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From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

New documentary seeks to set record straight on ska band's myth

June 30, 1998 12:00 AM ET

It is hard to imagine a more fitting title for a documentary describing the convoluted tale of Long Beach ska-men Sublime than Stories, Tales, Lies, And Exaggerations. The long-awaited biopic hit stores this week and has already carved out the No. 20 spot on the Billboard music video charts.

As a tribute to the band, the video is a must-have for Sublime fans. Poignant interviews with the band's family members and hilarious tales of road-bred lunacy are inter-cut with live footage that is alternately electrifying and horrifying, especially when self-destructive behaviors start to interfere with performances.

But as the film's director Josh Fischel is quick to point out, the mythology that has become part of the band's legacy is filled with surprising misinformation. For a band that's so wildly popular, there's a key piece of the story that somehow gets routinely overlooked.

"I think a lot of people still don't know Brad [Nowell] passed away," Fischel says without a trace of disbelief. Nowell, the soulful front man who put the skank in the band's ska, died of a heroin overdose on May 25, 1996.

"The guys at Skunk Records/Cornerstone R.A.S. [the indie label that was the band's home before they signed to MCA] who get the Sublime e-mail find people are still asking, 'Is Sublime coming to our town?' and 'How can we reach Brad?'

"I don't think it's been a big conspiracy," Fischel laughs before adding, "I think in some ways people have tried to cover it up [Brad's death] just because of how it happened."

"A perfect example is that the "Wrong Way" video was premiered on MTV on the one-year anniversary of Brad's death, and they didn't even mention it," Fischel says. "They sure had a lot to say about Lou Dog [the Sublime Dalmatian] being in the video, but they couldn't mention the fact that Brad had died a year ago that day."

While Stories, Tales, Lies, And Exaggerations does address the issue of Nowell's death, the film concentrates on setting the record straight regarding another Sublime misconception.

"The biggest myth would be that the band was just Brad," Fischel says, switching focus in his conversation as he does in the film. "We wanted to say that Sublime wasn't just Brad, or that it wasn't just Brad, Bud and Eric. It was all the people surrounding them and all thepeople who meant so much to them and to the music."

Fischel's family portrait of Sublime was certainly shot from an insider's view. In addition to being a longtime friend of the band, he also shot their "Wrong Way" and "Doin' Time" videos. The video comes on the heels of last week's release of Stand By Your Van, a collection of the early live tracks.

Read more next week about Fischel's inside scoop on the band, Brad's son, and the scenes that were -- yep, you guessed it -- too shocking to make the final cut.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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