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The Meaning of Sublime’s “Garden Grove”

As the opening track to Sublime’s 1996 self-titled album, released just two months after the death of frontman Bradley Nowell, “Garden Grove” has become one of the group’s definitive songs. Not only does the track introduce the famous record, it also immortalizes their mascot, Lou Dog, who was Bradley’s pet dalmation.

“Garden Grove” has been one of my favorite Sublime songs ever since I first discovered them back in high school. Today I will dive into the song’s lyrics to analyze just what Bradley was singing about. Which, to me, this is the quintessential Sublime song, though some may favor “Santeria,” “What I Got,” or any number of the group’s iconic songs.

Sublime – “Garden Grove” (1996)

The prominent bassline that drives “Garden Grove” forward is based on “Ninja Mi Ninja” by Courtney Melody.

Courtney Melody – “Ninja Mi Ninja”(1986)

Garden Grove” Lyrics Meaning

Verse One

“We took this trip to Garden Grove / It smelt like Lou Dog inside the van, oh yeah”

They all piled into the van to head to Garden Grove, California, not far away from their hometown of Long Beach. Lou Dog is rolling with, and his stench fills the van.

“This ain’t no funky reggae party, five dollars at the door”

With a Bob Marley reference, he laments having to pay a five dollar cover to get into a bar or party.

“It gets so real sometime, who wrote my rhyme?”

Bradley’s life is getting “real,” perhaps a reference to Sublime’s rising success at the time. Also, perhaps a response to the Bob Marley reference in the previous line, stating that his favorite music, reggae music, is becoming popular enough for him to make a living off it.

He questions his own songwriting abilities, wondering who wrote the songs that he sings, suggesting a sense of existential self-doubt.

Generally speaking, Bradley was known to borrow from old school reggae and other genres of music, so he could also be referencing that.

“I’ve got the microwave, got the VCR / I got the deuce-deuce in the trunk of my car, oh yeah”

Having these material items was perhaps a sign of rising success for him. A microwave, a VCR, and a .22 caliber handgun.

“If you only knew all the love that I’ve found / It’s hard to keep my soul on the ground”

Bradley feels misunderstood, and expresses difficulty keeping himself grounded.

Verse Two

“You’re a fool / Don’t fuck around with my dog”

Apparently someone in the car was messing with Lou Dog. Or, this could just be a general warning to everyone that they’d be a fool to mess with Lou (as he barks angrily on the recording)

“All that I can see, I steal; I fill up my garage”

Did Bradley choose the life of crime, or did it choose him?

“Cause in my mind / Music from Jamaica, all the love that I found”

As far as he’s concerned, music from Jamaica is the best, and he loves it.

“Pull over, there’s a reason why my soul’s unsound”

He tells the driver to pull over, noting that he has a reason for feeling uneasy. Reading it, it seems like he’s seen someone on the side of the road who contributes to his unhappiness, but it’s not clear. This bleeds over to the bridge, making a clever songwriting trick that uses the uncertainty to create a compelling image.


In the bridge, Bradley lists off all the reasons why he’s unhappy — or why his “soul is unsound.”

It also introduces a sample of “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players, which you can hear at 2:16 in the video below.

Ohio Players – “Funky Worm” (1972)

“It’s you”

First and foremost, dear listener/reader, YOU are to blame for Bradley’s condition.

“It’s that shit stuck under my shoe / It’s that smell inside the van”

Dog shit on his shoe, dog smell in the van, he can’t escape it.

“It’s my bed sheet covered with sand / Sittin’ through a shitty band”

Out surfing all day, no shower before bed, so it’s filled with sand. Then, he goes to a show and has to sit there while a terrible band plays. Perhaps as the opener for Sublime?

“Gettin’ dog shit on my hands / Gettin’ hassled by the man”

Picking up Lou’s shit, he gets some on his hands. Then the cops come around and bother him.

“Wakin’ up to an alarm / Stickin’ needles in your arm”

The alarm goes off, and right away he’s sticking needles in his arm. This is a reference to the depths of Bradley’s heroin addiction.

“Pickin’ up trash on the freeway / Feelin’ depressed every day”

Perhaps the existence of the trash on the side of the road is contributing to his depression. Regardless, this continues to paint a stark picture of Bradley Nowell’s life perspective.

“Leaving without making a sound / Pickin’ my dog up at the pound”

Sneaking away from wherever he finds himself, to go pick up Lou Dog at the pound.

“Livin’ in a tweaker pad / Gettin’ yelled at by my dad”

This is a reference to the “tweaker pad,” or communal living space where people do methamphetamine, where Bradley resided at following the release of 40oz to Freedom (1992). It was this period that Ringer magazine calls Bradley’s “rock bottom.”

“Sayin’ I’m happy when I’m not / Findin’ roaches in the pot”

Again, Bradley references his depressed state.

Finding roaches in the pot, a famous lyric, has long been debated. He could be talking about a smoked joint “roach” found in a potted plant. He could also be talking about literal cockroaches in his bag of pot.

“All these things I do / They’re waiting for you”

Bradley closes by letting us know that the way he lives his life, whether in a sorry state or in a state of being a samaritan and getting by, is all done for us, the listener. This could be a sign of his dedication to his music and his fans, or it could just be another jab at the listener as being the ones to blame for his issues. Such as, us not buying Sublime’s records.


This sample in the outro is used to depict the mad state of Bradley’s life. It comes from the Linton Kwesi Johnson song, “Five Nights of Bleeding.”

Linton Kwesi Johnson – “Five Nights of Bleeding” (1978)

Ultimately, my belief in “Garden Grove” as the quintessential Sublime song is just my opinion, but as you can see from my analysis, the track is autobiographical for Bradley. Both of the circumstances of his life, his death, and the way that he was feeling when it all went down. Not to mention, it’s a total vibe.

What do you think? Is “Garden Grove” the best Sublime song?