relatable. The speaker sings about waking up, eating breakfast, and having nightmares. “New day, same problems man, it never ends!” Pedestrian concerns. Relatable concerns. Yet, the lyrics suggest a fatigue. Just look at how he describes his problems:
“Everybody wants a piece, and they never settle. What I’m giving out, it always seems too little. Gimme more, gimme more is what they all say. […] Now I’m spread too thin. There’s not that much left of me. I’m like a skeleton, the vultures pick my bones clean. And all these vampires, have got me bleeding out. Well they keep taking more, and I just have to go without. And all these obligations, well they just keeping coming, won’t be long till I’m all used up and I got nothing!”
His response to this fatigue, however, is not to lie down and accept his fate. Instead, the speaker lets it be known that he will not go quietly into the night as he makes a Declaration of Independence for the Everyman. The speaker is not claiming nebulous (though important) rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Instead he makes meaningful and tangible demands, drawing a line in the sand which the leeches cannot cross. With repeated cries of ‘You Can’t Have All Of Me’ he lists what matters most to him, and what the parasites cannot take:
“My boss, my job, my family […] My soul, my time, and my money […] I need a little for myself!”
Visually, the cover art for the single sums up what the speaker is communicating: a feeling of incompleteness, like a gingerbread man with a large bite taken out of it. This is an image which may resonate with many libertarians, as collectivists both left and right call for greater restrictions on fiscal and personal liberties. It took 27 years and 9 studio albums for Reel Big Fish to seemingly express a political view. In the end I am glad it was such a personally meaningful one. The meaning of the song is expressed in such a way that any person, regardless of their politics, can understand and relate to. The dictum ‘You Can’t Have All of Me’ becomes a modern day, everyman’s ‘Don’t Tread On Me’. I sincerely hope that the rest of the album follows this trend when it releases on the 21st December.
5/5 Gadsden Flags
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Image: Reel Big Fish