In Defense of Ska Ep. 26: Marc Wasserman


The US had a healthy, diverse underground music scene in the ’80s. Among the goths, art-punks, and lo-fi freaks were plenty of rude boys and rude girls. And yet for some reason, the story of ska in the US is nearly wiped clean from the oral history of American music during the ’80s. You even had bands like Fishbone—who mostly played ska at the time—and The Untouchables signed to major labels! Not only are these ska stories an important piece of the musical landscape, but they also help explain how ska seemingly popped up out of nowhere in the mid-90s—it was bubbling just under the mainstream for a decade and a half.

Our guest today, Marc Wasserman wrote the book Ska-Boom!: An American Ska & Reggae Oral History, which chronicles this lost decade of ska music. His book, which you can order here, is exhaustive in its research and plentiful in its interviews and tells the origin stories of several key US ska bands during the 80s—some familiar like The Toasters and Bim Skala Bim, some obscure like The Boilers and The Boxboys. His incredible book will show you not just that ska was popular during this time period, but that it was an amazing scene.

In the episode, we talk to Marc about his book, which includes a mindboggling and short segment on Cindi Lauper’s debut album (It started ska!) And lots of other interesting, unlikely cameos by folks like Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits. We also talk about Marc’s musical projects, including his collaboration with Sal Polichetti, the guy that wrote and sang the viral hit, “Jesus is My Friend.” There was even talk of doing a split release with the evil ones themselves, Mephiskapheles. But that never happened. What a shame!

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