Reggae beats found on college kids’ iPods

Columnist Kevin Stairiker speculates on the popularity of reggae music among college students.

Did you know that according to statistics I just made up, the chances of any given college student being a fan of Bob Marley is roughly 95 percent? Here’s another: Did you also know that the odds of getting through a normal weekday on Main Campus without seeing a T-shirt commemorating the cover of Sublime’s “40oz. To Freedom” is 430,000:1? Of course you knew these things, how could you not?

What is it about these two acts, among others, that gets college kids so riled up? And before anyone accuses me of talking down, I love Bob Marley and can at least stand Sublime on a good day. There are days when I’d like nothing more than to listen to “Catch A Fire” or “Rastaman Vibration,” and I would never complain if someone threw on “Date Rape” or “Waiting For My Ruca,” especially the latter, only because it contains a Minutemen sample, but I digress.

It’s like a weird, unspoken bond that random groups of middle-class white people have: If you’re wearing tall socks and a flat brim, you better have a shirt with the colors of the Jamaican flag on it at any given time.

What could it be? Why? Is it Marley’s fervent belief in the idea of peace that flowed through almost all of his music? How about Sublime’s nerd-like ability to cover acts as diverse as the Descendents and Grateful Dead on the same album?

Nope. Without sounding incredibly glib and/or narrow-minded, it’s pretty simple: College kids love smoking weed. Like, a lot. And to find incredibly mainstream societal figures that like(ed) doing the same thing? Awesome – best news I’ve heard all day.

This isn’t a rant or complaint about that observance – it’s actually pretty funny when you think about it. Stores, knowing that kids are always looking for the easiest possible way to rebel against what they perceive as authority, stock shirts and other assorted merchandise with Marley or Sublime on them in hopes that aforementioned kids buy them. And here’s the punchline–they do.

For example, at the “House of Marley” website, one of the more premium items listed, by a company founded in part by Marley’s descendants, no less, is “Redemption Song Earphones” for a surely appropriate $79.99.

Admittedly, that was probably the price outlined in his will. I’m sure the actual “Redemption Song,” literally one of the most heartfelt and immensely powerful songs of all time, sounds super good through them.

And Sublime? Successfully touring the world with a sound-alike replacement singer under the mantle of “Sublime With Rome,” which I imagine sounds roughly as good as “Queen+Paul Rogers” did.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s all about the money. I’ll repeat that in case you missed it the first time: It’s. All. About. The. Money.

Think back to the last time there was one of those random poster sales on Main Campus. How many of those posters had Marley’s face plastered on them or any Sublime album cover boldly displayed? Think back to the last time you were in a mall or on a boardwalk. Do you see where I’m going with this?

All of this is just one sector of a larger problem: Sometimes fans can just kill a band or singer.

Take Lady Gaga for example. Right before the total nuclear explosion of her fame–about a week after “Just Dance” became ubiquitous–I had literally no opinion of her. I ‘nothinged’ her. But before I even heard another song, people who I couldn’t stand shoved her music into all facets of my life. And just like that, my opinion of Gaga had formed almost unconsciously in the back of my head, associating her with idiots that I couldn’t stand. And it’s a shame.

Think of the archetypal “bro” figure that I called upon at the beginning of the column.

It’s late on a Saturday night and you see ‘that guy’ sauntering toward the front door of your building in his “40oz. To Freedom” shirt and it creates a certain feeling in your head. Subconsciously, our brain plays the association game. “Well, that guy looks like a tool. He’s wearing a Sublime shirt. Sublime must be for tools.” And while that is not true at all, that’s what your head does.

Of course, there are bigger problems in the world than college kids’ maddening attempts to fit in. But still, there’s something about seeing a dude in plaid shorts, a flat brim, high socks – maybe with sandals? – and a “Roots, Rock, Reggae” shirt that makes my blood boil. But that’s what’s great about this country. Maybe that same guy glances quickly at me and thinks I look like an idiot, too. Both views are probably pretty spot-on.

5 Songs that share a namesake

with the band:

1. “Black Sabbath”-Black Sabbath

2. “Descendents”-Descendents

3. “Titus Andronicus Forever”-

Titus Andronicus

4. “Public Enemy #1”-Public En


5. “Clap Your Hands!”-Clap Your

Hands Say Yeah

Kevin Stairiker can be reached at

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