A book that dives into the history of modern ska, the genre’s rise and fall in popularity, and the continuing culture. And as the title suggests, it brings up a great question: “Why is ska so universally hated and considered a joke?”
The book does talk about the Jamaican roots of ska but mostly focuses on the late ’70s and up. You get a deep dive on the 2-Tone-emulating rude boys in the U.S. and how they strived to keep it up playing ska or moved on to something else. The thing I found most interesting was how the traditional ska bands of the ’80s hated the ska punk movement and scowled at bands like Skankin’ Pickle. I never had any idea there was a culture war within ska.
When the book is defending ska, it does it well. Carnes brings up how ’90s ska was around when most music on the radio was just dreary grunge and to see bands playing upbeats and appearing to have fun was a huge turnaround in audiences. Ska was very interactive during those days and required crowd participation. You left a show feeling like everybody made the experience fun and not just the band.
It brings up how there isn’t a fourth wave of ska because the third wave never stopped. Fans and bands that started in the ’90s are still around. Some of the bands interviewed for the book state that the shows had some dips through the years but eventually got bigger.
The research is all very in-depth and great, but I felt that Carnes’s personal stories about his old band Flat Planet and tours with Skankin’ Pickle are either mildly interesting or unnecessary. Some of the Flat Planet stories are cringe-worthy and just reminded me why I didn’t like hanging out with ska bands. There is a chapter dedicated to the author’s hate for the Millie Small song “My Boy Lollipop.” I like the song, but he has very valid points on why it’s trash.
It’s hard to review a book about ska without throwing my own opinions about the genre in. So I will leave you with this: In Defense of Ska is a definite read if you are any kind of music nerd or punk historian. The bibliography in the back of the back should be enough to impress you. And hell, you might end up buying a bunch of ska comp CDs from thirty years ago after reading it. –Rick V. (clashbooks.com)