I’m sorry, the who? I open my inbox, which over the course of the evening has flooded with invitations to try Starbucks’ newest whipped cream and get fifteen-percent off my next Barnes and Noble purchase. Crammed in between a request to review the toothpaste I just bought on Drugstore.com and a Christmas card from a total stranger, Goldenvoice has sent me an email with the subject line, “Cat Power, The Aquabats, and happy holidays.” I’m confused. Since when does any of that belong in one single sort-of-sentence? And what in God’s name are the Aquabats doing still touring?
For those of you unfamiliar with the Aquabats, they were (and apparently are still) a band scraping the edges of self-parody, if not fully submerged in it (it’s literally been a decade since I’ve listened to their music or watched them perform). It’s an ensemble cast, each boy man decked out in a super-hero-worthy spandex onesie and a dignity-salvaging black eye mask. Travis Barker of Blink 182 and other subsequent bands catering to the politely tempered angst of suburban high school children used to be a part, though I believe he fled the scene some time ago.
The music brings to mind the era of No Doubt and commercial punk blended with a heaping boatload of Weird Al Yankovic. It’s music for the nerdy kid who doesn’t think he’s nerdy. This was all around the same time as Bloodhound Gang and Reel Big Fish (sorry, um, still amazing to listen to). The music of the Aquabats, in a word or two, is insanely fucking obnoxious. Their ska band horn section, their lyrics about guacamole and pizza parties, their…overwhelming lameness.
I was in middle school when I first heard their song “Idiot Box.” I’m fairly certain that the intel was provided to me by my friend Valdas, though when I think about it now, Valdas was too cool to be listening to this stuff. Valdes wore Yves Saint Laurent ties before any of us knew what YSL was and drank Robo on the weekends (that’s Robitussen for all of you squares out there). Valdas was too refined a spirit in the late 90s to have brought the Aquabats to my attention.
In doing some research as to how the band has “evolved” I stumbled across their website, which is sort of like a time capsule that you never quite finished making, forever adding stuff to it while you forget to change anything about yourself. There seems to be no marked difference between the Aquabats of my middle school days and the Aquabats of today, except maybe the fit of their snug uniforms. And I suppose that’s all well and good, the whole stay-true-to-your-roots thing, but I find it hard to believe that there’s an audience for this act anymore. The Aquabats really seem like something you should have left in your middle school locker room at the age of thirteen and never looked back. It just doesn’t have that timeless, take-it-with-you-for-the-rest-of-your-life quality that say, Simon and Garfunkel probably had for my mother at that age.
Watching Reel Big Fish perform “Beer” from 1998 some years later, I feel bad for these guys. The persona they had created back then – bouncing, ridiculous, checkered wearing nerds with spiky hair – is a horrific thing to be a slave to for the rest of your life. It’s not much different than someone asking me to act the way I did in seventh grade because, “That was your, like, most awesome year.” The resulting Me would be an obnoxious, know-it-all who knew nothing at all, sporting khaki mini-skirts from Wet Seal and blue eye shadow. I’d rather fucking kill myself.
These bands – Reel Big Fish, the Bloodhound Gang, The Aquabats – are one-album wonders, forced to play the same shit over and over again because no one ever cared about anything else. And while I understand the root of the supply in the economic equation, I do not understand the demand. These guys are playing because people are buying. And who the hell is still jamming out to “Fashion Zombies!” Like…really…who? Tell me, because trying to figure this puzzle out on my own is giving me a wretched headache at 9 in the morning.