This song is probably familiar to you, as "that one Sublime song with the pretty melody and the violent lyric about romantic betrayal and revenge". Despite the fact that Sublime's album seemed to have ended up in everyone's CD collections, and on the radio (as if they were a pop group), the fact that this song would become so popular among the type of people who like this type of song has never been fully explained.
It does have a very pretty melody, especially since many of Sublime's songs are rather rhthmic and buzzy. For a pop song, its theme of cheating hearts and violent revenge is somewhat odd, even if it is taken somewhat ironically. The song also seems to meander lyrically, as Sublime songs are known to do, The opening line, I don't practice Santeria, I don't got no crystal ball doesn't seem to be directly related to the rest of the song, despite gaining its title from it.
But here is why this song is important, why it actually means something: it is a perfect expression of base, unreflective emotion of male jealousy and violence. I wouldn't inject politics into this if it wasn't relevant, but I saw an advertisement right before the election, saying "George W Bush won't ask permission to defend America". This idea of simple, unreflective action is more important in our culture than we might choose to acknowledge. While George W Bush might not think twice before defending America, Bradley Nowell won't think twice before sticking that barrel down Sancho's throat.
If this song was just a simple minded endorsement of thuggery and violence and possesiveness towards women, I don't think we could find it beautiful no matter how authentic the rage expressed was. But there is another part of the song: the haunting, seemingly unrelated course, in which Brad sings "What I'd really like to know, I can't define", and variations upon the theme. The music changes quite noticably here, too, at one point, rather than going into the chorus, the music simply goes into a quite haunting solo. What, exactly, is he trying to define? The incongruity of this part of the song doesn't seem as noticable as it should be. Why is he pausing in the middle of beating up his girlfriend and shooting her lover, to worry about epistemology and the defintion of terms?
Somewhat coincidentally, there is a philosophical concept known as The Sublime. Cutting out the technicalities, this is the concept of something that can be understood but can't be pictured. In other words, we can "understand" the concept of infinity, but we can't picture it in our head. And in the chorus of the song, Brad seems to be searching for something so close to him, yet impossible to describe.
The reason this works in the song is that Brad is tapping into the most blind, rage filled irrational thinking, and the most abstract feeling of yearning for a sense of cosmic beauty. Both are real and authentic expressions of our humanity, and both occur, in life and in the song, in very close proximity to each other.