Kanye West had to be Perrier-bottle-green with envy Monday night, if he was studying Twitter and seeing that the British pop-reggae band UB40 had found the most effortless path possible to becoming a trending topic on social media — by inadvertently triggering a bar fight more than 30 years ago.
The world already knew that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh likes beer, but suddenly everyone was also learning that he likes “Red Red Wine,” or at least did when he attended a concert of the band’s while a Yale student in 1985. This provided an answer to a question that music fans had already been entertaining themselves by posing in recent days, about what kind of music the justice was most likely to have favored in his allegedly rowdier high school and college days. Derisive speculation had mostly focused more on the likes of Night Ranger.
“UB40 wasn’t even on my Brett bingo card,” as one tweeter commented Monday night.
Other sample social media riffs: “How f—ing aggro was Kavanaugh that he started a brawl after a UB40 show?” “I can’t believe boofing and Devil’s Triangle and UB40 are all going to be in our kids’ history textbooks.” “Sneer about ‘Red Red Wine’ all you like; ‘One in Ten’ is a massive tune. #UB40”
Fans with a sense of music history couldn’t help pointing out that the conservative hero was into a band whose very name bespoke liberalism, since UB40 was named after the unemployment form in Great Britain, an unaffectionate poke at the Thatcherism that rockers generally considered the British equivalent of Reaganism.
Of course, Kavanaugh would have been more likely to be attracted by the group’s No. 1 U.S. cover of a Neil Diamond oldie, then just two years in pop’s rear view mirror, or their minor follow-up hit with a duet with Chrissie Hynde on Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” than their not always blatant politics.
In recent years, the splintered factions of the band have become more famous for their squabbles and threats over rights to the name — which, sadly for fans of irony and destiny, will probably never go before the U.S. Supreme Court, with or without Kavanaugh on it.
Fellow Yale alumnus and one-time Kavanaugh buddy Charles Ludington — now a history professor at North Carolina State University — recounted the incident Monday in interviews with Bloomberg News and CNN. By his account, the two of them and one other friend had retired after the UB40 show in ’85 to a bar called Demery’s, where they noticed a man they thought resembled Ali Campbell, the group’s lead singer, and decided to approach him.
“He looked at us looking at him and said in sort of an aggressive manner, ‘What are you guys looking at?’” Ludington told Bloomberg. “And I said, sort of apologetically, ‘Sorry, we thought maybe you were the lead singer of UB40.’ ” The lookalike was more angered than flattered, which led Kavanaugh to swear at him and the man to swear back. “The next thing you know, Brett throws his beer at the guy,” Ludington said. “The guy swings at Brett.” A brawl ensued, and Kavanaugh was one of five men questioned by the New Haven Police Department, records show.
Naturally, the UB40 singles catalog will be mined for song titles that somehow seem prescient about Kavanaugh’s past or present situations. Here’s a starter kit: “Dream a Lie.” “Reckless.” “I’ve Got Mine.” “Many Rivers to Cross.” “I’m Not Fooled So Easily.” “Where Did I Go Wrong.” “Get Along Without You Now.” And, of course, “Cover Up.”