It began with the mutual love of a band that I truly did like: The Specials. She was into ska … heavily into ska.Way more into ska than more high school aged kids should ever be.
I met Delia at the mall, where every high school kid hung out, sulked, loitered, and snuck cigarettes. In a sea of black tees and torn hoodies I spotted her in her plaid pants, checkered belt and suspenders. Through her second-hand, plaid blazer, I could see her No Doubt T-shirt. Immediately, I knew I wanted her and would do whatever it took to win her over.
I had only ever listened to punk and had never considered ska an option until she asked me to accompany her to a Reel Big Fish show in downtown Hartford. As she skanked through the crowd (that’s a ska dance move for those who are unfamiliar), I began to feel pangs of intense attraction. After the show, we sat in my car and she introduced me to more ska music. Prince Buster from the ’60s, The Specials from the ’70′s, the English Beat from the ’80s, and some of the best No Doubt B-sides from the ’90s. I was more into her than the music, but the two became synonymous. When I thought of Delia, I thought of ska. We kissed and I knew what I had to do if I wanted to keep dating her: become a ska fan.
My forced fandom began innocently enough, with me picking up a few choice CD’s. No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, and Reel Big Fish’s Turn The Radio Off were the first in my collection. This was back in the day before iPods, so I physically carried around these CD’s in my backpack under the guise that I really loved them. Admittedly, some of the bands grew on me and I began to consider myself an amateur ska kid. But as hard as I tried, I was never a pro like Delia.
I try to respect the genres of music that I have no interest in. I realize that there are millions (ish?) of people out there who love country music, yet I find nothing great about the twangy guitars and overly-sentimental lyrics. However, I do appreciate the success of country musicians and realize it does, kind of, define a part of the American lifestyle. Ska, I suppose, is similar. While not being exactly right for everyone’s ear, it has its humble roots. It started in Jamaican dance halls, soon morphed into reggae, had a resurgence in the UK during the ’80s and still shows up during high school proms, young men’s Bar Mitzvahs, and I assume it will be playing during the second coming of Christ. It’s not popular because it’s not good. I amend that – most of it is not good.
I continued to play the role of a the skankin’, checkered suit-wearing, ska-loving boyfriend for the entire two years we were together and, during that time, the music grew on me. But barely. I like horns, I like the sound the guitar makes when its ever-so-slightly stroked by the pick (fun fact: ska is an onomatopoeia) and, to this day, I always support ska’s plea for unity. In the back of my mind though, I always knew I was in the ska scene for her. I was also staring to realize that the relationship was toxic.
When Delia was nowhere in sight, I secretly listened to other music: Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground, Notorious B.I.G. I knew if she caught me with non-ska CD’s she’d laugh at me. She’d refuse to “compromise” her image by listening to Hip Hop and I’d end up feeling insecure. Delia’s attitude about ska bled over into other things as well. She assigned herself as the sole interested person in “likes” and “hobbies.” She would get upset if I watched a movie that “she liked first” or went shopping at a second-hand shop that “she discovered.”
“You can’t be the only person who wears suspenders and listens to No Doubt,” I would say.
“It’s my favorite band and you’re stealing it!” she would retort.
Eventually, I found my interests in ska (and Delia) diminishing to nothing. I was in it for her, but she was in it for herself—and when it comes down to it, that was the breaking point for me.
I was pretending to be a person I was not for a person who was very obviously not right for me. There’s a fine line between being open-minded and straight-up lying to yourself. After we broke up, Delia’s social media presence confirmed what I had suspected about her. Soon after she ditched the ska scene, she got into rockabilly, then classic rock , then punk, and now, she’s an indie kid.
As for me, I’m still open to trying new things. My current girlfriend got me to try kale and now I’m obsessed with kale. That’s expanding one’s horizons. Pretending to be something you’re not for a person who’s someone they’re not? That’s just fiction.