Friends, we stand at the dawn of a new year, and it is our duty to make it less excruciating than the one that came before. Twenty-eighteen was childish, demoralizing sadism from one end to the other, bookended by government shutdowns. When Louis C.K. capped it off by really giving it to the trans people and school shooting survivors who’ve had it too good for too long, I thought: “Well, there’s this stupid goddamn year for you.” Or I would have, if I hadn’t been sleeping off a hangover.
We can do better in 2019. We must. There are, of course, many predictable ways to go about it. We can limit our exposure to the raw sewage of social media. We can turn off the cable news networks and opinion-bellowing podcasts to which we have turned to reinforce the beliefs we already had. We can meditate and run and get eight good hours of sleep a night. Enjoy all of that, and I’ll see you when we’re finished with it on January 6.
But there is something else. Something deeper, more difficult and no less necessary. Something that can go a long way toward washing our souls clean of the cruelty that is the hallmark of our modern society. Something that can help prepare us for a 2019 that promises to be more exhausting, more bewildering, more chock full o’ nuts.
My friends, we must reckon with what we have done to Hootie and the Blowfish.
The Blowfish Backlash was the debut of a very new-millennium kind of viciousness, and it came out of nowhere. The band’s 1994 major-label debut, Cracked Rear View, was a staple of every college party, sports bar, and pleasant mainstream rock station of mid-1990s. By the end of 1999, the album had sold 16 million copies, and it still sits in the list of top 20 best-selling albums of all time, where it will probably stay forever because nobody’s ever going to buy albums again.
And then came 1996’s Fairweather Johnson, a perfectly respectable sophomore release. An improvement even. I mean, “Sad Caper?” Deep Blue Something—the band behind the ’95 hit “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”—could never.
Fairweather Johnson sold 2.3 million copies, and instantly Hootie and the Blowfish became a joke. One could not even say the name of the band without a big roll of the eyes (which one could argue the name begs for, but seriously: Look in the mirror and watch yourself say Metallica and then come back here and talk to me about silly names). We wanted something edgier and darker than the music of Monica and Ross Geller. We longed for grit, realism. Give us Dishwalla, we said.
We treated Hootie and the Blowfish with the performative viciousness that pervades our current cultural moment. We turned on one of our own, just for fun, as children do. We belittled them like we have not done another major mainstream rock band before or since. We bullied Hootie and each Blowfish, and we liked how it felt, so we didn’t stop. We laughed them out of the game for no good reason, while we let Dave Matthews Band continue kicking around the same hacky sack for their next few albums. We shamed them in a way we never did Counting Crows, and to this day Adam Duritz walks the earth with a hairdo that answers the question: what if a fireworks display could be brown?
The band never officially broke up, but in 2008 they announced what would become a decade-long hiatus, ostensibly so lead singer Darius Rucker could pursue a solo career. We banished Hootie and the Blowfish from the kingdom, exiling Rucker to country radio’s more welcoming (unless you’re gay) embrace, and the only benefit I can think of is that at least they never got the opportunity to make their “Moves Like Jagger.”
Here’s the thing: We never really stopped liking Hootie and the Blowfish, we just began to concern ourselves with whether our peers did. We thought that our neighbors thought that Hootie was no longer cool and, afraid of appearing uncool ourselves, we threw them overboard. We began constructing and altering our tastes and personalities for public consumption. No wonder reality television and Instagram were right around the corner.
We began a long slow slide in 1996, and we didn’t even notice it. We got mean, then we got meaner, then we got attacked, then we got scared, then we watched Simon Cowell make fun of William Hung, then we got social media, now Donald Trump is the president of the United States. Not for nothing did Fox News debut six months after Fairweather Johnson. We have late-stage disease of the soul, and the first 1990s hipster to make an easy crack about Hootie and the Blowfish was patient zero.
We can reverse the damage. There’s a new Hootie and the Blowfish album due in 2019, plus a Cracked Rear View 25th anniversary tour, and it is our duty as Americans to show up. We must be honest with ourselves: It is impossible to hate Hootie and the Blowfish as much as we have for sure told someone that we did. They are pleasant to listen to at their very worst, and capable of greatness at their best (I’m going to go with “Time” from Cracked Rear View as their best, but their cover of The Reivers’ “Araby” is up there).
That I am publicly defending a band whose most memorable video is four solid minutes of SportsCenter humor should show you that I am not fucking around. I mean this: Hootie and the Blowfish deserve an apology and another earnest listen. Don’t tell me it’s not possible. We can admit when we’ve rushed to judgment; hell, even Richard Jewell— the guy we thought did the Atlanta Olympics bombing in the summer of Fairweather Johnson— got a redemption tour and a spot on Weekend Update for his trouble. And then he died, so this is not a perfect analogy, but give me a break, I just got spat out of 2018.
We left our sincere, hopeful, big-hearted selves back in the middle of the Clinton administration, and we’re going to have to reach all the way back there to retrieve them. Admit it: the world looks better in your cracked rear view.
Welcome back, Hootie, and may all be forgiven.