Debilitating skabsession! | Autoweek
For those of us who came of age awash in 1990s alt-culture, logo biting was something of a ritual. Perhaps the most notorious example was Fuct Clothing’s appropriation of the Ford logo, but the practice was certainly rife in the punk scene. To wit, Gearhead Magazine‘s Mike LaVella repurposed the old Gumout logo to great effect. Jawbreaker received a cease-and-desist letter from the Morton Salt people due to a t-shirt design.
It got to the point that bands were cribbing each others’ logos in tongue-and-cheek homage. Smarty-pants SF pop-punk group J Church riffed on Black Flag’s famed four-bars logo. NOFX released a series of stickers featuring their forerunners’ and contemporaries’ iconography kitbashed with their own distinctive emblem. It was culture-mining meme culture writ small.
The height of the trend roughly coincided with the so-called third wave of ska. No Doubt first hit big when I was a college sophomore. I remember that they played the defunct, small Berkeley Square. I remember not going and not caring a whole lot that I didn’t.
924 Gilman Street janitorial-staff-turned-international punk heroes Rancid repurposed the first verse of an earlier song, put it to the ska and had a smash hit with “Time Bomb,” which still may be my favorite big radio single of the ’90s.
From my dorm room in the Far East Bay, I nursed a rockstar crush on Karina Denike of the Dance Hall Crashers and rather worshipped at the altar of Operation Ivy’s Jesse Michaels, who at the time had dropped out of the scene and disappeared. Rumor had it that he was a Buddhist monk. Rumor had it that he was all sorts of things. According to his stepmom, who was one of my college writing professors, he was in Florida listening to Perry Como and working with the homeless. He’s since resurfaced and now fronts a group called Classics of Love.
I still enjoy the Dance Hall Crashers, though I haven’t listened to them much over the past decade. I see Gwen Stefani on television lamenting the difficulty of songwriting while trying to sell me a Windows Phone. Op Ivy’s Energy still gets regular play around my house. But other than that album, one of the greatest slabs in the history of recorded music, I haven’t listened to much third-wave ska since the turn of the millennium.
Somehow, that old British sound has translated into the lunacy before you. Working “ska” into one’s act’s name is a tradition as old as the genre itself. Early Jamaican pioneers The Skatalites and third-wave NYC group Mephiskapheles are but two examples. It also seems to have become lodged in my brain.
To my detriment, the practice of indelicately shoehorning “ska” into words has taken over my life. For every 90 moronic utterances that involve that three-letter syllable, there’s perhaps one moment of real rude gold. It’s a good thing I’m a writer, not a stand-up comedian. I bomb hard enough and often enough via the written word. Our commentariat can attest to that.
At some point about a month back, after the portmanteau tide had been ebbing and flowing for a good three quarters of a year, I realized, “Wait! My job! Skatoweek! How could I have been so blind?” I immediately pestered Senior Art Director Tara Themm for the Autoweek logo typeface and fired up Adobe Illustrator. Reading some news about Mazda, I thought, “SkaActiv!” and immediately launched Photoshop.
From there, the whole logo-biting deal rather quickly took on a life of its own. Skaguna Seca. Skantiac. Porschska. S.K.A. Marchal. My friends began to worry. My shockingly patient girlfriend, who’s actually more of a ska-head than I am, berated me the other night, suggesting that this whole streak should’ve run its course by now. She’s probably right.
Wait’ll she sees her skanniversary present. I may be screwed.
Meanwhile, my automotively inclined friends of a certain age got in on the act, proffering suggested skambinations in Facebook comments and tweets. Last weekend, contributor Murilee Martin decided he could no longer abstain from the fun, explaining: “Alameda High, circa 1983, actually had a small group of mods. There was a lot of overlap with the stoners and car freaks, and the entire bunch were huge Who fans (as was I at the time) so I hung out with them a fair bit. That’s how I ended up listening to a lot of Bad Manners and Specials back then.”
Ensconced in the garage with the Specials on a loop as he dismembered a Lexus SC400, Martin caught the bug hard. Egged on by Murilee’s creation of Škada, I countered with Skatra. Czech for a Czech and all that. Realizing that we had enough of these slapped-together goofs for a gallery, we thought we’d inflict the whole mess upon you, our long-suffering reader. We may also be clinging to the potentially vain hope that publishing this mess will get it out of our systems.
I’d like to say there’s a deeper meaning to this project, that it juxtaposes racial struggles in Thatcherite England with products of the industrial age packaged and sold to us as status — and that really, all we need to skank as one are a few dudes with horns and guitars. If you’re so inclined to assign that meaning to it, I’ll accept it. If it’s “Somethingsomethingsomethingpointyheadedblahblah … culture jamming,” I’ll take that, too.
The sad reality’s a bit different. It’s that on a sunny Sunday afternoon in February, I spent two hours in front of the computer laughing like a nitrous-huffing chimp while considering the image of Chief Pontiac in a porkpie.
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