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Sublime: the life, times, and hook of 'ebin'.

I MET BRAD NOWELL at the University of California at Santa Cruz in January of 1988. We were both part of a group sociology project assigned to survey the student population for class. This was during skateboarding's Alva era, when I had long dreadlocks down to the middle of my back. Brad was a huge dancehall reggae fan, and I pretty much wanted to be Bob Marley, so it was only natural that we would strike up a friendship.

During the course of our research I was introduced to another famous character, Brad's 4-track recorder. We were both aspiring musicians so Brad invited me over to record a song. The song I chose I'd written while living at home in Ojai, CA, the summer before college. It was called "Celebration," and the lyrics, admittedly cliche, were an appeal for people to rise up and unify through music. So Santa Cruz.

To my credit the song had a hook Brad recognized, and thus became his muse. The next day that Brad called me on the phone and told me he'd re-recorded my song. He said he'd changed it around a bit and he'd written new lyrics, and--the capper--he'd used my name in the song. He assured me that the song was not about me and he'd actually changed the spelling of my name so people wouldn't get confused. Honestly, I was pretty much appalled and a hit weirded out. I mean, first off, he had basically stolen my song. Secondly, he used my name! Then when he started telling me some of the lyrics, I was downright alarmed. There was the part about joining the CIA and the KKK and smoking crack, which, although standard issue UCSC liberal paranoia for the time, was less than flattering. Then there was the "you've changed" bit, which in punk rock terms is basically calling someone a sell-out. Finally, the clincher of all clinchers--the guy called me (or Ebin) a Nazi. Hold the fucking presses! I'm Jewish for God's sake.

While my reaction was less than positive, I was more perplexed than anything. I agreed to meet Brad and at least hear the recorded song in full. Upon listening I was struck more than anything by the fact that this guy could sing. He had a beautiful voice--somewhat effeminate, but in a good way, a trait shared by many reggae artists of that era. It was a bit syrupy for my taste at the time, but recognizably good in a pop kind of way. To be completely honest, I was somewhat jealous. Here was this guy taking some serious liberties--and he actually sounded good doing it. Not fair. Why did he have it and I didn't? I was the guy with dreads; I should sound like that. So I pretty much pushed the entire incident out of my mind.

Fast-forward a year or so and I received a letter at my mom's house in Ojai. Brad had tracked down my address from his ex-girlfriend who was still enrolled at UCSC. The letter informed me that Brad had formed a band called Sublime and he wanted permission to record "Ebin" as their first single. At the time I was in a band of my own called Stranger Than Fiction, and we were performing my version of the song. I figured Brad had about a hamster's chance in hell of going anywhere with the tune, and I never even wrote him back. But I did keep the letter just in case. I stored it in a special box where I kept my old ticket stubs and love letters from past girlfriends. After a few years I decided it was too Nancy to keep a letter from a dude with my sentimental keepsakes, and I threw it away.

In 1994 I was working in the ad department at Thrasher and SLAP. One day I spoke to a girl who was struck by my name. It was the name of a song by her favorite group, Sublime, she said. She had a bunch of copies of 40 Oz To Freedom and offered to send me one. I listened to "Ebin" but made no connection. The words were weird and somewhat insulting, and yet I thought it was funny how they repeated my name over and over ...

A while passed and one day Brian Brannon, Thrashers former music editor, dropped a promo single of "Ebin" on my desk. Skunk Records had sent it to him in anticipation of Sublime's upcoming major label release. When I got home I listened to the track. I was blazed in my room when I realized, "Man, that hook sounds so familiar. Where have I heard this? Oh Shift Is this that song? That guy Brad, from school? Could it be?"

I rushed over and found the album, since the single didn't even have a sleeve. I looked at the pictures. "Is it? Is that Brad?" I checked the liner notes. "Bradley," close enough. "Wow! This is my song. Right, Sublime, now I remember. Weird ... That's cool."

When I went back to work I called Skunk Records. They thought it was funny that my name was Eben, and I was like, "Yeah, I'm Ebin. Well, I'm not Ebin, but that's my song. I went to school with Brad at UCSC."

If they were skeptical they didn't show it and even agreed to tell Brad I said "what up." They also sent me some swag, and said the next time Sublime played SF they'd hook me up with passes and facilitate a reunion.

When I got the swag box I was stoked. Included was a copy of Robbin' the Hood as well as a T-shirt with a Tabasco logo bite that I thought was cool. They also sent me some stickers with "Sublime" written in old English Vato writing that I thought looked super cool, because it reminded me of the punk rock scene growing up in Oxnard and Ventura. I started listening more closely to my Sublime CDs and developing a true appreciation for the music. I even started to like the song "Ebin."

The thought of seeking compensation for the hook did occur, but seemed like more hassle than it was worth. I resigned myself to the fact that Brad took my song and made it cool. He made it much better than I ever did. I'm grateful for that. Brad's gift as a songwriter was in his ability to fuse disparate styles and blend them into something new. To be a piece of that puzzle is a huge honor and puts a smile on my face.

I never did have that reunion with Brad. On May 25th, 1996, he died of a heroin overdose in a San Francisco hotel room. To Brad's family, I send my condolences. To those that miss him and were touched by his music, I say we're very lucky. To Bradley James Nowell, I want to say thank you.
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Author:Sterling, Eben
Publication:Thrasher
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:1160
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