lemme see if i can get the chronology straight.
early high school, i get bored with commercial radio and go digging around at the left end of the dial. i hear, through static, the strains of an exotic sounding beat. i think to myself, “i think this might be _reggae.”_ i mark the place on the dial with a red china marker. it later turns out to be “wxyc.”:http://wxyc.org/
the summer after sophomore year of high school, i attend the young writer’s camp at UVA. one night, they take us to see a reggae band playing on campus. i think this was my first live show at a small venue. it was definitely one of the most intense musical experiences of my young life.
somewhere around this time, madness had their big american hit, “our house”. (that would have been 1983.) i was totally hooked on the bouncy brit ska sound; i remember buying the record at record bar in cameron village, and immediately crushing on the band member i thought the cutest.
senior year of high school. i think. we hung out on hillsborough street after school all the time. mike connell from the connells was manning schoolkids records most afternoons (though we had no idea til later that we were buying all our wax from a big rock star!) in the cutout bin i found a most intriguing looking record… it looked to be ska, but ska from jamaica! from the 60’s! who ever heard of such a thing? i could just tell from the cover that it was gonna be cool and i bought it. it was called _intensified_ and that about described it. it was one of the coolest things i’d ever heard, lo-fi and dripping with exotic authenticity.
off to college and i meet my pal martha. she’d spent a year living in the virgin islands with her lover, a man named ishmael who was born and lived his whole life on the island. she had _real_ mighty sparrow tapes– you know, the versions with the really dirty lyrics that they don’t sell to americans. she turned me on to that, and african music, “river deep, mountain high” by ike and tina turner (amazing song– if you’ve never heard it, ask me to play it the next time you’re visiting), and al green. around this time i found a copy of the soundtrack to “the harder they come”:http://imdb.com/title/tt0070155/ and played the crap out of it.
so tonight, some 16 or 17 years later, i got a chance to see that i still know by heart all the lyrics to the songs on that soundtrack. i noticed that screen/society was showing “the harder they come” over at griffith, and at the last minute decided to go on over. hank, the guy who runs these screenings, got up in front of the room and said, “i’ve been waiting a long time to see this movie…” and i thought, yeah, me too.
jimmy cliff’s character isn’t the most endearing in the world; in fact, i think even “anti-hero” is a slightly glossy term for this guy. for me, the recording sessions were definitely the highlight, especially seeing (presumably) the maytals doing “sweet and dandy”. it was probably good that i went alone, because i found myself singing along to that one 🙂
i was hoping for more music, but still it was good to finally see it after all these years.
time between hearing those first strains of a reggae beat through the static til the day i finally saw ‘the harder they come’: approximately 22 years.