I have posted many, many times about how 3rd Wave Ska is a much maligned subgenre that I only sort of hate. I’m an apologist in that I think some pretty good stuff is lumped in with a lot of very terrible stuff. The shining beacon on the hill of a 3rd Wave band nobody has anything bad to say about is Operation Ivy (if we are discounting Fishbone, which I think also qualifies as universally respected, if not beloved).
Operation Ivy were the first kings of the late-80s/early-90s Bay-Area Gilman St. scene, the same one which bore Green Day, Mr. T Experience, and I guess ultimately Rancid.* Whenever we’re listening to Operation Ivy, particularly if we’ve had anything to drink, Pete will very earnestly ask me “could you even *imagine* this being a local band?” Putting it into a (somewhat) contemporary context, it’s hard to imagine being all grouchy and tired on a Wednesday and having plans to check out Operation Ivy at Slash Run *again* and trying to justify just going home, get pho delivered, and watch Unsolved Mysteries, and yeah, that’s weird.
*Wikipedia reminds (?) me that the Offspring was also part of the Gilman St. scene which if true, I either never knew (which seems really unlikely) or exists in a part of my brain waaaaaaaaay at the back of the ole filing system and likely have never would have thought about ever again if not for looking it up on Wikipedia. I’ve worked a little hard trying to figure out where Wikipedia got this to verify it and/or how this feels so foreign to me despite knowing a fair amount about the Gilman St./Lookout scene, to no avail. This just doesn’t feel right to me and may have already ruined my day.
What Pete is getting at is that they were so impossibly good from the start. They formed in May of 1987, broke up in May of NINETEEN EIGHTY NINE and yet somehow found their way into legendary-punk status. The self-titled collection, released post-mortem in 1991, includes their only full-length (1989) followed by a 1988 EP. And that was it! Finito! Off the top of my head, the only other band to do so little to so much notoriety is the Sex Pistols and they toured internationally, made headlines, WAS ON A MAJOR LABEL, despite being not nearly as good as Op Ivy.
For a hot minute in ‘95-96, I think I would have called Operation Ivy my favorite band (before Sublime usurped them, haha). I believe we became aware of them because of the Rancid Connection (regrettable, and something I’ll get into later) which coupled with the popularity of 3rd Wave ska at the time, gave Operation Ivy some Radio Free airplay. We weren’t that special, a lot of people knew of Operation Ivy pre-internet in part I think because of Green Day’s cover of “Knowledge,” which showed up on an early EP release. But in Hawaii, you didn’t have to be a punk rock scholar to be aware of Operation Ivy, even this lame girl I knew in college knew them (I remember this because she’s said to me that she liked that track “Nice Song.” She meant “Bankshot”). They were just on regular radio.
All of the songs Operation Ivy recorded are the best ska/punk songs you’ve ever heard. They just are. I was curious so I Googled “what’s the best Operation Ivy song” and to my surprise “Here We Go Again” is apparently unremarkable.* I wonder whether this has anything to do with it appearing fairly late into a lengthy LP. Or maybe I’m not as much of a banger-lover as I thought I was (see also “The Card Cheat”). To me, “Here We Go Again” sounds grand. It almost literally starts with a drum roll and vocalist Jesse Michaels’ proclaim “it’s not the ending it’s the beginning…” (more on this later). The first verse launches like a typical ska-core song before they pump the breaks, slow it down to half-time and go into an almost-rap-style flow, which I suppose is something of a chorus. As I type this, I realize this sounds terrible, but it’s a lot less worse than I describe. It concludes with backup vocals repeating “here we go again” over the half-time chorus-of-sorts. It’s grand!
*If you’re interested, Google approximates the following as the five Op Ivy songs with the most mentions online: “Sound System,” “Take Warning,” “Bad Town,” “Unity,” and “Freeze Up.” Again, I can’t really argue because they’re ALL SO GOOD.
How this came to be my favorite Operation Ivy song is a somewhat amusing story. One of the traditions at my high school everyone looked forward to most was selecting our senior quote to appear under our pictures in the yearbook. It was the 90s equivalent of what we used to say in the late 2000s when a friend said something stupid or profound or stupidly profound: “That’s my new MySpace quote,” but instead of course it’s “my senior quote.” When yearbooks came out junior year, this dude a year ahead of me quoted the opening of this song:
It’s not the ending, it’s the beginning
The ground is moist and it rained last night
Smells like smoke and it smells so clean
The sun is shining down like a friendly white light
Here we go again
I was angry because if I’d thought of it, it would have been my senior quote for sure. Though I was pretty sure I never would have thought of it, WE WOULD NOW NEVER KNOW, WOULD WE? I was especially mad because I didn’t like the guy. Despite technically being *one of us*, he was a pretty big asshole and would eventually go on to steal my weed by dumping the bag in his messy car, where none of us could find it in the moment, his intention, I’m sure. My senior quote ended up being:
I’m torn between the light and dark
Where others see their targets
I can’t see anything
Which I attributed to Dinosaur Jr., which I later found out was sort of incorrect. I selected the line because it was from mine and Pete’s song “Quicksand” which is an approximate cover of none other than eventual very-favorite, David Bowie. J Mascis changed many of the lyrics to apply to his space in life as opposed to Bowie’s, which was aggressively British, including the line in my quote, “I can’t see anything” from Bowie’s “divine symmetry.” So I was technically correct, but I’m triply mad because I came really close to quoting classic Bowie in my 1997 senior quote which would have made me extremely advanced among my peers. What a mess.
Operation Ivy has never and will never reform. They don’t hate each other or anything, I just think the brains behind the operation (ivy) is really uninterested. Jesse Michaels went on to do very little of particular note for a long time before founding Common Rider, an incredible band in and of itself. Last Wave Rockers is their first and best album, but almost too heart-stringy for me to listen to these days. He used to have a lovely and very relatable Facebook presence before fleeing for not being able to handle the bullshit. Understandable for sure, but I miss him a lot. Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman of course went on to do Rancid, a band I once liked fairly well. They’ve devolved into self-parody in the last 20 years. It’s so painful to watch, it’s affected my ability to enjoy their earlier, more tolerable output. You could say I hate Rancid, particularly compared with Op Ivy, but I will occasionally get a perverse and mostly pleasantly nostalgic thrill out of listening to much of And Out Come the Wolves and watching their earlier video releases.